Sunday, August 2, 2020

Library Finds: Great Books for Everyone

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry: I cannot think of when I have laughed more. Perhaps with The Princess Bride, the book. A great read-aloud book about four children who are trying to get rid of their parents while their parents are trying to get rid of them. The glossary and bibliography at the end are just as hilarious to read as the story itself. For ages 8-12 (Book Rating: 10)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park: A 2002 Newberry Book award winner and a beautifully written story about an orphan in 12-century Korea who becomes an apprentice to a gruff potter. I appreciated this book's realistic portrayal of the time period and the making of ceramics. Rather sad, thought provoking, and educational. For ages 8-12. (Book Rating: 8)

Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt: A 1967 Newberry Award winning book about a girl who goes to live with her strict aunt for ten years. I thought Hunt did a superb job portraying believable characters and emotions through the first-person narrative of her protagonist. I'd put this book in the same category as Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, but it's more modern and less wordy. For Ages 12 and up. (Book Rating: 9)

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Another Newberry Award winner about truth, magic, and sorrow. Much of the book has a poetic-like cadence to it. The book follows a child enmagicked in her infancy by a witch who saves a town's yearly sacrificial baby from being eaten by wild animals. This book reminded me of Pixar's movie Inside Out. For Ages 8-13. (Book Rating: 8)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio: This book is wonderful. I was nervous that it might be unrealistically sad, but it wasn't. This book tells the story of a boy who was born with a deformed face. He and his parents finally decide it's time to try going to school. The story is told from multiple perspectives and done very well. And it ends happily! For ages 8 and up. (Book Rating: 10)

Austin Family Chronicles,  by Madeleine L'Engle. I recommend all these book (except the third) in this five-book-series that follows the Austin family as they grow, vacation, move, and meet new people. I think you could probably skip the third book out and not miss much. My favorite one was the fourth, A Ring of Endless Lightwhich also won the Newberry Book Award in 1980 for good reason. This book so accurately captured the mind of a poet/writer that I wanted to give it to all my friends so they might understand me better. These books beautifully weave sweet Christian truths into both simple and difficult situations in children's lives. For Ages 12 and up. (Book Rating: 9)

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Another Newberry Book award winner. I believe I read this book in one day. It was so delightful! Nothing at all like the Miramax movie made in 2004. It tells the story of a girl who was cursed from birth into absolute obedience to all orders given to her. Funny, sweet, and romantic! For Ages 12 and up. (Book Rating: 10)

Friday, July 31, 2020

Kaleidoscope of Humanity

I probably don't agree with you.
I don't agree with you.
But I need you
Because we belong to one another
In Christ.

You remind me that we are walking the same road together,
Slaves of the same master,
Children of the same father,
Friends of the same king.

You remind me that I've already chosen a side,
And my side is yours
In Christ.

You remind me that my research is over,
And that I no longer must follow rules in order to save myself;
I no longer must construct an argument to justify myself;
I no longer must fight for my freedom or protect my joy;
I no longer must go searching for good news.

We have already, so to speak, selected our candidate.
We already know whose shoulders can bear this government.
We already know that his credentials and reputation are worth trusting,
And that he alone has found the vaccine to our disease, which we all have.
We belong to one another because we are sick,
And we belong to one another because we have been healed.

You and I, we shatter each other's delusions of an ideal community
For we are equally in need of the same bread and living water
And when we don't eat, we all succumb to masking our malnourishment,
Behind a facade of self-sufficiency,
Of self-loathing and self-adoring
Of self-ignorance and self-projection.
But despite the masks, in Christ 
We can know one another 
As chosen and remade
Already good, already wise, already strong and loved,
Dear, precious and beautiful,
A kaleidoscope of humanity,
The glowing glory of Christ,
The reborn self in us.

It is vivid to me now,
But when I am stuck, because I will get stuck,
Who can speak words of life to me
But you.
And when I am uncertain and discouraged,
Who will tell me again and again what I need to hear
But you.
And when I blame you or misunderstand you or judge you or resent you,
Who can show me God's grace and forgiveness,
But you?

When the Christ in my heart becomes weaker than the Christ in your heart,
Will you pull me up
As I pray I do for you now?

"The more genuine and deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us." (Bonhoeffer, 26)

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. Translated by John W. Doberstein. New York: HarperCollins, 1954.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Comstock Chronicles: Crows and Keeping Occupied

Two crows were acting peculiar on my neighbor's roof the other day. They were scratching and pecking at the cypress needles gathered in her a roof's seam. I had never seen crows do this and began to wonder if they'd found bugs buried in the needles. Then the crows hoped across the roof to peck at the vent pipes. One crow hoped on top of a vent while the other traversed towards one of those twirly-bird attic vents that spins in circles. Then the bird jumped on top and rode it like a merry-go-round. This was beyond peculiar.

I was rather confused until a third crow joined them who was much bigger and whose caw sounded much deeper. Aha! These were juvenile crows! Everything made sense. And just like that I accepted their strange behavior. 

I do not find my children's behavior as easy to accept, and I know their ages. I find the field of corn growing on a neighbor's flat roof far less peculiar than some of the things my children choose to do.

A friend the other day pointed out that my son's behavior is what might lead to a cure for cancer. That brought his experimentation into a new light. So I bought him a jug of vinegar and a box of baking soda and have decided to allow him one experiment session, or as he calls it, "experience", a day. I portion out flour, salt, water, and food coloring as well. So far, these experiments end in mixing all the ingredients together in one soupy brown dish. 

We have other "experiences" on our radar as well. Today being Wednesday and trash day, the children and I were noticing the quantity of cast-off furniture in the alleys: a set of dining room chairs, a night stand, two pool loungers, cupboards, shelves, a desk chair. The children asked if they might bright some furniture home, take it all apart, and build themselves a house. I didn't see why not, except perhaps the amount of space in my car, so I'm adding that to my list of ways to keep the children occupied. 

Rejected ideas, albeit attempted anyways, were attach our slide to the roof, skate inside, hold various items over a candle, play the-floor-is-lava in the living room, grind down the chalk using the bumpy texture coating on the stucco, vacuum up dirt, booby-trap the backyard, and make baby brother a prisoner. Perhaps this is why I found myself buying Lucky Charms, a pound of Belgium chocolate, fruit snacks, spearmint leaves, fancy cheeses, freezer pizzas, slice and bake cookies, cartons of ice cream, and boxes of cookies. 

I've needed a little extra sugar after hearing the kids' school will be doing all online classes from August to January this year. I've officially withdrawn them and hope to do some form of home schooling. In the meantime, we're making it through the days, sometimes like a charging army, sometimes like a group of monkeys falling down the stairs. 

We've maintained our sanity with play dates and nature outings, wasting lots of water, paper, tape, electricity, and paint, watching more TV than they've watched in the previous 5 years, having a consistent quiet time every day, and breaking some rules.

Lee's Skyscraper Banner on Scott and Whittier Blvd.

Their companionable shirt

The kids salvaged this box from the alley. Rose decorated it. The boys shredded an egg carton in it.

Sibling wrestling

The boys on top of a tower of blankets

Monday, July 27, 2020

Escaped Surgery Patients (Revised)

Wounded, disturbed, or anxious I know

For treatment I must to the doctor go. 
There answers cut open my heart like knives,
And a fount of forgiveness freely I may imbibe.

But often when ill feelings have found their source—
My misplaced trust and self-reliance, of course—,
I recoil at the image in this illuminating mirror
And assign this diagnosis to another who’s near.

“Perhaps that’s why they're so hostile to me—
Selfishness and fear prevent them from being free.
And I with their posts simply cannot agree.
They too must need insight for errors to see.”

“Maybe I can play doctor on their soul with this light,
And charge not a penny for my wise insight,
Just the acknowledgement and esteem I deserve
For diagnosis and operation on what I observe.”

Thus I, by my scruples, decode then their own
Neglecting that heart where insight's been shown:
The heart I call mine that leapt off that table
After doctor’s incision this "vision" enabled.

“The Lord won't etherize his patients,” devils say,
“Nor tie them down for the operation each day.
So lure them off before treatment commences,
And they to each other will be quite senseless.”

“Lure them with the gore that they see in each other,
With fault-finding, a past time aimed at a brother.
Seduce them out the door with a tantalizing mystery,
To find blame elsewhere but call it authenticity.”

Then “STOP!” says a voice, a helper inside.
And I cease roving and look back wide-eyed. 
My wounds leave a trail to where the doctor still stands
In the operating room with my blood on his hands.

Must I with cut flesh to the table thus crawl,
When I have no heart but my own to overhaul?
And nodding to the doctor for him to proceed,
He'll operate simultaneously upon all in need.

I’ll know not what he'll find in family and friends,
In the souls of this Body waiting to be cleansed.
Yet their blood with mine mingles in this joint operation
As we lay side by side in this, our salvation.

But if I flee the ward again and meet you in the halls,
Let's not wield plastic scalpels or push each other 'gainst the walls.
Let’s smile sheepishly and with courage understand
That we go best under the knife when we go hand in hand.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Wages of 6 Days of Work

A day
To remember my week's work.
A day
To mourn that I must do it on the seventh as well
While preachers say rest,
And the Bible says rest,
And God says rest.

A day to weep over my wages,
Which are owed to me,
But no one pays.

6 days of diaper changing;

6 days of picking up toys;

6 days of soothing and rocking and listening to troubles and absorbing anger and feigning interest in lego creations and artwork that will clutter my house;

6 days of writing lists and selecting food and loading groceries and unloading groceries and meal planning and prepping and cooking for the ten minute scarf-down and baby spitting it out on his tray and throwing it on the floor;

6 days of sorting clothes and treating stains and loading the washer and putting towels on the line and picking up clothes and telling them to pick up their own clothes and carrying the laundry basket back and forth, back and forth, back and forth;

6 days of instructing how to wipe the pee off the toilet and how to respect my things and how to respect their things and how to speak to me and how to speak to each other and how to speak to the neighbors and how to behave in the store and how to behave in the pool and how to behave in the bathroom and the shower and the bed.

6 days of work.
6 days of my work.
6 days of my works.
The fruit of my labor
Offered to Heaven on an altar
While I shout,
Like Cain,
"Are you not satisfied?
Is that not enough?
Now give me my dues!
Give me my rest!"

A day after 6
To unveil 
That I've been keeping score,
Which is not gift-giving
Nor loving 
Nor obeying
As the law demands,
But rather my works
Of the flesh
For which the only payment
From Heaven
Must be
Even while I yell,

Oh God,
Upon this Sabbath day,
May I recall 
That my week's work
Has already been paid
Upon the cross.
And because of his blood
I need earn my rest
No longer.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The PMSing Plan

I have a plan. A PMSing plan. It's written on a piece of lined paper, and I put it on my recipe stand in the kitchen. Once a month, or every three weeks, as if often the case these days, I put it in front of my recipes and follow it. 

A friend suggested I share this for the sake of other women. So here you go, other-premenstrual-syndrome-suffering women!

The moment I sense the oncoming symptoms of premenstrual syndrome—irritability, fatigue, and depression—I pull out the plan and let my husband know that the plan is in effect. The plan has a list of things I'm allow and not allowed to do. I've listed them below along with the reasons.


1) Schooling: because I instigated this plan during COVID-19, I was in charge of making sure the children did their online school. School was a frequent source of frustration for me. The children required constant monitoring while baby brother got into mischief, and the work assigned to my children seemed nonessential to their education. All of this was a bad combination for a time when my energy and nerves were already frayed. I think the children even sensed this. They could moan and groan about the difficulty of an assignment, and I would give in because I also thought the assignment was stupid.

2) Problem Solving: this included making decisions about anything that under normal circumstances might stress me out such as: vacation planning, formulating tactful replies to e-mails, attending meetings where I know I won't agree with the people, planning parties, reading deep books, listening to alternative viewpoints on the news or podcasts, deciding if the children should be allowed to do anything new be it using their toys in new ways, going to new places, or interacting with new friends. Can you tell "new" things stress me out?

3) Repairing Things: be it the kitchen sink, the computer, or a relationship. During this time I have no patience for failure or unexpected difficulties. Broken things will just have to stay broken for a few days.

4) Meals from Scratch: meals from scratch take a long time full of interruptions from my children. Interruptions cause my heart rate to increase at a rate of 10 beats per interruption. (Actually, I just made that up). So all plans for homemade hummus, chicken pot pie, or cookies will just have to wait. Instead I try to do simple meals: sandwiches, freezer meals, leftovers, or snacks.

5) Analytical Blogging: whenever I try to analyze when PMSing, which is like every 10 minutes, I feel hopelessly lost and confused, as if my brain were stuck in a maze. I've found it best not to analyze why my children are behaving as they do or why so and so bugs me so much. In case you're wondering, this isn't an analytical blog. But the one before this was, and no, I was not PMSing then.

6) Texting and Facebook: I try to limit my texting and facebook time to once a day. This is necessary because when I'm depressed or fatigued I frequently reach for the phone to instantly soothe my irritability. It's a quick fix that leaves me in a worse state than it found me. Facebook and texting also require a fair amount of restraint, tact, and strength, which I have not.

7) Talking About Myself: I have yet to successfully follow this rule, but any attempt to follow it is better than abandoning the idea altogether because otherwise, I complain and gripe an inordinate amount. I found myself complaining to my friends about things that weren't actually problems and then afterwards wondering why I said what I said. Best to ask questions of others and practice listening during this time. I found that this actually improved my mood quite a bit.

And now on to the allowable things. 


1) Reading Fun Novels: anything transportive or that slows me down

2) Writing Poetry & Novels: I discovered the creative part of my brain, unlike the analytical part, was still alive and well during this time. The creative process also helped me forget my "misery".

3) Phone Calls: So long as I stuck to the rule about not talking about myself, phone calls are essential. They help me not wallow in self-pity and to remember that other people besides myself exist.

4) Watch Movies: AFV is usually the best. There's nothing like seeing other people suffering to cure myself of the ho-hums. 

5) Physical Exercise: including walks, Youtube yoga videos, and jumping rope with the children

6) Scrub, Clean, or Dig: I think this is good because it's physically exerting while accomplishing something. It's making order out of chaos. Being outside to dig or weed or take out the trash is highly therapeutic too.

7) Organize: Organizing and throwing things out makes me happy. I suggest you find your happy activity that isn't stressful.

8) Do Puzzles: Again, it's making order out of chaos. It slows down my racing mind and gives me something to think about other than my poor self and the troubles I'm having, which will be nonexistent in three days. Hmmm... I'm noticing a theme here. Anything that helps me take my mind of my temporary troubles is good.

There you have it. I highly recommend making your own plan.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

An Erupting Volcano and Sheet Music

I find it hugely interesting to cross-check facts online and listen to people's opinions about COVID-19. However, I'm starting to see how this sort of research can only get me so far. 

The fact of the matter is I don't make my decisions based on the news, but rather on my values. I'm pretty sure this is a thing all human beings do and not just me. Allow me to explain.

The news might report that a volcano is erupting on an island, and that the lava will most likely wipe out an entire village. The villagers are warned, but one islander decides to stay. We could argue with him all we like, but until we understand that he values his ancestral home more than his life, we are wasting our breath.

Likewise if someone values maintaining inner positivity over securing their future against all possible forms of COVID-19, they might stop watching the news right now. Someone who values social justice more than keeping the peace may decide to march in protests or speak out against socio-economic impartiality. Someone who values helping others more than maintaining personal freedom might decide to quarantine and practice social distancing and anything else the news might recommend.

I can argue with others about what's on the news until I'm blue in the face. But until I can understand and respect others' values, I will probably not get very far. Now, I may think my values are better or "more Christian-like" than others, but that is rather ego-centric. All values, when boiled down to their underlying desires, are good. None are wicked or bad.

What is bad is the pursuit of our pet values at all costs. Pursuing justice at all costs! Pursuing helping each other at all costs! Pursuing my goals at all costs! Pursuing health and safety at all costs! Pursuing personal freedom at all costs! Pursuing friendships at all costs! These are some of the Enneagram values by the way. (See Intro about Enneagram for more on that.)

"The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide." (Lewis, 11).

Some may think that helping others is a safe guide to follow but people who help others at all costs so often neglect themselves or inaccurately presume they know what is best for others. Some may believe personal safety is the absolute guide to follow, but people who pursue this so often ignore what is best for the heart and mind, which doesn't always coincide with personal safety.

Christianity is about rightly using all values (or impulses as Lewis calls them) at the right time. It's like playing a song correctly on a piano, every note played at the right time. And when is the right time?  When the sheet music says to play it.

I think we like to presume we're playing the sheet music right, or at least we're playing it better than so and so. It's a common flaw among humans, including Christians. We like to show how we're following along with God's sheet music, and thus, we're above blame. So we approach the news or the Bible seeking support for the song we're already playing. 

"Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or—a Judge." (Lewis, 87)

"You will find this again and again about anything this is really Christian: everyone is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity." (Lewis, 85)

What is one to do? More research? More defense of one's position? I'd like to suggest one course of action, and I say this to myself more than to you.

Seek out God's sheet music. Discover his song as if your life depended upon it. In the same way you research vaccines and politics and statistics, look for God's way. You'll know when you've found it because when you do, you'll simultaneously discover that you're not following his sheet music at all. In fact, the more you learn his sheet music, the more you'll see how dissonant you actually are.

What follows then, might be gloriously melodic. 

It might even resemble an islander leaving behind his ancestral home in order to live a new life elsewhere.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

When the People I Love Fight

It starts with something simple. 

He bought a Play-Doh mold in the shape of the Millennium Falcon with numerous places to press dough to get the shapes of a Snow Speeder or Tie Fighter or Death Star. He's excited to tell Daddy over the phone. But she butts in and tells Daddy first. He's mad.

There's name calling and some pushing, and I send them outside. No fighting around Mama. She doesn't want to hear it. "Have it outside!" I tell them. "Come back when you've made peace."

So they burst out the door, wielding their favorite weapons. She, words. He, fists.

I go about my business until screams indicate that the children may be seriously injured. I hover from one window to the next until I find them. He is swinging a segment of garden soaker hose over his head, using it like a whip. She is hiding behind the Podocarpus hedge crying. I wonder if I should intervene. Then she explodes with vehement phrases from behind the shrubbery. All the vulgar profanities that she knows at the age of six are said at her brother. I figure she could use a good lashing from a garden hose. 

I attempt to go about my business again but I'm sorely distracted. What really am I teaching my children? Am I teaching them that might makes right? He is stronger but she is more crafty. He won't hold a grudge no matter what she says to him, but she will if I protect her or scold her.

Before I can decide what I ought to be doing, I hear shouts from a different part of the yard. 

"I'm sorry, Rose!"
"I forgive you!"
"I'm sorry, Lee!"
"I forgive you!"
I wait. Then they come tumbling into the house.
"Mama, did you hear that?"
"We were on the roof."
"We have made peace."
And they race each other to the kitchen table to get out the Play-Doh to make tiny Star Wars ships.

Their anger is spent but I am still reeling.

Later, I chat with a more experienced mom about my parenting techniques. She says she only intervenes when her children's quarrels may be permanently damaging the relationship.

How is one to know? How can I tell when their actions or words will have a lasting effect or when they are simply the moment's passions? I have interrupted fights that I thought were getting out of hand, and the children became resentful towards me and each other for upwards of an hour. It was all very unsatisfactory.

But this other way, this way of listening and sometimes watching the people I love fight feels like some sort of Chinese torture. 

How does God do it?

I see the people I love standing up for something they believe passionately about, something they believe is vital to their survival, their hope, their happiness. And I see others offended by it, angered, and threatened. I watch their words spill out on my computer screen like segments of soaker hose swirled above their heads. I hear hiccups of tears and anger, and I watch the days go by wondering if these quarrels will permanently damage their relationships.

And I wonder, will the resentment continue longer if I intrude? Or will I hear apologies shouted from the rooftops when this is all over?

Friday, July 17, 2020

Wanting the Ends Without the Means

I want my children to learn to get along,
But I don't want to hear them fight.
I want them to feel their emotions and understand them,
But I don't want them to slam doors or be sassy.
I want them to be respectful to adults,
But I don't want to be embarrassed when they say something totally inappropriate.
I want them to choose to obey me,
But I don't want to come up with consequences when they don't.
I want them to fill their own time with play,
But I don't want to clean up the mess when they put stickers on the walls or throw tomatoes over the neighbor's fence or carve into the walls or cut through the upholstery with scissors.

I want them to be good.
But I don't want to suffer through their becoming good.

I want a rich and seasoned relationship with my husband,
But I don't want to endure seasons of dryness or coldness or disinterestedness.
I want to have friends who are different than me,
But I don't want to hear their threatening opinions.
I want to have mutually supportive friends,
But I don't want to admit that I need their support.
I want to help others,
But I don't want to feel their needy groping.
I want to be in a Christian community
But I don't want to be with a bunch of weirdoes who are pockmarked with quirky flaws and don't follow Christ like I do and have far too many ideals that I can't agree with.

I want deep relationships,
But I don't want to deepen them.

I want to be at peace in difficult situations,
But I don't want to be in the middle of difficult situations.
I want to be generous with my things,
But I don't want to worry about not having enough of my things.
I want to love others deeply,
But I don't want to collide with the parts of others that are hidden deep inside.
I want to trust God entirely,
But I don't want the rug jerked out from under my feet again and again to reveal that I wasn't standing on God at all but my own self-made dreams or ideas of goodness or plans for safety or mechanisms to measure my worth.

I want the ends without the means,
Which probably means I don't want the ends at all
But my own ideas of the ends,
Which are not the ends at all.

God, help me to want the means as well as the ends
Which is to want you 
And not the good things I think you owe me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Anti-Selfish and Anti-Fearful Brigade

Two types of people seem to be bubbling to the surface in these tense conditions. Those who would rather eat roadkill than be thought selfish and those who would rather be skinned and flayed than found guilty of fear. There is a third category but they're harder to recognize. I'll mention them later.

The Anti-Selfish Brigade sees selfishness as the least desirable fault. The Anti-Fear Brigade sees fear as the great weakness of mankind. Each side judges others primarily as selfish or fearful when others don't act as they themselves would. "They're just so selfish!" "They're just being ruled by fear!"

The Anti-Selfish Brigade (ASB) often believes they can help the Anti-Fear-Brigade (AFB) by encouraging them to examine their motives and discover their selfishness. On the flip side, the AFB often believes they can help the ASB by teaching them to defy or overcome their fear. I think this is both funny and tragic. And let me explain why.

Ironically, I believe each side is guilty of what they're accusing the other side of doing. The Anti-Selfish Brigade (ASB) has their own code of conduct that they believe others ought to follow. They usually appeal to a higher standard of morality to justify their rules (the government, common civility, the Bible, God). By standardizing their own ideals and allowing themselves to act as judge, they put themselves at the center, which is a form of self-centeredness.

The ASB can also pursue self-sacrificing actions for entirely self-centered reasons: to make others like them, to gain acceptance from God, to feel successful, to avoid guilt, to be better than someone else, etc.

I think the Anti-Fear Brigade (AFB) is also guilty of its namesake. These people can be so afraid of being controlled, manipulated, duped or taken in that they develop a tough exterior, an anti-authoritarian stance, an "I'm going to do whatever I want!" attitude. The AFB can fight fear so vehemently that anything that feels like a weakness (tenderness, vulnerableness, or innocence) can be destroyed in the process.

In regards to the ASB and AFB, I can only recommend seeking the logs in our own eyes instead of the specks in others. There is no evil worse in others that is not also in ourselves. And the pastime of judging and rating other's selfishness or fear is extremely non-productive. I also think it diminishes the accuser's reception of new information by 50%. And yes, I made up that percentage.

You see, while each side is so blind to its own issues, they accuse the other side of the sin most prevalent in themselves. Those in need of admitting selfishness point to others and say, "You're selfish!" And those in need of admitting they're afraid point to the other side and shout, "You're afraid!" See, comical and tragic.

Perhaps the very thing these brigades oppose is what prevents them from a deepening faith in Christ. The ASB's self-attained unselfishness is what stands in the way of accepting Christ's goodness in place of their own. The AFB's fear of being ruled is what prevents them from total surrender to God's control and direction.

We can't stop fearing that others might control us until we have complete faith that God is in control. And we can have no real unselfishness until we have complete faith that our goodness is all borrowed from Christ.

I think it's only fair to mention a third group here. This group is made up of those who don't know themselves, others, or a situation well enough to know what to think. Also in this category are those who change what they think based on the time of day, their mood, or whom they're with. I cannot rightly address this group because I am part of it, but I would like to say that I think the best thing for these people is either a slap in the face, a flurry of action, or the temperature in the pot to reach boiling point, none of which is very pleasant.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Doing Good ≠ Being Good

Time for some clarification.

I don't think wearing a mask is equivalent to being unselfish. Neither is refraining from singing in church or maintaining proper social distancing rules.

Let me say this another way. 

Good actions don't always come from a good heart. Not everyone who obeys government ordinances regarding COVID-19 does so out of love for God and love for others.

People are motivated to obey the rules for all sorts of reasons.

They do it to avoid guilt.
They do it to be appreciated.
They do it to be seen as good.
They do it so others will think well of them.
They do it to maintain their illusion of perfection.
They do it out of fear of displeasing God.
They do it because everyone else is doing it.
They do it to feel good about themselves.
They do it out of fear of dying.
They do it out of fear of the future.
They do it so their spouse won't pester them.
They do it so as not to rock the boat.
Or they do it because they just find masks terribly comfortable.

The fact of the matter is, we can't see what's inside others' hearts. One person might obey while secretly feeling God now owes him something. Another disobeys because he knows he cannot hide the rebel in his heart. The compliant individual is like the brother to the prodigal. The rebel is like the prodigal. From appearances, the compliant seemed less selfish. The rebel seemed totally selfish. But which one chose the right way? The one who repented. And which one needed to repent? Both.

Let me start from another point and maybe that'll make things clearer.

No one is good but God. No one loves God with all their heart, soul, and mind. No one loves their neighbor as themselves. No one acts from an unselfish heart. It's impossible.

However, God asks that we do just that. And I think it's a good idea to try because it's only through trying our darndest that we realize, we can't.

When we try to submit to the governing authorities (a good thing to do) by wearing masks and quarantining and temporarily not singing in church, most of us will probably discover that we have very little love in our hearts for those who don't do likewise. In fact, we feel quite angry at those people who are not keeping the rules as rigidly as we do and who accuse us of being afraid. We might discover that we actually only love those who behave according to our standards and treat us with respect.

I realize, this is not true of everyone. Those moved by the Holy Spirit will find love in their hearts even for those who point in their faces and call them rule-keeping, gullible cowards. Those lead by the Spirit neither feel the need to justify themselves or defend their reputation. They have fallen upon the Lord Jesus Christ for the assurance of their own goodness, for their security for the future, and for the power to influence others through love.

So the question for the Christian is not do we choose to love others or courageously fight for our freedoms. 

The question is do we deceive ourselves into thinking we are good because of our seemingly unselfish or seemingly courageous choices, or do we recognize the many ways we fall short no matter how hard we try, repent of our self-centeredness, and ask God to do it for us? 

"Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great general disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves." 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (2012) . Life Together. "Not an Ideal But a Divine Reality." [Kindle] Loc 144-165

Friday, July 10, 2020

Questions Prompted by COVID-19

COVID-19 has prompted me to ask many if not all of the following questions: 
What do I need to survive? 

What do I need to stay sane and happy? 

Do I really like where I'm living?

Do I really need all this stuff?

Why am I still keeping this?

Which of my relationships are really important to me?

Do I like who I am living with? 

Do I really like myself? 

Would we be able to manage financially if my husband lost his job?

What would happen if I just tore off my mask and sneezed on the produce at the grocery store?

Am I still okay about my own boundaries when others have different boundaries?

Why was I so busy before all this started?

Why did I get sucked into so many social events that I didn't actually want to go to?

Why did parents invite so many children to their kid's birthday parties?

How would I cope if that person died?

Am I alright with dying at this point in my life?

What would happen to my family if I were to die?

What would I like said about me at my funeral?

If I knew I was going to die, should I write my children letters to open when they're teenagers?

What do I think about the suffering and injustice in the world?

Who do I believe online? 

Who has the right to speak authoritatively about Covid-19?

How informed do I really need to be about what's in the news?

Do I know any Chinese people? 

What do the black people I know think about all this?

What would people think I believed if they judged me solely on my facebook posts?

What would happen if I just hugged that person?

Can I get arrested for getting a hair cut?

If I sneeze into an envelope and mail it, could someone get my germs?

Was that an angry-eye look or smiling-eye look?

Is that someone I know? I can't tell.

How obedient to the government and local governors am I really going to be?

What do I do when a friend is angry with me or with a group I associate with?

How desperately do I need chocolate right now?

Have others discovered a newfound taste for wine too?

What else is there to do beside watch TV?

Do I really care that much about keeping my utility bills low?

How much abuse will this house take before it collapses? And will we die if we're still in it?

Why shouldn't I let my kids climb on the roof?

If I get sick, will I get to be by myself for 14 blessed days?

Is the virus doing more good than bad in the hearts of people?

Did God intend this virus? Did he want it to happen?

What is God doing through all this?

How are other people answering these questions?

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Why the Enneagram Numbers Might Evangelize

Type One: The Reformer
   I evangelize because this world is in desperate need of God's reforming program. I mean, I'm on board with anything that's going to decrease the number of stupid people in the world. The only trouble is getting people on the right track faster.

Type Two: The Helper
   Ever since I came to know Christ, I've had this ability to see what others really need. See, I can't really stop myself from helping others know about Christ's way. "Sigh" I've sacrificed so much to help others and it hasn't quite turned out like I'd hoped.

Type Three: The Performer
   One of the signs of a real Christian is that they tell people about Jesus, so I have a mental list of all the people I've evangelized and how well they're doing. They're all doing really great!

Type Four: The Individualist
    I'm not really into typical evangelism. I mean, I don't want people to think I'm just another obnoxious Christian. So I have this ring that symbolizes my relationship with the Lord that I got back in seventh grade from summer camp. And my license plate says BRN2IC, which stands for born twice, which was my church group's motto when we went on this amazing retreat to Yosemite. And if anyone asks me about these things, I can tell them how God has totally changed my life. 

Type Five: The Observer
   So, I know I've read Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Mere Christianity and The Reason for God and A Case For Christ and others, but I don't think I'm really prepared to evangelize. I probably need to get to know my audience better before I say anything. After all, I don't want to look stupid.

Type Six: The Guardian
    I sell people car insurance, health insurance, fire insurance, and even pet insurance. Why wouldn't I sell them eternal life insurance? There's no better way that I can protect my loved ones from everything and anything. And there's no better way they can get into this community that just helps us live better than the average Joe.

Type Seven: The Enthusiast
   Haven't you heard that we can either spend eternity in pain and suffering or with a bunch of really cool people having a really cool party? The more the merrier! How can I get more people in?

Type Eight: The Challenger
   Look, if people don't know the truth about who to follow, they'll follow any old news reporter, government leader or just mislead friend. We gotta inform people so they're protected against those that would use and abuse them. I know the truth and I can tell you it. But if you choose to ignore me, don't expect me to feel sorry for you when calamity strikes.

Type Nine: The Peacemaker
   Well, I don't wanna make anyone feel uncomfortable . . . I mean, I'll tell people the truth if they ask, but otherwise I think I'll just keep quiet. I don't really know what to say anyways.

"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, 'Jump' and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even got to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, no matter what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love." 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 The Message

Cloak of Sorrows

Like a robe 'round you darkens
All your thoughts and friendly smiles;
Like reptilian skins you've itched
And split but failed to shed;
Like a crowd of unborn babes
You thought you ought to have
Are these sorrows and injustices
Gathered round you with their stares.

They want naught but to know,
How could such wrongs fail to mar you so?
And until you give an answer,
They'll spoil your appetite for words
Of faith and songs of praise
And rejoicing for your friends.

That is how pain keeps the being within
And pain becomes the armor without
And pain becomes the soothing balm
That lessens the itch of wanting out.
Pain feels more real than any delight;
And it whispers vain hopes 
In your ears at night,
"If you suffer the world's sorrows,
The world will then suffer yours."

When, oh, when will sorrow find its place:
The distasteful herb at the passover feast?
When, oh when will grief no longer act
As the signpost to the forks at every turn in your path?
When, oh, when will you no longer define  
Yourself by these shadows that neither know your design
Nor your nature with divinity intertwined?

When? I know not but I know one day 
All your skins will fall off and your freed lungs will fill
With the songs your heart has been yearning to trill.
Unrealized wishes will dissipate at that dawn
Which shows every contour of what lurked the dark.
And unrobed, you'll not flinch at those blows unmeant for you
When you cease expecting from others what they cannot do.
Finally then love will saturate your being all throughout
And love will shed the skin for the soul to get out.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Untangling Emotions

I just finished reading Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith, and I thought I'd give a summary. It had some good points and was easy to read. It reminded me of the Enneagram literature that I've been reading lately, especially when it gave the four steps to healthy processing of emotions: identify, examine, evaluate, act. We identify what we're feeling, we examine and evaluate our emotions, and then we decide how to act. Very helpful stuff.

Here's a few quotes to whet your appetite:

"Our emotions broadcast loud and clear what's going on in our hearts." (Groves and Smith, 67)

" . . . God gave us emotions that are actually designed not to change unless what we love changes or what is happening to the thing we love changes." (Groves and Smith, 77)

"We crush them, deny them, or escape from them rather than letting them do their good and healthy work of driving us to him." (Groves and Smith, 130)

The book was divided into three parts: An intro, the meat, and some specifics. This is my labeling by the way, not theirs. Groves and Smith labeled their sections "Understanding emotions," "Engaging emotions," and "Engaging the Hardest Emotions." 

I skim read the intro. It felt rather wordy, although it made some good points: it's okay to feel bad, we feel many things at once, emotions are physical, we relate to others by feeling, and we can't just will our emotions to change. 

The second section I found the most helpful and practical. Groves and Smith begin this section by identifying how people tend to fall into two traps. They either allow their emotions to be king or stuff them into a little locked box. Emotions are not supposed to be our guides or the enemy. I like to think of emotions like that little lizard on the ghost's shoulder in The Great Divorce that was whispering into its human's ear. The lizard was basically controlling the human until the human gave the shining being permission to kill the lizard. Once killed, the lizard turns into a great stallion that the human then masters. I hope I'm remembering that correctly. Anyway, I like to think of our emotions like that. When we have surrendered ourselves to God, we are the masters of our emotions, and upon them we ride to glorious heights. 

Groves and Smith next give steps on how to engage our emotions through a relationship with God. I like their description of how we invite our emotions to teach us things about ourselves and our world. They encourage us to ask why we are feeling what we are feeling. Here I think the Enneagram gives better guidance by asking what instead of why. What do we want that didn't happen? The Enneagram helps different personality types trace that want back to a chore God-given desire. 

The last section gives specifics about engaging anger, fear, shame, guilt, and sorrow. I believe each of these sections could be helpful only in so much as a person realizes that's what they're feeling. Naturally no one can accept help unless they realize they need it.

Overall, a good read.

Groves, J. Alasdair and Smith, Winston T. Untangling Emotions. Wheaton: Good News Publishers,  2019