Monday, January 31, 2011

Screw You, Chinese Express!

Last Friday, Will promoted to yellow belt in karate.  At his studio, they have a “Little Dragons” class for 4-6-year-olds, in which they wear white belts with stripes.  Even though he’s only five, his instructors thought he was ready to jump up to the kids’ class based on the fact that Will is a) super intense and focused, and b) a self-proclaimed ninja.

Each time that he promotes to a new belt, I let him choose where we eat dinner.  Choices in the past have included hibachi, steakhouses, and McDonald’s (blech).  Last Friday, Will chose a Chinese buffet.  A Chinese buffet.  Don’t get me wrong--I love all things Asian when it comes to food, and I am SO appreciative that my children will eat just about anything I put in front of them, but eating at buffets is just plain scary and gross to me.  

There’s a Chinese restaurant a couple of miles from our house that we get take-out from on a pretty regular basis.  The food is actually really good, and most importantly, there’s a wide view of the kitchen, so I don’t have to worry about what’s lurking around the dishes being prepared.  (After having a dad who worked in the food industry for fifteen years, you learn a few things.)  In good mom fashion, I took the boys in and loaded their plates with chicken and rice and most importantly, red jello (because that’s really why Will wanted Chinese food).

Nestled in a booth between two families who could have singlehandedly sunk the Titanic, we ate our warmish food and talked about what a great job Will did in his belt ceremony.  Ben ate a ridiculous amount of rice, and Will ate a ridiculous amount of smoked chicken (including the portion that I couldn’t finish of my own), and we finished off the night with some froyo from the machine.

All in all, the dining experience was relatively uneventful--which is always a good thing when you’re dining with a 5yo and 2yo by yourself.  I have to say that eating out with children is not always pleasant, but we’re finally getting to the point where it’s not an ordeal.  My kids are relatively well-behaved and about the business of eating when we’re in restaurants, and I’m really thankful to be past the point in my life when I had to eat everything with my fingers while nursing a baby.

You know what my biggest nightmare is when it comes to eating out with children, though?  Kids eat free nights.  Like I said, my kids are generally well-behaved.  Why on God’s green earth would I want to purposely go to a mediocre restaurant packed with demonic spawn just to save $8 on free kids meals?  This is nuts to me.  

Of the handful of times I’ve ventured into a restaurant to meet friends for a KEF event, I spent the entire time screaming to be heard over the sound of caterwauling banshees.  And God bless the poor souls with no children who just happen to have a hankering for Moe’s on a Tuesday night.  You see them huddled in the corner, shielding their burritos from slobbery binkies flung by snotty toddlers, holding on to their chips and salsa with that “Why, God!?!” look on their face.  I don’t blame them, but one word to them--forgive these parents, for they know not what they do.  Sleep-deprivation does weird things to people--like make them think it’s a good idea to drag four sticky, wild-haired, unmatching, boogerpots into an eating establishment to ruin a roomful of strangers’ dinner.

Anyway, I digress.  So, we had a pleasant meal together at the Chinese buffet, and when it came time to pay, I had Will open our fortune cookies and read them to us.  Here’s what we got:
This was Ben's.  Although he's a man of few words at age two, this totally makes sense.
This was Will's.  Anyone who has met Will can testify that he is a classic extrovert and would like nothing more than to be surrounded at all times by friends.
This was mine.  WTF?  No, seriously!  WTF?  This is the worst fortune I've ever received from a cookie.  I'm what's left?  I don't even know what that means, and if I did, I'm pretty sure I would totally be pissed!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's in the Bible (Part 3)

So, if you haven’t been reading along with me for the past two weeks, check these out first: THE ONE THAT PISSED SOMEONE OFF and THE ONE THAT PISSED OFF NO ONE (as far as I can tell).

Here’s the scoop: I’m reading the Bible in 90 days with my Sunday school class, and I’ve committed to blogging about it each Sunday during the period. This is the third week, and I have to admit--I did not do well with the reading this week. It wasn’t so much the content (which was far more interesting than the stuff I was reading the first two weeks), but I was just reading a lot of other really good books that I didn’t want to put down. I did, however, play major catch up on Saturday to get through most of the material for this week which includes the last part of Deuteronomy through part of 1 Samuel.

As I was reading this week (the other books, not the Bible), I started thinking back about some of the books I’ve read that fall into the spiritual memoir genre (is that a genre?) and thought this was the best place as any to give some reading recommendations for anyone who might be looking for some books to read. All of these are “spiritual” in nature, and each one offers a different perspective (one of my favorite words) on faith.
Blue Like Jazz: Non-religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller

I read this book about six years ago, and it was the first book that made me feel at ease with some of the thoughts about God and Christians that I’d been having for years. To sum up Donald Miller in a word, he is: real. He’s actually probably one of the reasons I keep trying to make this church thing work. (Donald Miller has written a handful of other books that are also entertaining and thought-provoking. You can also follow his blog.)
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

I read this book as part of a grad school non-fiction writing seminar with the woman who would eventually become my thesis director. Lamott’s story is inspiring, but more importantly, this book is one of the reasons I write what and the way I do. Anne Lamott has personal reflection down to a gut-wrenching, spellbinding science, one that I continue to study by rereading her work from time to time in an effort to better my own writing. She is sincere, honest, and in your face. Enjoy.
Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

Okay, don’t approach this book lightly. My husband bought this for me a few years ago because he thought it looked like something I’d enjoy, and he was completely wrong. It was one of the most painful books I’ve ever read--I did not “enjoy” anything about it. However, I started this book late on a Friday night and was finished with it by Sunday morning because I could. Not. Put. It. Down. Painful, honest, shocking and did I mention painful? But so, so very good. Memoir at its best, exposing a side of Christianity that NEEDS to be exposed.
Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell

I mentioned this book in my last post, and I’m mentioning it again because it’s probably the one book that I wish all “Christians” would read. Rob Bell has pissed off a lot of people in Christian circles because what he says doesn’t jive with the mainstream. This is the kind of book that if you were trying to highlight the good parts, every page would end up yellow by the end. It’s smart, funny, and forward-thinking, which is probably why most “Christians” don’t get it.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen

Okay, I mention this book only because I just finished reading it, and it’s another example of spiritual memoir. It’s nowhere on par with the books listed above as far as how it has impacted my life, but it’s funny, and I found it refreshing to read about a faith with which I have very little experience (I actually met a lot of Mennonites when I was on a traveling hospital ship off the coast of West Africa, but I didn’t really take the time to ask them questions about their faith). Worth a read, and much lighter than the other books listed above.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

This is a novel, not a memoir, but it’s the best book I’ve read since Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Seriously. It’s the real reason I didn’t pace myself well with the Bible reading this week--I couldn’t put it down. I was literally reading at stoplights because I couldn’t get enough. Toward the end, I started reading five pages at a time and then putting it down because I didn’t want it to be over. Although it isn’t a spiritual memoir, the subject matter made me think about what I’ve been reading in the Bible. The Book Thief is set in Germany during WWII and focuses primarily from a German perspective. There were passages pertaining to hate for the Jewish people that made me stop breathing. When I did pick up the Bible to read, I was struck by the fact that I was reading a story about these same people--the Jews, thousands of years apart. Please, if you don’t even finish reading this blog post or read anything I ever write again, go get this book and read it. Now.

So, enough with the book recommendations--let’s get to the What-Leia-Learned-This-Week portion. First of all, I feel the need to address something that I’ve been thinking a lot about this week. In my rocky relationship with “the church” I’ve heard it said over and over and over and over again that the church is not a building, it’s not a place, it’s not an institution--the church is the people. You know--we ARE the church. We don’t GO to church. That kind of stuff.

My beef is with the people, as I’ve discussed in previous posts. (Is it vain to quote myself?) “My frustration stems from both the actions of individuals and the attitudes of the collective.  I have witnessed abuse of power, “moral corruption,” lack of social responsibility, hypocrisy, and intense hate on such a phenomenally grand scale--and all from an institution (made up of individuals) who purport to love God and love others as themselves.” These people are not being the church. No amount of pew time (or pulpit time in a lot of instances) will make them the church.

But, you know what? There are a lot of really, really good people who ARE the church, instead of just going to church, and I have been privileged to know, love, and be loved by a lot of those people. With as many examples as I could give of instances in which church people make Jesus cry, I could give you examples of people living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in tangible ways because they truly, honestly believe in BEING the church.

Just this week, I had not one, not two, not three, but FOUR people email/FB message me letting me know that I’ve been in their prayers this week. These weren’t people I asked to pray for me, and none of them were praying to save my soul (although I’m sure there are a couple of people doing that, too). These were people who genuinely, selflessly, and thoughtfully asked God to be with me, comfort me, and help me find joy in a pretty awful week (everyone in our house was sick, made worse by the knowledge that we still have five months before Daddy comes home).

This morning at church, an older gentleman whom I don’t know very well gave me his son-in-law’s business card. His SIL is a real estate agent, and the man told me that he had heard I was trying to get our house ready to sell, and he thought maybe his son could help me if I didn’t have anyone already. Kind.

Also, this morning, Will’s Sunday school teachers took their Sunday school class (as they do anytime there is a fifth Sunday in the month) next door to a nursing home to sing for the residents. I love that at the age of five, there are people in my child’s life who are teaching them what it means to be part of a loving, giving community.

I got a note in Will’s take-home folder last week from his teacher that read, “Mrs. Johnson, we just wanted to let you know that the teachers prayed for your family in our staff meeting this morning. We know that it must be hard taking care of two kids on your own and for your husband to be gone for such an extended time. Please know that we are here for you if you need us and that we will continue to lift your family in prayer.”

And that all happened just this week.

What I’m getting at here is that even though I’m a bit of a Debbie Downer about the church in general because of some rotten apples, I don’t want to discount the people in my life who are trying to combat that image in the way they care for me, their friend, and for people they don’t even know, asking nothing in return--simply because Christ called us to do so.
PHEW. I feel better.

Now, to this week’s reading. Since this post is already too long, I’ll just break it down into some highlights:

*Deuteronomy 23 is where we start this week, and one of the very first things made me laugh. I’m just going to include the passage: If one of your men is unclean because of a nocturnal emission he is to go outside the camp and stay there. But as evening approaches he is to wash himself, and at sunset he may return to camp. Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.

  • First of all, this reminds me of a sign on the inside of a bathroom stall that says something like, “Ladies, please refrain from flushing feminine products.”
  • It also reminds me of my first speaking part in my kindergarten play when I played Sacajawea. I still remember my line: “First you dig a hole and plant the corn. Cover it with a fish, and then cover the hole with dirt.” And scene. It was a brilliant performance.
  • I love this idea of God moving about the camp. Can’t you just hear the Israelites saying “Dude, someone stepped in crap! Everyone check your sandals!” What? I didn’t write it.

*I know that these rules and regulations don’t really apply in modern times, but I found one that I want to bring back. Deut. 24:5: If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. Tell me more about this bringing happiness to his wife business.

*In chapter 28, we have 14 verses about the blessings the people will receive for obedience...followed by 54 verses about the curses for not following the rules. And guess what--they didn’t follow the rules. Stupid.

*Rahab! So just a few pages after we read rules about how bad prostitution is, we have a nice little “don’t judge a book by a cover” story because that book might just save your life. And she might eventually start a family line that leads to Jesus’ birth.

*I remember singing a song about Joshua and the battle of Jericho when I was little. We marched in a circle with papertowel tube trumpets, and it went something like, “Joshua fought the battle at Jericho, Jericho, Jericho! Joshua fought the battle at Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down...” Then, we proceeded to all fall down on the ground. As I read through Joshua, though, I was HORRIFIED. The book of Joshua is chapter upon chapter of the Israelites pillaging and killing their neighbors (31 kings by the time all was said and done). I mean, thousands and thousands of people die so that the Israelites can claim their land. (To be clear, I am in no way making a political statement here--I’m just in shock.) Then, the land is divided up among the tribes, and Joshua is buried in the Promised Land, as all of God’s promises have been fulfilled. My favorite part is that after being at brutal war for ten years, Joshua’s parting words to his people are “...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua had no idea that his battle cry would endure on wall hangings and needle-pointed throw pillows in suburban homes for all time.

*And then there’s the book of Judges, where we get even more killing, while the Israelites continue to have a roller coaster of a relationship with God. They do okay for a little while, but then they begin to “do evil in the eyes of the Lord” over and over, which leads to this system of having judges who rule in the place of kings. And this is where we get some really colorful characters worth mentioning.

  • Ehud is a judge who visits king Eglon of Moab (this sounds like a fourth installment of The Lord of the Rings). King Eglon is so fat that when Ehud stabs him with a hidden double-edged sword, the entire sword is swallowed up in the fat rolls. It’s like Jabba the Hutt, but I don’t see any mention of chained up women in gold bikinis.
  • Deborah is the first only female judge in charge, and she gets down and dirty with the big boys, scheming all kinds of ways to trick their enemies during war. During Deborah’s story, another nice lady named Jael makes a name for herself when she harbors an enemy in her home under the auspices of being friendly but then drives a peg through his head while he’s sleeping. Nice, ladies. Nice.
  • Gideon follows in Joshua’s footsteps as a warrior without abandon and is famous for obeying God by going into battle with a very small army. Sadly, his lasting legacy includes some idols he made in honor of himself and a son born to a prostitute. Classy.
  • Everyone knows the story of Samson (aka Dumbest Man Ever) and Delilah. These are the kinds of Bible stories that make for good movies--what with the beautiful women and epic homocide/suicide endings.
  • I’ll end with Ruth this week because I really only got partway into 1 Samuel before I had to go to church (I really did wait until the very last minute to read this week). When I was little, Ruth and Esther were my favorite books of the Bible because they were the only ones named after women. As an adult I’ve come to a much greater understanding of the sociopolitical constructs within which these women were living, and I have even more respect for these women and their stories. One of the best things about Ruth (other than the fact that it’s a much needed breather after all the killing in the last two books) is the picture of friendship. Basically, we have Naomi, who changes her name to Mara which means bitter, because her life really, really sucks. Her husband dies, and then her only two sons die. Then, to top it off, there’s a famine. Under ordinary circumstances, Naomi would be up a creek (and a dry creek at that), but her daughter-in-law, Ruth, shows tremendous loyalty. Ruth had every right to pack up and go back to her family, but instead she tells Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Wouldn’t we all be lucky to have a friend like that--much more a MIL/DIL relationship like that?) So incredibly beautiful--and a perfect example of the “loving others” aspect of the greatest commandment passage I talked about last week.

So that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to share your thoughts and feelings. Are any of you reading the Bible right now? I mean, I don’t expect any of you to be doing something nutty like reading the whole thing in 90 days, but are you reading *part* of the Bible that has been interesting/intriguing/inspiring? Or other books?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thank God for Reruns

TV was full of reruns this week, which was good because I was engrossed in several books all week and didn't feel like watching TV.  I did catch a few shows worth mentioning...
The View
First of all, I caught an episode of The View, and I have to say something that I can not believe I’m saying.  They were talking about the Miss America pageant because Joy Behar was apparently one of the judges, and Elizabeth said that she thinks they should make the women participate in activities during the swimsuit competition--like they should run after children on the beach.  Elizabeth Hasselback, you are so right.  And that’s the last time you’ll hear that from me.
Brothers and Sisters
I am actually really relieved that B&S was a rerun this week.  I feel like I’ve just spent a little too much time with the Walker side of my family, and I need a break.  I’m hoping this little breather will bring on some absence makes the heart grow fonder action.
The Bachelor
Crazy Michelle woke up with a black eye, and you KNOW she gave it to herself.  It reminds me of a time in fourth grade when this weird girl named Blair bit herself and told the teacher I did it.  Clearly, as evidenced by all the awkwardness on their one-on-one date, this girl is not capable of having a genuine conversation/moment with him.  But we gotta keep her because we need the crazy!
What’s the deal with all of the girls on this show always being afraid of whatever they have to do on the date?  Chantel is afraid of the ocean?  Michelle is afraid of heights?  (And don’t forget last week when Barbie Doll had to go up in an airplane before telling him that her fiance died in a plane crash...which is kind of a legitimate fear, so nevermind).
Okay, my favorite moment of his date with Chantel was when Brad said, “Can you please stop talking and just kiss me?”  I may or may not have heard this on occasion in my dating life.  Brad, it’s difficult for us tough girls to stop talking.  It’s a defense mechanism.  Okay, again, I’ve made this personal.  I’ve got to stop.
The group date was super awkward with Dr. Drew.  He just asked who had cheated and only ONE girl fessed up.  Seriously?  I don’t believe it for a minute.
There wasn’t really much going on in this episode.  The rose ceremony wasn’t even the mostdramaticroseceremonyever.  The girls that went home are exactly who I expected to go home because they didn’t get any screen time.
I hope next week we get more cat fights and make out scenes because listening to Brad complain to his therapist about how he’s having a difficult time dealing with kissing all these women is BORING.  And we don’t watch this to be bored.  Right, ladies?
Friday Night Lights
It’s like the light at the end of the mid-week tunnel for me--seeing that bright shiny Tim Riggins face.  I’m living in a state of denial right now with my Panther family because in real life I know that there are only two episodes left, but in my fantasy life (where Coach Taylor gives me hugs on my bad days and Tim Riggins asks me to marry him) life is going to go on forever--especially now that Tim is home.  Yes, he’s changed--but all that angst that he’s directing toward his brother is just plain sexy.  
We’ve got some big things happening (with only two episodes to go--did I mention that?)  Tami wants to move to the east coast, and for once she’d like Coach Taylor to consider her feelings and think about changing her career for him.  When I saw that specific part of the preview, I was snapped back into reality--everyone knows that a Texas football coach would never move to the east coast and give up his career.  Not ever.  
On an unrelated note, the scene where Vince and his mom changed the locks on the door to keep his no-good-triflin’-father out of the house was inCREDible.  Just a moment in the show that captured real life, which is why I obviously have a problem with blurring the lines myself.
American Idol
I could write for hours about these auditions, but there is only one person I want to talk about, and that is a poor guy named Jesse McClintock.  You might be like, uh, I don’t remember him...did he get a golden ticket?  Well, that would be a big fat NO.  Because he didn’t try out.  Jesse was the boyfriend of a girl named Chelsee--who tried out WITH her ex-boyfriend, Rob.  Now, I get that Chelsee and Rob used to sing (and live) together, but if you’re going to reunite for the sake of getting on TV, guys, let’s leave the poor NEW boyfriend, Jesse, out of it.  That guy looked like he was going to explode from trying to not be mad/jealous/freaked out.  And then on top of that, the judges were practically pushing them in the closet to play seven minutes in heaven in an effort to make them fall in love again.  Poor Jesse.
And on an unrelated note, I cry over every stupid sad/heartwarming story.  There’s something really, really wrong with me.  
Oh, and another thing--I have really mixed emotions about The Avett Brothers and The Swell Season playing in the background of taped pieces on AI.  Makes me a little irked.
And one more thing--I want to sing a duet with Steven Tyler.
That is all.
Oh, and I would like to officially go on record to say that this set-up is better than the Simon-Paula-Randy set-up.  For sure.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All You Need Is One Happy Thought

It’s been a rough few days around our house with sick kids and a sick mommy and the general feeling of oh-my-God-Daddy-is-still-going-to-be-gone-for-five-more-months.  As it goes with those kinds of things, though, I’ve had some really bright spots (between the puking and the snot and the crying).
I don’t completely understand how it works, but it always seems that in my saddest/pitiful/darkest moments, something always happens to pull me out of it--an unexpected phone call from an old friend, the discovery of a new kind of cookie, or seeing the sun break through the clouds after days of rain.  It really is the little things.
Just this week, I’ve stumbled across some things that really kept me sane, and I thought it best to share them with you:
I don’t even know what this is, but I laughed: Marcel the Shell
This has been circulating all over Facebook.  After I shared it, I watched it again.  Maybe five or six times: Stairs
This song, although somewhat melancholy, makes me happy: Naked
This song/video always makes my day better: REGINA!
I affectionately refer to my stomach as the “Kate Gosselin belly” after birthing two giant babies, and this is possibly the most beautiful thing ever (I’d suggest surfing around the blog--really great stuff!): The Shape of a Mother

Just now as I was posting this two things happened:

1) The electricity went out for about half an hour, so I jumped in the shower while I couldn't do anything on the internet.  When I got dressed, my Thursday underwear were on top of the stack.  It's always a good day when I don't have to search through the drawer for my days-of-the-week underwear.

2) When Ben saw my underwear, he said, "Mommy, your undies are pink!  With a turtle!"  Yes, Ben.  You are so right.

I have had a headache all morning--like the kind where when I move my head in any direction, it feels like my brain is actually ping-ponging against my skull--so I spent the morning lying on the floor doing puzzles and putting together Megablocks with Ben.  I had a million things I "needed" to do, but even with the headache, the morning was pretty damn spectacular.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm a Lyrical Gangsta

When I was much, much younger, I spent a lot of time writing poetry and songs--lots of really sappy love songs about falling in love with Prince Charming and such.  Very Taylorswiftian.  In fact, I wrote a song and sang it in my high school talent show (you could probably find a really embarrassing VHS tape of the performance in a closet at Edmond Santa Fe High School) and was then voted "Best Singer" of the senior class, which is a pretty lame category if you ask me (especially for Yale Scott, my male counterpart who should have been voted most likely to rock at life or something like that).  Anyway, I fancied myself a songwriter.

I don't know why I stopped writing songs--maybe because I grew into the cynical realist I am today, leaving the romantic idealist in my dust.  A few months ago, my friend, Derrick, messaged me on Facebook asking if I ever write poetry or songs. I told him that I didn't, but I could try.  Derrick and I met in college when we were part of the same Life Group--a college/singles Bible study group that met at our mutual friend, Lori's, house.  Until the last few months, I hadn't seen Derrick since we were in college--so somewhere around seven years.

I am so grateful to him for asking me to write for him.  Sometimes I write the lyrics and hum to him over the phone.  Sometimes he has music that is just waiting for words.  It's one of the best things in my life right now.  A million years ago (when I was romantic), I always thought I wanted a boy to write a song for and about me.  But, what I've realized over time is that what I really wanted was to write my own songs and have a boy put them to music.  This is much better.

So, here's a video of one of the songs we wrote.  FYI, ladies, Derrick is SINGLE!  SINGLE!  SINGLE!  (And I can vouch for the fact that he is nice and handsome and all those good things.)  If I can convince Derrick to send me more videos, I'll post more later.  I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed creating.

The Only Thing
No matter how I want you, you’re not really mine
You travel in and out of my life when you have the time
My thoughts in the morning, my desire late at night
So, so very wrong, so wrong that you’re right
And I can’t sleep
No, I can’t sleep
When everything else has got my head in the clouds and my back’s against a wall
You are the only thing that makes any sense at all
You’re the only thing I have to hold onto when I fall
You are the only thing that makes any sense at all
Two hours ago I felt the warmth of every heartbeat
The smell of your skin is wrapped up in these cold sheets
So, come back, please come back, come back to my bed
Help me quiet these thoughts in my head
Cause I can’t sleep
No, I can’t sleep
No matter how I want you, you’re not really mine

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's in the Bible (Part 2)

***Disclaimer about last week’s disclaimer:  I said LAST WEEK that I didn’t want to offend anyone, and well, that didn’t really work out.  In fact, (to save you the time of reading it all), I was told that the post was “nothing but an invitation for deceivers to join together to spit in the face of God.”  NOT what I was going for. So, I’m going to stress something in disclaimer #2.  I am sharing my opinion, and if yours doesn’t match mine, we’re cool!  In fact, if you’ve got thoughts that don’t jive with mine, let me know, and we can work it out.  That’s what big people do.

With the exception of one person, I had an overwhelmingly wonderful response to last week’s post.  After shamelessly self-promoting at one of my favorite blogs, last week’s post was the most visited ever on my blog--seriously crazy numbers--so thank you to everyone who read, responded, and shared the post with friends.

One of my favorite responses came from a friend who especially appreciated my quotation from The Dude.  Bryan sent me a message on Facebook through his wife: “nobody f&@*# with the Jesus.”  Thank you, Bryan.  I’m sure we’ve just offended someone else together.  Team work!
If you didn’t read last week’s post, I’m reading the Bible (the whole thing, cover to cover) in 90 days with my Sunday school class, and every Sunday between now and then, I will post my thoughts about the readings and the process.  For those of you who have somehow stumbled across this blog and don’t know me from Eve, I am not a pastor or a seminary student or even a “lay minister” in the strictest sense of those words.  I’m just a thinker, and these are my thoughts.
These posts are for three different types of people:
  1. My non-Christian friends: I have a lot of friends who are not Christians, and I hope that these posts clarify to you what being a Christian means to me.
  2. My Christian friends who don’t go to church: I figure if you slept in this morning and missed church, here’s a little (ha ha--not so little by the time you get to the end!) sermon of sorts for you to chew on before you watch some football.
  3. The Church: I am, like so many people I know, trying to work through my (lack of) faith in “the Church.”  I willingly admit that I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, a bone to pick, something in my crawl--whatever you want to call it--when it comes to my relationship with the “body of Christ.”  So many of my friends have left the church angry, bitter, and/or hurt, and I don’t blame them.  On some level, I really want to just quit, too.  But there’s an idealist in me that keeps trying to fix what’s broken.  So, I hope to represent a huge number of people who feel they have been systematically failed by the Church in an effort to bring insight to those who still consider themselves part of the Church.
So, I’ve been joking around about having to read Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy this week because it’s generally known as the most boring part of the Bible.  For those of you who haven’t read the Bible, it’s comparable to the chapter in Moby Dick when Melville describes the measurement of the whale’s skeleton.  For those of you who haven’t read Moby Dick, just take my word for it--it’s boring.  We’ve got lists of rules and regulations, some of them repeated over and over again.  We also have descriptions of highly symbolic buildings and religious items and a census, where all of the Israelites are counted.  Not riveting.
You know what, though?  I actually kind of enjoyed reading Leviticus.  I mean, I might have nodded off a couple of times, but looking at these books for the first time in a few years gave me fresh eyes to notice some interesting things.  In context, I find it fascinating that this many rules and regulations existed, and although a lot of them seem strange (like the 13 verses that outline how to deal with mildew), it makes sense.  They didn’t have the kind of modern medicine or even cleansers that we have, so containing bodily fluids (I got really tired of reading the words discharge, semen, and period) and staying clean was quite literally their saving grace.  If you think about how quickly the flu or a stomach bug can travel through a kindergarten class that is stocked with hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and tissues today, just think what it must have been like for thousands of people living in tents.
In Numbers, I got to a part that I don’t remember ever reading (even though I know I have).  The section in my Bible is titled “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife.”  This whole section reminds me of THIS.  Also, a bright spot in Numbers is what is known as the Aaronic blessing (I think it would be better called the Ironic Blessing, as so much of what surrounds it is a bit doomy and gloomy).  Most people have probably heard this said in wedding ceremonies:  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  That’s actually really beautiful--right in the middle of a bunch of stuff that weighs pretty heavily on me.  For a good portion of Numbers, we are following the Israelites on the way to Canaan--a place that has been promised to them, a land flowing with milk and honey (which actually sounds rather sticky).  
The thing that sticks out to me through this whole passage is the fact that the Israelites are super cranky, always complaining about their situation.  They repeatedly say things like, “Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Seriously?  You’re this close to the land that God has been promising you, and you want to go back to the place where you were enslaved for 400 years?  Really?  (There’s a phenomenal book by Rob Bell called Jesus Wants to Save Christians that chronicles the Exodus in painstakingly beautiful detail that every thinking Christian should read.)  Interspersed with this story of the Israelites’ journey are more rules, and I’m struck by the juxtaposition--a man is stoned for breaking the Sabbath right before instructions on having tassels on the corner of their garments.  Seems a bit odd.
Now, If I were someone reading this for the first time, Deuteronomy is about the time I would be saying, “ALL RIGHT, ALREADY!  ENOUGH!”  But as someone who has read the end of the story, I know that there are significant things in Deuteronomy that come into play right around the climax of the Bible, a very long, confusing book.
So fast-forward to the New Testament (I know, I know--I’m kind of cheating by fast-forwarding), and some smartypants religious guys were trying to trip Jesus up (it was always the religious folk causing problems for Jesus), so one of them asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  He answers by saying, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus, a rabbi, wasn’t just picking these out of thin air--he was combining a verse from Deuteronomy with a verse from Leviticus.
I have a lot of friends who don’t believe in God or if they do, they aren’t Christians, so I want to clarify something.  When I talk about having a “relationship” with God (my interpretation of the greatest commandment), I’m talking about believing that there is something protecting and guiding me, a source of unconditional love, peace, and grace.  I believe I can communicate with God and that God can communicate with me--as long as I’m open to it.  And loving God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength takes purposeful action on my part.  
It’s not magic.  There’s no formula.  I just know that from a very young age (like, I don’t remember not feeling this way), I have felt God’s “presence” (to use a Christianese word).  Some might argue, “Well, of course, you did!  You were raised by Christians!  We all latch on to what’s presented to us first!”  

But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m not talking about dogma or doctrine or laws or lessons.  I’m talking about a sense of being part of something bigger than me that is separate from what people label as being a “Christian.”  (I have friends who grew up in other parts of the world where they could have been killed for believing in God, who would testify to this same phenomenon.)
There are a lot of things about the Christian faith that confuse me or just plain freak me out to the point that I don’t have the ability to articulate what I believe (yet), but this is something I’ve worked out.  I believe in God in a personal way, not just as a creator, but as joy and kindness and inspiration for living.  There are people who will read this and think, “Uh, duh.”  And there are others who will read this and think, “Uh, crazy!”  And I’m totally fine with both of those responses.  I’m just trying to share where I am and why, and I am trying to make sense to a wide variety of people.  My friends are a mixed bag--one thing that I really, really like about my life.
So, back to the greatest commandments.  This right here is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Love God and love others.
One of the things about evangelical faith that is so disheartening is the mixed messages.  In the beginning, we are told that God’s grace is unending and unconditional.  But the longer we hang around the smartypants religious people, we start finding out stuff that seems ending and conditional.  And I think that’s where a lot of people give up.  As a Christian, I am at the basic level saying that I subscribe to the Gospel of Jesus Christ--love God and love others.  But what a lot of Christians do is try to take Biblical insights and substitute them for Jesus’ Gospel.  I like to call this concept the Gospel of Righteousness.  
Instead of focusing on loving God and loving others, some people focus on being as “righteous” as possible.  The way this translates in the real world is they constantly strive to live up to an unattainable standard.  Growing up, I heard a lot of talk about living for God in an extreme way.  There’s a verse in Revelation that gets tossed around when people are living according to the Gospel of Righteousness.  It says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot, I wish you were one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  In addition to the fact that Revelation is easily the most misunderstood book of the Bible, this verse in particular I think is used out of context to make people feel guilty about not being an extreme Christian.  God is going to spit you out if you don’t live a certain way.  People take this to mean we must do certain things like:
  • read the Bible enough
  • pray enough
  • go to church enough
  • wear modest clothing
  • refrain from cutting hair, wearing make-up/jewelry
  • associate with people who only “edify” us in our faith
  • avoid secular pop culture (movies, music, tattoos, etc.)
  • refrain from drinking/dancing/having sex before marriage/hanging out with people who do these things
Depending on the faith community (re: church), there are levels to the required activity.  In churches where part of this Gospel is adopted, people may be only legalistic in reference to the amount of “time spent with God.”  (I remember thinking at a very young age, "If God is everywhere, aren't we always spending time with him?")  I grew up with the idea that if I missed a day of reading my Bible, I was simply not doing enough to keep up my relationship with God, and I was on a slippery slope to becoming a backsliding heathen.  (Soapbox sidenote: the American Christians who subscribe to this notion--and there are a lot of them who do--fail to realize that there are Christians all over the world who do not have access to a Bible, let alone the ability to read.  Somehow these people find ways to connect with God.)  Choosing a specific activity (i.e. reading the Bible, praying, going to church) as the way to reach God is egocentric and narrow-minded.  
In moderate versions of this, you might see things like sermons that focus solely on specific actions (i.e. drinking, sex before marriage, modesty).  Again, hearing someone’s opinion about these subjects is fine by me, and I don’t even object to the general idea of “clean living.”  I do not think getting drunk all the time and dressing like a hoochie is a good way to show God that I love him and my neighbors.  However, when our focus shifts to behavior, we lose sight of the goal.  And this is the area where most people who do not consider themselves a part of the church decide they have no desire to be part of the church.  In our effort to live up to a certain standard, we don’t come off as “different” or “holy” as many Christians like to think.  We come off as weird and holier than thou.  
In extreme cases, you have congregations who do nothing but go to church for CD-stomping services and book bonfires because they are afraid that if any part of “the world” rubs off on them, they simply aren’t righteous enough.  
Do I think that living out any of the things on that list is bad?  No.  I think reading the Bible, praying, going to church, and hanging out with people with similar beliefs can absolutely make for a better life.  I think the rest of the issues are totally personal preference and culturally-based (I’ve been in church services with bare-breasted women in other countries, while Americans have arguments about whether a skirt above the knee is appropriate for a woman singing in the choir), and I’m not going to judge someone on either end of the spectrum.  I have tattooed, beer-drinking friends who love Jesus, and I have friends who won’t watch R-rated movies or wear make-up who love Jesus.  And at the risk of sounding flippant, I say: whatever floats your boat.  
What I do believe is that replacing Jesus’ Gospel of “love God and love others” with a list of requirements is a really bad idea (and the exact opposite of grace).  The more (self-)righteous we become, the less focused we are on doing the thing that Christ told us to do in the first place.  The Gospel of Righteousness is at its core a legalistic faith that dwindles to a) check-the-box feel-good moments in time, or worse b) a constant sense that we have failed God by not living up to contrived expectations.  It’s a Gospel of frustration that sucks the very joy out of living.
So, how do we make sure to avoid replacing the supreme Gospel of love with bad (or good) ideas?  This, I think, is the essence of that “relationship” with God I was talking about.  How do I love God and love people?  Oddly enough, I found the answer in the boring book of Deuteronomy.  Following the verse that tells me to love God with my heart, soul, and strength (Jesus actually added the mind part...another interesting topic altogether), we find these beautiful words: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Although I fail miserably some days, I try my best to look at everything through the lens of love.  Is what I’m doing (or most often, thinking) in line with loving God and loving others?  When an issue of personal/cultural preference comes up, it’s easy to make a choice in my behavior if I keep that in mind.  

I love that those verses say that we should be talking about this stuff with our children and when we lie down and when we get up, at home and on the road.  There isn’t a moment of the day that should not be motivated by love.  The concept of tying symbols on my hands and binding them on my forehead is beautiful.  As strange as it sounds, I might be better at doing this if every time I looked at my hands or stared at myself in the mirror, a great big LOVE stared back at me.

Next week, I'm supposed to finish Deuteronomy and read through most of 1 Samuel.  Looking forward to more awkwardly awesome stories...or something like that.