Sunday, August 31, 2008

Times Like These

My husband is in his early 50's and I am 46. The financial picture for retirement is not a sweet looking one for us baby boomers in a bear market. Things may pick up in 10 years, but then, they might not. Some of the most careful of planners based their retirement on assumptions that are no longer true. Like, the worth of their home would be profitable. Or that their low risk investments would keep ahead of inflation. Or that they wouldn't have to work after retirement.

So, when I meet grumpy people in the general public, especially older ones, I always keep the state of the American economy on the forefront of my mind as an explanation. Things aren't turning out the way they expected. There are disappointments. Even anger. And people handle this differently. When they can't control their own lives, they might try to control yours, for instance. Or when you are working for a company that is taking a financial hit and having to close stores, making you a target to make themselves feel better about their own lives.

My home store isn't closing, and as far as I know right now, my job is safe. But right now, I'm working in a store that is closing and is understaffed because of it. The contrast in these two stores how customers treat me is noticeable. I deliver the same legendary service at both stores. At the one staying open, things are smooth in relationships between the store employees and their customers. I get responses like "Oh, I'm not surprised you are staying open, you guys all do a great job!". At the closing one, although there is sympathy and even a few protests, there is also a certain meanness from some people who love it that we as a company are experiencing difficulties. Who are relishing in their thought that I am a failure and aren't even human enough to hide it. Every small mistake I might make is met with a certain "Aha! That's why you are an underperforming employee!" After awhile, it could make you not want to even try, because either you get pity or scorn. If I let it.

Under these circumstances, I've figured that what these mean people think is not my problem. Their judgemental attitude reflects more on them than it does on me. I can let go of my natural impulse for revenge or to get even. I can just do my job to the utmost of my ability, because God is who I live for. This can only help me grow into a stronger, more loving and more empathetic person. Everyone wants to be "first" or to be seen as winners. But to be treated as a loser or told that I am a loser nonverbally or verbally, who wants that? But that is what God is allowing in my life. I am resting on His love. He alone knows me and saves me. And whoever hurts me, He will deal with them. I trust in Him in times like these, at all times.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How Not To Look Ridiculous

I'm reading "How Not To Look Old" by Charla Krupp. I was browsing in a bookstore, picked this up and couldn't put it down. So, I bought it. It's good for at least one month, and then it will be obsolete in terms of fashion. But some information in it was brand new to me, and seem relevant to the age bracket I'm in.

I'm growing out of my 30 something make up routine. I am in my mid-40's and need to make adjustments, not because I'm trying to look younger, but because I don't want to look ridiculous.

The compliments keep flowing about my new reddish brown hair. While at Target today, I ran into Tanya--a customer of mine from work who always looks wonderful every day I see her--and she remarked that I looked great. She never said that to me before, and I get the feeling she doesn't say it frivolously. So, good to know the hair is working for me. But that was a lucky break--I really didn't know what would happen and I really didn't know what to do if I had to correct a bad mistake. I need to quit doing things by trial and error. I need an expert like Charla Krupp. In the old days, I had friends and my sisters. My sisters and I are in different age brackets, so they don't know everything I need to know. And I don't know anyone in my age group in Michigan who are trading beauty pointers. We don't talk about it, which is a shame.

Krupp is a beauty editor and tests a lot of products from a lot of beauty manufacturers. She has the facts about what works for women my age and older and why, and what I really appreciate, is that the information she gives seems like it is from right now. Not last year or 6 months back, and she is honest enough to say that things will probably change in the future. I want to know what works so that I don't waste my money on the wrong things. My foundation is three years old. My eye shadow is five years old. I don't wear old mascara (been there, done that and scratched one cornea too many), because I don't like massive eye infections. And my favorite shade of lipstick (raisin) is getting low. I'm not looking to put out a ton of cash into updating these things, and I want to be choosy since the beauty budget is limited these days.

And so Krupp is saving me some big bucks. For instance, raisin is too dark a shade of lip color for me and since it is in the mauve category, it doesn't flatter as much anymore, according to Krupp. I tried it and saw what she meant--the dark color actually drained the color from my face and made me look tired. She recommends pink. I hate pink. I bought pink once--lipstick costs almost eight bucks--and I thought I looked like a clown. So I looked at pink lipstick for almost half an hour at Target today until my eyes crossed. I looked at my natural lip color in a mirror like Krupp suggested and tried to guess what matched. I figured something in a rose and in a gloss would work. Krupp also reassured her readers that places like Target takes back make up that was opened and tried and didn't work out, as long as there is a receipt and taken back soon after the purchase. So, I took the plunge and bought the cheapest (six bucks) in the shade I thought would work. And back at home, it did. It wasn't obnoxious, it was flattering and it was fresh looking. When raisin finishes up (I've been wearing this same lip color for ten years) I have a replacement that I feel good with.

Krupp also has recommendations and advice for three different kinds of women: high maintenance, medium and low (or cheap). I'm low maintenance all across the board for everything, but it amazes me what some women will spend, what is possible to spend. Even at the cheap end, it feels expensive to me. I don't agree with everything in Krupp's book, like trying to have white teeth (bleaching them wears away the enamel).

Yes, beauty is vain and charm is deceitful. I totally agree that it is way more important that I fear the Lord and align my life according to His assessment. But I live in a world and work in a field where appearance is important. Ruth and Esther stepped up when the occasion determined that they needed to look their best, but they knew that it wasn't their externals that made a difference, but God working through them and around them and in them. But meticulous grooming has its place. And also, not looking ridiculous.

Enjoy



The Choir from King's College, Cambridge "And the Glory..." Handel's Messiah.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Redhead

It was a crazy morning at work, and then I went home.  More craziness.  I colored my own hair mahogany.  It took, no resistant greys.  It's not perfect, but I like it.  

So does Dennis.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Open Hearts, Open Homes


One of the things I love about my church is that we have a class about hospitality that meets on Sunday mornings. It's not about how to serve tea and crumpets. It's about many things, but mainly how to make a difference in our church by sharing our homes and lives with strangers--the new students on campus this fall, internationals, non believers, the marginalized, and needy.

Today, at the Hospitality class at church, we talked about Caroline A. Westerhoff's article "Boundary and Hospitality" from Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality. A really great book that I would love to read someday.

In community, it is natural to have different kinds of boundaries, tangible and intangible. Some are deliberately set, and some are unintentional. An outsider to the community runs into them, and how the community reacts, sets the pace for inclusion or exclusion. In other words, the community can appear welcoming and hospitable or unwelcoming and inhospitable. Some communities even unintentionally appear hostile. It all depends on how it communicates the boundaries and its reaction when they are "broken".

On the other hand, indiscriminate inclusion actually contributes to the breakdown of the community. Identity is sacrificed on the practice of "anything goes". We stand for nothing if we stand for everything. So how do we welcome the "stranger" into our midst, as Jesus often did, without losing the sense of what makes us different from the world? If we need boundaries in order to have something to invite others to.

I think this is a valuable thought, as we often work as a community in evangelistic outreach. As the great Catholic hymn goes "They will know we are Christians by our love" sort of thing. I won't share what our group shared with each other, but it was an amazing discussion. We learned that there is a way to be genuine and sincere in our generous and loving hospitality towards nonbelievers without making compromises in our belief and convictions. We draw the line around to protect the most important issues, and have the wisdom ignore the less important ones. At times, we will have to restrain our own liberty, at others we will have freedom, perhaps more than we usually embrace. It's about knowing when to be inflexible and when to be flexible.

Westerhoff:

"God continues to offer us new and surprising opportunities to amend our ways, to modify our boundaries, and practice hospitality, and we must pray for a continued willingness to make our confessions of sin and grow to maturity in Christ.

"But even with this warning against prideful inflexibility in our stands, we must have a rock-solid foundation if we are to be and act with vitality and meaning. We must have something to which we will give our lives if the Church is to endure with integrity and perform with courage, if the Church is to be at all different from the culture in which it finds itself. We preach that Jesus is Lord of the Church, his Body.

"Many talk a great deal about includion in our increasingly pluralistic society. But although well intended our words and practices of inclusion too often reflect sentimental, sloppy thinking. When we say that everyone is included in our family of faith or at the table [the Lord's supper], I think we are confusing inclusion with welcome. True, if we are to be the ones whose particular work is the restoration of all people to unity with God, each other, and creation in Christ, then we must welcome all into our company. To welcome is to receive with pleasure, to delight in another's being among us for a time, to be hospitable.

"But an inside requires an outside. we must have something into wich we can extend authentic invitations. In this light, inclusion and exclusion paradoxically become opposite sides of the same coin. Neither makes sense without the other..."



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fredo

Fredo, the fighter kitty, is getting big. When he was born, he was the biggest kitten in the litter, next was Vito, who was as big but not as dense. Vito tended to be a little more leaner. Fredo is bigger than his mom, Carly.

We are letting him outside. He has too much energy and wants to jump and run and be places he is not supposed to be in. We have a tree next to our second story deck that he climbs up and down on to get access to the back yard. This evening, I watched him jump up to the top of the shed and sit there surveying the vast expanse of his backyard domain.

But even with all the power that this 6 month old kitten possesses, he submits. It's a crazy thing to have such a strong, weighty feline in my arms and just lay there. When he has had enough of being carried, he wriggles and pushes away from me, but he doesn't pull out the claws in panic. He hangs around Ginger, our big retriever, and sometimes Ginger grabs him by the head and haul him around. He just goes limp and lets her drag him with his head in her mouth. He doesn't mind. Other times, Ginger holds him down with her jaws around his neck and he doesn't fight it. And he's not afraid of her either. He chases her, plays with her and when she's taking a nap, lies down next to her, purring.

It's been a bit of a funny thing, figuring out the character of this calm and confident kitten, who will grow to be an amazing cat.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two in One

In a few weeks during our church services, I will be giving a testimony on sharing the Gospel with someone. So in a way, it's a two for one kind of deal, where two lives are changed at the same time. I've chosen to talk about Blanca, because I learned more from that relationship than all the training I ever got in collegiate ministry.

I had wonderful opportunities in college to learn how to be a witness and explain my faith. I had one to one mentoring and "on the job" experience for nearly five years. I learned a lot about praying for non Christians and developing bridges with them that made a relationship possible. And I passed what I knew on to other women.

I have favorite verses that helped me shape my convictions about evangelism. Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The same power that created the universe and set our earth in motion, the same power that creates new babies is the same power displayed when people become Christians. I wanted to see God's magnificent power at work. Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrated His own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I also wanted to see God demonstrate His love to sinners in helping them believe in Jesus. So, over time, evangelism was no longer a mere activity to me, but a passion, and a hunger. One of the things that I noticed in Dennis in college was that he had the same passion for evangelism that I did, and so when he asked me to marry him, I gave him a great big enthusiastic "Yes!".

After we married, Dennis became a recruiter for the Naval Reserves and so not only did he recruit for the military, he recruited for the Kingdom of God. We developed a personal ministry together as a team wherever we lived and worked, mostly through hospitality such as opening our home to non Christian neighbors, co-workers and friends for meals and bible studies. We eventually moved from California to Georgia, and my mom in Washington state had serious health problems so I was always flying home to be with my family and help out. Mom did not agree with the Gospel, and God gave me several creative, personal ways to share it with her. I was also in my mid 30's and having a serious emotional crisis over infertility. When Mom died, I didn't know if she became a Christian or not.

For a time, I grew inward with my grief. I also worked overtime a lot. Dennis had a lot of overtime as well. On my days off, I would take long two hour walks with our German Shepherd mix dog, Buttercup, and talk to God. Finally, I got to a point when I asked Him to give me a friend with whom I could share the Gospel and help grow in her walk with Him. A short time later, a matter of days, I met Blanca through a mutual friend at a new church we were going to.

Blanca was a 17 year old single mom of a one year old, Hispanic about 4'8" and maybe weighed 90 pounds soaking wet. Immediately, I sensed that the two of us were from two completely different worlds. I sat with her on the church carpeted floor as we watched over her little girl, Elly, and she talked non stop in rapid fire Spanglish mixed with a lot of gang slang. I didn't understand everything she said, but I picked up that she was living with her sister and her husband and three kids in a three bedroom mobile home close to where I lived. She worked the closing shifts at Burger King and she recently split with her no-good gangster drug dealing boyfriend who was also Elly's father. Finally she stopped for a breath and said "Call me."

We talked about our schedules about what time was best to talk on the phone. I was working closing shifts at Starbucks, and like her, couldn't go to bed until a few hours later when I got home--our circadian rhythms were pretty much in synch.
This is a sort of a lonely time for us, because there is no one to talk to. So the next week, I called her at one in the morning and she answered. I asked her if she wanted me to come over and visit on our days off, and she was glad. Everyone in the family were gone all day to school or working, and she was alone with Elly all day, so this was a great idea.

We went to the mall, got our eyebrows waxed, or I'd look at Elly's baby pictures or I'd help her with her GED class homework or teach her how to drive. She taught me how to make Chicken Mole, Guacamole, and Enchiladas. I took her to our Church retreat and that helped us bond, we got our own room with Elly and we laughed so hard we cried the whole weekend. Blanca also got to know other women in our church and found out our pastor and his wife, John and Sherry, spoke fluent Spanish.

Every so often, we'd read the bible together. We read the story about the Samaritan woman at the well's conversation with Jesus, and that really made an impression on Blanca. This woman was an outsider among outsiders, which is how Blanca often felt among people in her own culture, and how her people are often treated in America. She read about worshiping God in "spirit and in truth" and how the Samaritan became a believer and brought her village to Jesus. We read about other women in the Bible, and how Jesus cared for them. We read Psalms, about the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John and also in Psalm 23. I shared with her my life story, how the secret pain of being sexually abused as a child lead me to seek God and believe in Him.

As our relationship developed, we actually learned we had a lot in common. When I shared my testimony with Blanca, she told me that she also had been abused and how it caused her to become a reject in her family. Her father had died when she was young and she didn't get a long with her mother because her stepfathers always abused her and her mother thought that Blanca was to blame. I also shared with Blanca the long healing process that I went through with counseling and prayer to learn how to forgive the people who abused me.

Blanca asked me why I hung out with her. We were talking almost every day on the phone and we got together at least once a week, if not more. I told her after my Mom died, I prayed for a friend, and God answered my prayers with her. I didn't tell her the whole prayer, because I didn't think that telling her that I wanted to be her spiritual mom someday would be constructive. But I had a feeling that it would happen.

And it did.

I had shared Romans 6:23 with her and showed her a basic diagram where I explained how sin separated us from God but through Jesus He gives us eternal life, like a bridge. I asked her which side she was on, man's or God's. She pointed to the bridge, Jesus, and said that she was on the way but not there yet. Later, a few more friends shared the Roman Road, a short explanation in the Book of Romans of the gospel that was a lot more specific about sin. And another friend explained the gospel in Spanish, and even though I wasn't there, Blanca became a Christian. A few hours afterwards, at church, she told me and she wanted me to explain baptism to her and then she made an appointment to meet with our pastor, John, who spoke Spanish, and a few elders to see if she was truly a believer and ready to be baptized.

I picked her up for her appointment and she told me she was going back to Mexico. There was a ride back to Mexico City in a week, and she was going to go be with her family, and then get her "papers fixed". She had no real plan about getting back. I was confused about her "papers". I kind of suspected that Blanca might be here in the States illegally, but I never thought about it much. She was brought over with her family when she was nine, and she doesn't remember Mexico all that well. Blanca also told me that her name wasn't Blanca, it was Miriam. I had noticed that her nieces and nephews, who spoke english well, called her Miriam, but I thought that it was a cultural thing. Because Miriam had become a Christian, she didn't want to lie to anyone anymore. She was sad that she had told all her friends at church that she was Blanca, and she wanted to make it right. And she was afraid that I would be mad. I wasn't. I was overwhelmed. Miriam had nothing and I struggled about what it would mean for her future and her daughter's future.

I asked Miriam to tell the pastor, and see if he knew what to do. When she came back from her interview, she told me that she was going to be baptized next weekend and she got a phone number of a law firm that had people who spoke Spanish and could help her. So she gave up the ride to Mexico and decided to stay and see if her "papers" could get fixed here in the States. Meanwhile, I spent time trying to find Christian contacts in Mexico who she could live with and find a good church to take care of her. I offered to go with her and stay with her for awhile.

After Miriam's baptism, her life did not get better. In fact, it fell completely apart. There were some huge gaps in my understanding about the price that Miriam was paying to become a true follower of Christ. First, she lost her job at Burger King, because she told her boss about her false identity. Then, she couldn't find another job that would allow for an undocumented worker, she would start, procrastinating on the proof of citizenship, either she would get let go or she'd have the job and after awhile found herself being taken advantage of or sexually harassed. We talked often on the phone about her struggles. The lack of work was putting a strain on her already thin budget and her relationship with her family at large, not just her sister that she lived with.

In Miriam's culture, there is no such thing as not working. And no such thing as giving up a perfectly good false identity that was expensive and coveted. Miriam had been perceived as being arrogant and superior and too good for not wanting to live a lie. Miriam called the lawyers and learned she had to come up with two thousand dollars. For someone barely able to afford diapers for her baby, this was the same as being told she had to have a million dollars. Then, Miriam could no longer live with her sister. She was perceived as lazy and I was perceived as some kind of witch. Without telling me, Miriam left. Her sister, Alma, couldn't or wouldn't tell me where she was. And because Miriam couldn't pay her cell phone bill, her phone was cut off.

Eventually, someone told me Miriam was working out in Buford Highway. It's the international district of Atlanta but also a rough part of town with a lot of gang activity. I was really worried.
I got a call a few weeks later, her boyfriend wanted me to talk to her because something bad had happened to her. After a few minutes with her, it was obvious that she was hurting. Things had been really bad, and now, it was worse. I told her boyfriend to pack her stuff up and bring her to my house. She was going to live with me and Dennis and two other women whom I was helping.

Miriam didn't want help. She didn't want to become a burden. She didn't want people to think that she became a Christian with impure motives, to get something out of it. And she wasn't sure how I felt about her new identity. I made mistakes. But she didn't give me a chance to show her that I still loved her either. Few years later, when we were sitting around drinking coffee in her home and remembering this, Miriam shared that she got scared and decided that she didn't need anyone and rejected God's lordship over her life. She decided to break away and that she wasn't suffering just over being attacked at Buford Highway, but from the guilt she experienced that she was trying to walk away from Jesus. She felt she was being punished.

I told her that we had received much hospitality when we were new Christians, and after Den and I got married, we wanted to extend the same to others. And as I helped her, I was sure that someday she would help others the same way. This was called Christian fellowship or community, we share everything with each other. She lost everything to be a Christian, surely we could take the risks in having her live with us.

Miriam spent time with Brea and Lynette, the other women in our home. Brea was a warm and sensitive person whose father was a pastor in New Mexico, and later on, a year later, started to meet with Miriam and help her grow. Lynette was a friend from California who became a Christian shortly before we met her and we went to her bible study. She moved to Atlanta to work in the prison system as a counselor and to finish her doctoral thesis. She was almost done with the final draft and days away from her defense when Miriam moved in. But Lynette took time to invite Miriam to talk with her for hours. Lynette's own testimony is a remarkable one, she was a social worker by day and a drug user and robbed houses by night until she became a believer, she understood gangs, she understood Hispanic culture and she was the perfect person for Miriam to talk to.

While Miriam lived with us, she was having a hard time not working. I told her that her job was to take care of her daughter for now, and we would take care of her for awhile. I told her that her other job was to talk to God about that 2000 dollars she needed to be legal in America. We read the story about the persistent widow and the judge, that the widow would not give up until she got justice. Miriam was famous for her phone calls, the redial button on her cell was worn out. I told her to keep hitting her redial button with God until she got an answer.

While she prayed and waited, we spent a lot of time in the Bible looking at her new life in Christ. She learned about Galatians 2:20, that she had been crucified with Christ and that it is no longer Miriam that lived but the life Miriam lived in the flesh she lived by faith in the Son of God who loved her and delivered her. She also learned that she is longer her own, she had been bought with a price and she must glorify God in her body. And we talked about how she became a new creature in Christ, the old has gone, new things have come and we made a list of all the things she left behind, what she has now that she didn't before and what she could hope for her future.

We also talked about how she must trust in the Lord with all her heart and lean not on her own understanding, that she must acknowledge God in all her ways and He would make her paths straight. I told Miriam that she can't rely on me, I know nothing about her visa situation and she can't rely on others. But she had God and he can provide through other people, but she must have faith in Him alone. In a few weeks, Miriam saw God provide 2000 dollars, and she got her application for amnesty just in time for the deadline. During all this while, she reached out to her family even though they rejected her and warned them that they needed to pursue getting things legal. This was in July 2000, a year before 9/11, and all doors for illegals slammed shut with tighter INS investigations. She also invited them to church and started to take her nieces and nephews to church with her and she got involved in children's ministries.

Miriam also started to share the gospel with her ex-boyfriend. And her old girl gang members. Her approach was very direct and I wondered if she should "tone it down" a little. But I decided not to, because what did I know about sharing Jesus with drug dealers and gangs? Miriam did what was in her heart, without anyone telling her to do it. A few years later, I visited Miriam in her home and she had me watch a video about the testimony of a Hispanic drug kingpin turning his life to Jesus and becoming an evangelist. When I finished it, she asked me what I thought. I told her it was really good. She said great, she was going to make copies and give it to everyone she knew in her family and her old gang.

I've been sharing my faith for a long time and I still am. But knowing Miriam changed my life, because for her becoming a Christian involved sacrifices. Christ became her whole world. She was poor in every way but she became rich in Christ. And one day, towards the end of her stay with us, Miriam told me that I was the mom she never had. I shared with her that I wanted that more than anything, that this was an another answer to my prayers before I met her. Of all the women I've helped, Miriam is the only one who called me her mom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Caught, Not Taught

While in college in the '80's, I heard the phrase how some things are "caught, not taught". It was a rebuttal to the "do as I say, not do as I do" kind of mentality that sometimes surfaces in parenting, which has parallels in discipling/mentoring relationships. Modeling is a very biblical concept, that your character, based on biblical obedience and following Jesus, sets a precedence for new Christians to follow. The way we pray, read the Bible and worship are often influenced by the people we had around us when we became believers, whether they, or even we, intended it or not.

A friend I discipled a few years back recently got married. She called me up a few days ago to simply remind me of some of the things she learned from me, mostly regarding persistence in prayer and looking to God. As lovely as that was to hear, I regretted that we didn't pray more together. As encouraging as my words were to her, I longed that she had "caught" a few things rather than had been "taught" by me. When I asked her to move in with us, I hoped that this would be part of the discipling process. Not that I was a spiritual giant, but I had hopes that she would pick up on things that no amount of verbal teaching could inspire. Like hospitality--opening one's home and life to others. Instead, she learned how to cook from me.

I'm an adventurous cook. I research recipes and try them. I try to understand cultures through food. I love to experiment and learn new things. While she lived with me, she was fascinated by this creative process--my recipe books and binders, weird ingredients and spontaneous cooking sessions. Often I suspected that this was her secret motivation to be discipled by me. I was right, because when I asked what the biggest thing she learned from me during her time in our home, that was right at the top of the list.

I was greatly disappointed. Yes, one of the women who trained me in ministry also taught me how to menu plan, shop and cook while I lived in her home, but that wasn't the emphasis. We walked through the finer points of hospitality every week as we invited people over and served them, of course. The details of making guests feel comfortable is a learned skill, and also a bit of an art. But the things that changed my life were things about committing my life to God.

I wondered if I was wasting my time. What eternal value does a skill in preparing a meal have? Will I be cooking in Heaven? Should I give up discipling young women and start a cooking school instead? Would God be pleased that I've contributed more Marthas to His kingdom than Marys? Should I give up and just write a cookbook?

Over time, I got over it and accepted the fact that this is the one talent that seems to attract most younger women to me. When my friend got married, I wrote recipes on index cards, especially recipes passed on to me by friends. I wrote on each card the name of the friend and who she was--a woman I led to Christ, another I discipled, or the one that was in my bible study or someone who discipled or influenced me. I found a recipe file box in her favorite color, hoping this was a tangible reminder to go and make disciples. I hoped that as she collected recipes from her friends, that she would pray for them as she made the dish.

I also gave her and her husband a cookbook/memoir of Marcus Samuelsson's trip through Africa. The recipes were amazing, the stories even more so and the photography was magnificent. Both of them are artists and photographers, and I was sure that they would enjoy everything about it. Sometimes, when I prepared lunch for her and myself, she would pause in the serious discussion we were having at the table and look at the food we were eating: the colors of an inner leaf of an artichoke, the contrast between the stripes in the radacchio and the brightness of the green beans of the marinated salad, the complementary colors of the red grapes and honeydew melon slices, she saw the art in everything I did. And she is the first person who ever ate my food that consciously appreciated the thought that I put into its presentation.

So, I'm willing to work with this. If my food furthers the Great Commission, then I won't complain.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Like A Hymn


Lay Down Your Weary Tune

Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

The ocean wild like an organ played,
The seaweed's wove its strands.
The crashin' waves like cymbals clashed
Against the rocks and sands.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws.
The cryin' rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.

The last of leaves fell from the trees
And clung to a new love's breast.
The branches bare like a banjo played
To the winds that listened best.

I gazed down in the river's mirror
And watched its winding strum.
The water smooth ran like a hymn
And like a harp did hum.
Lay down your weary tune, lay down,
Lay down the song you strum,
And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strings
No voice can hope to hum.


Poetry often bores me. I don't know, but it takes a lot for it to hold my interest. The metaphors in this song are against the usual cliche. Most contemporary lyrics aren't like this. Most are fairly predictable, and don't make the audience's minds get into motion. In other words, you don't have to actually listen. However, with Dylan, if you do, there is usually some kind of payoff.

Here, in this song, Dylan's voice is sweet and smooth and the delivery is, as always, heart felt. This song is a kind of window into how he sees music, that it is everywhere and that all creation contains music within it, songs that make his tunes seem weary and inferior, that in the overwhelming majesty of the sun, trees, river and ocean, he has no choice but be humble and lay it down. And this is a sort of puzzle for me, how the guy who could write "Like a Rolling Stone" and the "Ballad of a Thin Man" also wrote something amazingly, wrenchingly beautiful like this.

And the question that this song makes me ask, is Who put the music into creation? How did it get there?



Friday, August 08, 2008

Disease of Conceit

"Conceit is a disease
That the doctors got no cure
They've done a lot of research on it
But what it is, they're still not sure" Bob Dylan, "Oh Mercy"

I love this song. It reminds me of how something can slowly destroy us without us knowing what is going on until it's too late. It's pride, basically. Sin destroys us. But God's grace heals and lifts us.

I won't go into details, but I'm learning more about receiving His grace and extending it to others. We don't deserve it but we depend on it more than we know. Grace also warns us of the terrible consequences of sin, to stay within God's protection against it. It's a war out there, a storm. But God's grace is a shelter from those storms.

The song that Dylan wrote is a truthful one, sensitively and quietly delivered. What does one do when faced with the fallenness of mankind, in relationships and in every arena of life? Dylan is saying, be aware of it and grieve. It doesn't only affect everyone around you, it affects you. And this is what it will do to you.

The above verse is indicative of the failure of science to address our moral dilemmas. We look to science for answers, but there are none there. The listener, if he is really hearing the message, has to ask where he needs to search for the cure for the disease of conceit. It's not going to come from us. Maybe that's the reason Dylan is knocking on Heaven's door. Knock a little harder.

Really, I've been thinking, how many musicians do I know of Dylan's caliber try to describe the depravity of man? As eloquently as this?

Ring Them Bells

Ring Them Bells

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they're deep and they're wide
And the world's on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the bride.

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man's son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf,
Ring them bells for all of us who are left,
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,
For the child that cries
When innocence dies.

Ring them bells St. Catherine
From the top of the room,
Ring them from the fortress
For the lilies that bloom.
Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they're breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong.





Bob Dylan, 1994, The Great Music Experience Todai-ji Tempel in Nara,Japan; Dylan's first orchestrated performance. The song was from the album "Oh Mercy" written in 1989, first time Daniel Langois produced a Dylan album. The second time was the Grammy winning "Love and Theft".

It's lovely. Enjoy.

Curb Appeal


It's time to paint our house trim. Our home is kind of bland, with a nondescript grey tan siding, a blue-ish kind of rock facade by the front window and wood and window trim in the same color as the siding. Our door is navy blue. The roof is a mix of reddish and cocoa brown. Something always seems to be missing, and I can't figure what it is.

I think that the problem would be solved with the right wood and window trim. But our front windows are a boxy bump out, three dimensional design that would look clownish with too much contrast. It was meant to look like some kind of contemporary design that designated it as a '90's midwestern house. So, that is probably why the siding and trim are the same color, so that the windows wouldn't stand out too much.

What I want is a little more personality and a lot more warmth. We are thinking about ripping out the juniper bushes in front of the living room window and putting in window boxes for flowers and color. And maybe bring out that rock facade to the left of the front door that no one notices.

I've got a bunch of paint samples in front of me, and I'm trying to visualize the effects of the different hues on our home. Originally, I thought that an espresso trim would be the ticket, but as I look at it, it wouldn't do our exteriors any favors by emphasizing the bump outs. It would make us look like we attached boxes to our house. And all you would see is those boxes, very little else. Too much contrast. Any dark color would have the same effect.

I'm leaning towards a neutral one or two shades darker than the siding. Veronica, our neighbor who just painted her wood trim, suggested taupe. She has excellent taste, she is the new Jamaican wife of Curtis, our bachelor neighbor in his 50's and after she moved in, that home went through a radical change from scruffy to lovely. Every morning as we sit on our back deck, Veronica comes out to water her tomatoes and we have a great chat.

So, we'll see. There will be pictures. I hope there will be radical but good results.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Words

One of the things I have noticed this year is that the Scriptures show how Jesus always said the right thing at the right time and in the right way. He spoke the truth, and he spoke love. And He listened carefully to people. If there is any proof of His deity, that would be enough. Perfect communication skills are clearly a mark of being God.

The rest of us are not perfect communicators, although some of us are gifted, whether by talent or by the Holy Spirit or both. Everything I know about communication I've had to learn the hard way, it seems. If there is anything important that I need to say, I've learned that it isn't enough to rely on myself. Often it requires throwing myself at God's feet and pleading for help. Or mercy, or forgiveness or both.

Because I know that I struggle in saying the right thing, and that often I say the wrong thing, it behooves me to remember that others that I know, even those I respect greatly, have the same struggles and sometimes it might mean I am in their line of fire.

Right now, I am greatly valuing the discipline of silence, and wishing that I had a ton more of it than I do now. Perhaps contemplating the fall of man and it's ramifications in my every day life would take the place of saying whatever my heart feels to say.

"A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, And the deeds of a man's hands will return to him." Proverbs 12:14

Ballad of a Thin Man



While Bob was on tour in 1966 in England, he was boo'd and heckled during most of his performances because he had changed from Folk/Acoustic to Rock/Electric. At this time, his fans from the Folk genre thought he had gone into pop or commercial music and was "selling out" or compromising his art by not using it to write more protest songs or try to change society, a higher calling. Bob came to the conclusion long ago that societies don't change just because of a song. Societies are expressed through a song, and he had a knack of choosing the right words and music that articulated what society was going through.

Bob was about music, not politics and he was into folk music because it was a foot in the door into a career for him. His view was always long term, even though he was clueless on how to get there, he had a vision. He made so many quick changes that it was apparent that he was always prepared for the next thing. His focus was never on yesterday but always about the present and the future.

And he walked that delicate line between creating work that people would like and creating work that he was committed to despite the reactions that he got from audiences. It's one thing to create a sculpture that you created and getting derision while you stand next to it, it's another thing when your art is emanating in original song from your own mouth and getting boo'd. In the former, the sculpture is what is receiving the criticism and you are too, but not as directly, while in the latter, it's harder to differentiate the criticism between the unpopular art and yourself. You're a lot closer to it.

In my previous post "How Does It Feel?" Bob is letting the heckler get to him and striking back through his music and flipping him off. In this post, Bob is trying to maintain self control under the pressure of not just one abuser, but several. Imagine trying to work under those circumstances, with your mic malfunctioning and unable to get started with the song. Those had to be the longest few minutes of his life. But Bob managed to be a professional and give a heart felt performance at the same time.

In "I'm Not There", Cate Blanchett plays Bob playing "Ballad of a Thin Man" while "Mr. Jones" a reporter/nemesis is living out the imagery of the song. There is a part where Jones is on a stage in a cage and Bob hands him a microphone, the tables have turned and supposedly Jones finally sees things from the musician's perspective. It's rough. Jones' work is on a printed page and although his work gets criticized, too, it's not the same as having to perform on a stage where you and your work are fused together. And if you are creating things that come from your imagination and your heart, and not merely from talent, genius and skill, it altogether can feel like you are naked in front of all these people.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

In the Desert

I'm listening to Duffy's "Rockferry" CD, I don't know much about it but it reminds me of R&B from the '60's, almost like Aretha, a real vintage sound. I love the energy in the songs and the singer.

I could use some energy right now. Not to physically do things but to think and plan. I try to work out some solutions to problems and come out of it exhausted instead resolving it. I read Proverbs this morning for a quiet time and found myself losing track of where I was. My brain needs a work out.

While I was sick, I did some reading, though. I've had an edition of "The Prayers of Kierkegaard" for about five years and read parts of it over time. I wasn't so sure that I wanted to be influenced by the "Father of Existentialism"--to me, the wisdom not of God, but of man-- but I was intrigued by his prayers.

An example:

Father in Heaven! Great is Thine infinite kingdom. Thou who bearest the weight of the stars and who governest the forces of the world through immense spaces; numberless as the sands are those who have life and being through Thee. And yet, Thou hearest the cry of all the creatures, and the cry of man whom Thou hast specially formed. Thou hearest the cry of all men without confusing their mixed voices and without distinguishing one from another in such a way as to play favorites. Thou hearest not only the voice of one who is responsible for many others and so prays to Thee in their name, as if his high function could bring him nearer to Thee; Thou hearest not only the voice of one prays for dear ones, as if he could thereby attract Thine attention, he who is privileged in having the dear ones; no, Thou hearest also the most miserable, the most abandoned, and most solitary man--in the desert, in the multitude. And if the forgotten one has separated himself from all others; and in the crowd he has become unknown--having ceased to be a man except as a number on a list--Thou knowest him. Thous has not forgotten him. Thou rememberest his name; Thou knowest him where he is, retired, hidden in the desert, unperceived in the crowd, in the multitude. And if in the thick shadows of dread, in the prey of terrible thoughts, he was abandoned by men, abandoned almost by language men speak, still Thou wouldst not have forgotten him.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

How Does It Feel?



"You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you..." Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone

Monday, August 04, 2008

Protection

I am a fairly consistent blogger, but I didn't feel like writing for awhile. I had an infection in my right foot and for a diabetic, even one like me with her blood sugar under control and making all the right lifestyle changes, it is a really bad thing. I had strong antibiotics, talked to more doctors in one week than I do in one year and got the week off to keep my foot elevated. I would like to think that I'm out of the woods, but until I see my family doctor tomorrow and get the official ok, I'm going to keep praying.

I won't be swimming for awhile, because I think that I'm pretty vulnerable for a bit longer. It's a bummer, I was attempting to complete 25 miles by August 30th. I got to five miles, and I think that it is partly to blame for my problems--the best shower shoes in the world don't protect you from the germs around showers and pools if you have even the smallest crack in your foot.

So what did I do all that time? Actually, it went pretty fast. I had a lot of books to read, I ventured into books I usually don't look at twice or read a long time ago. But I slept most of the time. It's hard to believe, but I would get 10 hours sleep and then take a late morning nap and a late afternoon one. Never been that tired in my life before. It was stressful watching my foot turn colors, I would go nuts with what all needed to be done around the house and start cleaning only to look down to get freaked out at my right foot.

I had no appetite, either. Nada. My blood sugar actually got kind of low, even though I was doing hardly anything. Yesterday I actually ate a whole meal at Shauna's house. It was nice. This morning I couldn't finish my toast nor half my omelette. I guess I was a lot sicker than I thought I was.

When I was sick, I really couldn't concentrate or think that deeply. When I thought of stuff, it was usually things like how to navigate around all the stairs in our home if I lost one foot. Our associate pastor asked me share about leading a friend to Christ, so I thought through that narrative constantly. It was great, it got my mind off my troubles and on to God's Kingdom.

I went to work today. I wore support socks and an extra layer of black cotton socks. I worked two hours, went to an hour and a half meeting, then worked another hour. When I got home, it was like Christmas as I anticipated my foot's condition as I unwrapped it. Today, I got a gift. My foot looked perfect, although it felt a little sore. I felt tired, but it was not like a day or so ago where I was physically fatigued just walking across the room.

So, even though this was a difficult time, I am thankful. God touched a sensitive issue in my life, and I think I grew as I went through it. I prefer never to endure anything like this again, but it wasn't wasted. More about this later.