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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Not a Political Blog Post: Election 2016

Photo by torbakhopper

The scariest and potentially least value-generating way to start writing something, in my opinion, is when you don’t know where you’re headed, or what your ultimate point is going to be. It’s an even more unfortunate situation when you’re not nearly an expert, or even as well-informed as you should be, on the subject you’re tackling. But, here I go.
Trump vs. Hillary?
Great God in Heaven, I don’t know. Voting for either one feels like loading up your dinner plate with something the cat regurgitated because your only other choice is serving what the dog barfed up. Friends and family members whom I adore and respect—as well as acquaintances and strangers I neither adore nor respect—are lined up at the voting booths on both sides of the red/blue divide, and they all have a smorgasbord of both reasonable and questionable arguments for their choice of candidate. There are a lot of foolish people around the country, making ill-considered and short-sighted decisions, but there are also a lot of wise, thoughtful, and honorable folks making the same decisions for more defensible reasons.
As a person who believes in the sovereignty of God, I have to fall back on what I know. Namely, God doesn’t need my vote to put whomever he wants in the White House or anywhere else. Sovereignty means God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. That’s not an excuse for abandoning my civic duty or throwing up my hands in surrender, however. Rather, it leads me to suspect that God is much more interested in why I vote for a candidate than for whom I vote, the former of which is an equally and perhaps even more significant matter.
I don’t believe that either Hillary or Trump fill God’s bill for godly—or even meaningful—leadership. Why they seem to be our inevitable options is a mystery to me. But sometimes God lets us live with the consequences of our choices, and there’s a big, long, wide, ugly road behind us here in the U.S., chock-a-block full of choices the American people have made—corporately and individually—which have nothing to do with godliness, goodness, mercy, or wisdom.
I also believe that God never requires anyone to make a choice where A and B are the only options, but C is the right answer.
There’s my conundrum. I don’t know what C is when it comes to this upcoming election.
But I know there is a C, even if it’s simply choosing A or B for a different reason than, “This candidate says s/he’ll give me what I want for myself.”
So as we march forward to November, and things look bleaker and scarier and more unbelievable by the day, here’s what I’m going to do: keeping asking God, “What’s C? What’s the right answer? What do you want from me with respect to this?”
Your answer may be very different from mine. And they both may be right when it comes to our obedience to God.
Because God is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican, nor even an American.
Now that’s something to think about.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Christian Pride

Photo by madamepsychosis

The word Pride has been arrogated by the LGBTQ+ community in response, I’m sure, to the decades of shame, persecution, and humiliation its people have suffered at the hands of the heterosexual community. And the most militant, anti-LGBTQ+ faction of the heterosexual community, at least in the United States, is arguably those of us who claim Christ as our God.
Because the Bible condemns homosexuality we proudly declare ourselves in the right and homosexuals bound for hell.
But fire cannot be defeated with fire. Christians will never overcome the world while playing by its rules. And pride is the practice of the world. The Bible never confers on us the right to be proud of ourselves or our faith or our values:
“There is no one righteous. Not even one.”1
LGBTQ+ people take pride in their sexuality; I can take none in mine. My sexuality does not make me right before God, even if it conforms to biblical standards of sexuality, because other sins in my life—jealousy, anger, greed, for example—render me wholly unfit to stand before God, and make me no better than any other created being.
No better. “There is no one righteous. Not even one.
I am made right before God only because Jesus took what I deserve. Not what I deserved, but what I deserve, right now, this moment, for the sins I commit today.
Christians have no other just stance before God and the world and each other than bare, low, self-denying humility. Because there but for the grace of God go I.
“Pride has its root and strength in a spiritual power, outside of us as well as within us; as needful as it is that we confess and deplore it, it is satanic in origin.”2
Pride is not God’s invention. It’s what expelled Satan from God’s presence, and what Satan spoon-feeds the world to extricate the rest of us from relationship with God as well.
In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, I read Aaron Sheppard’s words to Christians who would claim God’s justice in that horrible act, or who simply can’t find the will to show love or mercy to the victims:
“If you can’t bring yourself to feel or express any compassion for LGBT persons, I would advise you to re-read the Gospel accounts and closely study the empathy of Jesus. Empathy, mercy, and compassion drove many of the connections He made, and I find it extremely hard to believe that He’d categorically turn His nose up at all LGBT people in today’s world. Moreover, if you personally turned to Christ to be redeemed from your sins, then it is self-righteous of you to forget the mercy God showed you while YOU were in your sins. Extend that mercy to those with whose beliefs and lifestyles you disagree.” (emphasis mine)
Christian, let’s be like Christ in his humility and refuse the seductive and self-flattering lure of human pride. We’ve nothing in ourselves to justify anything but humility.
“There is so little of the meek and lowly Lamb of God in those who are called by his name. Let us consider how our lack of love, indifference to the needs and feelings of others, even sharp comments and hasty judgments that are often excused as being honest and straightforward, are thwarting the effect of the influence of the Holy Spirit on others.”3
 The litmus test for our words and behaviors as Christians must always and only be, “Does this further the Gospel or does it hinder it?”
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Hatred, anger, discord, petulance, cruelty, vengeance, treachery, hostility, and belligerence are neither godly, nor appropriate for people who call themselves by Christ’s name.
Christians no longer enjoy the safe and smug benefits of floating along in a culture that agrees with and affirms our faith. Quite the opposite. We have become the world’s enemy. And if we are to prove ourselves worthy of the calling of Christ, if we have any hope to save the lost and heal the wounded and bring the broken to the only One who can save, we must learn to fight as He fights.
With the unbreakable and unimpeachable power of Christ’s love and humility.

1 "Romans 3:10." The NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. Print.
2 Murray, Andrew. Humility. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2001. 24. Print.
3 Murray, Andrew. Humility. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2001. 27. Print.

Friday, June 10, 2016

I Never Liked Kids Either

To find out what's on the back, read on.

I have a pair of cousins, sisters, who couldn’t be more different in terms of their approach to children. The elder loves kids, is an adored second-grade teacher, and can’t wait to have a gaggle of her own. The younger wants nothing to do with the little ankle-biters and is an outspoken proponent of child-free living.
Until I had my own, I resonated with the younger cousin’s outlook so much.
I never appreciated kids. I babysat to fund myself, not because I relished playing Candy Land for hours at a time, or because I found great personal fulfillment in unwittingly memorizing the unabridged anthology of Dr. Seuss:
One foot, two foot…
red food, blue foot…
Agh! Kill me now!!!
Children, however, always delighted in me, much to my ever-grimacing displeasure.
They followed me around. Asked me, “Why? Why? Why?” until I wanted to duct-tape their yammering pie holes shut and tote them like mute, squirming footballs back to their parents. When my mom said, “Take your niece outside and play in the sprinkler with her!” I was like, “Why in the name of all that’s holy would I ever want to waste my valuable time getting my hair frizzy in the service of a three-year-old?”
I don’t like Disneyland. Not a fan of Build-a-Bear. Never attended a party at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
However, I always planned to have children. Why?
Was I a culturally indoctrinated throw-back to a nineteen-fifties mentality regarding the holiness of the wife/mother/white-picket-fence trifecta? I don’t think so. When I was nine years old or so my mom asked if I might like to be a secretary one day. I arrogantly retorted, “I’m not going to be a secretary. I’m going to have a secretary.”
(I don’t, by the way. Just another life goal unmet.)
I think I always planned to have or adopt children, if able, because I try to look at life through the long view. Family can be a blast. When I reflect on my childhood, and all the extended-family get-togethers, those were huge, populous, raucous events.
My uncle dressed up as Santa Claus every Christmas and tried to ignore his obnoxious children who yelled, “That’s Dad! That’s totally my dad!”
Another time my mom asked her brother-in-law about a family member who’d gone through rehab and then became a minister. He grudgingly replied, “Bob’s fine. But he was a h*ll of a lot more fun when he was a drunk.”
We’d have euchre tournaments and board-game championships and dart board grudge matches.
But I noticed that these family events centered around the oldest people in the crowd, like inverted cones, or pyramids. First it was the grandparents: all their kids—my aunts and uncles—brought their broods to the grandparents’ house, or invited the grandparents and everyone else to their house.
When the grandparents died off, however, the family fragmented. Then the aunts and uncles were at the top of their own pyramids, and it was them partying with their kids and grandkids. The aunts and uncles might all get together occasionally and reminisce over ham and potato salad and pie, but the en masse family group from my childhood only ever congregated at weddings and funerals.
I wanted to have kids so that hopefully, when I’m at the chronological apex of the pyramid, I’ll have some people of my own to hang with.
So I had three, all a couple of years apart, and it was tough sometimes. A lot of times. I still don’t like Disneyland. Haven’t yet Built-a-Bear. And I drop my kids off at the Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties.
But you know what? I’m crazy about those little snot-wads, and by accompanying them as they’ve grown through infancy and toddlerhood and childhood and adolescence, I’ve discovered an astonishing appreciation for kids of all ages and sizes.
Kids are brilliant. They see stuff and make connections that boggle the inflexibly dull adult mind. I took math all the way through grad-school statistics, but had to turn one of my daughters over to her engineer father when she started querying me about the mathematical properties of the tenth dimension.
Kids are hilarious. My youngest girl made a beautiful paper Christmas ornament to hang on her door. And she wrote on it, “STOP! BY THE CHRISMAS LAW! (turn paper over) TURN BACK! P.S. This means you, Chris!” (Chris is her older brother.)
And my kids have made me a better person.
I’ve learned more about humility, unconditional love, and sacrifice in the dozen years I’ve been a parent than I did in my entire previously self-engrossed life. I’ve had to clean up someone else’s puke in between my own dashes to the porcelain deity. I’ve learned that screaming “Just go to sleep already!” at a crying child in the middle of the night will never yield the desired outcome, and I’ve missed entire nights of sleep learning how to be calm and patient and trustworthy in the midst of what feels like a deep, personal, existential crisis that will never, ever end until I am dead and rotting in a pine box.
But I also learned that it always ends.
For example, I used to consider sleep a necessary evil; after having kids I’ve many times prayed, “Thank you, ALMIGHTY GOD IN HEAVEN, that biology demands this child must fall unconscious eventually!”
Has it been fun? Sometimes. Often not very much.
But I didn’t have kids to have fun. Fun is just a nice by-product of the very hard work required to raise them. Kind of like how you have to sacrifice and save in order to buy that brand new car you wanted. Or how it takes three hours to make a gourmet meal, but every single bite makes it worth all the work it took to enjoy it.
So if, like my cousin, you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided child-free is the way you want to go, more power to you. We all have to map out our own plans and dreams and schemata about our futures, and I don’t know anyone else’s internal landscape any better than I know my own.
But if life doesn’t cooperate—whether you wanted kids and didn’t get them, or didn’t want them and did—be encouraged. There are benefits and drawbacks to every decision and outcome, and in my admittedly limited experience, reality rarely aligns with expectation anyway.
I think the joy comes in discovery of the unexpected.
And sometimes, even in finding out you were wrong.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Screaming Chipmunk

Photo by Nina

I made a chipmunk scream.
Ever heard a chipmunk scream? It sounds like an itty-bitty little girl, vocal chords hopped up on three balloonfuls of helium, when she plows her face into a spider web. That has a wolf spider in it.
Here’s how it happened. I needed a good walk in nature to clear out the cobwebs, so I headed for the woods. Right at the top of the trail, at the start of the tree line, I remembered an important email I needed to send. So I pulled out my phone and dashed it off.
Then I glanced up to discover a chipmunk scurrying up the hill, straight toward me. I froze and waited to see how close it would get before it took note of my towering, threatening, human-sized self.
It never did.
The little dude sauntered blithely forward, right between my shoes.
And I’m ashamed to admit that my own inner little girl sprang to skittish life: I jerked my feet apart and yelped.
I’ve never seen anything move as fast as that little brown and black-striped rodent. He screamed, and continued to scream as he blazed a fifty-foot-per-second shot through the grass, to a shrub, through the shrub, out the other side, across a yard, and around the side of a house.
He was still screaming when he got to the back yard.
I didn’t know chipmunks could scream.
I laughed. A lot.
(Yes, I am a bad person.)
I took two things away from this encounter. No, three.
One: Cool stuff sometimes wanders across your path when you simply stop moving for a bit.
Two: If you’re a prey animal, it’s probably wise to pay some attention to your surroundings.
And Three?
I’m very easily entertained.