Monday, February 20, 2017

Justice vs. Sacrifice

An excellent article on marriage I'm reading just sparked an idea. (Here's the article.) The husband writes that we've all told ourselves, all our lives, that we must be true to ourselves, discover our own spiritual heights, be authentic to ourselves. As he says, "An authentic life means being true to ourselves, and there's nothing more inauthentic than doing something counter to our current emotional state. Basically, if I'm not feeling it, then I shouldn't have to do it."

That's a little crassly put, but we do all practice this principle. We teach it to our children and defend it in our culture: personal justice! Do not tolerate anyone treating you badly! Fight back and defend what's right! Push for personal justice and rights! Every group in the country (and the individuals within those groups) are encouraged to fight for personal justice. We tell ourselves that in fighting for me we are also fighting for others. Yeah.

And what's wrong with that?

If you're a Christian, I'll tell you what's wrong with that -- Jesus taught the opposite. He taught us not to seek our own good, our own way. He taught to present your second cheek to be slapped after your first is stinging. He taught us to absorb the wrong, and then forgive it. If you are His follower (in Scripture, the correct term is "bond-servant," i.e., slave) then you have given up your claim to personal justice for yourself. If you're not ready to at least make a half-hearted attempt at that, then reconsider your connections to the Man.

Seriously, people. Let everybody else hammer out how badly they've been treated. You should be busy with other things. The only justice Jesus ever told us to concern themselves with is justice for the truly oppressed -- the poor, the homeless, the abandoned, the orphans, the people whom organizations and institutions love to extort and use. We are to forget about rights and justice for ourselves, and seek it for them.

In Jesus's mind, the two are mutually exclusive.

I see this every day at the afterschool program where I work. Here's how it goes -- I call the 31 children to make a line so we can go inside to the restroom. Instantly I hear, "She broke in front of me!" "I carried that basketball outside and I'm supposed to carry it in!" "She stuck her tongue out at me!" And on and on. The 'breaking in line' complaint is my personal favorite. I ask the child, "Are you the line leader? Do you have a particular place in the line anyway? Does it really matter if she's in front of you? Will you get to the bathroom any later?" Of course there's absolutely no practical implication, no tangible wrong done, if someone steps in line in front of you when you're seven years old. Or when your 47, or 70 either. But, oh my, does it make us mad! We have been wronged! We have been ill-used and treated rudely. It's the principle of the thing! We must never tolerate injustice in any form!

I agree that rudeness and meanness and ill-treatment are offensive in our culture. But I wish that we would all adopt this attitude: Never try to address any injustice against self; always address injustice done to others.

If we all did that (an impossibility, I'm sure) what a different world we would live in.

If we ceased seeking our own rights and justice in our marriages, and instead began seeking it only for our partners.

If we stopped seeking our own rights and justice at our jobs, and instead began seeking it only for our co-workers.

If we stopped teaching our kids to look out for their own rights and justice and began teaching them to look out for others.

If we stopped, as a church, looking out for our church's rights and justice at the hands of our government or culture, and began seeking the rights and justice of the oppressed instead.

And, last but not least, if we stopped expecting those who don't profess any relationship with Jesus to behave in ways that we who do profess this relationship, won't behave. Fighting for one's own rights and personal justice is perfectly normal in the world. Let the world do its thing. Be different -- that's all Jesus asked us to do, just be different. He knew it would be nearly impossible to deny ourselves, to sacrifice that way. So He did it first to show us that it could be done.

Shakespeare addressed these thoughts in Hamlet. Polonius advises his son, Laertes, "This above all - to thy own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." The father dies at the hand of Hamlet, a man who struggled with this concept more deeply: "To be or not to be -- that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them." Laertes, in the end, murders Hamlet and then dies himself. What sad ends for men who found self-sacrifice so impossible!

Do we suffer wrongs? Do we rouse ourselves and fight against them? Are we true to self above all others? Look to Jesus. Be different.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Silent Blog

I don't blog quite as much as I used to, and when I do I avoid topics I used to leap into -- theology, politics, culture. You know, the debatable things. I've been sticking to topics like knitting, farm work, and food because the overwhelming din of unkind arguing out there is painful. I've tried to stay out of it. I've unfollowed facebook friends. I've turned off the radio in the car. I won't talk about it at home or work. It's not just the U.S. election/politics. It's the general meanness in the world, the fear, distrust, emotional distance, and broken community.

I just saw this commercial on facebook:

I think it kind of put me over the edge.

It's not just old people who are mean, or Trump supporters, or young progressives with agendas, or immigrants or immigrant-haters. We're all shoving everybody away. I shudder when I hear Fox News and I shudder when I hear NPR. We are so busy polarizing and pushing away that we don't realize we're killing ourselves and ruining life for our children.

Here's another bite of food for thought, an article from a facebook friend:

"59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out -- And They're Trying to Tell Us Why"

The stats are shocking. Millennials are people 20 - 36 years old, this year. These aren't teenagers. These are young professionals and parents. They aren't "the next generation"; they are the generation. Basically the writer says this: The American church is self-centered, judgmental, out-of-touch, into its own politics, power, and money, and isn't interested in serving anybody. Oh, and there's this lovely quote from the writer's mother (who's probably my age) --

"Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school, and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”

I read this as a pastor's wife, and I know what she means. To people on the outside, church often looks like a nasty little game. There are really fabulous ministries in the U.S. dedicated to helping the poor/addicted/refugee/depressed/suicidal/homeless. But they're not usually based in the local church. I wish they were! If your church is an exception, I'm very happy for you. But if the bigger church -- members and leadership alike -- were as dedicated to helping and loving people in need as they were to the latest building project or covered dish dinner, 35% of people between 20 - 36 wouldn't be anti-church, i.e., think that the church is doing more harm than good.

Then there's the other thing preying on my brain, the Bible study that I'm teaching with older ladies at my church ... because all the ladies at my church are older ... because at 53 years old I'm the youngest adult woman in my church by at least a decade. Sigh. [They're lovely ladies. I just wish our church had a few millennials.] Anyway, we're studying Elisabeth Elliot's incredible book, A Path Through Suffering. Someday I might do a way-too-long post on it. If you struggle to understand why you suffer, or why anyone suffers, this book is helpful. Elliot is bold and unapologetic of her radical positions. Chapter after chapter she pummels you with arguments that suffering is designed, important, essential, useful, and brings joy. Yes, I just wrote that. 

Perhaps this is where all these distasteful topics come together for me, right now. Elliot says "the maturing process in the Christian ... is for one purpose, the giving of life." (97) How do we give life? Kindness. Openness. Loving instead of hating. Welcoming instead of pushing away. Sacrificing for others. Ceasing from judging. Why do Christians feel it is our job to judge the world right now?

"All who would bring souls to God and multiply His kingdom must do so through surrender and sacrifice. This is what loving God means, a continual offering, a pure readiness to give oneself away ...." (Elliot 101)

Surrender and sacrifice. Same thing as suffering. A thousand little deaths each day as you choose others over yourself. You choose your political enemy or your nasty neighbor, your annoying co-worker or your selfish family member. You choose them over yourself and your own agendas or ideas.

I refuse to continue judging the culture around me, pointing my scrawny finger at its blemishes and faults. Church, you are to judge yourself. I am to judge myself. What am I doing to be a life-giver? What am I doing to make a kinder community? Reader, who is your enemy? With whom do you disagree? If you cannot reach out in love, can you respond with it? It's quite difficult, simple kindness. 

Sometimes I feel like a referee between two bloody prize-fighters intent on murder in the ring. It's one thing to reject ISIS or Westboro Baptist Church or Kim Jong Un or Neo-Nazis. Shouldn't we agree on where the hatred is coming from, and reject that together? But we ought not hate one another, we who say we want peace. "Trust in the Lord and do good. Cease from anger and forsake wrath." (Ps. 37)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mission #1 Accomplished!

My mother called today with two missions impossible, "if I should choose to accept them." Well! I have already accomplished the first one!
This is my mother's absolutely favorite dish-scrubber device, a Dobie pad.
 They come two to a box. Inside is a sponge. Outside is a plastic scrubby case. My mother uses them so utterly and thoroughly that the plastic busts, the sponge wears out and finally comes out, and then she uses just the scrubby exterior until it's DEAD.
Sadly, she cannot find them in West Virginia where she lives, so she asked me to find a few boxes for her here. I think she asked for ten. Anyway, that's what I bought for her!

I'm going up for a visit to see the family soon, so she will be set for dish-doing for about a year. The other Mission Impossible is to find her a Maidenhair Fern here and take it to her. She cannot find this particular type of pretty fern in the frigid mountain state. She always had Maidenhair Fern when she lived in the South. I may have failure on that particular mission, but I'll give it a try!
That's what a Maidenhair Fern looks like -- lovely, tiny leaves and very delicate. That's a random photo from Google. We'll see if I have any luck finding a real one to take to my dearest mother.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sluggish

Perhaps I'm in the winter doldrums, but I'm quite sluggish this week. Just downright BLAH. I want to sleep. I'm barely functional at work. Right now, Adam and I are both wishing it were 9:00 p.m., but it's only 8:00. At 9:00, we tell ourselves that it's legal to put on pajamas and start heading for bed. We're going to bed earlier and earlier now, and getting up earlier also, I'm sorry to say.We are old people. I know this is true because Julia regularly laughs at us and tells us we are.
 Adam is supposed to be resting this week. He's been sick with winter crud on and off through January. Finally I made him go to his doctor. They prescribed a rescue inhaler, an antibiotic, prednisone, and a breathing treatment. His oxygen was quite low, and his lung function was not good. When he went back on Monday, he was actually worse. He got a chest x-ray and now has pneumonia in his right lung. Thus: resting. So he sits on the couch and makes books. He finished the pulling-apart and putting-back-together of the Greek New Testament he was working on last week. That was simply skill-honing. He just has to put the final outside cover on it.
 He thoroughly dismantled the entire thing and resewed it all, covering the boards and forming and gluing the spine again.
Then he started on a sketch book for Julia. He's using some stiff cardboard covered with a painting canvas as the outside of the book.
 He bought the paper and cut the pages, stitched them and bound them. He's enjoying this hobby.
He also bought some lovely scrapbooking pages at Michael's to use as end papers.
 He presses the books between boards and tightens it all with clamps.
 Julia is doing a little drawing/sketching for me. Adam wants to bind a copy of my first kids' book, Three Against the Dark, and he wants Julia to do the art work in it.
 I had a hard time remembering what the characters looked like! Then she asked about the lay-out of the house in the book, and she did a quick sketch of that.
So we're having a quiet February. The greenhouse is nearly done, and then I'll start spending many hours there planting seeds and starting our garden. For reading material since Christmas, I slogged my way through The Singing Line
Author Alice Thomson goes back and forth in her book between telling of her own travels across the Australian wilderness and trying to track her famous ancestor's feat of putting in the continent's first telegraph line. I found the history quite interesting. I found her own trip almost a bore in comparison. I'm glad to have read it and learned a new chunk of history, but I will not be keeping the book on my shelves. In fact, I really need to cull quite a few books and give them away. I've been lugging around so many literature books for so many years. I will never re-read them. I think it's a good time in life for a purge!
For family and family-friends -- since I surely won't get around to an email update anytime soon ... Julia is doing well in her last high school semester. She is probably going to attend Western Carolina University in the fall, all things permitting and the stars align. It's nice that her big brother has been there. Peter and Shani plan to marry in May. After long deliberation, they have decided what they would truly love in a wedding is to have close friends and immediate family with them for a whole weekend, and have a "destination wedding." So we will be going to the Berkshires for the happy event, along with about 30 folks, for an intimate celebration and some very lovely scenery. Anna has returned to Japan and is doing very well. She has cautiously entered into the "online dating" scene and is enjoying getting to know a few young men. It makes good sense, considering her situation overseas. I think she's finding it entertaining and fun. Philip and Kara are doing fine in Chattanooga. Philip is busy and doing great at his job. Kara now works in a Head Start school with a bit of a commute. When she shares about her struggles working with little ones, I can commiserate! My job each day (about 2:30 - 6:00) is quite strenuous, and I'm one of the younger ones working there! It is not easy working with 31 1st and 2nd graders after school each day. I do not think I will work there this summer, and we will have to see if I am up to it next fall. I'm still wearing my compression stockings each day. Without them, I could not work there on my feet on the concrete floors. I continue to teach a weekly ladies' Bible study, and I still sell my wares at the farmers' market in Oriental. Adam enjoys his pastoral work and his farm work, and we find farm life generally peaceful -- a setting quite conducive to what we want for ourselves: a quiet, tranquil life in later years, close to the soil, close to the Lord, close to each other. With limited budget, improvements to the house and farm are limited and slow, but we continue to move forward. So that's a little update on us, if you were weary of knowing what I'm knitting but not what the kids are doing :)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Things Are Coming Along

Can you feel spring in the air? I can. Not just the weather temps or the shift in sunlight. It's the change in my activities that stirs my soul. I go outside more. I'm digging into soil more. Here are some creative things -- inside the house and outside -- happening this week.
I'm making progress on the advent calendar:
That's Mary, Joseph, and the outline of the stable. Joseph's arms are not attached to him yet.
Now for Julia's Kitty Cats painting. Here are a few shots to show its progress over recent weeks:
Above you see the acrylic work without any pen. My mother loves this early version.
 Above you see a little more definition with pen work on the faces and paws.
 Here's the finished piece before she took it away this morning.
 A few close-ups. I'm not as fond of the white outlining, etc., but each to her own :)

The piece will be given to a boy named Daniel at college that she barely knows. Last semester she asked him for a pen, and promised in return to do a piece of art of his cats. Doesn't seem quite the equal trade to me. I do wish she'd stop giving her artwork to every stranger on the corner. Sigh.

Adam finished the metal edging around the herb garden!!! He still needs to tamp in the soil firmly around all the edges, but it looks good. I'm excited about what we'll grow there this year.
 Adam baked two beautiful challah loaves last night. You see that Julia ripped off a chunk before I could get a photo! It's delicious -- sweet, buttery. These are six-braid loaves. He wants to master the nine-braid method too.
 If you want to read more about the greenhouse going up, my latest soap batches, and a skunk on the farm, click over here to the farm blog.
Here's a recent sunset over the playground at the afterschool program where I work each afternoon. It's nice to have daylight for the kids to play almost until it's time to go home.
Cheerio, friends!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Story Time with Tea

Anna gave me a very special tea mug for Christmas.
The bottom part is like a mini-chalk board, and the mug comes with two colored pencils that write on it. Before she returned to Japan she wrote me a last note on my mug. Now I have to figure out how to use the mug without ever washing the message off :)
Peter and Shani gave me some delicious tea for Christmas. Here are the three canisters on my windowsill:
Aren't they pretty? The center one is Earl Grey and the ones on either side are varieties of chai -- my absolute favorite! It's a gorgeous tea.

The canisters are sturdy and come with plastic sealing inner lids. I will be using them to store tea when I'm 85 years old because I never, ever throw gifts away.
So I'm sipping some very sweet, very creamy hot chai and enjoying some youtube videos of adorable twin girls, Ava and Alexis McClure.
However, I told you this is story time, and it is. This is the best creativity that's been happening in the house (for me, anyway) lately. I'm once again writing a story. I wrote Three Against the Dark quite a few years ago. Anna and Peter were in about 2nd and 3rd grades. I edited it (although I was never quite happy with it), and Adam formatted it, and it's been for sale on Amazon for several years now. I forget when I actually published it ... 2012? 2013? Something like that. (I really ought to know.)

I've tried several times to write a sequel, without success. I've tried to write other stories, with some success. But the characters (the children) from that novel are still in my head, sitting there, bored, waiting for me to do something with their lives. They're nagging me. The story -- the idea -- is nagging me. And at last it appears something might be happening. I'm now in chapter four of the new book, the sequel to Three Against the Dark. I'm not confused and frustrated in the writing. I'm not in a fog. It's clipping right along and things seem to be falling into place. Perhaps it was all those years of ruminating, pondering, and false starts.

What's most fun is that Julia still likes to be read to, and she wants each chapter read aloud to her as I finish it, just like all those years ago. She sees Three Against the Dark as the story of her childhood (among others), and she is excited to hear about those kids again and find out what happens next. This is quite satisfying. I'm not sure how I would write if I didn't have some child to read it to.

I'll let you know when the story's finished. The editing, formatting, and publishing process is rather long. If Adam didn't do the online formatting for me, my stories would stay right here on my laptop. Now I must go finish chapter four and find out what happens in the middle of the night with Carla and her cousin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

January

Do you ever pass through an entire month and wonder what in the world happened? January's nearly gone. What did I do?
 Today I spent a little time in Oriental gazing at the river.
An historic home in the village has been falling down. I noticed the back porch disappearing the other day.

 Today, well, it was gone.
 In recent years the elderly couple who own it, and who still visit Oriental occasionally, would come to stay there. It was quite scary. One exterior wall was held erect by bracing, and I heard the stairwell and upstairs floors were falling in.

 One marina's boat owners decided to take the poopy seagull situation in hand. They bolted these spiky devices atop the dock poles.
 Speaking of dilapidation, I've been meaning to photograph this interesting barn on Teaches Cove.
 More unusual that the normal falling-down barn, this one had a stash of computers in the corner, now quite exposed.
 Isn't that odd?
Meanwhile, a building is going up on our farm. It's the new greenhouse!
 This is the most recent photo I have, but this afternoon Adam also attached the walls on the far end, so it's nearly ready to unscrew and move into the garden. Last year's greenhouse was about a $100 project; this one is about a $500 project, but it will last a decade at least. I'm quite excited about my new farm wife retreat.
Now, for my friends still buried under ice and/or snow in Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, or Ireland ... or elsewhere! ... here are some of the bulbs that are already up on our farm.


 The big fig tree is budding out.
 As is the Japanese magnolia.
Of course, most of my perennials, the ones I love, aren't even making a peep. But I do keep checking! Soon Adam and I will sit down and make a list of seeds to order, and I'll move everything I need into that lovely greenhouse, and I'll spend many happy  hours there, snug with my soil and pots, working away at making our summer garden. A greenhouse is a retreat for me, away from the angry voices out there in D.C., on Facebook, on the radio, voices that would tear us all apart while they claim to stand for good. I'm tired of both sides, and I'm quite suspect of any group that says it's "for" something. Usually, it's just "against" something and willing to be quite mean about it.

I prefer the greenhouse.
I guess this was more of a farm post and should have been over on the other blog, but it's all Our Life, right?