Friday, January 29, 2010

A Gentleman's Imagination is Not So Rapid

At the bottom of my Blogger website, I have a quote that I consider to be both great insight and fair warning. Jane Austen wrote,

"A lady’s imagination is very rapid;

it jumps from admiration to love,

from love to matrimony, in a moment.”

That is to say, when a woman sees signs of admiration in a man, she imagines he is in love with his object of admiration and begins to plan what to wear to the wedding. This is true, though rather conceited, even of ourselves. To feel admired by a man suggests marriage to us. I don’t know why. And to confess the truth, we hear a woman admiring a man and think she is destined for him. Or we do imagine ourselves in love when we have experienced only the slightest flutter of respect or attraction.

Girls are like that. Jane Austen knew it. I have not found many girls who could refute it. In Fiddler on the Roof the eldest daughter sings, “There’s more to life than [happiness in marriage]… Don’t ask me what!” We’re a little obsessed, even when we are striving to focus on other things. We see the world in matches, even our forks and spoons are paired off into couples or families.

And even though this is just how things are, life is not made simple by these unfounded convictions. The rapidness of our imaginations does not only make it awkward for men to be around us (and more so when we act on these emotions or ideas without checking them against what we ought to do); it makes determining the actual sources of our emotions and regard rather difficult. With these expectations come frequent disappointments. Some people even teach that we ladies ought to quiet our hearts, to “guard them”

from feeling and hope and imagination.

I’m not talking about lust, but a way of sorting out and reacting to life. Most men and women will marry, and the origins often are something like admiration, then love, then commitment to marriage.

So we have this option, to prevent our rapid imaginations. We can go into a nunnery until the knight in shining armor rides by to select his bride. Or we can treat the world as though we consider ourselves nuns (often complete with vows of silence). I have, in the past, tended to be unwilling to do the work it takes to relate to men without assuming things about them that are not significant, or that are even untrue. Part of this was for my own sake, as I said: life is much simpler when you do not let yourself interact with or admire others.

Another part is that we presume men take similar imaginative leaps, and that they are not to be trusted with any them. And good little girls who are trying to be modest, well, we do not realize that men are not quite as rapid as we, and we assume that sparking admiration will make a man desperately in love… It goes something like this:

If I smile at him, he’ll think I like him. And if he thinks I like him, he will fall in love with me. When he falls in love with me, he’ll want to marry me. But I don’t want to marry him! I barely know him!

So the good little girls don’t smile. Never mind that if I smile at his compliment, courtesy, or joke he might think I was pleased – and I was, but I don’t want him to know. In the words of the “faultless” Mr. Darcy, “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.

I know it is risky, but wouldn’t it be better to be honest? I dare say that a woman can trust a man with a smile or a laugh. We need to stop trying to control the situation. What I have practiced, before I learned this, was rejecting people, not rejecting suitors. When someone is being themselves and meets with no response, or no attentive audience, his identity is being torn down. My heart has been my idol, so that I guarded it and exalted it at the expense of people.

What about this? If I don’t smile at him, he’ll think his joke wasn’t funny, and he’ll try something else or give up relating to us entirely. For a woman frustrated with the reluctance of men to marry, it is rather contradictory to be discouraging them from even interacting with us.

It is now my goal to be the woman of kindness and quietness that God has called me to be, to do the extra work it takes to contain the eager imaginations and assumptions that are my tendency as a female. I will trust God with the consequences of being myself – in modesty and discretion and humility – but also with being myself as a sister, an emissary of God sent to build up (even nurture) those around me. If I do fall in love, I will trust God. If a man falls in love with me, I will trust my good Lord Jesus. These situations are not impossible even when they are unwelcome. And I would rather suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

To God be all glory.

Geese Wings

You know, I have heard geese honking as they flew before, but I never heard them flying until the other day, when they came low over my head. Their wings beat a sweet hum that I could almost feel.

To God be all glory.

Silent Free Speech

I had an interesting experience this weekend. (Actually, I had a lot of them, but I’m only going to mention one.) Some friends and I were out collecting signatures on a petition. We went outside a library, public property. I had called to get permission the day before and they told me not to block access to the library and to only have two petitioners at once. So when some staff came out and told me that we could only stay if we did not “initiate contact” with the patrons, I thought it an interesting definition of Free Speech.

Free Speech is silence until spoken to.

Just thought you should know.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Authority of Scripture, NT Wright, and On Controversy

I have, over the past couple years, had some exposure to Open Theists. To be fair I have never read their books or heard their speeches. My friends who are interested in converting to Open Theism tell me their understanding of the theology. My two main concerns are these: first, that the reason Open Theism is attractive is because God as described by the Bible is unattractive and so unacceptable to them; and second, that while Open Theists may find some verses that support their theory, their theory disregards and occasionally contradicts other passages of Scripture. So before you convert to Open Theism, don’t you think you should be very familiar with the whole Bible, even those obscure God-revealing passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ecclesiastes and Acts (I’ve started a list) that point to God’s sovereignty and comprehensive omniscience? Conveniently, God did not set us in the world interpreting the Bible – or even books about the Bible – by ourselves. So even if I am not acquainted with a relevant passage of Scripture, it is likely that one of my concerned and involved friends will be. I appreciate that.

In fact, in every case I can remember where my friends found it necessary to point out where the Bible contradicted my ideas, I came away respecting them much more, willing to listen to anything they have to say much more, and considerably humbler in my own handling of the topics of God and the Bible. General observation would declare that I have a ways to go in the field of humility, so I am welcoming further interference by God’s Word-wielding friends. That is one of the reasons Open Theism has become a fixture of tension-perspective in my studying. My friends have been led by their investigation of the theory into bringing up parts of the Bible and God’s character that are rarely examined, parts I find comfortable to ignore.

Anyway, the other month someone mentioned NT Wright, and in the back of my mind I remembered reading that his theology was weird, but that was before I’d ever really heard of Open Theism, and something said maybe NT Wright was one of the original Open Theists. I Googled his name and Open Theism and not much came up, so I was wrong, but then I was wondering what his deal was.

Two weeks ago a friend mentioned he was reading an article by NT Wright about the authority of Scripture. Wow. It’s so hard to explain that these are all connected in my mind, these topics, but trust me. I am, as far as the “five points” go, a Calvinist. And I discovered when I admitted I was a Calvinist that I had been a Calvinist all along. Because Calvinists are those people who believe that God is smarter, wiser, and better than we are, so they submit to Him. Submitting to Him is usually manifest, to these intellectual theologians, by submitting to the written Word of God, the “inerrant Scriptures”. Sola Scriptura is the Latin phrase for one of the (again, five) pillars of the reformation. Anyway, Calvinists almost always subscribe to Sola Scriptura (except for the CJ Mahaney, Sovereign Grace crowd) and I am a Calvinist and Open Theists don’t agree with the Five Points much at all, so NT Wright arguing against the authority of Scripture is associated with Open Theism. There.

Anyway, I’m interested in the “sola” part of Scriptura, having run around a bit with that Sovereign Grace crowd but having depended my whole life on the revelation of God being complete in the Bible. So I went over to NT Wright’s article myself (online for free) and read it. Obviously most of the theologians I read would be skeptical of a Christian leader who sidesteps the authority of Scripture, so maybe, I thought, that was the questionable thing I had heard about him years ago. The article is long, transcribed from a speech, but I skimmed and paid more attention to interesting parts. Essentially his thesis is that the Bible was not written to be a law, so it is not set to be our authority.

Mostly the Bible is narrative, accounts of God’s ways, of God’s character. The Bible is true, but how authoritative is it that once upon a time a prophet cured poisoned water by throwing flour in it? Is it more authoritative that once upon a time a prophet told the Church to collect money weekly to have it ready to give to the poor when the messengers came for it? Or is it authoritative that the apostles commanded the Roman Christians to submit to governing authorities? Are the promises for us? Are the commands? Instructions? Reasoning? And, my goodness! Have you ever noticed how the apostles interpreted Scripture! We don’t do it like them at all!

While still pondering these things, I was babysitting for a friend who is ordained in the Presbyterian Church. Thus his house is full of Calvin, Sproul, Piper, and Grudem. He is also an inner-city church planter, so he has numerous books that are borderline Emergent, books about “missional” living and “incarnational” ministry, the messy life books like Blue Like Jazz and semi-mystical works of early Christian authors like Augustine. Every time I am at their house, I scan their bookshelves. On this occasion, after the two little boys were in bed I picked up an issue of RC Sproul’s Tabletalk Magazine to read in the quiet evening ahead. The subject was NT Wright’s doctrine of justification. I discovered that this was the subject on which I had heard warnings against NT Wright. For the purpose of this blog, I will not here describe or refute the “new Paul” ideas NT Wright has proposed. (Piper wrote a whole book on it. Download as PDF at this link.) Because while I was edified by Reformed teachers talking about justification, substitutionary atonement, etc. the most interesting article was the last one.

The final article in that edition of Tabletalk Magazine was not directly related to NT Wright at all. It was a review, a recommendation for John Newton’s “On Controversy,” a letter of Christian wisdom written to a friend about to confront another man about a matter of disagreement. I have been learning a lot lately about meekness and confrontation and debate, challenged to listen more and pray more and bite my tongue more. This article reaffirmed that and pushed me farther. There remains value in discussion, in communicating disagreement or different perspectives, especially when there is mutual respect and interest not to be seen as the winner, the correct one, but in having everyone know the truth. We should not pretend unity by avoiding difficult subjects. In fact we ought to have more in mind than mere consensus.

I have a friend who is a poet, who is burdened about the division in the Church and about the way Christians have boiled the Word of God down to a list of rules. He wrote a poem about that and much more that I want to finish with, but you have to go read it at his blog.

To God be all glory.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


It so happens that one of the new tastes I have acquired is pasta alfredo. I didn't even know what it was when I tried it. Turns out, my parmesan fondue is quite similar. Here is what I do:

I go to the grocery store and buy the cheapest penne pasta, one pound. Then I find the cheapest jar of garlic alfredo sauce (I will use about half). And chicken breasts are good with the pasta. In case I am up for being healthy I add peas (which, to my surprise, are SWEET!) and asparagus.

If I have an apron close by, I put it on, especially if it matches my outfit.

Then I boil a pot of water and add the pasta. Boil uncovered for about 15 minutes, 'cause I like it a little soft. Add peas for the last few minutes. Meanwhile grill some chicken breast on our George Foreman machine. Also trim bottom ends off of asparagus and roast on a cookie sheet in a single layer in the oven with butter. Cook at 400 degrees until bright green and mostly tender.
Drain the pasta & peas. Slice chicken into 1" strips. Cut the asparagus into fourths. Heat alfredo sauce in a saucepan or the microwave (one serving in my microwave for 40 seconds power level 6). One serving is about 4 Tablespoons. Put this amount in a single-serve bowl. Add the pasta, one chicken breast, and the equivalent of 6 asparagus spears. Sprinkle with garlic and herb seasoning. Eat with fork. It's good. Then praise God for the provision of good food.

Ideally you would hug the bowl and curl up on a couch while listening to some good music, like Josh Groban. And you would be wearing a cozy turtleneck. Making and eating alfredo with friends is also very fun. I tried it with sparkling apple juice, and that was good.

If I were smart I would have taken a picture to show you. Maybe next time.

To God be all glory.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Portrait in Four Faces

I have this vision in my head, and really it is more of a snapshot than a story. So far I have only been able to write half of it in real description.

There are two pictures.

In the first is a young woman, the flirtatious center of attention. Named Rose, she wears red. Her heels are high. Shocking red lipstick tempts and taunts from her laughing face. On the outskirts of her boisterous circle is another young woman, dressed in white and called Lily. Her skirt brushes the floor and she moves silently. Soft, welcoming eyes shine from her quiet face. With a nod of the head her expression transforms when she notices you, and she is eager to listen.

When I described the first picture to my brother, he said Lily is me. But there is another picture.

Here stands a woman named Cherry, wearing a dress of berry-red. She is always moving, always with something to say. People surround her but she notices every one of them and makes them feel special. A smile never leaves her face. On the fringe of the circle is Blanche, standing rigid and silent in her white gown, and no one can get her to smile. The closeness of the circle frightens her, and so she watches. She disapproves of the extravagance, and shows it in her tight lips, arms crossed over her chest, and down-turned eyes.

Now who is me? The obvious answer is Blanche. Every personality has its dark side. If used for judgment and selfishness, even virtues like meekness and keen observation can be repellant. But Cherry is also me, to an extent. I do not think that I will ever be so very, well, attractive. Yet I can be loud and assertive and fun. Knowing myself as I do, there is Rose in me, the girl who plays her part to get what she wants, demanding attention and caring nothing for the people who give it.

The self-portrait in four faces is hard for me to draw. I see that the women are there, and I know a little about each of them, more about some. Only in the last couple years have I started to get to know Cherry at all. Both Blanche and Rose strive against her, and Lily is cautious. To be fair, Cherry equally doubts Lily.

Cherry wears bright colors. She laughs. She talks to strangers. Cherry cleans her closet and gives the coats to charities. She wants to learn to dance and eat new foods. She likes to be outdoors and active. Cherry designs costumes. She believes in the Spirit of God speaking to and through her. She dreams of adventure and danger and sacrifice. Cherry thinks of earning money. She prays with passion for the things she most hopes for. She loves to debate. Cherry tells stories to children. She hosts parties. She drinks juice and eats salad. Cherry wants her friends to pick up when she calls. She takes road trips and stays in Bed and Breakfasts. She loves real flowers that bloom and wither. Cherry wears sandals in the summer and kicks through snowdrifts in the winter.

Lily wears earth tones and blue to match her eyes. She nods her head. She listens. Lily spends hours making gifts for her close friends. She wants to write a novel and eat chocolate. She likes to read snuggled in a warm blanket. Lily sews shoulder bags. She believes in the fundamentality and authority of the Bible. She dreams of a large family and devotions around the dinner table. Lily thinks of saving money. She prays patiently, reflecting on waiting. She loves when people stick up for her. Lily cuddles babies. She plans parties. She drinks Pepsi and eats chocolate cheesecake. Lily wants to leave a message for her friends to call her back. She watches four hour Jane Austen miniseries. She collects teacups and hoards papers full of memories. Lily wears boots in the fall and tennies to help friends move in the spring.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Fullness of Time

I have a friend, my age, who is married. To most 25 year olds, this is not surprising. But I mean what I say, that I have ONE friend who is married and my age. So she holds a special place in my row of confidants. Loving her has never been hard, and envying her is unthinkable. Her story is beautiful, and I treasure it.

The tale her life weaves is different from mine, and that is good. She was married 4 and a half years ago, but she remembers before. More than once she has encouraged me to embrace the days God gives me, as He gives them. Before she was married, she spent time on tour with a Christian conference, interning with a youth ministry, and on a mission in Thailand. She doesn’t regret ending those things to become a wife and a mom (a busy mom – 5 kids!), but she values them for what they were to her, and values them more for being special to that season of her life.

Just this month, out to eat delicious Italian food and celebrate that significantly frightening birthday of mine when I turned 25, she repeated her exhortation. This time she made clear that she doesn’t think the only way to make the most of one’s singleness is mission trips. Her life isn’t the only way. Her story is hers. In fact, she said she rather likes having me live close! “One day you’ll look back, and this time will seem short. You’ll wonder why you worried.” I didn’t tell her I worried. Good friends don’t have to be told, I guess.

But I pondered for a moment. The waiting hasn’t been short. I don’t ever want to forget that, because that cheapens this time. For years I have been enduring hope, striving for hope – and patience and faith. This has to be for a reason. God is doing work in me; I haven’t stalled in this in-between season of singleness. And He is doing work around me, through me. Living at home, I have an impact on my family. Being single, as my friend said, I get to spend more time with friends. And who knows what God is up to with the man who will be my husband some day.

Though her time of singleness was short and cram-packed, mine is long and also full. I don’t want to call this time fleeting, not only because of all that it contains, but because of what it represents. There is a sacredness to waiting, something to be attained through practicing it. Without delayed gratification, there is no hope. If one has everything one wants before you think to desire it, there is no desire.

But hope and desire were not made merely to serve romance. Experiencing hope and desire and something about time that I still don’t understand – these train me for my walk with God.

We use words like thirst to describe how our souls long for God because God made us to sense need for water. “God deals with us as with sons” – “for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” If God had not given us fathers willing to spank us, how would we know to relate to God this way? So also, this yearning time, and stillness time point me to the yearning I ought to have for God. Do I put my trust in His action? Am I catching my breath every day thinking that He might come? Is my imagination captivated by His promises?

This turns back again and says more. I’m not the only one waiting. God is waiting. Just as He chose to love, and chose to suffer, and chose to be tempted, and chose to be born and to die, He has chosen to wait. Eternal God has put Himself in time. And time is not yet full. In exercising waiting and containing myself to hope, I am learning about God’s hope and God’s waiting. He has patience.

There is a praise song that alights on me like a vision of radiance. “We will dance on the streets that are golden: the glorious Bride and the Great Son of Man…” Think of the joy with which the Bridegroom will dance among His Bride, with which He will feast with her. If that will be his joy, this strangeness called time will be part of his payment. He knows that future and is waiting with eager expectation for the day and hour only His Father knows. Somehow to think of God’s joy makes me want that more than I want it for myself.

Jesus is no Peter Pan, who lives only for the moment, forgetting past and future. No, to live with an eye on the future that can only be reached by walking the present, that is grown up. It is mature and sober. But the joy it produces is most free and most giddy. There is nothing unsure in the joy, even the excruciating joy of this waiting. Peter Pan might enjoy the moment, but that is all he has; he must be ready for a turn of events. The joy of Christ – and His Bride with Him – will be everlasting.

To God be all glory.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Worlds Apart

I have a couple friends just back from Africa. They spent four months there in an orphanage, caring for tiny children, giving them their hearts, and praying for them. Now they are half in this world, their home and half in Africa, wondering what is happening to their children. They dream of playing with them, of changing “nappies” and giving them hugs. How strange to think that there is another world, almost completely disconnected from ours. People eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, meeting their own crises oblivious to the problems we’re facing here.

And isn’t it amazing how many of these little pockets of existence there are? But we fly over them, forgetting the lives of those thousands of feet below us. The marvelous solution would be a road trip. Stop in each little town, visiting the post office and diner. Experience the real lives of people from here to there.

But I drive through my neighborhood all the time, and must realize that there are other little worlds going on of which I know nothing. What happens in my house is not connected at all to that of my neighbors. If I sing they don’t know. And when they cry, I have no idea. To take a walk down my street reveals a place quite different from driving. Is that door really red? What pretty landscaping! They must have children, for there are bicycles in the yard. This one is only a ranch, while those are two stories. One yard is fenced, and another has a hedge.

Even in my own life, the faces I pass, the actions I observe, the projects I share as a team – what is each person thinking? Why do they the things they do? And how do they feel about it? I know myself, that when alone I break into songs (and change keys mid-line). My thoughts are so random sometimes, and other times I’m thinking minor essays on the meaning of life. Only when with my closest friends and family do I share these things aloud. We independent individuals are so lonely. Each of us is an island of existence, with limited interaction and contact. How very strange, this vast confederacy of separate existences!

To God be all glory.