Wednesday, December 31, 2008

st. martin-in-the-fields and the girl who cried wolf

If you know me at all, you know that I am prone to hyperbole.  I mean, I probably use hyperbole more than anyone in the world, maybe even the universe - seriously.  I've been known to say things like, "This peppermint mocha/chicken taco recipe/serrated knife is the best thing ever!"  What can I say, I am enthusiastic.

But now I have a real problem.  After overusing the superlative in my descriptions of silly things like coffee and kitchen utensils, I have lost credibility to describe something truly extraordinary.  This week I experienced something that simply cannot be described with the same words I have previously put to use in exclamations about SNL skits and diet soda.  What's a chronic exaggerater to do when faced with something beyond exaggeration?

For what it's worth, in light of the cheapened value of my endorsement, the sound of stringed instruments playing inside the St. Martin-in-the-Field Cathedral in London is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard in my life.  

We were in a hurry, hoping to get in a quick visit to the British Museum before going to Evensong at the Westminster Abbey.  We would have hustled right by the cathedral, but my father-in-law just can't walk by a church without peeking inside.  My mother-in-law laughed and rolled her eyes as he darted in the door ("He's seen a million churches and he still has to go look!").  I told her we'd be right back and followed him in.  There was a rehearsal taking place at the front of the church, some sort of stringed ensemble.  The musicians were young, maybe college-aged.  The director was standing with his hand on his hip, giving direction casually without concern for the tourists coming in and out.  He raised his hands and the musicians readied their instruments.

And played.

Before I could even form a thought in my head, tears sprang to my eyes.  I blinked them back, trying to soak in and commit to memory the rich, velvety sound of the strings.  I can't say too much more about it because, again, I don't want to use the same words I've used for stuff like automatic mini-van doors and free shipping.  I'm only writing about it here because I don't ever want to forget that moment, short as it was.  Highlight of my trip so far.  More to come soon!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

this makes me happy.

My friend Stephanie is getting some last-minute shopping done today so her 4 kids are hanging out with us for a few hours. She thinks I am helping her out but it's really the other way around, for two reasons:

1) I was dying 1,000 deaths of house-bound boredom before her kids arrived. We've been in weather-induced hibernation for over a week and I am going stir-crazy.

2) I love love love having extra kids in our house. Just looking at all the little bowls and plates lined up for lunch made me giddy.

So thank you Stephanie, for saving my life today! Hope your shopping is quiet and successful. It's loud and happy around here, just the way I like it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

nate's nativity musings

When Jon was growing up one way that his parents taught their kids the Bible was by acting out scenes as a family. (Sometime ask Jon about acting out 1 Samuel 24 while on vacation in the mountains.) Anyway, one of the Biblical stories Jon's family acted out was Luke 2 (the events surrounding Jesus' birth) and now that Nate is old enough to understand it we are going to incorporate that into our celebration as well. So last night at dinner Jon was talking to Nate about it, asking him who was going to play certain characters, etc.

Jon: Who is going to play King Herod?

Nate: Me! I want to.

Jon: What does King Herod say?

Nate: Tell me where this child is, I want to go worship him!

Jon: But does he really want to do that?

Nate: No, he wants to kill him. (Wow, his Sunday School teacher is doing her job!)

(about 5-10 minutes later)

Nate: Mommy, what does 'kill' mean?

Me: 'Q' is a letter, Nate.

Nate: No, KILL.

(Jon laughing because he thought I was trying to get out of the question but I really just didn't hear him, I swear.)

Me: Oh. Ohhhh. Well, Nate, 'kill' is when someone does something to someone else that makes them die.

Nate: Oh.

Me: It is very, very, very naughty. In fact it is the worst kind of naughty.

Nate (quietly, looking kind of upset): I'll just be a wise man.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

doing christmas

I was making plans with a friend last week via email, setting up a sledding date for us and our kids. As we coordinated our schedules, I wrote to her that we couldn't hang out on Saturday because my sister and brother-in-law would be in town and we were doing Christmas with my side of the family.

Doing Christmas. Hmm.

Saturday came, and Jon, the boys, and I trekked down the snow-crusted hill to my parents' house. The whole family was there (except sweet Asher in the hospital) and we spent the entire day together. My mom cooked two delicious meals with all the Christmas trimmings - Spode china, sterling silver, evergreen centerpieces, glittering candles, and a roaring fire in the fireplace. We had drawn names for a gift exchange, with everyone giving either books or board games to each other. Once the gifts were open the house was full of chatter and laughter as we played board games and watched the little boys delight in their new toys. It was a lovely, lovely day. But it had nothing to do with Christmas.

Besides some heartfelt prayers from my dad before our meals, we said nothing about the Bethlehem miracle that changed the world forever. We left the Bible on the shelf, the words of Luke 2 quiet inside the leather bindings. Our conversation covered politics, science, and even theology, but we never mentioned the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us. We didn't do Christmas.

I love my family to bits and pieces. Spending time with them is truly a gift from God. But being with family is not, in itself, Christmas. I love my mom's cooking and her incredible Christmas decorations - brightly lit trees and signs of the season in every nook and cranny. But evergreen trees and nutcrackers are not Christmas. Christ is Christmas. Period. Without him this whole business of Christmas is little more than a sham - something to give us warm fuzzies and perhaps help the economy.

I had a great day on Saturday, I think we all did. But we missed something, or more accurately, we missed the something, the only thing. I hold as much responsibility for this as anyone else, and I'm ashamed. Thankfully it is only December 21st. It is still Advent. Christmas is coming and this time I'll be ready.

Friday, December 19, 2008

can't see the forest...

At youth group with my girls.

I've been thinking back to my days as a youth leader at our old church in California. The last year that I was there I was leading a weekly high school girls' Bible study. I put in hours preparing each week, thinking through each lesson, praying for the girls and for our time together. There were a few girls in particular that I would often pray for, girls that I considered to be leaders and role models for the rest of the group. But week after week, these same girls made excuses and found reasons not to show up to Bible study. Maybe they had legitimate reasons, I don't know. All I know is that almost every week I was bummed out that they weren't there.

OK, so the three or four girls who I really wanted to come usually didn't show. But who did? The group was small each week, but there were a few girls who came every time, and I am just now realizing... I don't think I even noticed them. I was so busy worrying about who wasn't coming that I forgot to see who was already there. I'd like to think that I put together some pretty darn good lessons and discussions... but I usually came home from them disappointed because so-and-so wasn't there. Basically, it didn't happen just the way I pictured, so therefore it's a disappointment. What a small picture of God's kingdom! Surely it is bigger than my expectations. How often do we miss what God is doing while we're obsessing over what He's not doing?

I am remembering that the kingdom of God looks upside-down sometimes. God doesn't need big crowds or powerful individuals to accomplish His purposes. The places where God is moving don't always look successful or even important. Don't we have ample visual evidence of that at this time of year in our nativity scenes? Stables and shepherds, what could be more common and trivial? We are seeking God on our terms, waiting for Him to do what we expect. In the meantime, while we're looking for a parade or maybe a limo, God is defying expectations and breaking into humanity by way of a trough.

God doesn't do what we expect, so I want to stop expecting and start seeing. I want to stop complaining and start noticing. I know God is working. Even in the places where I am experiencing disappointment and frustration, God is not silent. Maybe it's not what I was hoping for, but who am I? Who am I to say what God should do? I know He is at work, and that is enough for me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

between weep and pray

In yesterday's post I talked about Hans Rookmaaker's response to our broken world: weep, pray, think, work. I would say that I am at different points along this sequence for different parts of my life. There are some things for which I am praying, others I am thinking through, and still others toward which I am working. But there is one thing in particular I am weeping over and I need to talk about it.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend that broke my heart. I won't go into detail here, but at the end of the discussion I was left to face the reality that my friend, a professed Christian, does not love God's Word. Doesn't want to read it, doesn't want to listen to it, and certainly doesn't want to hear it preached. Something simpler please. Something broken down and easily digested. Nothing confusing or hard to pronounce.

I don't want a simple, easy God! I don't want 3 Steps to Success. I don't want to send someone else up the mountain while I sit at home with my golden calf. I want the living, breathing, holy Word of God to speak into my life every day. I need it. I'm half-dead without it.

And so I'm sad. I weep. Don't live half-dead, my friend! Don't choose the tame, made-up fairy tale god, the safe and watered-down version. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is scary and confusing and hard to understand... but He is also real and true and good. His Word has unfamiliar cultural references, hard-to-pronounce names, and long genealogies... but it holds life and breath and truth.

When Moses is about to die and he is giving instructions to Joshua and the Israelites, this is the last thing he says to them:

"These are not just idle words for you -- they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." (Deuteronomy 32:47)

The Word of God in the Bible is not just idle words, to be taken or left without consequence. If we love God, we love His Word. He has not really left us another option.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

bear with me... more hans

By What Blessedness Do I Weep, by Jen Grabarczyk

As a mom, I don't have hours of free time to read. For the most part this bums me out, but there is a bright side: when I do make the time to read something, it usually has plenty of time sink in and saturate before I have time to move on to something else. All that to say... I'm still thinking deeply about "Art Needs No Justification" by Hans R. Rookmaaker.

In Chapter Two, Rookmaaker outlines a formula we can use to (in his words) "wake up" and respond to the state of the world: Weep, Pray, Think, Work. We wake up, open our eyes and see the atrocities of our world. We weep. We see our part in what is wrong with the world, and we see that we cannot fix it alone. We pray. We listen to God's response and invite His transformational power. As we are transformed, we engage our minds and apply our God-given reason. We think. As insight arrives, we are stirred to meaningful and purposeful action. We work.

Hopefully you can see why this is something I am still chewing on.

I can look at different aspects of my life and see how this formula has played itself out, even without my conscious knowledge of it. For example, as Jon and I have heard (and continue to hear) about children in this world without homes, loving parents, food, etc. we have wept. We have prayed for these children, and prayed for God to show us what He would have us do. We have thought about the problems, thought about who we are and what gifts and material things God has given us, thought about the desires and dreams we have, thought about how different choices we make would affect us, our children, and other children in the world. And soon we hope to work - filling out paperwork, getting fingerprinted, mailing in forms, interviewing, and someday bringing one of these children into our home as our own. Weep, pray, think, work.

What I love about this sequence is that it doesn't let us stay stuck in despair. (This is a temptation of mine... which is actually what I sat down to blog about today, but it will have to wait for a later post now.) Rookmaaker's formula reminds me that weeping should take us to our knees, that prayer should open our mind, and that contemplation should drive us to action.

Monday, December 15, 2008

this morning's breakfast table conversation

Nate: Mommy, what's a status book?

Me: What? What are you talking about Nate?

Nate: A status book!

Me: Are you trying to ask 'what is a facebook status?'

Nate: Yeah! What's a facebook status?

Me: (laughing) Well, Nate, a facebook status is something that tells you what your friends are doing.

Nate: Oh.

[5 minutes later]

Nate: Wonder what Jake is doing. (Jake is our 3-year-old neighbor)

Me: I don't know - maybe he would want to play in the snow with us.

Nate: What's the status... face... status?

(at this point I lose it and laugh for 2 min)

Me: (still laughing) Um I don't think Jake has a facebook, Nate!

Nate: Do we have a facebook?

Me: Well, Mommy does but you don't.

Nate: Wonder what Adam is doing.

Dexter: Lela!! Lela!!

Nate: Yeah, wonder what Lela is doing.

Nate using the "Friend Finder" tool to see if Adam and Lela are on facebook.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

maybe we came from monkeys after all

The boys and I have a standing play-date with our buddies Rachel, Lela & Ellie on Wednesdays. Today we hit up toddler gym time at a local community center for some trike riding, hoop shooting, and general burning off of our kids' endless energy. Now you all need to know that Nate and Lela are betrothed. They adore each other. Rachel and I finally had to tell them no more kissing, only hugs, because a) it was borderline inappropriate and b) they passed the same cold back and forth at least 7 times.

Back to today: we arrived before the girls so Nate was already running around with a horde of boys when Lela arrived. Seeing that he was unavailable for their customary greeting, Lela just walked up to the first boy she saw and gave him a hug instead. The boy was very obliging, and the two of them stood there in slow-dance position for a solid three minutes - it was really cute. Lots of cell phone pictures by their moms, etc. Eventually Nate noticed them hugging and came over to check it out. He walked slowly around the couple. He sized up the other dude. Then he lifted his shirt and hopped around crazily while pounding his chest. Full on primal. It was like an Animal Planet special on mating rituals, right there at toddler playtime. If this is happening now, I am going to need some sort of special training to handle puberty. Pray for us.

I don't have a picture of primal Nate, so here's the next best thing: Dexter with about 3/4 of a banana in his mouth.

Monday, December 8, 2008

rookmaaker had it right

A week ago the Freedom From Religion Foundation put up the above sign in the state Capitol building in Olympia, WA.

Here's what has happened in the week since the sign was put up:

*The sign was stolen.
*The sign was found and put back up.
*Bill O'Reilly got all upset.
*9,000 people did what O'Reilly asked and called to complain.
*Several hundred people rallied outside the Capitol to protest the sign.

Ok, people I get it. The sign is judgmental, divisive, rude, and against the stated policies of the Capitol building administration (A Capitol administration rep stated that organizations may put up a display as long as it isn't considered disruptive or seen as promoting one religion over another.).

But c'mon folks, are you really helping the cause of Christ by stealing the sign, calling to complain, or jumping around with bullhorns outside the building? Here's what bugs me: The general attitude of Christians that we need to fight like heck until the whole world looks like the inside of a Christian bookstore. Ugh, I got a bad taste in my mouth just writing that.

During the election people kept throwing around the phrase "culture war." I didn't really know what they were talking about, but now I think I'm starting to get it. I think it starts with fear. Fear that your side won't win without the right propaganda. Fear that people are too dumb to choose for themselves and need to be told exactly what to believe, or even what to watch, listen to, and wear. Fear that if people hear what the other side is saying, it will sound smart and attractive so it must be drowned out or shut up.

When Atheists do this, I understand. If there is no God, then its all just propaganda. If there is no Truth, then whoever talks the loudest is the one who matters.

When Christians do this, it makes me ill. Our mission is not to make the world palatable to our own weak stomachs. Our mission is to be, live, and do the gospel: Christ crucified, resurrected, and coming again. When I see all this ruckus over a sign, it elicits the same response as when I heard that some guy organized over 4000 people to do the Michael Jackson "Thriller" dance all at the same time: Congratulations. Now please go use those great organizational skills to do something useful.

Hans Rookmaaker (yep, I love me some smart Dutch guys) had a lot to say about Christians and culture. Here's a quote from his essay, Art Needs No Justification:

Christ did not come to make us Christians or to save our souls only...he came to redeem us that we might be human in the full sense of that word. To be new people means that we can begin to act in our full, free, human capacity in all facets of our lives.

Jesus didn't come so that we could go out and make people part of our little club, where we all read the same books, watch the same movies, and listen to the same three chords on the guitar. Jesus came to make us like Him, fully human and fully free. May God forgive me when I act or think otherwise.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

today's gems

My funny boy

My mom is always telling me that I should write down all the funny things that Nate says. Here are a few things that made me laugh out loud today:

*We were playing a game where I knock on Nate's bedroom door and when he answers I pretend to be different people who might come to the door (mailman, milkman, Jehovah's Witness, etc... ok not really JW but you get the idea). I knocked and when Nate answered I said, "Hi, I am a repairman. Do you need anything repaired?" Nate thought about it for a second and answered, "Sure I will have a pear!"

*I was out running this afternoon with the boys in the jogger and over the music in my headphones I heard Nate yelling something. I turned off my music to hear him yelling, "Mommy! I'm lucky!!" (Why are you lucky Nate?) "Because I saw a garbage truck!!"

*On the run Nate asked me to pick him a dandelion. He smelled it and said, "Mmm, Mommy this smells like a candy cane!"

*At dinner he said, "Can I please have some more vegetables?" Ok this one isn't funny, but it made me supremely happy so I thought I'd record the moment!

I love that kid.

unreasonable beauty: a follow up

Whidbey Island, Washington

Last night Jon and I went to the once-a-month prayer gathering at church. We've been going to these each month for several months and as our pastor likes to say, "It is a sweet, sweet time." To begin our time last night, the pastor read a poem entitled Christmas, Whidbey Island, by Loren Wilkinson. Here is the poem:

Not in the waves, nor in the wave-torn kelp;
Not in the heron by the lake at dawn,
Nor owls' haunting of the wood,
Nor rabbits browsing frightened on the lawn;
Neither in the widening whirl
Of seashell, galaxy, or cedar burl,
Nor in the mushrooms' bursting of the humid ground:
In nothing of his bright, shy world
May God the fathering be found,

If not found first in Bethlehem,
In thirsty hay, on hoof-packed earth,
Where a girl, cruciform with pain
Grips manger boards in childbirth.
There in the harsh particular
In drafts and stench of cow manure
The squawls of Christ, Creator sound:
Where God grasped not at Godhead in a child,
There only will the God of life be found.

Now: if we upon this wave-shaped bluff
Stand in the straw of Bethlehem
Then God shines out from everything:
The agate in the surf, the withered flower stem,
The fish that gives its body for the seal
The flesh, the fruits that form each common meal,
The dance of pain and love in which our lives are wound:
Since God was flesh at Bethlehem,
In all the world's flesh may God be found.

I hear in these words a new perspective on what I wrote earlier about beauty. The beauty of creation is always glorifying God, but our eyes are fully opened to it when we see and understand the Incarnation. I wish I had more eloquent things to say about that, but Wilkinson has said it all. I won't take away from his words by adding too many of my own.