December 20, 2015

A Time to Cleave*

The Father peered outside and watched His Son at work.  A lump formed in his throat as he realized what would happen soon.  Reluctantly, he called out to the young man, requesting that he come back to the house.  He gazed steadily at the youth trotting toward him, as if he was afraid he would disappear if he didn't keep watch.  They had always been together.  How could he let him go….?

“It’s time, Son,” was all he said watching the other’s face light up with expectation.  Surprised, the father asked if his son knew what would happen next. 

“Yes, Dad.  We have to rope the comet, gather up the horses for the horsemen and all the other battle implements and prepare to…

“No!  Not that time.  That will happen the next time.  For now you travel to earth under different accommodations.  Did you forget the original plan?  I can see from your confused look that you have, so let’s go over it one more time.”

The Son really knew the plan, but just wanted to see his Dad laugh one more time before he had to leave.  “Let’s see, I fly down wearing a close fitting suit with tighty-whities over my clothes and a cape flying behind me. I have will have gorgeous hair, blue eyes, six-pack abs and a strong, cleft chin, all of which are highlighted by my suit. I land in Rome, use my X-ray vision and super strength overpower the all the world’s tyrants and save the oppressed people so they can experience truth, justice, and the American way.”  The only indication on his solemn, placid face that he was suppressing laughter was the twinkle in his eyes.

Contorting his face into a Very Stern Look took extreme effort as the Father managed to get out, “No plan of mine will EVER involve wearing tighty-whities over your clothes” before bursting into laughter.  Then they were consumed by spasms of laughter, audible and silent, for many minutes until both ended up on the floor wiping tears from their eyes, though neither of them knew if they were from the laughter or for the separation that was coming all too soon.

The Father continued more soberly, “No, you will become a baby to be born in the same messy way we designed it, not able to control your bladder, completely dependent on your parents for everything.  Your earthly parents are loving, God-fearing people, but they are a poor couple, not even married yet, who live in that tiny town in a small community. Right before you are to be born, I will have that capricious leader we put in charge make everyone in the country go to their birth town so he can get a better estimate of tax money to be raised.  The town is small and will be overflowing with people.  Your parents will not be able to stay with relatives and will even have to make do staying in a barn.  My only birth announcement will come from the angels singing to those shepherds near the town.  The only gifts you will receive will be from some superstitious court magicians who will travel thousands of miles to see you, but will be several years too late for the actual birth.  You will grow up like any baby, becoming stronger and wiser and more capable.  You will astound people with your wisdom, your kindness and compassion, your ability to heal people and your love.  In other words, you will show them exactly how we are so they are less likely to mis-interpret what we have said in the past, though, knowing them, they will manage it anyway.” Sadness descended on his face at the last sentence.

Looking intently at the Father, the son summarized the plan:  “So I will be born a completely ordinary child to a couple of nobodies in the boondocks of Nowhere-ville who have to travel to another speck of a town which will have no room for them in a regular house.  I will be born in a smelly, dung-filled barn and my first bed will be a cow’s feed box, anointed with cow slobber.  You will extravagantly spend the music of the angels to deliver your message to a group of people who’s testimony is considered invalid in a court of law and who can’t even participate in the Jewish ceremony of atonement.  The only way that people will think I am special as a baby will be in the way I was conceived, which will be a constant source of ridicule for both me and my earth family.  And I will not have any special powers that will be appreciated by any except the most desperate, the plebeians, the proletariat.  The people of influence, the powerful, the rich, will either dismiss me, ignore me completely, or try to kill me.  Oh, and dad, you failed to mention that my true mission is to make peace between us and them by paying off the debt of sin they have been and will be generating for tens of thousands of years.”

The Father looked away, not wanting his Son to see the stricken look that passed over his face.  When he could speak, all he could say was, “You know that when you love someone as much as we do, you will do anything to save them from themselves.”

The Helper had joined them and together, they had their last group hug for a while, all of them crying piteously.  An angel, seeing them, slipped off on an errand.  The Father saw him leave and pulled himself together so he could get one last look at His Son.  “Now remember, you will never truly be alone.  The Helper will be with you always, giving you my instructions and helping you execute your mission.  Make sure you take care of yourself.  I will also send earthly people to care for you and to make sure you get enough sleep and enough to eat.  And when they fail you, I will send angels.  There will only be that very, very small insignificant time when we will not be able to even look at you because of your…situation.  You understand, right?”

The boy nodded and kissed His Father and best friend and, with the Helper’s arm around him, left on his mission.  Deep sadness welled up in all three once again, a sadness that broke their hearts, a sadness that would not truly leave them until, once again, in a short time, they would be reunited.  “So this is what earthly people experience so many times in their life” thought each person as the Son left.

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This story was inspired not only by the Gospels, but also by so many people, pastors, authors, and friends, who have re-told the Christmas story in modern vernacular.  For many years, I told a version of this to my kids to entertain them as we folded clothes.  Special mention goes to David Plaep, author of “Beholders of the Rising Sun” who has burned a vision of the shepherd’s scene in my memory, along with the idea that God’s first sacrifice for us on the road to redemption was having to be separated from His only Son whom He dearly loves, from whom I borrow heavily.  He is so much better at telling the story than I am.  I highly recommend the book.
*Note:  the verb "to cleave" can mean both "to divide as by a cutting blow" AND, as an intransitive verb, "to adhere closely, loyally and unwaveringly"

December 12, 2015

When will it be safe?

Three years ago, I was inspired by one national debate and a blogger to write an essay called, "Is It Safe Yet?"  Today I am re-writing it to exclude political leanings because I have so much inspiration from so many sources, it has become clear that the pursuit of safety transcends political boundaries.  I made some other changes, deleting some thoughts that I now realize are irrelevant, adding another thought and tightening up other paragraphs.  This essay is not saying that making reasonable efforts to be safe is bad.  Locking up criminals after they have committed a crime, requiring machinery to be safe, enforcing traffic laws, protecting people from thieves and swindlers, and some measures of gun control are wise and necessary measures.  What I am talking about is pursuing safety as the primary objective of our country. 

A fatal flaw in the philosophy of the pursuit of safety is that no law, no political party, no weapon can make us truly safe because the sin in each of us will cause us to always want what is truly bad for us. Given a choice most of us would date the bad boy or girl, smoke a pack or two of cigarettes a day, drive our car after knocking back a few drinks, sit in totally inactivity for long periods of time to watch inane programs while our brain turns to oatmeal, eat foods chock full of saturated fat and high fructose corn syrup and always unplug an electrical device by pulling on the cord while taking a bath. These are the choices we make when we have been "freed" from self-control and reason.  Furthermore, sin convinces us to wallow in our hurts and grievances, encouraging us to withhold forgiveness until it turns to bitterness and hatred, qualities which make us unsafe towards others.  You can take the person out of danger but you can't take danger out of the person*

An unintended consequence of our desire for safety is that the desire to live in a perfectly safe environment erodes our compassion.  If we are all perfectly safe, then we have no understanding of suffering and cannot offer comfort to those who are suffering because, after all, it must be their fault.  And if something bad happens to me it must be someone else's fault.  Oops, there goes forgiveness out the door also.  So we become a nation of finger-pointing, blame-shifters when trouble comes to us and hard-hearted judges when trouble comes to other people rather than being a nation of people who forgive and are forgiven and who provide comfort and aid to those who are bullied, incapacitated, helpless and/or hopeless. 

ASIDE:  Remember, I wrote the above paragraph three years ago.  Is ANY of this bringing up thoughts on our political narrative at all?  Does this resemble what we have become as a country? 

And yet another consequence that I didn't discuss initially is that, in the interest of our safety, we would take stances that effectively assume someone's guilt until proven innocence, which is happening as people want to pass laws of all kinds to prevent things from happening.  George W. Bush attacked Iraq on the pretense that they 'might' attack us with weapons of mass destruction before any evidence was presented nationally to back him up.  Muslims are locked up in Guantanamo Bay as potential terrorists or accomplices of terrorists without the benefit of a Constitutional-based trial (i.e., where the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt).  Those advocating for tougher gun control laws or even an end to the 2nd amendment are effectively saying that we need to assume people will use guns for evil rather than hunting or using it to protect themselves against lunatics with guns, who seem to have a knack for getting them both legally and illegally.  Police seem to assume that black men are out to kill them because there have been so many incidences where police officers have used guns as their first line of defense, shooting to kill and black men believe that police are out to kill them because police are shooting to kill them seemingly as a reflex.  Some Americans advocate tougher immigration policies for certain groups of people or shutting down immigration altogether to prevent potential rapists, thieves, murderers and terrorists from entering the country.  Once again, prevention is impossible and there are times I wonder if we are turning people into paranoid crackpots with all the fear-mongering promoted by our politicians and the media and in our pursuit of this insane level of safety. 

As a Christian, this safety-driven philosophy also flies in the face of the gospel, which is a story of the intense suffering of one man who was executed on the cross for crimes he didn't commit.  Philippians 2:5-11 lists all of the things Jesus suffered so that we, the guilty, sin-festering slobs, could be redeemed from the death penalty we truly deserved:  He suffered to be separated from the Father and Holy Spirit; he suffered to become a helpless baby who grew to be a poor man in a small village; he suffered to become a servant, he suffered a brutal, undeserved death.  John 18:5 says that Jesus knocked down a contingent of soldiers coming to arrest him with mere words.  And yet, he submitted to their arrest, their illegal trial, torture and guilty verdict rather than walking away.  Why?  What was his motivation?  Romans 5:8 says "...God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  God continues to pour out his love for us daily and Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily and love others like he has loved us, i.e., whether they deserve it or not.  His plans for his children might include suffering for His sake or suffering for the sins of others.  In other words, Christians should be the ones pursuing an anti-safety philosophy, encouraging each other to give up the rights we feel we deserve and serve the God who so richly deserves all of our love and respect.  I know that this sounds like absolute foolishness, but I would rather be a fool for Christ than a fool worshipping at the alter of unattainable safety, always unsatisfied until I become an abject coward.

And yet, I confess that I still have fears lurking and trying to control me--fears that my kids will die unnatural deaths, that the economy will collapse, that we are only a few generations away from a tyrannical leader who can take control because Americans have been chipping away at the Constitution over the course of time in the pursuit of safety.  And yet, there are so many Bible verses encouraging us to stop being afraid and to be of good courage.  Romans 5:3-5 says "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  And this gives me the power to turn away from my fears and to serve God wherever He leads me and encourage my kids and others to do the same because I know that he will either provide his protection in this life or take me/my kids/my fellow Christians to be with him forever, a place of complete, perfect safety.

Below is an afterward I wrote three years ago, but it is even more true today than it was then. 
I would like to add one more thing to this  as an afterward.  God has been making me eat these words and leave my safety/comfort zone in so many ways.  There are times when it has been very hard and frustrating and humbling.  And yet, looking back, I consider myself blessed for the experiences He has given me, the people who I have the privilege to call friends and the awe in how God works so gently and yet so persistently to open my eyes to see His vision of heaven and earth, His vision of me and those around me.  Alleluliah!

* inspired by a Baby Blues cartoon

July 17, 2015

Graciousness vs. Tolerance

For at least 16 years, we have heard people preaching tolerance.  Tolerance of religions, tolerance of people's lifestyle choices, tolerance of different standards of truth.

And yet, for all that, I am finding so many examples of intolerance in my Facebook feed and in my news feed.  For example:

  • On Facebook someone posted a picture of a black woman on the East Coast who started a group to stomp on the American flag publicly.  Along with her picture was an exhortation to not hire her EVER  because of her leadership in this group.
  • Someone  posted another picture of a black woman on Facebook who posted her exultation that some white policemen were killed right after a string of black men where killed by white police officers for really petty crimes or even non-criminal activity.  Enough people on Facebook contacted her employer asking them to fire her that she lost her job.
  • An executive working for a small company in Arizona a few years ago posted a video of him being rude to a Chik-fil-A drive-through employee and criticizing her for working for such a horrible company because of the Chik-fil-A's owner's stance regarding same-sex marriage.  The man was fired within days and has been unable to find a job for two years, in spite of "learning his lesson".
  • A mom was publicly shamed on a national level for letting her daughter spend some time in a tanning booth, causing her to get sunburned.
  • The owners of a bakery refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  But telling all their friends about the bad service and encouraging them to boycott the bakery was not enough for the couple.  They had to sue the business for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the company's rejection.
These are just a few stories.  I bet you have more.  Now, I am not saying that the people who were publicly shamed were blameless.  There is no one righteous, not even one of us.  Especially not me.

I point this out because I think that being tolerant is setting the bar too low.  The Merriam Webster definition of "tolerance" that seems to apply is this:  "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own."  This is a definition that would seem to make us all nice people, if we could hold to it.  However, I think God had and continues to have a better plan:  being gracious.  The dictionary's definition of "gracious" is "marked by kindness and courtesy; marked by tact and delicacy;"   Even man's definition of grace seems a lot better than tolerance.  Isn't it better to be kind than to be indulgent?  However, God's definition of "gracious" is even better:  Graciousness is showing favor or love to those who don't deserve it, which is, basically, everyone on the planet, including me.  Two of the many examples of graciousness in the  Bible include Matthew 5:45 and Psalm 103:8-12.  Jesus tells his followers in Matthew 5:44 to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."  And Psalm 103 describes a God of compassion, a God of forgiveness, a God of restoration, a God of love.  

So my goal is not to be tolerant at all.  It is to be gracious and loving toward people, asking God to help me to show His extravagant love to all people in all His ways as much as it is possible for this sin-riddled, selfish, intolerant person to do. 
Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. (Psalm 115:1)

June 27, 2015

Tandemingtroll's Guide to Choosing a Candidate--The 2015 guide

It is now summer of 2015 and since the candidates for president of the United States are starting to campaign, I thought I would update this list.  A situation in the news this week has made me realize that my list is incomplete, because apparently, common sense is being replaced with posturing and pride.

When it comes to candidates, to limit how much research to do to pick qualified candidates, I look first at their campaign strategy to see if I can eliminate anyone.  This is my criterion for elimination:
  1. Does the candidate pick a certain group as the source of our nation's problems as the focus of their campaign?  The group can be the opposite political party or a group based ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.  If the candidate is targeting a particular group of people you shouldn't vote for them for several reasons.  First of all, if they start blame-shifting as part of their campaign, what is the likelihood that they will accept responsibility while they are in office?  And if they don't accept responsibility, then they emotional children in the guise of adults and we don't want children running our country, state or city. And if they are targeting one particular group, they are oversimplifying the situation, which means they are incapable of critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Furthermore, if they target one group, what will keep them from targeting your group in the future?  After all, fifteen to twenty years ago,  we were told how horrible coconut oil was for our health and how the evil movie theaters were secretly trying to kill us by cooking popcorn in coconut oil because it was addictively delicious. And now what are all the health experts saying about coconut oil?  Soviets were the evil empire during the Cold War, then they were okay during Glastnost and now they are working themselves into the evil empire again. 
  2. Does the candidate spend all of their marketing money attacking their opponent rather than offering solutions?  If all they can do is tear down and attack, they will have a difficult time working with other people because they cannot be trusted.  Also, my experience is that most of the attack ads misrepresent the candidate's position or an incumbent's voting record, which makes them liars, which means we can't trust them, which means we shouldn't vote for them.
  3. Does the candidate employ tactics designed to play upon your fears and worries?  Don't vote for that person because they are snake oil salesmen and snake oil salesmen are liars.
  4. Have they been in office more than twelve years?  Politics shouldn't be a career path.  It should be a temporary detour to serve your country and should possibly include a vow of poverty.  People who have been in office more than twelve years should step aside and let other people step up and serve, getting income from the private sector, not the public's tax money.   Besides, the longer people stay in office the more used to power they get and we don't need people making laws to serve their own need for power and control.
  5. Are they making promises that sounds too good to be true?  Are they spouting off catchphrases and twitterfodder that is devoid of meaning?  Are they responding to a situation in a knee jerk reaction?  Then don't vote for them because they are either making promises they don't intend to keep in order to look good, which makes them liars or they don't have a firm grip on reality, which makes them unstable.  I think we can agree that neither are good attributes for lawmakers. 
  6. Does the candidate throw a temper tantrum when criticized for what he or she says and requires retribution equivalent to an arm for an eye when embroiled in conflict of his or her making?  Do we really want someone who acts either like a toddler or bully to have control of our nuclear codes or being the head of diplomacy?  It makes me sad that I even have to write this.  
At this point, you hopefully have at least one or two candidates whom you can research.  If these five qualifiers eliminate all candidates, then maybe remove one (or, if necessary, two) of the five disqualifiers that are least offensive see which candidate is available.  Realize that no one candidate is going to be a perfect fit and they are most likely to make mistakes while in office.  Give them the same grace you want other people to give to you. And please vote in your state's primaries, even if you feel that your candidate doesn't have a chance because not voting becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. 

Happy Voting!(?)

June 8, 2015

Deliverer by Matt Maher

This is a lyric video I put together using Movie Maker.  Matt Maher has written some really lovely and powerful songs.  My all time favorites of his are "Alive Again", "Christ Has Risen" and "Lord I Need You."  This is a recent addtion to my favorites from his latest album, "Saints and Sinners".  And, just as in FYI, he is even better in person, creating a powerful worship experience in both concerts I have attended.

For this video my daughter created a painting that I thought would work nicely with the lyrics.  The painting was inspired by a story from the Nepal earthquake of a rescue worker finding a baby still alive in the rubble.  I broke her painting into two sections.  The background with the handprints is the left side of the painting and the painting with the baby being held by his/her rescuer is the right side.  I just love the expression she put on the baby's face.  I hope you enjoy it!


May 25, 2015

Unoffendable?

In my last post, I promised to show you pictures of Chiricahua National Monument.  However, my wonderful husband has taken some amazing pictures and rather than steal his thunder and duplicate his efforts, I thought I would send you to his blog, ATrollInTheWoods.  Instead, I will be sharing my opinions about a book I just finished reading called Unoffendable by Brant Hansen.

The author is a radio DJ, formerly of Air1, now on NGen, which includes more Christian heavy metal and rap in its line up than Air1.  His style is what some people would call quirky.  He and his producer, Sherri sometimes hand out "accreditations" for anything people want.  You want a degree in collecting clutter?  They will hand one out.  Every year, during the March Madness College Basketball competition, he has his own "Brackets of Awesomness" and people vote on, for instance, whether Benedict Cumberbatch's voice is more awesome than fresh warm donuts at Krispy Kreme (or not).  My personal favorite, however, is his "If Jesus Had a Blog" blog.  It is exactly what the title implies, taking stories from the Gospels and putting them sort of in our time; however, the genius of the blog is that Brant includes the comments he thinks people would make in response to Jesus' blog.  If you want to know more about him, his story is found at I Am Second.

Should Christians be the least offendable people on the planet?  Should we be the most difficult to anger?  That is the premise that Brant Hansen proposes in his book.  He takes 24 chapters divided into several sections per chapter to discuss all sides of anger and taking offense.  He brings passages from the Bible to support his claim, as well as funny stories and the upside of releasing anger quickly.  He notes that anger and being offended is not a Christian problem or a non-Christian problem, it is a human problem.  I am going to share a few ideas and quotes from the book:

  • If righteous anger is okay, why isn't it listed as a fruit of the Spirit?
  •  Is there any such thing as human righteous anger or will it always be mixed with sin?
  • Holding onto anger is tiring.
  • What about those verses that say "In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger?  Isn't that saying it is okay to be angry as long as you don't sin?
  • Anger is natural.  Forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is counter-culteral.
  • Letting go of anger allows you to receive peace and joy.
  • Anger is like the One Ring (from "The Lord of the Rings").  Except instead of one ring that needs to be dropped into Mt. Doom, there are six million.  Drop yours now.
This was a very convicting book to read, but Brant's humorous stories and often self deprecating humor, makes the content more palatable, giving you the notion that he is coming alongside you to encourage you as a fellow person who has struggled with anger and still struggles.  I am reading it to my kids, a section at a time and talking with them about it.

April 21, 2015

A Hiking Family: A Fabulous Portable Lunch

Lately, most of our exercise and fun activity has involved half day hikes, though some children might take exception to my definition of "fun".  We have two reasons:  the weather is still nice and cool in the morning (and by cool, I mean less than 80 deg) so that we won't risk sun stroke;  and my hubby and oldest will be hiking down into the Grand Canyon on a rim-to-rim backpacking hike as part of their Boy Scout Troop in October, so they need to train for it.

We have also been hiking as a family more.  Last month, we camped at Picacho Peak, about 90 minutes southeast of Phoenix just off of the freeway between Phoenix and Tucson.   We were planning to hike the trail listed as strenuous for those in reasonably good shape and insanely strenuous for those of us who have been slacking lately.  We knew this trail would require a lunch stop, requiring at lest four hours to get to the pinnacle and return, so I went to my Pinterest Camping board to see what I could find for portable lunches.  I found a series of lunch recipes from Wild Backpacker and decided upon trying out the Ford Wrap, which is the second from the bottom.  It is basically a flour tortilla with cream cheese and smoked salmon, which is easy to prepare, doesn't take much space in the backpack and isn't overly filling.  I added fresh spinach for some extra iron and crunch.  We ate it as a lunch just before we began what became a rather arduous ascent. Immediately, we all felt so much better as the salmon provided salt and protein and the tortilla added carbs and we decided to make this our staple for long hikes.

This weekend, we camped at Chiricahua (pronounce Chih-ri-KAH-wah) Nation Monument, where a mountain rises from the desert valley hiding so many beautiful standing rock formations made of weathered ryolite (petrified volcanic ash).  We stranded together trails eight miles long, mostly downhill. It involved being driven to a peack called Echo Point by our friendly, neighborhood Forest Ranger and walking to the base of the mountain, where the campsite lay.  Once again, because we knew this would take us past lunchtime, we brought ingredients for the Ford Wrap.  This time, instead of cream cheese, I decided to use a garlic white bean paste recipe from A Little Bit Crunchy (A Little Bit Rock n'Roll), the last five ingredients.  The pannini recipe is also fabulously tasty.  The white been paste added some extra flavor and some extra carbs.  Once again, it gave us a lot of energy and it didn't have any milk products for those in our family who are mildly lactose intolerant.

My next blog post will have more details about our hikes with pictures.