Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Attitude and Evangelism

I'm back from New Attitude, a cleverly-advertised conference that has slogans like "Forget Reinvention; Save the Wheel," and "I *whale* New Attitude," or "Yes, na." My mom asked what were the shapes on my wristband. They were letters: almost shapeless letters.

The conference had dozens of insights and applications that I may or may not share. The one I thought about today at work was evangelism. God always talks to me about evangelism. And I don't know how to respond. What about gender roles? Should I be at work? Work is where I know people who aren't saved. But I don't really talk to them about the gospel - or anything else. How do I start a conversation at work? Is it appropriate? What about outside of work? Should I witness to little kids or to women, or is it good to tell men, too? Should I be sharing with every person, or wait for those special and obvious opportunities?

Why do I have to do it alone? Do I?

Searching for answers in the Bible, I wondered about the early Christians. The women were taught to be keepers at home, which shuts down access to non-Christians beyond your household. But there was food that needed to be acquired. Did they talk to their grocers? If you're a farmer, male or female, you probably spend entire days alone. So you're not spending your whole life evangelizing. Is that an excuse or a motivation for someone like me?

CJ Mahaney preached one night about talking to yourself. He said it's good as long as you're intentional about telling yourself true things, like God's promises, and what God's done for you. One way to do this is to sing Christian/true/worship/Scripture-based songs. So at work over lunch I listened to some of RC Sproul Jr's (and the Highlands Study Center's) Basement Tapes. On the way to and from work I listened to a Michael Card tape I have in my car. About a decade ago he wrote the official song for that year's National Day of Prayer. "If my people will humbly pray, and seek My face and turn away from all their wicked ways, then I will hear them and move my hand, and freely then will I forgive, and I will heal their land."

Near the end, the prayer-song continues, "Grant us hope that we might see a future for the land we love: our life, our liberty." I was driving on a boring American road with fences and cement sidewalks, a few trees that were artificially located there. The politics are less than hopeful to me. I didn't mind visiting Kentucky, and Chicago is my climactic and cultural home away from home, but the only hopeful and redeeming and loved thing about this country to me is the people. I wonder how much longer the rest of it will last.

That's one of the things that contributes to my evangelism angst. America is so lost, and as much as someone who barely talks about God to people can judge, fairly closed to the gospel. I want to change the world (and be in community with those who change the world), but I don't know how. We watched a video about the Bible shortage in Uganda. In a congregation of 210, there were ten Bibles. Everyone was eager for a Bible, desperate to hear even one verse read. Those with Bibles handed them off to unsaved neighbors who read it and got saved themselves. Does that work here?

I have a friend who is planting a church. His family is a missionary family to Denver, Colorado. They've studied the Bible and decided that the way to plant a church is to live out and preach the gospel in their neighborhood as they go. I'm afraid or shy or lazy or doubtful, because I don't see my neighbors as that open. The questions come back: how many neighbors does it take to obey? I only have to talk to one at a time. And don't I care?

Amy of Humble Musing Fame writes about different callings, and her life. She wants to raise her kids in a safer, less worldly place. Is that wrong? she wonders. Her answer is that she's doing this out of faith, following what God has called her to do: raise a big family and blog and support her husband and talk to checkers in the supermarkets. I hope, at least, that my calling is different. Like I said, I want to change the world.

It's so much easier to love the apparently more-open people groups in Uganda, or in the Middle East where there is a hunger for the Bible and the gospel. Does that mean I should go there? Or should I do hard things? Should I evangelize Denver? Or should I meet my neighbors?

The comforting, answer-part of the New Attitude weekend was its focus on and faith in the Bible. The messages convicted me that if I were reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Bible more, I wouldn't be worried about all these questions. My next step would be evident and my faith would be ok with knowing just that. The answers would come up, and I would be peaceful. My suspicion is that prioritizing Scripture would also make me a ready and passionate evangelist.

So here's what I'm doing: memorizing Psalm 37, and reading Genesis (along with Henry Morris's The Genesis Record, I think). We Christians, we've generally been let off the hook, bribed into daily devotions by the dangling offer of "all it takes is ten minutes a day." I have a feeling that is the wrong perspective. From my own personal experience I know I waste way too much time, and that I am more peaceful, obedient, and close to God if I spend more time intentionally studying His Word. Pray for me. Join me. See if it makes a difference in my blogging.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Midnight Dancers

My little sisters and some littler friends are watching the Twelve Dancing Princesses made by Barbie. This reminded me that Regina Doman, author of Shadow of the Bear, Black as Night, and Waking Rose is soon to release Midnight Dancers, a modern retelling of Grimm's Twelve Dancing Princesses. I look forward to her book, set for release next month.

To God be all glory.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Letters and Numbers

Do you ever wonder why our numbers are so different from our letters? A one (1) is like a lowercase ‘l’, but do you ever confuse the two? A two (2) and a five (5) are something like an ‘s’, but how distinct, with angles and slants where there ought to be curves. Sevens (7) look like inverted uppercase ‘L’s except for that odd direction of the longer stem. I often confuse a six (6) for an uppercase ‘G’, though a ‘G’ is much grander and stately for having that right angle at the tip of the curve. Letters are as alike and similar to numbers as hearing a sound through the air to hearing it through the water. Almost numbers are a foreign rendering of a concept, foreign to the alphabet we own. I venture to guess that numbers are a later invention, and carry less meaning in their shape.

To God be all glory.

Patience

On my way to work this morning I was thinking about patience. Comcast, a phone/TV/internet provider advertises their high speed internet with a turtle couple called the Slowskys, who much prefer dial-up and loading bars: “Throw away the clock.” Turtles are slow. They live a long time, too. Why should they hurry?

Then again, why should we? Even if we only live seventy seven years, for what are we rushing? I thought about what things make me impatient. My conclusion is that whichever things they are, however important and dear to my desires, they are not what my life is about. God gave me life to glorify Him and spread the word about Him.

If everything I did was with that underlying or over-lying motive, I suspect my patience level would be huge. And I would be satisfied and fulfilled in my life. Maybe all this discontent is because I’m not doing that for which God created me. As Mark Schultz wrote, “I think I am running just to catch myself.” What if I stopped running to catch myself?

Speaking of throwing clocks away, I only looked at mine once on my way to work, and usually it’s at every stoplight, as I judge whether I’m on schedule to be at work on time. I made it.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When Aslan is Unseen

Prince Caspian struck me in another way. In a world trying to live without God, the story points out the vanity of any battle. If God did not intend the effort, then why are you fighting? And if you are fighting without Him, is there hope of success? Can there be success when you have no aim? In the movie asked the war council comprised of Prince Caspian and his council: a black dwarf, a red dwarf, the badger; and of Peter, Edmund, and Susan – “Who are you doing this for?”

The black dwarf a little later suggested to Prince Caspian that they seek supernatural help – but not from Aslan. Like Abraham trying to fulfill God’s promise for Him, Prince Caspian nearly took matters into his own hands by giving them to the White Witch’s. “You can’t do this alone,” she coaxed the prince and then the high king from her icy prison.

Were there only two options? Was Peter forced to decide between losing to Miraz when no help would come, or surrendering to the White Witch? Was it so hard to wait for Aslan? My favorite scene of the movie is Peter leaning back against the broken stone table in Aslan’s Howe, gazing at the sculpture of Aslan carved against the wall behind the broken ice curtain in which Peter had been tempted by the White Witch hours before. He is deep in humble thought, feeling the weight of his mistakes and rebellion. I know what it is to fear getting up again, because you’ve let yourself fall so many times. I know what it is to only wish to see the face of my Lord.

How do you follow in a world without answers? What is this faith that demands you choose when you don’t even know all the options? Is it fair to ask us to wait on what we are not sure will come? Why is losing sometimes the plan?

Peter’s story is different from ours in two important ways: First, Peter had seen Aslan, long ago, and witnessed his power firsthand. Secondly, Peter did not have any written instructions to guide him, but we have the Bible. Prince Caspian had neither benefit and so, as Jesus told Thomas, was more blessed for believing truth he had not seen.

To God be all glory.

Facing the Supernatural Part 1: What Narnia says about America

(read before Part 2)

Saturday night I went with some friends to see Prince Caspian, the sequel to CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Of the seven Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian is my favorite. I try not to think of allegory unless it occurs to me when I read CS Lewis. So my appreciation for the story is quite apart from any meaning of the novel. The story moves quickly, and there are fascinating characters and a glorious victory.

The movie, as Hollywood is wont to do with my favorite things, greatly altered the book. The basic plot was there, and some of the same events. I dare say the duel was taken call by call from the book. A major battle was added, and important events were out of place, which puts a very different spin on the themes of the book.

One point is the same in the book and the movie. Narnia has been invaded by a tribe of humans called the Telmarines. They killed or exiled every talking animal and mythological thing when they conquered, and have for some generations denied the existence of dwarves, fauns, centaurs, and talking mice along with anything supernatural. King Miraz rules a world he understands and controls. And in the story all of a sudden everything they never believed existed came marching up in front of their face.

What a picture of our country! So content in our insistent denial of the supernatural, we wander along in a world we think we can control. If there is a God, he doesn’t interfere with the natural course. If God does redeem the soul, He does not give any power to the Christian. If a Christian has power, it is just excellence in normal gifts and talents. There are no demons and no miracles. Waters do not part. Men do not come back to life. Angels are legends for Christmas trees and graveyards. Dreams are not prophetic. Judgment is never more than consequences or human vengeance.

So we seem to believe.

If God sent undeniably fantastic events and figures upon the world, what would we do?

To God be all glory.

Facing the Supernatural Part 2: A World Reconciled to the Supernatural

(read after Part 1)

If God sent undeniably fantastic events and figures upon the world, what would we do? After we had reconciled ourselves to a new world completely different from that we’d imagined, would our lives be better or worse? In Narnia (spoiler warnings, but these books have been out for fifty years, so I don’t feel sorry for you) after Aslan was back and the dryads and nyads were dancing about with the fauns, badgers, giants, mice, bears, and chipmunks, there was a celebration. Flowers bloomed. Telmarines joined the festival, freer than they had ever been for seeing the world as it truly was. I imagine that, even if it were in a catastrophic form of judgment that God reasserted the reality of things outside our world able to pierce through, there would be a revival of saving faith. There would be joy and wonder and courage. Even if the awakening is slower and more gradual, even if it is happening to the unsaved as much as to the believer and a mass of the world reembraces paganism in a revolt against naturalism, GK Chesterton points out that the last things the pagans did is convert to Christianity. That was their climax. CS Lewis hints at that, but I think he sees paganism as something to be fulfilled, or seen without human’s taint. The revelry at the end of Prince Caspian is a pagan one redeemed because it is governed by, and centered around Aslan.

To God be all glory.

Questions and Faith: Between The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian takes place one year after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ends. In that time, back in a country participating in a world war, expected to behave like a child and to study algebra and sit at desks and ride in trains and motorcars, dealing with a father who might never come back and a mother who is hardly there – how did the four children who had been kings and queens of Narnia for decades cope? What questions did they ask?

Why did that happen to them? What purpose did it serve in their lives? How could they use what they learned and what they went through in their own world? Could they use it?

Why had they been returned to earth? Didn’t Narnia need them? What would happen to their friends? They didn’t say good-bye. Would they see them again?

Was it real? Had anyone else been to Narnia? That lion statue looks like Aslan. The horse reminds them of their talking horses. Icicles terrify them. Fist fights are necessary, but way too boring. Who wants to wear school uniforms when you used to dress in the most ornate brocades and silks with embroidery? Why should you talk to any of these boring and impertinent human children? Can you really be friends with someone to whom you can’t say anything about years of your life?

Will they ever go back? Can they get back? How will it happen? When? Will they return as they were when they left? Do they want to go back? Is it worth going back to lose it all again when they return to earth?

To God be all glory.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto

In light of the recent publication and subsequent discussion on the Evangelical Manifesto, I thought that it might be helpful to remind everyone what the word evangelical means.
It is from the Greek root: evangelizesthai "bring good news," from eu- "good" + angellein "announce," from angelos "messenger." So evangelicals should be about delivering, or announcing the good news.

Matthew 28:18-20, "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Napoleon of Notting Hill by GK Chesterton

I recently read GK Chesterton’s first novel, Napoleon of Notting Hill. It was a quick read, interesting and fast-paced. It follows the life and career of the most unique humorist of England, one Auberon Quin, who was elected by lottery the king of England according to the consummate democracy of his fictional future government. Auberon enjoys making people confounded and annoyed, by being himself completely ridiculous. I have a feeling that this would be an even less popular course in England than in America.

Inspired on a fine evening by a little boy with a wooden sword defending the street of his childhood, King Auberon revives patriotism by designing a heraldry and history of each neighborhood and suburb of London. What he did not anticipate is that, aside from entertaining his whim by appearing before him in uniform, anyone would take him seriously. When Adam Wayne refuses to allow his beloved Pump Street on Notting Hill to be demolished in deference to a highway, he brings his sword to the king and informs his majesty that blood makes all ordinary things and landscapes sacred, and he will risk his own blood to defend his homeland (or city block).

The neighboring businessman and politicians do not take Notting Hill seriously. They don’t take anything seriously, though they are very grim themselves. Read this book for laughter, thought, and inspiration. You’ll never look at your grocery store the same way again.

To God be all glory.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Colorado Personhood Amendment

This week the Colorado Personhood Amendment submitted more than 130,000 petition signatures in order to put the proposed amendment on the ballot in 2008. This is huge, and I am very excited. The campaign is only beginning, with a battle coming in the next several months to get the word out.

Abort73.com, about which I wrote several months ago, has a collection of embryology textbook quotes and government on-the-record conclusions about when life begins. You can read it and other related information here. So far I haven't found any specific resources describing the implications of the proposed amendment. To be honest I have not looked too hard. A reporter for Townhall, Michael Foust, wrote an article summarizing the history of the amendment very well.

There have been some objections to this amendment from reasonable people. Some people at my church thought that petitions and anything government-related did not belong at church. I took my petition to church, and collected about ten signatures there. My opinion waffled. I offered it to my Sunday school class. It was in the bulletin and I stood in the foyer with it. Only a few times, with people I thought I knew well enough, did I ask if certain friends had signed it. I'm naturally a non-agressive person. There were other people taking the agressive position with their petitions at my church. That reassured me, actually, that the audience for my petition was covered, just not by me. I don't disagree with the other petition circulators.

One problem many people have begun to recognize and address at church is that we don't connect our education or our spiritual experiences with obedience and action. There are no laws against circulating petitions at church, and the amendment is definitely not associated with any political party. Church is a community gathering, a great place to talk about what really matters. What better place to invite people to sign a petition that is, rather than bringing politics to church, bringing truth into politics.

Another objection is that, while a Christian and a scientist and any thinking or moral person may realize that life begins at conception, the government should stay out of it. There is flawed logic here, but I think the problem is in the view of government. What is a government's role? What does the Bible say about it? Abort73.com says, "God established government to be His legal representative on earth (Romans 13:1,2). God established government to keep sinful people from doing evil against each other (Romans 13:3). While it is true that individuals are called to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39), the government is not (Romans 13:4). The government is called to execute judgement upon those who do wickedly. Arguing that the government must not restrict an individual's free moral agency, is nothing more than an argument for anarchy."

Finally, alot of people are worried that the personhood amendment is a sneaky way of outlawing birth control and contraception. Roe v. Wade pointed out the lack of concensus and official definition of person - the definitions by which the constitutional protections and due process would become relevant. The amendment closes the loophole, and gives legislators and judges a platform on which to act and enforce. But the question should not be, "Are religious people trying to tell me what to do and change the way I am used to living my life?" but, "If life begins at conception, what must I do to respect that life?" Ultimately, the fact that this amendment is out there, being discussed and advocated, is going to make people face the question: am I harming or killing a human life?

To God be all glory.

A Plea

I don't do this very often - or I try not to. If I could find a big red flashing banner to follow your mouse around when you're on my webpage, I might download the application. Here's what I want to say:


Comment. Pleeeeeaaaaasssssse.


I love hearing from the regulars, but I would be really interested to know whether the usual commenters are the only audience this blog actually reaches. They call this de-lurking. But I don't want you to just put your name down and tell me where you're from. The idea is to interact. Does what you read make you think? Have you thought of it already and have more to add? Do you have questions or arguments? Commenting is really easy, and you don't even have to have a username or anything.

As I said in my last post, it is so much nicer to say "We are" than "I am."

To God be all glory.

Against Insanity, in Addition to Existence, for Life

Anne comforted herself sometimes by repeating that she was in the depths of despair, and her dreams were a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. In such a way am I writing today, to comfort myself by making the insanity of my life sound poetic.

First I must say that I am on the verge of insanity, but fear not – I have every intention of backing away from that brink. All it will take is a box full of cookies, much time with friends, and all the extra hours of sleep I will not be getting in exchange for said time with friends.

My office is much too busy, yet I am sitting, writing this at my office. Just prior to this, between imagining these sentences and answering the phone, I was reading a book, another partial cause of my near insanity. GK Chesterton has been writing to me of the ridiculous that makes life alive. Funny thing, imagining life to be alive. I think that is Christ. He seems to be around every corner of this world, which is a very good reason for sanity.

In fact I love patterns, even the poetic pattern of nuanced changes, the fact that my hair is brown and my corduroys are brown, I wear a brown necklace and in a startling change, a camel-colored bracelet. As all this is highlighted with gold, I find the effect most wonderful. It is a glittering accent to the pattern. A woman came to my office earlier with turquoise and brown beads on her shirt, and similar embroidery on the camisole beneath the shrug. Her purse I did not get a chance to study, but I have the distinct impression that it followed the theme in brown leather. My all white office upholstered and carpeted has recently been significantly altered by the introduction of a black chair in the doctor’s half. There is already a black chair in my half, but I sit in it, and thus have no comment on its effect on the d├ęcor as I have about this new one. Suddenly I am noticing that my clock is black, my appointment book, the mousepad, and one of the phones. All in all this does not have the art of consistency, but it does have the statement of contrast.

My voice is occasionally interrupted, when I frequently answer the phone, by a cough. It is insignificant enough to most commonly be silent and suppressed, but it has the annoying habit of altering my consonant pronunciation and taking away the warmth from my tone of voice. As a result Adam came out A-ar, and minute sounded more like the kind of cookie I’m about to eat: mint. This brings a vague recollection about consonant shift referred to but not explained (in the way of an insider that assumes you would know) in articles I have read about etymology and the devolution of language.

This I’m doing here, it isn’t life. It may be existence, this tedious survivatl – ok, so that was a typo, but it is so romantically Aztec that I’m leaving it as a tribute. Anyway, existence is “I think therefore I am,” the soulless I am. It’s ok when God says it, because He is Trinity, and I am is plural. For a human I am is not enough. I am satisfied only by saying we are. In fact this day has so far been broken by two instances of we are: when two young friends came to visit me while their mother picked up glasses – one can have the sincerest conversations with children; and the other was when the very friend about whom I was writing in my other post, the one about literature, came by with her two little girls. One is a genius who shared her flower by allowing me to smell it and by proclaiming it most accurately to be both pink and green; the other was asleep, but quite beautiful, just as was her mother, happily dressed in a maternity jumper with her hair all pulled up just like the joyful smile she is in my life. How can hairstyles be smiles? They just are.

Mine, by the way, is the result of getting up late this morning and loosing the braid I remember deciding to put in my hair last night, though I am unaware whence I stole the minutes in which to plait it. There is a large clip for emergencies fastened at present to my purse strap. At the end of my day, if I am tired of brushing the strands aside, I fiercely affix the jaw that is remarkably able to contain the entire girth of my ponytail.

Have you ever figured out under which circumstances you are supposed to use “that,” and which “which”? Microsoft Word is always objecting, and I’ve learned that if I have a comma, which is acceptable, but I can’t fathom why that would be. I do know that which is much more necessary when prepositions are used properly, and kept from ends of sentences.

Existence is a victory; "I am" is worth saying. Thinking is worth doing if the philosopher is correct in that it proves our am-ness. There is no meaning, no life abundant, alone. This is what I tell graduates as the primary lesson I wish people had told me before the first five years after high school. Don’t abandon your friendships; they’re more important than grades, money, or degrees.

To God be all glory.

Literature Aloud

I must say, much as I am a fan of literature, that I never liked Shakespeare. My taste, whatever else may be said about it, does not like to be dictated. Which men chose the classics and left better books behind? Must Dickens be praised and Burnett read everywhere while every little author with soaring words is neglected? What is to be praised in Dickens? And above all, why do we give to children what is supposed to be fine and profound literature?

Shakespeare’s poetry does not rhyme, and its meaning is not always evident. To me sometimes it sounds forced. And his plays do not interest me. Literature class forced Romeo and Juliet upon me, and in respect for a friend I read Tweflth Night. So I don’t have a lot of exposure to his plays, and I have never seen them acted. If I had, their interpretation might have more hold on my heart. Most of all I find that Shakespeare is overrated.

Perhaps, however, he is under-read. The one thing that tempts me to scorn my own opinion of Shakespeare is that whenever a true fan of his work, someone who has invested the thought to understand his themes, has described to me a play or a couplet, I have enjoyed the metaphor. The Danish prince on Prince and Me aids the American farmgirl in her literature class by directing her penetration of Shakespeare’s sonnets. My immediate reaction is that any poetry that requires so much thinking is not romantic, though it masquerades as such. Maybe the metaphors were more common, or the objects of comparison an everyday thought. But I must praise the ability to say more with words than the words themselves, to do something with choice of words and order, rhythm and association, pattern and emphasis that has, even to those unaware, layers of influence and meaning. My friend who convinced me to read Twelfth Night explained the statement Merchant of Venice is on Jewish philosophy. I greatly enjoyed that. When Chesterton critiques A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I feel let in on the secret. And occasionally when I catch radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewing David Allen White, a literature lecturer, about a piece of Shakespeare, I am delighted by the events and ideas Shakespeare addressed. How he did it from a cottage in the country I’ll never know.

Dickens always ought to be musical. Because Jo March and her sisters liked him, I always felt guilty for despising his work. I wanted story, and Dickens talked about issues, the dark, depressing issues of London which one hopes have been reformed since his creative efforts to address them. I feel very much as though I was being told what to do, a list of morals told in story form. Again, whoever makes the selections for literature books is sadly out of touch with students. I read a shadowy scene of Pip visits Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, and found myself very bored. If Oliver had not been set to music, I would have been turned off by the immorality and violence of the tale. But don’t you see that to make it musical, someone had to understand the story and love it enough to adorn it for the world to enjoy? A radio interview and Chesterton again are responsible for the majority of the interest I have in Charles Dickens. The former described the magic of the words the classic author used, how each word added to the tone of the novel.

Elizabeth Gaskell wrote to Dickens, and shared his concern for their country’s social issues. Through her stories I feel as though I receive commentary on Dickens, both a defense and a rebuttal of his work. Her novels are more realistic, more on the border of the issues to enable her readers, themselves well outside the slums, to look in at a window, gently led like Mr. Scrooge by the ghost to look at the needs of others. Her heroes have compassion held as an example to the readers. They learn and love just like the rest of us. Even her villains are not completely bad. Each has a story that, while it cannot justify their rebellion, is a justification for kindness shown to them.

To move my heart a story must be near enough my own experience. Few people today have family feuds preventing childhood romance. No one I know was beaten in an orphanage. Maybe in some parts of the world or my city these things are the case, but my life is without them. Jane Austen appeals to me because she writes about families with normal problems and interests. Tolkien intrigues me because, though he sets it in a fantastic world of elves, goblins, and dragons, his epic deals with the basic cases of right and wrong, sacrifice and friendship, and the choices everyday to turn back. More grown up than when I took literature class, I appreciate biographies for mapping the way individuals of the past navigated the questions of life. New genres are opening to me; maybe soon I will love the classics on my own.

Last summer I hosted a literature party in which each girl or lady was invited to bring a passage from her favorite children’s book. There was Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Little House on the Prairie, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Alexander, and more. I liked best loving those books through the eyes of my friends, to have them share with me what is so relevant or poetic or sentimental about the stories.

So many people talk about classic authors. I wonder if they do not derive some of their potency and meaning from being a matter of commentary and interpretation. Is Shakespeare truly better when discussed? Dickens wrote for the very purpose of stirring thought and inspiring movement in his society. And what writer does not write to be read and to matter?

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Act Your Age

Last Friday I told some friends approximately my age that I can't wait to be fifty. The girls thought this was odd, and asked for an explanation. There is one, but it is a little sentimental.

But what I am really writing to tell you is the decision one of my friends has made: to be twenty-one until she looks older than sixteen. It's a good plan, but actually I prefer age twenty-three. When I started my job at age fifteen, my mom told me to act twenty-three. I thought I could do it, and the incredibly sad thing is that I probably did. Now at my job I talk a little more, and I know more things, and take more responsibility. All that comes from six years of experience, though.

Someday life will change. Maybe when I'm fifty. If it happens before that, I'll let you know.

To God be all glory.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Statue

Last night some friends were talking about doing homework while very tired. Sometimes their head nods and they dream they finish their homework. I can exist in a sort of trance, my body going through the motions with eerie grace. In dreams rather than walking, you float places. We think it is weird when we fly in dreams, but do we ever actually move our feet against the floor when we dream? Running, running, down steps, or up into the sky. It's only a matter of vertical position, not physics.

So a few weeks ago I was walking that way, almost floating, and my toe caught behind me. Every day we walk. You would think we could get it right. Instead of sliding on through to the next step, my toe hit the ground and stalled the whole motion like using cash in a Visa commercial.

Maybe it's my boots, incredibly comfortable but about half a size too big and the only heels I wear. Or I might have been too tired to funtion normally. Does that ever happen to you - the toe thing?

It reminded me of a movie my mom and I just discovered, Awakenings with Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. Based on a true story, a bunch of people had a side effect from a virus years after they had apparently recovered. They froze. Their mind stopped transfering commands to walk, to hold a pen, to talk, to see. In the movie a research doctor discovers that these statue people can be induced to move, by music they really like or other things. I'm giving away the story when I say that medication is introduced that wakes them up, but it wears off permanently, but gradually. In the slow process of becoming a statue again, the patients will freeze mid-step or in the middle of putting a spoonful of cereal to their mouths. A word or a touch would start them up again.

For just a second time freezes, my foot stops, pointing to the floor, and I wonder what happened to my subconscious. Having a subconscious is scary enough; losing it to wander who knows where is very odd indeed.

To God be all glory.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Welcome Ache

My bones ache dully like an old woman’s when it storms. There is nothing unbearable about it, and I feel as if nothing can be done. Rubbing or stretching often are done, with no effect. Just now I’m feeling this way, and gazing at the skylights – such a romantic word for the only romantic part of the industrial steel box in which I work. Outside is a storm. Spring is still here, its violence the infant compared to the full grown warrior of summer. Today offered one blast of thunder, the long, patient rumble accompanying darker skies and a bit of rain. I wouldn’t exchange the storm for freedom from pain for anything. The pain may even awaken me to the conflict outdoors.

Weather is a conflict, a paradox. Bodies of air move over or under each other, affecting each other, fighting and at once altering. It is a bonding and a divorce, a war and a peace. The clouds hide the sun that formed them, only to be dissolved again or blown away by the solar powered wind.

There are some kinds of pain I hate. I rebel. They are senseless, pure war on life and love. Yet love always carries pain, the truth of pain against the empty imitation. I would not give up the love to banish the pain. They work together even, much as the weather, in its dance of wholeness and growth. Love sometimes explodes in thunder, accompanied inseparably by the curtain of lightning for a moment giving sight to reality.

To God be all glory.

Is Sleep the Only Answer?

It is a sad result of the necessity of regular sleep that teaches us the only way to recover from weariness is to rest. When at scarcely 35 years of age one is tired of life: of chores, children, husband, making meals, doing laundry, habit, change, watching sunsets, washing, talking, meeting people, travel – it is the regrettable tendency to believe that life must go on in weariness until it ends, for no rest is allowed, not interruption to the pattern and flow of life. Yet this must not be true, or all women would go mad. Our imaginations are limited, however, doomed to envision only a life of limp perseverance, without any suggestion of the real cure for our exhaustion.

What's the answer?

To God be all glory.

I Would See Jesus

Tonight I finished watching Joan of Arcadia, Season 1 on DVD. I could watch the episodes all night. The end of Season 1 has a scene where Joan is convinced god, whom she has been seeing all season long, from whom she has been drawing comfort and instruction, is not real. God comes in and stands by her hospital bed. I sat there watching, desperately wanting him to say something, give her all the answers, reassure her, give her proof. Or he could just hold her hand so she knew he was there. In the very least he could stay. He doesn't. He walks out.

That's really hard to watch. It's hard to even think about God leaving a room. And what about the people who don't believe in Him? Isn't the walking away symbolic?

Apostles had to watch Jesus leave. He promised to send them the Comforter, but I imagine they had pretty big needs for comfort by the time the Holy Spirit came. No wonder they were so fervent in prayer after Jesus' ascension. If it were me I wouldn't want to do anything else.

I need God. And I miss Him, the physical face to face Him.

In Joan of Arcadia the doctor god is one of my favorite images. He looks at people, speaks patiently and gently. He takes care of people, and gives answers that, while not directly satisfying, are still comforting. God takes care of me, and I know he loves me. I'm an intellectual person, and I know it sounds cliche to say those things. I don't like saying them because some people would demand evidence and proof and ask how I know. Tonight it's just a praise, a thanks, and a testimony.

We don't need all the answers. We need Jesus Himself. I need Him.

To God be all glory.

For Whose Pleasure?

Why do I always think while brushing my teeth? Just now it hit me. There must be something terribly wrong with me that I haven't noticed this before.

I walked in the rain a few nights ago. God and I were talking about life. In a lot of ways I've been lazy, and God has let me know that He wants me to be more diligent in prayer and more careful about how I spend my time. Contentment is something I need work on. But I was, with those things in the background, complaining that I wanted a life of radical faith, not the boring kind. Me in the regular world is not normal. So where do I find the equally abnormal world to embrace me?

I want to serve God. I want to see big doors open. I want to get things done. I want to have friends. I need encouragement. I dream of love.

And tonight, looking in the mirror with the odd convention of a plastic stick projecting from my mouth, I realized that my focus is all wrong. Since when is life about me? Is that even what I signed up for? No!!! God called me and saved me and enabled me to be His servant. What I need to do is to seek Him, what He wants from me this day. Live for His pleasure. Him.

To God be all glory.

What's Wrong with Bands?

The band at Summit this year was disappointing. They’re supposed to be leading worship. Most years it’s incredible to hear hundreds or thousands of teenagers and their leaders praising God from the foundation of truth they’ve studied and experienced. This year the band was loud, including bass that tried to throb my heart out and notes that hurt my ears. But what's worse, I couldn’t hear people singing. I could occasionally hear the band shouting out lyrics. There was smoke and strobe lights. Some songs they chose were lyrically deeper and good worship songs, but others were sadly man-centered.

Worship songs should be about God, not about us. If it mentions our love for God, that should be a response, not the point. I don’t want to sing about my love being loud. Shouting at me is not pleasant. Screaming at God – as a kind of professed worship – is inappropriate. I don't want to be in a room full of people yelling at God.

When the lyrics were good, the soundtrack was often inconsistent. One song’s chorus says, “Oh no, You never let go through the calm and through the storm.” This is a costly confession and submission to God’s goodness when life is good and when it’s bad. You have to think about storms. Listening to the lyrics, I would naturally be on my knees - not that I often do kneel, but that's my fault. But the impulse of the music was to energetically jump up and down with a strong beat, as though excited. Doesn’t that bother anyone else?

Smoke, strobe lights, loud bass, and all around loud atmosphere are a recipe for headaches. This alienates the older leaders (or people like me who are not already deaf by self-imposed torture). And older leaders are important to Awana, something that sets the club apart from typical youth groups. Surely they could have turned down the volume and prepared music that is undeniably worshipful.

Danny Oertli was in charge of the band. He’s a Colorado native with a great testimony. When he plays songs by himself on his guitar and sings, it is beautiful and pleasant, and worshipful. I believe he has strong faith and a desire to please God. When I first heard him lead worship, we got to join him in all of that, participating in lifting praises to God as a group. I wonder though if being part of a band that plays for youth doesn’t gradually lead one deeper and deeper into the rock style.

Outside the ballroom where the band was, my mom met a woman who was very sad. Her daughter began listening to Christian rock, which led her without much resistance into secular rock and hard rock, until the secular and anti-God sounds led her into a lifestyle of rebellion. Is there a connection? I for one can never tell whether the tone of the “music” makes me feel angry or if conscientious objection births legitimate anger.

I wonder if the masses of youth who want to “worship” to such harsh and imposing bands are not doing something like cutting. Do they need the atmosphere to stimulate reactions and a simulated worship, an excitement that makes them jump up and down? Are they so numb that they need dangerously loud sounds to even wake them? Is the glorious truth of God's character and grace and activity in their lives insufficient?

Summit used to be the place where those committed to knowing the Bible gathered to challenge each other and encourage each other. It was a place of reward and community. You get that to which you appeal, and the loud, imitation-secular so-called Christian music attracts kids who don’t want to press toward the mark on their own; they want the mark to come to them, the work to be done for them.

Am I saying no one was worshiping? No. Was I? No. I was praying, but not praising. Sometimes I even left the room. But I know some kids from our group were affected. They were paying attention to the lyrics, and identifying with their truth from experience. Couldn’t worship be better? Truer? More sincere? More about God? More grass-roots?

To God be all glory.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Awana Summit 2008

April 24-28 I was in Jacksonville, Florida for Awana’s Journey 24-7 (High School) national Bible Quiz and Games. They call it Summit – a rather non-original name. Anyway, it was a group of 19 from our church, 13 kids and six leaders.

The short story is: At Bible Quiz we had two teams of six, who were quizzing out of the Awana study book on the entire book of Romans. They knew about 24 verses and lots of lists and facts and definitions, plus summaries of about ¼ the books in the Bible. One team made it to the forth round of Quiz (40 minutes: 20 speed like team jeopardy and 20 team multiple choice each round), and ended up between 11 and 15 in the nation (about 130 teams). The other team earned their way to the 5th round, Platinum, and ended up 8th in the nation.



Our Games team had great fun, finishing the day doing the chicken dance. We won some exciting games, including three-way tug of war, and played three rounds. No special prizes, because we’re not the tallest or fastest group ever. It was a fun team day, and afterwards the kids ran through fountains – the good thing about being in Florida.




Three girls earned their Citation Awards, representing 10 years of Bible memory.

We went to the beach twice, had a wonderful many late-night meals, and joined in hundreds of teenagers at the main sessions. The airport and airplanes offered their adventures. People made friends, learned things, saw God’s grace at work, worshiped, prayed, and took thousands of pictures.

So I’m back, finally sick after putting off the cold for weeks before Summit. Since I got hardly any sleep while there, I’m just recovering. But I miss people. After five days spent entirely in the company of friends, sitting alone at work, even with a good book, is unsatisfying.

When I was in grade school, I saw high school Leaders-in-Training come home from nationals with bronze medals for Bible Quiz, and I started saving money to go myself. Nothing would stop me, not ropes or money or the fact that none of my good friends went my freshman year, or the flu. Not that I ever had the flu. This year came close. Lack of sleep and a rough two plane rides in a row knocked me out and I was in serious pain and seriously ill several days. So I got to test that.

Even after I graduated, nothing could keep me home. I immediately started coaching. I’m born to be a coach. In years past that’s been my main role, that and schedule enforcer, keeper of alarm clock, you know. This year was the first year that my role really shifted to a welcomed mentor role. I got to talk with the students on our team and build relationships with them, help them remember how God fits into their lives while hopefully communicating that whatever they think of the person I am now, I went through a lot of the same experiences and feelings they are having now.

What did I love? Getting to talk to and share life with our group. I feel like this year I really built relationships with people, and got to be a friend.

What did I learn? Jacksonville sits on a tidal river, which means it flows in different directions depending on the time of day. Surely God's goodness and mercy will follow me... Little things chanted of His goodness.

What did I like? The ocean. It was fun. Not beautiful to the sight, but to the touch.

Where was I challenged? In being an authority and what to do when rules are broken. Also in not feeling up to par for most of the trip. I was challenged to be kind and grateful and emotional and relational. It's so easy to hide when you're not feeling well.


What now? I miss the constant community. At Summit I'm a different person, and it's because I'm around those people. Things are changing. I'm starting to look at how to transition relationships from authority to purely friendship. And delighted to think that life doesn't just end after high school; we can still hang out and be friends.

Special thanks:
That we made our connection in Memphis.
That our group got to experience Romans 12 (with a few rough patches).
That our Bible Quiz teams were blessed.
That we all felt sufficiently well to compete.
That when our van got lost we still got out of the hotel basically on time.
For finding three parking spots next to each other.
For brown t-shirts with white writing.


To God be all glory.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Waves at the Ocean


One comes in, stretches as high as it can reach along the sand, and then recedes in the thinnest rippling layer to meet the next waves, two foamy waves coming at angles from the sea, colliding so that there is a crash and two perpendicular waves too small to be capped with white go rolling away, and then another wave comes in bigger and faster and eats up the first set. Looking past this action you see the bigger waves, the parents of those making it to shore, crashing and breaking, rolling high and folding over themselves.

On the sand if you stand, the ground erodes beneath your feet. When you dig in the sand, the water held between the grains pools into your hole. Some places when you tap your foot the whole layer of sand goes up and down not like a footprint, but one whole sheet. It doesn’t hurt to run across shells because the sand accepts them into its heart just like it cushions your feet when you walk. Only the deeper, dryer sand higher up grabs at your feet and makes running a slippery, energetic action. You can try to jump over little waves as they come in, but you’ll be dryer to just stand and let the ever-varying water level lap around your legs. Deeper in as the waves come, you jump or dive or run. The waves push and pull and all you want to do is surrender, to have some way of floating on the waves so that you can go where they will.

No one ever described to me what the ocean feels like. It was more variety than power, but I was only on shore, and south where the waters are tame and ride up on beaches. In the north where they meet stone coasts, or in the middle of the ocean in a storm I think they would be different.

I tried to wash shells in the waves, but not only did water rush in and then quickly retreat, but sand also was pushed in by the water, simultaneously dropping the water level and raising the floor, so that when I dropped some shells, they were lost for good.

I screamed every time a big wave came and I jumped. There wasn’t fear, but delight and energy. The salt water and wind made my skin and hair happy. Life on the beach was almost perfect. A few hours felt like all day. We went two days. I was so glad.


To God be all glory.