Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sorting. Sort of…

January compels order. Once that last pine needle is swept out of the rug and the last wreath is put away and the final crumbs of fudge are fingered out of the Tupperware, I look around , hands on my hips and attack the pockets of chaos that I have let slide around me. 

First, the fridge. Toss that last half cup of butter cream frosting hardening in a container. Take the butter out of the silver butter dish and put it in the crock. Dump that salad that you righteously vowed to eat from the zip lock bag. Wash the selves. Throw out condiments from Thanksgiving. Start over.

Then it spreads to the bathroom. Fill the wastebasket with expired vitamins and medications. That old brush? Really? Arrange the shelves so the hot curlers and the wires that keep them on your head are in the same vicinity. (Hot curlers? Yes. Why should I stand there for 30 minutes going section by section with a curling iron when I can roll these in and put on my makeup?)

Towels, cut the ragged ones into, well, rags. fold and color code. Rags? Fold and stack under the cleaning fluids. Cleaning fluids? Consolidate the Windex and the other spray bottles. Throw the empties away except one which you wash out and save for emergency spraying. 

See how it spreads, like a sickness. Drawers are attacked, books re-shelved, the junk drawer, the tool box, the jar of screws and nails gets sorted. The stacks of papers on the desk get folders and labels and are placed in a file cabinet. The flashlights get taken apart and you figure out which need batteries (and what size) and which are goners.  Sorting feels so good, so right.

But the sort is false euphoria. Because once work is sorted, then you have to DO it. You have to wash the windows with the full bottle of Windex. You have to use the Swiffer with the neatly stacked dry and wet pad boxes.You have to cook and you have to put new leftovers in Tupperware in the hope that you will save money and be efficient and make great soups.

You have to do the writing for the clients in the neatly labeled folders.

Not only that, sorting keeps you from tacking the real projects – painting the unpainted window frame; rubbing CLR on the bathtub pipe so you can find the threads to put on a new spout; cutting the woodpile into fireplace-sized pieces so you don’t have to pay $3.96 for a Duralog every night so you can save money on the heating bill.

The real sorting that needs to be done is things like organizing the tax paperwork or taking the car in to have the passenger seat fixed, which has been stuck in recline for a year or changing the two light fixtures that haven’t worked since summer or calling to find out about termite control because the floor molding seems to be crumbling or getting a repairman out to level the dishwasher so it doesn’t slide off tract every single, EVERY SINGLE, time you load it. 

That kind of sorting marks me as responsible for myself. In charge, Capable of living alone and making the home and car functional and in good repair. And that scares me. 

Look, look what I did. All the screws are in one jar and all the nails are in another. But why can’t I find a pen?  I’m going to put a working pen in every drawer in the house in case I have to write a check. To the termite man.

 

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Doing Battle – Foreword

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I’ve started my next book. The Truth Swing  was an intimate narrative of learning to surrender, to accept suffering, to face death and bow. Now, I am a widow. In this book, I hope to figure out what that means and how I can still hunger to become like God and like me, whom he loves. Anyway, here’s my first go at it. Please Like and subscribe if you think I’m on to something.

Foreword

Scripture says the Creator started a conversation saying, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We’re not sure why. Maybe he was making up stupid names for the animals, or eating all the wrong balances of plants, or wasn’t picking up after himself. But Adam was alone – and it was clearly not good.

Nobody asked that about what would be good for a woman. Everybody in the Garden of Eden assumed that what was best for man was best for woman. And they’ve been assuming that ever since.

Okay, I’m kidding.  Partly.

In a perfect world there is diversity and unity. Some are in families, some are alone. But all of us need others and aloneness causes death, as has been proven in both prisons and psyche experiments. We are creatures of community and, like our three-in-one creator, the model of living in partnership and sharing/switching roles of leader, follower, and facilitator works for humankind just like it does for the Godhead. Some think of it this way – God the almighty and omnipotent as Dad; Holy Spirit, the comforter, reminder, defender, communicator as Mother; Jesus the compassionate, the rule-breaker and redeemer as Son or Daughter. On the other hand, it sometimes works out that the Holy Spirit is the teacher, who knows our language and everyone else’s; Jesus is the creator and sustainer of the universe; and God is crying out for justice and mercy. It’s a mash-up.

If we could reflect those revolving and interchangeable roles in our relationships, it could be heaven – and maybe it is heaven. But instead, we sinners tend to think about it the other way around. We take our flawed and rigid roles and try to make the Godhead a reflection of us instead – Father ever-distant; Mother invisible; sons taking off; daughters afraid.

How ironic that the greatest, deepest sin and temptation from Lucifer to fallen angels to Eve and Adam to Herod, to Hitler is wanting to be like God, while the mission of the church is to get everyone on earth to want to be like Jesus.  And the Holy Spirit? Well, that’s just scary.

Clearly we’re missing something.

The entire distinction seems to rest on one little word. It’s good to want to be like God, but not want to be God. Scholars call it being made in the Imago Deiimage of God. Or, put another way, it’s okay for us to want to better our own nature, but not to devalue it and want to become something else. Wanting to be God is this messed up, impossible and paradoxical trap, whereas wanting to be the man or woman God created us to be in that image – like that –  is being created for eternity. Being redeemed for eternity. Being eternal. Eternal beings.

Figuring out the impact of that one little distinction may take, in fact, an eternity. But for now, I’m willing to figure out what it means in a lifetime. Mine.

And since my lifetime started in the 1950s when women were excused from the factories and relegated to the kitchen, the nursery, and one side of the bed, being like God was obscure in my early church experience. Churches and parachurch organizations in post WWII America were organized on military models;  a commander and his troops doing the heavy lifting and women in support roles like praying, quilting, singing and running the nursery.  Men led evangelistic “campaigns” while women joined “societies.”

The battle cry of boys resounded off the walls of Sunday School rooms.

Onward Christian soldiers

Marching as to war,

With the cross of Jesus

Going on before.

Christ the royal master,

Leads against the foe,

Forward into battle,

See his banner go.

Onward Christian soldiers

Marching as to war,

With the cross of Jesus

Going on before.

Little girls in those same classrooms were singing, “I’ll be a Sunbeam for Him,” which may have been as close to the Holy Spirit that any of us dared go.

Lots of Christian girls from that era didn’t question that there was a Biblical mandate to be satisfied with being sunbeams while their male were expected to became soldiers. Some never caught on to the reality that girls can be soldiers, too, in their quest to be like God, and boys could be as tender as sunbeams for the same reason. But some did. I did.

The evangelical, stereotypical definition of womanhood has grated on me my whole life. As a married woman, a divorced woman, a re-married woman “unequally yoked,” a mother and stepmother. The mantle of disapproval chafed and blistered and was experienced in contrast to the utter love and delight in me that God showed again and again.

“God made a Francine because he wanted a Francine,” my friend Alice reminded me and it changed my life and blew my mind. He didn’t want the Francine who might be gracious and perfect someday. He didn’t want the Francine with the right kind of income and the right kind of children. He wanted me, got got me, and I am his. And he doesn’t want me to be humble like Mother Teresa or fake like Tammy Faye or to teach like Joyce Meyer or to write like Jerry Jenkins.  He wants me to be like him. And he wants you to be like him, too. In a way that only you can.

Knowing this to be true, I find myself a widow.

At this stage in life the last thing that I feel God expects is for me to become a ward of the church, to be patted on the head like a pitiful child, or to be dependent on the benevolence of dutiful believers. God expects me to take up my cross, not have it carried by others. He is looking for me to be part of the battle, not to wave a lace handkerchief from the sidelines. He wants me to speak truth and not fear consequences. He wants me to obey him and not conventions.

If I look carefully – past the gender restrictions and societal expectations that I have grown up with – I can find sisters who have always known this truth and lived it. Women who have circumvented those in their lives who wanted them to be “like other women.” Women who choose “the better part” of listening to Jesus instead of acting the part other woman want them to play.

There are examples in scripture and in history, of women who want to be like him. Not trying to be like men. Trying to be like God — because he says that’s who we are.

Let me introduce you.

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Misery Loves Company

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I finally saw Les Miserables. “Take tissues!” was the universal advice of friends. I shoved a Christmas hanky in my purse.

I hadn’t really heard the music, seen the play, or read the book – well, that’s not completely true. I read the book in 10th grade French class. Did I understand what I was reading? Absolutely not. In fact, I had it mixed up with Tale of Two Cities and thought there was a sad, suicidal ending and didn’t rush to the movie line on Christmas Day. Turned out there was a not-so-sad suicidal ending that most people did not expect. Either way, I was a Les Miz virgin.

At risk of being labeled cold, unfeeling and probably — gasp — humanistic, I was dry-eyed throughout. It just didn’t move me. The redemption was cheap, the forgiveness empty, the misery spread evenly to all classes, all genders, all characters. At least it was aptly named. All of the characters were miserable and I was, too.

Opening a film with starved, beaten prisoners wear chains and irons around their necks creates a certain emotional distance in me right off the bat. The same thing happened when I saw the cover of the book The Astonishing LIfe of Octavian Nothing showing a whole-head iron mask locked on a black man’s head. It was beyond my ability to engage and made the story so secondary to the imagery that none of it worked. 

The horrors of man’s inhumanity to man and the personification of corrupted power in a uniform-strutting bureaucrat who in reality defies the law by not accepting the conclusion of lawful punishment doesn’t work for me. Surrounding it by lush French luxury or even by slimy revolutionary sweat and dirt doesn’t distract me from the fact that the same atrocities occur here and now all over the globe, including our own American prisons and interrogation rooms. 

It was just all so stereotypical. The heart-of-gold tough bitch who takes a bullet for her innocently pure revolutionary man. For that matter, the innocently pure revolutionary man himself, capable of love at first sight (and looking like a fresh-faced 12 year-old.) The wise boychild also taking a bullet for freedom. Then there are the literally clownish representations of criminality and the lack of consequences for their acrobatic pickpocketing juxtaposed with 19 years of slavery for stealing bread for a starving child. What was that supposed to be about?  I can see it as much-needed comic relief, but the similarities with Mrs. Hannigan in Annie and her brother, “Rooster,” the subtle reference to low-rent White House party-crashers, and the ultimate celebration of amorality in such a strong morality tale was just off. 

If there were a few scenes that made slight tugs at  my heart, if not my tear ducts, but they were quickly overshadowed by the singing.

The relentless singing.

One passionate, defiant solo after another. In close up. Again and again. Has anyone heard of the power of harmony? The inspiration of a choir? And I’m not even talking about the not one, not two, but three operatic rounds of over-singing. I just would like some variety in tempo and intensity. The sameness was another indication that I wasn’t supposed to know who to root for.

The best music in the film was the simple, quiet, apropos-of-nothing singing of the convent nuns. Viewed from the back. The worst (and there are now websites devoted to this topic) had to be Amanda Seyfried Sleeping Beauty wannabe vibrato soprano.  That whole 1940’s  female ideal epitomized by a squeaky-pitched song (alarmingly like Minnie Mouse) was so out of place. I like Seyfried. She was the best thing about Mamma Mia, and her subsequent corny movies were fun. But I’ll never be able to watch those blue-pool eyes on a big screen again without hearing that screech about fake true love. The least heroic couple in the movie and that’s supposed to be the great love that makes everything right? The hope for the future? The OK-ness to wrap everything up?

I don’t think so. The misery of the masses is not lifted by the marriage of an aristocratic couple that become the people that they once fought against. The cycle just continues. 

Who is righteous?  It’s the question that gets hot-potato’d around the movie characters. Is it the self-destructive official who can’t live in a world of grace? The scary prisoner who keeps creating a prison out of his circumstances and can’t live in a world without grace? Are the prostitutes, thieves, catty factory workers, the brutish foreman, the horny sailors, the idealistic rebels, the squeaky sopranos — are they among the righteous?  Are you? Am I?

The Bible says, “No, not one.”  We are – all of us – Les Miserables. None of us deserving of grace, all of us saved by grace; not by heroics or being on the right or wrong side of a cause or the up or down side of a society.The failure of this film to deal with the root cause of human evil didn’t make me cry.

It just made me sad.

 

 

 

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