Friday, August 29, 2008

With or Without the Church

As Obama's historical acceptance speech coincided with the anniversary of Martin Luther King's famous speech, Jim happened to be reading about King and the Civil Rights Movement in Yancy's excellent book, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church.  We were talking last night about the book, and how astounding and shameful was the church's position in the Civil Rights Movement . . . Yancey grew up in the South, and describes the churches that he attended:  
During my adolescence I attended two different churches.  The first, a Baptist church with more than a thousand members, took pride in its identity as a 'Bible-loving church where folks are friendly,' . . . I learned the Bible there.  It had a loose affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination formed in 1845 when Northern abolitionists decided that slave owners were unfit to be missionaries and the Southerners separated in protest (!).  
Apparently the (white) church was no different than the rest of society, perhaps even worse, citing the Bible as justification for racism, even patrolling the parking lot during services lest any black people attempt to enter . . . it makes me sick to think of it, ashamed and confused . . . I wonder how God continues to allow us to bear His name when we continue to use His Word to abuse people.

Where did I just read . . . forgive me I cannot remember, can anyone help me with this? . . . that Paul was the First writer in Ancient Literature to suggest that all humans are created equal!  We, the Church, of all people should be at the forefront of the battle for equality and dignity for every person!  I cannot think about past failures of the Church without wondering how history will judge the Church in our generation?   There is still so much injustice and oppression in the world, so much work to be done . . . .   

But I am an optimist.  I am delighted by this election!  Political views aside, yaddi yaddi yadda . . . the fact that a woman nearly claimed the Democratic candidacy, and that a black man may be President or a nursing mother of five may be the Vice President . . . this is an intensely exciting election and no matter which party wins, it is a win for humanity.  Yes, little by little, God's truth permeates society.  With or without, sometimes in spite of, the Church.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wise Women Wednesday

I don't have much time today but I wanted to get a Wise Women Wednesday post up . . . I read my title from yesterday and decided to go with one of the women whose art has Saved My Life many times: Madeleine L'Engle.

A few of her nonfiction books I truly believe were sent from Heaven during a dark time. Not depressed. Not angry. Just dark . . . foggy, awkward . . . I was living in a dark house, and for some reason I painted our living room a dark navyblue. That blue is the color I feel when I think about that time. Newly married, feeling like a fish out of water for so many reasons . . . (Yesterday Jim was taking some things to the trash and I gave him a painting I did during that time. He looked at it and said, this painting perfectly describes you during that year. It was dark blue, a still life that didn't know where to go).

Madeleine came in, turned the lights on, cozied up the place, handed me my Bible and little bits of magic fluttered out.

She died last year just before my second daughter was born.

A few of my favorite Madeleine quotes: (these are all taken from Walking On Water, but other non-fiction books I love are: The Rock that is Higher, Bright Evening Star, and Madeleine L'Engle, Herself).

We are afraid of the Transfiguration for much the same reason that people are afraid that theatre is a “lie,” that a story isn’t “true,” that art is somehow immoral, carnal and not spiritual. The artist must be open to the wider truths, the shadow side, the strange worlds beyond time. . . .
The Christian holiday which is easiest for us is Christmas, because it
touches on what is familiar; and the story of the young man and woman who were turned away from the inn, and had a baby in a stable, surrounded by gentle animals, is one we have known always. I doubt if many two or three year-olds are told at their mother’s knee about the Transfiguration or the Annunciation. And so, because the story of Christmas is part of our folklore (we might almost say), we pay more attention to its recognizableness than to the fact that the tiny baby in the manger contained the power which created the galaxies and set the stars in their courses.

We are not taught much about the wilder aspects of Christianity. But these are what artists have wrestled with throughout the years. The Annunciation has been a favorite subject of painter and poets, because gestation and birth-giving are basic to any form of creation. All of us who have given birth to a baby, to a story, know that it is ultimately mystery, closely knit to God’s own creative activities which did not stop at the beginning of the universe. God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling. . . .
In literal terms the Annunciation can only confound us. But the whole story of Jesus is confounding to the literal minded. It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called to believe what to many people is impossible. Instead of rejoicing in this glorious “impossible” which gives meaning and dignity to our lives, we try to domesticate God, to make his mighty actions comprehensible to our finite minds. . .

It is one of the greater triumphs of Lucifer that he has managed to make Christians (Christians!) believe that a story is a lie, that a myth should be outgrown by puberty, that to act in a play is inconsistent with true religion.

. . . he did not spend a lot of time looking for the most qualified people, the most adult. Instead, he chose people who were still childlike enough to leave the known comforts of the daily world, the security of their jobs, their reasonable way of life, to follow him.

For the past several generations we’ve forgotten what psychologists call our archaic understanding, a willingness to know things in their deepest, most mythic sense. We’re all born with archaic understanding, and I’d guess that the loss of it goes directly along with the loss of ourselves as creators.

But unless we are creators, we are not fully alive.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Art Saves Lives . . . or just the morning

This was one of those mornings that seemed to last for-ev-er. At ten I was already looking at the clock wondering what I was going to do with them. And after a busy but wonderful weekend, we are all feeling a bit of the letdown of being back in the routine. My house bore the scars of the past few days' activity. There was SO MUCH to do and no one was cooperating.

Sami feels the need to blare this cd of Cheerul! Christian! Children! shrieking Cheerful! Christian! Children! songs every waking moment. I suppose it is my own fault for not ever slipping the cd into the shredder where it belongs . . . (The chorus of one song actually chants, "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin there . . . " Which may be true but why are these white kids so happy to sing about it?). It amazes me that many of the parents who choose this kind of music are parents who believe in censoring everything that their children lay eyes upon, not even thinking about the wack-o spiritual messages that stuff like this sends. We used to own the DVD but those kids were just TOO scary, we won't let our girls watch it.

So all of these Sunday School children are shrieking about everyone who ain't going to heaven, Sami is shrieking at the baby for playing with her toys and the baby shrieking at me to be fed . . .

Suddenly, the cheerful children are silenced. Sami found this. We all stopped what we were doing. The baby smiled. Sami smiled. I uncurled myself from the fetal position under the table. Calm came over the kitchen. We relaxed, and played, and made it through the morning.

It reminds me of a message that Pastor Jeff preached at a Bible conference a few years ago. I'm sure I'll entirely destroy the message if I try to repeat it, but I remember the gist being that the question isn't if something is "Christian" or not, but whether it is "true." The fruit of Mozart is transcendent beauty. True. Cheerful Christian Children? That's a lie. Christians were never meant to be so fruity. Or so clean. Or so proud of themselves. This form of Christianity is dangerous. I want to protect my children from these kinds of Christians, and this kind of "art".

Monday, August 25, 2008

I turned 31 today.

For so long it seemed this little dancer was waiting . . . waiting for the music to start. Waiting for the dance to begin. Just waiting. Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer. At Fourteen, there was only waiting. Dreaming and waiting. Eighteen, breathless waiting. Twenty, wishing and waiting. Twenties of waiting.

I know now, the music all around her she was always dancing.
It is that still place in every woman every fourteen year old dancer.
It is the wonder of it.

Late Fragment

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

-Raymond Carver

Thursday, August 21, 2008

There are many great blogs that pop up on my Google Reader each morning, and I enjoy reading from great writers all over, living all kinds of exciting or ordinary lives. But one of my favorites is the Livesays in Haiti blog, which I have only recently begun to read. She writes frankly and humorously about the daily events of life in a country where nothing is easy. It is a very sincere missionary blog, fascinating and convicting . . .

So this morning I am sitting here in my quiet house, thinking again about what life is all about, where are we going, what is the point . . . really, what is the point? I read Prov.21.21 this morning: He who follows after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honor . . . Jim and I have been wrestling with the fact that life isn't as forgiving as we'd once thought, there isn't time for many second chances, not enough time for all of those dreams we had. Now we have kids and every decision we make seems so much more permanent, with such greater consequence. Somehow when we weren't looking middle age reached us, and now the question we're asking is, Is it over for us? Has the time come already to begin settling in and preparing for the next generation? And then we both panic. No not yet!

So back to the Livesays . . . I'm reading her blog this morning and life is hard, really really hard, and they must deal every day with frustrations that I know nothing about . . . but then I click back on my Google Reader and read about "Smart Shopping." "Five Minutes for Fitness." God help me this can't be all there is.

Once again I am reminded of how much is lost in our well-decorated, clean and orderly and lonely culture . . . I read the Livesays or other friends in Haiti and in other countries, how difficult days are . . . but they've got it . . . they're really living, really alive to the beauty and pain of it, right there in the marriage of mercy and truth, giving themselves to something so much bigger than themselves . . . finding that life that is truly life . . . it means something different for everybody, but we've got to find it. Maybe it begins with following after righteousness and mercy. That's a good place to start. I can do that anywhere. I can do that today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wise Women Wednesdays

Ever since I wrote this post when we were moving in July, I've thought that I'd really like to write about some of the wise women in my life, and some of the ways they have "built" their homes. The verse this is taken from is Prov. 14.1, "Every wise woman builds her house . . . " I have been blessed with so many wise women that I can choose from, so this won't be difficult. Some of these women I have known my entire life, some I have never met, but all of them have demonstrated godliness, wisdom, and the ability to enjoy life through it all. If they have blogs I will link them, so you can know them too!

So Wise Woman number one!

My sweet friend Becky, whose blog is Mama Drama, is a friend who comes to mind often lately, so I'll start with her. One reason that I think so much about her is the fact that we just moved our two girls and all our stuff into a two-bedroom apartment. Our new home is great. We love it, we really do, and as long as there isn't one thing out of place, no toys on the floor, no dishes on the counter, and the sun is shining, it doesn't feel cramped at all! This is why I think about Becky.

Becky moved away recently (far, far away why God, why??), but when she was here she and her husband and three girls lived in a shall we say quaint (tiny) two-bedroom house. Somehow, Becky was able to work her magic and make hers one of the most comfortable, welcoming homes I have ever been in! She and her husband have a gift for hospitality and they did not allow their small home and three girls to keep them from having big, spontaneous parties. All the time.

Becky also has a true gift for homemaking. She bakes her own bread every week, she gardens, cans, whips up made-from scratch meals and desserts without even thinking, did I mention she used to sew her own clothes? How many women in our generation even know how to do these things, nevertheless do them regularly, and all without acting like it's any big deal. I never felt judged for my Ragu pasta sauce when hers began in her garden and ended on her homemade pasta. And over it all is a grace and kindness that makes everyone around her feel welcomed, relaxed, at home.

So thanks to Becky, I do not think of our apartment as small or with limitations. I know that making a home is much more about the spirit of the home than it is square footage. And from her I have been reminded of the joys of keeping a home, the creativity that is required to make a house a home, and the simplicity of that magical combination of good friends and food.

If I could make a reward for the best blog of the person who doesn't have time to blog, it would be Becky's Mama Drama. Someday, Becky, you really need to share with the world some of your homemaking tricks. You are truly a wise woman, and you have "built" a wonderful home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

what is your t.v. tolerance?

I need some parenting advice regarding the television: I hate it, but sometimes I need it, and I hate that I need it . . . to babysit my kids. I've been feeling pretty proud of myself because for about the past month or even longer, Sami was rarely if ever watching t.v. On days that she wasn't tired for a nap, or maybe once in a while on a weekend evening, I'd let her put on a show. But other than that she wasn't asking for it, didn't seem to even remember that there was a Big Red Dog right there, in her living room, just waiting to be turned on. She had reached this stage of independent play and imagination that is what I had been waiting for her entire life. Then one morning, in desperation, I made the mistake of asking her if she didn't want to watch a little t.v. (probably so I could have just a few more minutes online . . . stupid, stupid), and now Clifford's got her back.

I site one of the reasons I hate the television so much from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, who says, (from her website), "She counts among her most important early influences: the Bookmobile, a large family vegetable garden, the surrounding fields and woods, and parents who were tolerant of nature study (anything but snakes and mice could be kept in the house), but intolerant of TV."

So I have a question: what rules have you come up with regarding your kids and television? Any ideas for what to do instead of turning on the tube? I'd love some advice on this one!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

laugh often, at yourself most of all

I ran across this essay on "This I Believe" on npr. She and her husband describe the top three qualities of "The person I want to bring into this world" to be: honesty, caring about others, and the ability to laugh at yourself. I heartily agree with their pick. Especially the last. I've always felt that this was a really important virtue, but she explains why so well:

I believe that if you can laugh at yourself, it probably means you like
yourself, deep down inside, and you know that you're no better and no worse than anybody else. You'll probably have fun in life. And most importantly, you're more likely to forgive yourself when you're not always honest and you're not always caring.

My parents weren't perfect, and they didn't try to be, but this is one thing that they did really well. Humor was a form of affection in our family. We all learned to laugh, at ourselves especially. I remember hard times that our family went through, and in the midst of those hard times we were still laughing, sometimes at the hard times, sometimes in spite of the hard times. I thought about this while my brother Joe was home this week; I remember sitting at our dinner table, the six of us, Joe making everybody laugh, and thinking, "he's saving us right now by laughing. Laughter just saved us."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More good stuff from Ossie

I have made some rules when it comes to blogging that I will not publish a post when I haven't slept, when someone is crying, or when there is no milk bread or chocolate in the house. That seems to be never. Which explains the lack of posting this week. Is it only my kids, or does every ten month old shout profanities ALL NIGHT LONG for WEEKS ON END when they are teething? Until finally I must either: OD the baby and myself on childrens tylenol, get out all the toys and have an all-night teething party, or wait until baby loses her voice from screaming and she finally gives up and goes to sleep. Most nights, it's all three. (In all seriousness, THANK-YOU JESUS that big sister somehow developed an ability to sleep through it, which is no less of a miracle than the fact that she now sleeps at all! It is ONLY by Your GRACE that we moved and the girls began sharing a room at the exact week in Sami's development when she began going to sleep easy and sleeping all night! God You are GOOD.)

So I do not trust myself to post this morning as I am not safe doing anything involving complete sentences. But I found this treasure from Chambers this morning and I have to share:

Despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of
Him. Heb 12.5

It is very easy to quench the Spirit; we do it by despising the chastening of the Lord, by fainting when we are rebuked of Him. If we have only a shallow experience of sanctification, we mistake the shadow for the reality, and when the Spirit of God begins to check, we say- oh, that must be the devil.

Never quench the Spirit, and do not despise Him when He says to you- “Don’t be blind on this point any more; you are not where you thought you were. Up to the present I have not been able to reveal this to you, but I reveal it now.” When the Lord chastens you like that, let Him have His way. Let Him relate you rightly to

“Nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him.” We get into sulks with God and say- “Oh, well, I can’t help it; I did pray and things did not turn out right, and I am going to give it all up.” Think what would happen if we talked like this in any other domain of life!

Am I prepared to let God grip me by His power and do a work in me that is worthy of Himself? Sanctification is not my idea of what I want God to do for me; sanctification is God’s idea of what He wants to do for me, and He has to get me into the attitude of mind and spirit where at any cost I will let Him sanctify me wholly.

God I will not despise this chastening. I will not give up. God help me, I will not give up. Oh God what wicked ugly things still are alive and well in me. What bile, what bitter water comes out of me when I am chastened. When I reach the end of my self, the end of my own spirituality, I am destitute, and naked, and wretched, and a liar. God the cock has crowed, and my true self is revealed. I have forsaken you, and fled. I have denied You, denied your power in me, allowed the life of Your Son to be crucified. Again. I have failed You. Trust. Your mercies are new. My pardon is granted I am forgiven help me Oh God I want to step out of this filthy flesh and into Your new life make me new make me holy. I will not despise this chastening God help me I will not faint.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Esc Please!

NOTHING is working today! (To my dear third-world friends, you may want to quit reading right now because what I am about to complain about is positively obnoxious). I have HAD it with technology. Today, I am swearing off cell phones, cursing computers, and about to take a hammer to the little voice that keeps BLEEPing on the dashboard of my car. Really, whoever came up with that idea? That an incessant BLEEEEP BLEEEEEP BLEEEEEEP . . . pause just long enough so you think it's done . . . and then it begins again . . . was a good way to notify the driver that the tailgate MAY not be completely shut . . . so what am I supposed to do about it as I drive down the freeway, put the car in autopilot while I climb over the seat to fix it!?

I've had this weird alter-ego since I was a kid, after I read all the Little House on the Prairie books, that I was Laura Ingalls, and for some reason my twisted imagination frequently (still, at 30 years old!) wonders what She would think of life today, how freakish our URLs and WIDGETS and BLEEEEEEPS would appear to her, and how simple and nice her life on the prairie must have been, with the exception of all those cold winters and wolves and losing Jack of course. The truth is? I want to BE Laura Ingalls! I was born in the wrong era! I was never meant to deal with bleeps! I want to live in a log cabin that Pa built and sit around the fire at night with all my blogger friends having REAL conversations!!!!

Maybe I am a little tense today.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

I keep this Cassatt print in my Bible. It is an image that comes to mind often, in especially demanding moments and at the end of a long day. Before I had children, I wondered why she had chosen to draw the visual comparison of a mother and child to the Biblical imagery of Christ washing his disciples feet. Didn't it seem a bit presumptuous? A bit martyr-like?
And then I became a mom. The spiritual applications I could draw from this painting are endless.
I had never washed feet before. Now I do, daily. And as I bathe these dirty beautiful little bodies I think of this image, of Christ washing our feet because of how very much He loves us. Before I had children, I never had imagined that I was capable of loving someone so fiercly, so unconditionally. Then I thought my heart would explode after I had my first child for all of the love that was suddenly crammed in there. And I bathe my little girls and marvel that I am even capable of feeling this love, of giving love; that there must be this wild, infinitely tender, outrageous LOVE out there that I can only barely imagine but that it must compare somehow to the way I feel as a mom.
So then Christ tells us now to wash one another's feet and I can't help but think, ick. Baby feet, you kiss them and play with them and sing little songs to them. Grown-up feet? Just gross. Then this painting comes to my mind again, for the other startling discovery that having children has given me: everybody was somebody's baby. Every mean nasty person, someone's child. Every judgmental, egotistical, self-pitying person? A baby once. Every person who I find difficult to love, was kissed and cooed to and bounced by some mother who adored him every bit as much as I adore my babies. Or maybe they weren't. And there's another reason why he is who he is and why I ought to love him.
God give me eyes to see the precious child in every person, like you see.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The center of the home

Decorating our house is not a big issue for me. 99.9% of our furniture was given to us or found at a yard sale, and I prefer it that way. I love to treasure-hunt at yard sales in the summer. And, we have never been able to afford new furniture when there are just SO many good books to buy.

However. The one piece of furniture that I have always wished for, that has caused me coveteous thoughts and to lust over Pottery Barn catalogues, that I would sell half of Jim's books for? My own kitchen table. Brand-new, so that every dent and scratch and watermark will be our marks, worn-in by our own elbows and books and coffee cups. I dream of those scuff marks, of that history to be made over the course of days and seasons and years. I want it big enough for lots of company, but small enough for good conversations and long games of Rook. The center of our home. The place for spilled milk and two-more-bites and my all-too common new and failed recipe experiments. A place to spread out projects, for crayons and then homework, candles at dinner, big bowls of fruit in the summer, warm loaves of bread in the winter, Christmas cookies, Valentines, Birthday cakes. I can't wait for my children to grow-up around this table. The place for all those important family discussions: the first day of school and learning to be a good friend and sorting out disappointments and where you will go to college and why no, you may not work at The Gap. A place to drop the mail, find a recipe, to wait for dinner, to set, clear, and then do it all over again. It is where friends congregate, where relationships are repaired and where we say Grace. All of those daily, ordinary miracles that are just waiting to happen around a kitchen table.

And so, after saving up and thanks to an Andreas warehouse sale, this much-anticipated table is ours! I thought that I would share in pictures a few of the ways we are breaking in our fabulous new table!

Monday, August 4, 2008

"Not a question of our equipment but of our poverty . . ."

I am thinking a lot about friends we know who are journeying through some heavy days right now. Readings in My Utmost For His Highest, from yesterday and today, brought them to my mind, and some of those unanswered questions in my own life as well. This is a rich devotional; it's worth checking out these two days' readings.