Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mary and The Witch




Medieval Princess Mary-Ann was strolling piously along the beach one humid, fish-scented day when she heard a small, somewhat cracked voice peeping just above the shush of the tides.

“Excuse me, Miss! . . . Madame!”

Mary-Ann gently scanned the beach with her royal retinas.  At long last she spotted a tiny witch with a characteristically crooked nose, orange skin, and a pointy navy-blue hat standing on the drawbridge of a respectable sand-castle just beyond reach of the high tide. She had no broom at hand, only God knows why.  There were several tiny goat-heads bearing long droopy tongues awkwardly perched on stakes rising from the moat, but that doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t pertain to the story, and Mary-Ann was very tolerant, not to mention fictional, like Harry Potter.

The tiny witch standing on the tiny drawbridge above the tiny moat adorned with tiny goat heads on tiny stakes was in a major pickle.  She was covered from fashionable flats to furrowed forehead in a densely sticky purple slime.

“Me Lady!  Verily, verily, I have been brutally, brutally, mauled by a bi-polar jellyfish and cannot move!”

Struck with compassion, Mary-Ann replied, “Art thou not freezing, dear witch-with-the-skin-of-a-tangerine?  Let me escort you to my ample water-basin in the royal outhouse for a proper cleansing of that abominable jellyfish’s violent violet marmalade excretion!”

“Oh thank you, me lady!”  croaked the witch as she burst into joyful forest-green tears of relief.

Medieval Mary-Ann carefully plucked the witch from the drawbridge like a mouse from a glue-trap and trotted elegantly down the shoreline as fast as dignity and Elizabethan whale-bone corsets would allow.  As they neared the royal outhouse--built of hewn boulders and stained glass with ample girth, beautiful lighting, and offensive ventilation--Sir Honeybucket, on guard duty, stood at arms adjacent to said marvel of medieval relief architecture.  He simultaneously hoisted his eyebrows at the site of the witch and acknowledged the presence of royalty with a solemn bow from the hips.

All of a sudden Mary-Ann and her purple-plastered passenger were overtaken by a flurry of thundering hoofs, horsehair, and armor--knocking and crashing like a barrel full of cymbals chasing a cheese wheel down Mount Sinai!  Mary Swooned.  The witch shrieked.  Sir Binjalot, the modest yellow knight! Temporarily blinded by Dutch courage and floating molars, he nearly trampled the princess, so desperate to train Thomas on the terracotta!

Sir Honeybucket would have nothing of this brash disrespect of the nearing nobility and her feeble friend!  Drawing his sword, the protector of the potty placed it smartly between the sanctuary door and the charging Sir Binjalot!  Pointing toward Mary-Ann with his free hand, he shouted at the top of his lungs,  “Pee not!  But her and jell-y sand witch!”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thoughts on Doubt

"Colorni believed that doubt was creative because it allowed for alternative ways to see the world, and seeing alternatives could steer people out of intractable circles and self-feeding despondency. Doubt, in fact, could motivate: freedom from ideological constraints opened up political strategies, and accepting the limits of what one could know liberated agents from their dependence on the belief that one had to know everything before acting, that conviction was a precondition for action."
    -From The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman” (Princeton), by the Princeton historian Jeremy Adelman

Eugenio Colorni was the brother-in-law of influential economist Albert Hirschman and a big influence in his life.  I'd never heard of Hirschman until reading this article by Malcolm Gladwell.  I can relate to his fascination with so many different topics, eagerness to experiment, and geographically transient tendencies.  His warm acceptance of risk and doubt seem rooted in a humility that allowed him to comfortably accept the fact that he could be wrong or unsuccessful. When his curiosity birthed intelligent questions, this attitude allowed him to fearlessly explore possibilities.  He accepted the fact that there were limits to what he could know and understand, and that allowed him to test those limits.

As a Christian, Colorni's take on doubt got me thinking.  I used to view doubt, and certainly the admission of it, as weakness- something I wouldn't dare admit to others or even subtly reveal through questions asked in Sunday School.  Over time, however, I've come to view doubt as more virtuous than delusion.  Pastors who are secure enough in their faith to say "I'm not sure, but here's what I think and why. . ." instead of pretending they know, or avoiding hard questions altogether for the sake of unity (as if doubt is a communicable and spiritually terminal illness) stand out among many shepherds more motivated by fear of "wolves" and pride in numbers.  Even issues for which we won't come to a definite conclusion before the end of the world as we know it make great conversation!  Just don't pretend that your take on Revelation is golden, because it's not.

Every believer's soul is a custom collage of personal experiences, traditions, stigmas, superstitions, self-righteous hangups, unfounded convictions, goose-bumping 7-11 songs, denominational by-laws, cultural Christianese, Christian self-help lit, and an assortment of scriptural interpretations and misinterpretations in and out of cultural and literal context.  Even with that in mind, there's hardly anything more humbling, frightening, or liberating than to accept the fact that one's personal abstract composition of dogma/theology/spirituality is not God's Comprehensive Manifesto of Objective Truth.  Conversely, little is as cozily insulating, arrogant, divisive, or socially paralyzing as pretending that it is.

Does it take more faith for a Christian to attend church services three times a week, or to read and seriously weigh the thoughts and studies of Nietzsche, Ehrman, Dawkins,or Hitchens?  The former would indicate loyalty or devotion to a body of believers- good and healthy things, but I believe the latter would require more faith.  If one refuses to expose themselves to opposing viewpoints out of fear that their foundational beliefs could be uprooted (that is, the fear of doubt itself), are they really beliefs at all?  Maybe religion is just their security blanket woven from principles cherry-picked to live by that could go up in flames at the first spark of contradictory reasoning.  It's near impossible to truly believe in anything that one can't earnestly defend.  There's something to be said for familiarizing ourselves with differing viewpoints from the horses mouths (or pens) rather than haughtily focusing only on the smoldering straw-men propped and flopped in literature written by, written for, and marketed to believers.

Have the courage to consider things that a country-club church wouldn't dare sell in its bookstore.  When you get theologically frisky, do it prayerfully.  Approach it all as a respectful, doubtful skeptic.  It's very possible to find concepts that can't be proven, or that you don't agree with, intriguing and worthy of discussion without being utterly corrupted by them.  Actually believing (or disbelieving) something just because one likes (or hates) the way it sounds is just as stupid as believing something because a Christian rock-star sang it at a youth conference.  

The spectrum of Christian perspectives isn't as confined or well-manicured as you might think.  For a revolutionary take on what a church planted by the Apostle Paul might look like as opposed to the often heavily commercialized institutions,  consider Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity.  If you doubt that one person can sport a backbone, a heart, and an unapologetic stance with regard to the Bible, be inspired (or offended) by Douglas Wilson.  Explore the frontiers of faith (cautiously!) with some wild perspectives on emergent theology with the Homebrewed Christianity podcast, or be dazzled by a more mainstream and systematic approach to hard questions with Ravi Zacharias.  You might think Rob Bell has grown horns and a tail by the way he's been smeared by mainstream evangelicals over the past few years, but read his work and decide for yourself.  Ignorance never saved anyone.

Letting newly discovered ideas inflate the ego and make one feel superior to the seemingly less-enlightened can be a trip hazard to avoid.  There's something in all of us that wants to belong to a movement bigger than ourselves, and at the same time remain distinctly set apart in some way.  Adopting a provocative stance just to ruffle the feathers of others within your circle can be a sub-consciously tempting means of achieving such a position.  I believe that the realization of so many different takes on the same scriptures and the countless lines in the sands of grace between perceived legalism and lawlessness should have quite the opposite effect.  Opening one's eyes to see a personal black-and-white theology fade to gray in a sea of credible interpretations based on the same texts doesn't typically puff up.   

Accepting that the truth as we understand it will never fully come to terms with Truth as it stands should be humbling.  The overwhelming realization of our limited capacity for understanding can ultimately anchor hearts adrift in a sea of religious and philosophical ideas to the cross of Jesus Christ.  Grace is our only hope, love is the final answer, the rest is just fascinating.

The core of my faith can be simple and unwavering, while the rest evolves with discipleship, maturity, revelation, etc.  There are countless "truths" that I consciously and subconsciously believe,   but I'm more comfortable than ever before with the fact that believing isn't knowing.  If there's anything I'm sure of, thankfully, it's that if God's grace is enough to forgive my misdeeds,  it will certainly cover my misunderstandings.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Library



As one with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge ranging from instructional to useless fascination, a trip to the public library can be joyous, thrilling, overwhelming, frustrating, and humbling.  The experience usually follows in just that order.

At first, it’s like entering a Barnes & Noble with a gift card given to me by an elf named Infinity.  There is so much information at my fingertips in the form of the printed word, and it doesn’t cost a thing!  There’s how-to for dummies and idiots, foodie reads, social justice rants, freakonomical factoid collections, pop sociology, false-hope *ahem* I mean self-help,  reinforcement of every naïve political viewpoint . . . it feels so empowering to walk into the library.

About 45 minutes in, and I’m feeling so intellectual.  I just put a hold on Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s It Starts With Food, now I’m scanning spines.  It’s good exercise for the body, too. . . it takes a lot of squats to review all those titles on the bottom shelves.

Another half-hour and the mood is beginning to shift.  I see yet another book I really want to read, but I’m already carrying five other hardbacks.  Without a financial consideration to help gauge my temporal capacities, I’ve got some tough choices to make.  A bookstore could be compared to a fancy restaurant where you choose one or two items from the menu, while a library is more like a free-for-all buffet offering all of the same food.  Instead of buying one expensive meal and relishing every bite, the dilemma becomes, “what of these limitless choices do I commit to my limited stomach capacity?”  My proverbial plate is filling up, and I still have 2/3 of the shelves to explore!  I reluctantly drop off What’s YourPoo Telling You? at the returns bin.

I’m overbooked.  Since I can only carry home what fits in my backpack, one title displaces another as I push through the books on politics, religion, self-help, psychology, and diets.  The gross absurdity of so many starkly conflicting viewpoints, approaches, and opinions intimately snuggling on the tightly packed shelves is getting under my skin.  Billy Graham’s biography sits a few feet from a Wicca encyclopedia and Killing The Buddah:  A Heretic’s Bible. 

When it comes to what you should eat, there’s ketogenic, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, locavore, Zone, whole-grain, no-grain, juice-a-phile, and plenty more.  Shallow political fluff from both sides of the aisle by Fox and MSNBC spinners is readily available.  It’s fascinating how various perspectives can fashion such a diverse array of tapestries by selectively weaving together threads of the same history we all share as the human race.  The older I get, the more malleable history seems.

The frustration of so many differing opinions in light of the fact that there’s only one truth is like a glass ceiling ultimately shattered by the humbling realization that none of us will ever master that truth.  We’ll never be as correct as we like to think we are, and we will always be more hypocritical than we like to admit.  So I pick up a book that goes against the grain of my personal roots, resolve to welcome and respect different perspectives, and head for the checkout.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Finding a Church: Mars Hill West Seattle



Mars Hill West Seattle pipes in Mark Driscoll from the main campus to watch on-screen from a pew in a full-sized church, sort of like you could watch him from your living room.  He has sound, Bible-based teaching, but the man is an insensitive jackass.  I had suspicions after seeing some clips online and reading up on him, but some of his remarks today were like, really?   Those things are hard to reconcile. 

There is rock ‘n roll style worship with a live band before and after the message, and they are really good . . . best I’ve seen yet in 3 churches visited here so-far, but got nothing on Jesse Pierce and his crew. . . for real . . . if America’s got talent,  the Love Church in Horseheads, NY was blessed with it. 

The local pastors at this campus (in more of a shepherding role than teaching) seem very genuine and good stewards with their funds- completely open and honest with budget details, goals, etc.  They present giving as a selfless act of humble worship without postulating a host of “incentives” for the giver, and I think that’s a wise approach. 

Communion is every Sunday-  they use the snatch and dip method, rather than shots and crackers.  You can dip in the wine or the juice, but only one kind of wine. . . sadly. . . I was hoping to be able to choose between a Merlot and a Cab (just kidding). 

The church’s style is very modern and very glossy, with professionally directed and musically drugged propaganda clips determined to present Christianity as radically cool and adventuresome (which it is, but not like that.)  I would say it's very much like an extension of a lively college & singles-ministry at a Southern Baptist mega-church I attended often in college.

They serve decent coffee, and they let you drink it over the carpet and upholstery in the sanctuary during the service, but the cups are too small- better suited for the communion wine (I'm only half-kidding.) 

I like the healthy balance of scripture and exposition vs. personal stories, ramblings, and fables, but the Spirit doesn't seem to have much freedom.  It’s high on the Word, intellect, transparency, chivalry, and showmanship, but seems low on enthusiasm, participation, diversity, and fire (a lot of hands-in-pockets, jaws barely moving.)

I went alone today, since Jenn had a gig downtown with a temp agency.  She’ll probably want to visit next Sunday, and could come away with a very different take.  Most of the people who showed an interest in me during the grueling thirty-second greet-your-neighbor interlude designed to torture introverts were too pretty to reveal my name to without her there.  I just flashed my ring at them.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Seattle: Fresh Faces

One Face began in 2009 shortly after moving to upstate NY as a resolution to meet new people and blog about the experience.  By nature I'm better at being a close friend to a few than a social butterfly, so within 6 months or so my social circle was pretty much fixed.  Consequently, I began to write about a conglomeration of other things, like nutrition and our trip to Haiti.

The winds of change are gusting again.  Ever since we visited the land of rain and coffee 5 years ago, we've hoped to someday relocate to the northwest.  The rabbit trail that is my career took us from Texas to Arkansas to upstate NY, but I have finally transferred to Seattle. . . where there are a lot of fresh faces and places to write about.

Big cities can be truly depressing.  Loneliness is magnified when you are surrounded by thousands and thousands of people, but still feel a nagging sense of alienation.  As an introvert,  "breaking the ice" with a stranger doesn't come naturally.  Having moved 5 times and lived in 3 states over the last 8 years, I'm getting better at it.  It's amazing how much another lonely soul will say if you simply take the initiative and start a conversation with an offhand remark or question.

Today was my first "day off" after starting at my new post on Monday, and I tried to make the most of it. I'm renting a room for the time being, and sharing a kitchen with two recovered alcoholics, so I couldn't bring any home-brew with me.  I moved ahead of my wife-  most of last week was spent driving across the continent, so my aim was frugality, moderation, and integration.

There is a lively mix of coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants clustered in an area here in West Seattle called The Junction, where Alaska and California intersect.  In this area, near Oregon & California lies a shop called The Beer Junction, where a tasting was to be held this afternoon.  Fremont was the grandstanding brewery.  Most of their ales were a bit bitter for my taste, but the Dark Star Oatmeal Stout with a raspberry infusion was a winner.

I happened to strike up a conversation with an interesting fellow named Boaz.  Bo, a portly character, wore a hippy-crafted tank top with wide horizontal aquamarine and navy-blue stripes.  A seashell hung around his neck by a chord.  The solid black frame enclosing the rectangular lenses of his glasses screamed "artsy" and whispered "geek."  Stiffly-gelled short blonde curls clashed with a red goatee that came to a sharp point just beneath his chin.  If an art museum ever needed a devil for a mascot,  Boaz would fit the bill.

He told me that he used to sell wine, and we had an interesting conversation regarding pairings and varieties.  Before long I learned that he was still recovering from jet-lag, having been married in Hawaii just days earlier by a "holyman,"  and he showed me pictures on his Iphone of he and his bride hurling coconuts into the sunset over the sea--  apparently a ceremonial norm in the islands.  By the time we parted ways, he'd given me his business card.  It was obviously a glossless, no-frills freebie from Vistaprint..  He's got his own gutter-cleaning and moss-clearing business now. . . more power to him!

I was only there for a taste, and soon moseyed on down California Ave to the next stop on my itinerary- The Beveridge Place, where the "Iron Brewer Challenge Match" was underway.  TBP picks a couple of ingredients, two breweries in the area use them to craft a brew, and customers choose the winner.  In this matchup, Seven Seas was pitted against Silver City to see who could make the best brew using saffron and watermelon.  Hanging my nose over one snifter took me back to 105-degree days in rural East Texas at the Watermelon Festival, and it tasted like it smelled!  The other tasted like someone ran over the melon with a tractor before squeezing it into a blend of Coors and pond water.

It was no contest in my book, and that's what I mentioned to the fellow next to me at the bar.  Soon Jeff and I were chatting away.  He was a fit fellow with a small frame-  like a guy you would expect to see stepping out of a Formula 1 race car, or maybe a jockey if he were an inch or four shorter.  His nose could probably pop a balloon with little pressure, but his bright hazel eyes were even sharper. 

Having lived here for a while now, working as a bartender at a hotel downtown,  Jeff hails from the more laid-back side of Chicago.  He gave me the lowdown on the challenges he faced trying to integrate here.  In his opinion Satellites aren't very gracious in regard to giving outsiders a chance to prove themselves.  He said that for some time most of his friends here were also from the Midwest.

And there you have it.




Monday, December 26, 2011

Following

Now and then my wife and I take long walks together.  We tend to enjoy each other's company, but now and then my darling suddenly perceives what is, in her opinion, the most faultless route forward and without warning or consultation- Tra-la-la! she bolts, cutting diagonally across an intersection while I wait for the big orange hand to turn into the white hunchback with no hands.  She's often astonished that I'm not right on her heels as she reaches the other side, but continues on her way, marching to the beat of that different drummer (who I'd pay generously for lessons.)



I wasn't consulted, asked, or even forewarned!  Last I checked, that wedding ring was on a finger, not in my nose with a chain dangling from it!  And so usually goes my line of thinking.  Experience has taught me that in order to train a puppy not to jump up on people, you must refuse to pet it when it attempts to get attention that way.  I sometimes try to apply the same logic to my marriage, with mixed results. . . the mix usually amounting to a Molotov cocktail.  I'm not about to run after her now with my tail between my legs and make her think she can just drag me wherever she likes. . . .

Both of us stubbornly stomp forward-  in the same general direction, on opposite sides of the street.  One of us usually has custody of our border collie, Daisy- so she's understandably confused and acting erratically at the end of her leash.  Embarassed, I try to look nonchalant, hoping passers-by will assume we are total strangers. . . asking God to reroute anyone who actually knows us and could potentially drive past.  I watch the woman in my peripheral, she glances at me every 10 steps, wondering if I'll cave.  I don't dare make direct eye contact.

Sometimes we're in awkward lockstep-  the invisible band of tension between us surely cinching up shoulders of drivers who roll through our emotional gauntlet.  On occasion the split turns into a race.  I quicken my pace in an effort to make our association less apparent.  She reciprocates and accelerates.  My mind races too, as I aim to prove that I can find an even more efficient place to cross the street than she did, and make it to the front steps of our house first.  I vainly hope she will somehow regret not staying next to me, or at least sweetly suggesting an alternate route before taking one.

Lately God has turned this particular recurring circus act of ours into a parable of sorts for me.  One morning during my quiet time when I was pondering the depravity of woman He drove home a painful point with a simple question- How many times have you done that to Me?

Ouch.

When my wife leaves my side without warning to blaze her own trail without me, it hurts-  to a degree because I love her and feel a twinge of disrespect,  but it usually amounts to a flesh-wound as I grovel in wounded pride. On the other hand, when  I choose to leave God's preferred path for my life, He hurts because He loves me with a perfect, redeeming, jealous love and knows that when I duck out from under his wing I'm asking for a world of hurt.  For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

How often have I taken the initiative without consulting my Lord and Savior?  I've become involved in time-wasting hobbies,  made frivolous purchases, spoken careless or hurtful words, watched or read unwholesome material, and more.  At times I've been spiritually absentminded;  at other points I've been afraid to consult with the creator of the universe, having already made up my mind and afraid to ask-  for then my rebellion will become even more blatantly stark. 

In hindsight, the idea of fearing any potential discomfort associated with what God might ask us to do (or not do) more than God Himself is what's truly scary.  Lately I've been meditating on what it might really be like to literally live by Luke 11:27-28
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Right! Jesus told him. Do this and you will live!
Talk about salt and light!  If all my strength and all my mind were devoted to loving the Lord, that might crowd out quite a few things that I currently have time and energy devoted to.  I really want to live life in such intimate communion with the Holy Spirit that God's Glory, my neighbor's destiny, and my church family's well-being genuinely and completely dwarf my career ambitions, hobbies, personal curiosities, and lust for self-sufficiency. . . but I got a Kindle for Christmas. . . and downloaded Angry Birds.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Heather's Home 2011

My wife and I recently spent a week in Haiti with Reverend John Early, the founder of Heather's Home Orphanage, running rice to other children's homes in the area and loving on the kids at HH.  It was an amazing week.  Just to see what God's doing there through Pastor and Madame Pastor Eugloge (the native houseparents) was worth the trip.  It's technically an orphanage-  but resembles a big, happy, organic, Christ-centered family. . .   I can't wait to go back!  Here's the photojournal from our trip via YouTube:

 
 
 
One of the many highlights of the week was being there to welcome Geudit and Woodly into the family.  Tragically, their mother died in the earthquake when the building she worked in downtown collapsed.  Her husband was on his own with 12 children to care for and no job- desperate for help.  With a friend of his providing directions we drove through a maze of tent cities and destruction to the sagging house he was still living in.
 
The man urged us to take his four youngest, but two were all we could manage with current resources.  Woodly (3 1/2) and Geudit (2 1/2) were both weak, the boy severely bloated from either contaminated water or some other sort of malnutrition.  Having the privilege to pick up little Geudit and carry her over to Madame Eugloge, waiting in the rented SUV that would carry those children to a brand new life was definitely one of the top 10 moments in my life so far.

When we arrived back at the orphanage the power had gone out, but the the children were on the front porch singing in the dark as we got out of the car with their new brother and sister.  Guilene (the oldest girl) instantly adopted Geudit.  All of the boys gathered around Woodly and showed him the shared stash of toys that he was now free to play with.  I couldn't help but marvel at the love those kids exhibited in their new siblings' warm welcome.  
 
For the next two days Geudit and Woodly played a little, and ate and slept a lot.  Woodly's bloated belly was almost back to kid-size by the time we left, and both kids had bright smiles on their faces.
 
If you'd like to learn more about Heather's Home, please check out the latest on the Facebook page here.  There's also a website at http://www.heathers-home.org/  with a photo gallery to introduce you to the kids and a Paypal link for donations.  When it comes to the latest news, the website is in serious need of an update, though, so I'd recommend going to the Facebook page for the latest information.
The building that houses the orphanage is currently a rented half of a duplex.  In Haiti, rent for the entire year is paid up front-  for HH, it's due January 10th and runs between 4 and 5 thousand dollars. That's a looming financial hurdle considering the fact that everything that's been coming in is sucked up quickly by the cost of rice, beans, toothpaste, doctor bills, and school tuition for 12 kids.
 
Rev. Early isn't good at asking for money.  He has 4 kids of his own, and a small construction business that felt the pangs of the recession just like the rest of us here in the states.  With so many other philanthropic entities clamoring for spare change, the thought of actively scrapping for alms amongst the big dogs with their TV commercials and nationwide mailing lists is daunting. He doesn't want anyone at our church to feel obligated to give just because they see this orphanage as his pet project, either.
 
I'm not any better than Rev. Early is at asking for money, and I'm not going to attempt it here.  God gets the glory for faithfully meeting the needs at Heather's Home and I know that He will continue to faithfully provide.  That said, having been there and witnessed a seed planted that will raise up educated and spiritually equipped children who have the potential to make a lasting difference and change their own nation for the better, I'm personally going to be giving more, going more, and encouraging others to do the same.  
 
If God so chooses to use my feeble whisper of a post pitched into the hurricane of the internet to touch the hearts of others who are interested in going and doing; sending and giving; or both,  then Amen!
 
 
 

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