Feeble Knees

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

New Hampshire: Unchurched Wasteland?

My neighbors to the north are being targeted by evangelical groups and organizations looking to export their particular brand of middle-America gospel.
It seems that of all the states in the Union, New Hampshire boasts the largest number of unchurched people.

"We are the largest unchurched part of the United States. There are fewer people going to church here on a Sunday morning than any other place in the United States," said Nordhielm, 52, an Illinois native who specializes in introducing immigrant and multi-cultural groups to Jesus.

It would be nice if, instead of reading census data, these people might stop to take the time to figure out why, in this corner of the world, people have given up on church and deeply mistrust anyone coming in from the outside to evangelize.

It would be nice if people came here and stayed here because they had a heart for the place, and for this peculiar brand of people - not because of census data.

It would be nice if people in other states would sit their well-meaning behinds down and pray for God to raise up indigenous leaders here, rather than rush in with a mission statement and CEO pastor pushing for results and numbers.

I'm skeptical about how successful a bunch of imports would be here. That would truly require a miracle from God. If the imports are not led of God, but rather census data, they'll be sniffed out as frauds PDQ. I've been in a few of these churches. They reek of marketing slickness. Everything from the worship to the altar call feels manufactured, like a pre-fab house. They send out postcards. They have gimmicks. Cheesy gimmicks. It may go over great in the Midwest, but honey it just doesn't play well here.

My husband was born and bred in New Hampshire & is perhaps a classic example of the breed: very smart, pragmatic, free-thinking, and fiercely independent. They are naturally guarded, and friendly in a gruff sort of way. They don't cotton to people telling them how to live. Remember, we're talking about the folks who still have "Live Free or Die" proudly embossed on their state license plates.

We attended one of these church plants once. The worship team played electric guitars. People wore casual clothes. Communion was a bit of a free-for-all, somewhat devoid of the typical reverence to which we're more accustomed. Somewhere between the guitar solo and the "hip" talk of the pastor, I could feel Mr. Feeble squirm.

Whatever happened to churches that are unapologetically a house of worship, not a house of coffee and donuts? If we want coffee, we'll get our own. (There's a DD on every corner, it's not a problem). Does *anybody* think Christian karaoke music sung to a taped track is more reverent than a hymn sung to a piano or a lone acoustical accompaniment? And do you really think a group of folks who can barely express physical or emotional sentiment within their own four walls are going to jump up and do Holy Ghost calisthenics?

One thing I learned from my early exposure to Catholicism is that you do not mess with the House of God. Everything about a typical New England Catholic church is engineered to produce reverence and obedience. After spending years in a Pentecostal church that seemed perpetually in the midst of a hallelujah meltdown, I came to appreciate the quietness, reverence and respect that Catholics display in their services. Whereas I used to deride Catholic masses for being so "cold" and "emotionally dead", in a strange twist of events I found myself craving the quiet anonymity they had to offer. Being able to bow my head and pray to God without fear of a group of people coming to lay hands on me has a particular charm. Working out my own salvation with fear and trembling is preferable to being misunderstood by a group of well-meaning folks who don't know how to relate to my New Englandish tendency towards being reticent, private and somewhat aloof.

Outsiders should also be acutely aware of the fact that there is a great deal of hurt, anger, doubt, and mistrust here because of all the actual and alleged child abuse that occurred at the hands of priests in this area. No one should underestimate the impact that has had on people, and how deeply many distrust any form of organized religion, regardless of the denomination. They've seen lots of priests and ministers pass through and leave devastation in their wake. Folks here are very wary of what exactly it is you're trying to sell. If it's anything other than 100% undiluted and unadulterated Love and Righteousness of Christ, take a hike. With all due respect, we don't need you, thanks.

Does New Hampshire and New England in general need God? Absolutely. Is God aware of that? Without a doubt, He is. Will He leave us completely without a witness to Jesus? No. But forgive me if I'm skeptical that He'll use census data to work something out. I'll let Him do the calling and the ordaining. He knows just want is needed in a place like this.

Uncharted Territory, Part II

God's been sending some unbelievably adorable babies into my life recently. They stare into my eyes with innocent wonder and start weaving that baby spell. I laugh and tell them "I know who you are! You're a little baby double agent. Your mission is to make me want a little guy just like you."

Some of these baby agents have grown into young child agents. One in particular, the little five year old daughter of some friends of ours is doing a very good job. When I see her, she runs up into my arms and buries her face in my shoulder. Then she reads to me - a whole story! We play with Legos and talk about her week at school. Last summer, she would take a watering can and sprinkle cool water from her kiddie pool onto my bare feet and squeal with delight. Mr. Feeble and I took her and her Mum to go see some fireworks and a parade last fourth of July. Things that seem so banal when you're an adult become magic all over again when a child sees them for the first time.

My own nephews are convincing me. Now young men themselves, they are growing and changing and pursuing their dreams. One is about to married (I was eleven when he was born), another has become a serious music student. Another is proving his passion and talents for all things automotive - he'll probably be able to buy and sell the lot of us someday. They're making their folks proud, making their ways in the world with big dreams and youthful optimism. It may be the hardest job in the world to raise responsible, happy and well adjusted kids, but I'm beginning to realize it's not impossible. (Oh me of little faith!)

This past summer a couple of medical issues came up that put having children into doubt. We learned that I have a gene defect that causes a fatal condition. If Mr. Feeble also had it, the chances were 1 in 4 pregnancies that our child would be affected. Let me tell you, it was a looooong wait while we waited for the results of Mr. Feeble's test. During the wait, I seriously contemplated what life would be like if we decided not to have children. The world suddenly seemed colorless and dull. I'd look out on the big back yard of our home and see it just as something to be mowed and maintained - a lot of work for little reward. Our quiet, out of the way street no longer felt like a safe haven from traffic, a place where you could draw hopscotch squares or play street hockey. It just felt lonely. Our house suddenly seemed too big for just us. Something to be cleaned and maintained, not a homestead. I thought of all the little traditions we'd started, and how we talked about passing them down. Memories of the little knit sweaters and caps, safely wrapped in tissue by my mother-in-law's anxious hands visited me. The dainty white and pale yellow hand-knit treasures spoke to me of her fervent desire for grandchildren she won't see this side of heaven. But someday...

When suddenly faced with the thought that we might never be able to have children of our own, I realized just how important it was to me that we could. The days and hours until we got the second set of test results dragged on. By the time the phone rang a week and a half later, I could hardly breathe.

Negative! They said negative!

The relief was immediate and tremendous and left me alternately laughing and crying. You would have thought I was getting a clean bill of health for a living child, not just the promise of one. Later that night I was quiet and considered these new feelings in my heart. It felt like a victory for a child we didn't even have yet, and indeed I found myself thinking about an actual child, one of our own. It didn't seem so strange or foreign to me anymore. It felt like family.

A few years ago, Joy, my friend who wants ten children, underwent emergency surgery that would save her life, but ultimately severely limit her chance of ever having children. She drifted in and out of sedated sleep afterwards while I sat by her hospital bed, railing at God in my heart. It seemed like the sickest cruelty that could befall her, this one whom God had given such a big heart and delight for little ones. It should have been me, I thought. Later I confessed this to Joy, that I felt so guilty for being healthy and whole when I didn't have the desire that she did for children. She smiled sadly, and said something lost to time and tears.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

We had our first "false alarm" this weekend. I was five days late. Being the neurotic control freak I am, I'd already gone through two home pregnancy tests when the definitive proof that I'm not pregnant arrived on Sunday. It was a sad thing, and I was surprised again by the depth of my feelings.

I'm thankful for God's preparation, for all the circumstances, people, babies, and moments that led us to this point. Only He knows what happens next. But at long last, I think I'm ready.

Joy called the other day. Before I could even say "hey", she blurted out: "Pregnant yet?!?! Come on you two, I want a baby. It's about time you know."

Indeed, so it is. So it is. :)

It takes more work to lie

Wired News reports that MRI images show the human brain has to work harder to lie. By contrast, telling the truth takes much less mental effort.

I wonder if they'll study the cummulative affects of chronic lying over an extended peroiod of time. I bet that would be interesting. Lying is to the heart and mind what smoking is to the lungs. Evil!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Uncharted Territory

I must have been standing in the wrong line when biological clocks were handed out, or the one I got had a faulty alarm. The idea of having babies was fine...for other people. Babies are cute, they are darling, I love kissing babies....other people's babies. The idea of being morally and legally responsible for one myself always made me break out in a cold sweat.
This was completely foreign to my good friend Joy (not her real name). Joy wanted ten kids. The more babies the better, as far as Joy was concerned. I would wonder at Joy with complete puzzlement, much as you would a snowstorm in June. I just never had that compulsion or desire to have a child.

My parents had five children. By the time I made my presence known to them, they were so over having babies. My arrival wasn't necessarily as eagerly anticipated as my eldest brother's was. Having number five meant a lot of inconveniences. The house was too small, there was no room for me. I spent my first few months crashing in the dining room. A fifth unplanned child put a crimp in Mum's plans to go back to work, something she'd been longing to do since Number Four. They loved us all, and I never felt unloved. But years later as an adult with plans and dreams of her own, I could see where they weren't necessarily overjoyed when the test results came back positive.

Perhaps this all rubbed off on me, and that is why I was perfectly content to go through life never procreating. Besides, I reasoned, what kind of mother would I be? I'm just too selfish, I like things neat and quiet. My perfectionism would stifle the poor thing and s/he would spend years in therapy trying to get all the knots out of her/his little rope. No, I'm just not mother material. To make matters worse, most of the men I met in church were weird. Not to be mean, but honey they were just downright mental. Some were so convinced that the Rapture was going to happen any second, they saw absolutely no point in getting married or even thinking about having a child for fear it would end up past the age of reason and orphaned during The Great Tribulation. I am not making this up. Other guys seemed nice enough, but they were too busy running around trying to do Great Things™ for God. Changing diapers was not on their list. If there was one thing that I was NOT going to do, it was marry some guy who got me knocked up and left me at home with screaming babies while he went off and saved the world. Uh-uh. Thanks, I'm all set.

So I was content with this, and content with singlehood too, to be quite honest. It wasn't a bad deal at all. I came and went. I did a few of my own Great Things™ for God. Paid my own bills, bought my own car, had my own place furnished just the way I liked it. If I wanted to take a bath at 2 AM, drink coffee and read poetry out loud to myself, I was completely at my leisure to do so. (Granted, I never did do this; But I could have!) I disturbed no one, factored into no one else's plans, and was free to generally do my own thing. Ah, Bliss!

Why would anyone give this up? I wondered. I looked at married women at church, and I watched families start and grow. It just didn't appeal. At all. Sure it would have been nice to have company now and then. But getting married meant having a husband, which meant an increased possibility of having children. At least the cats were never going to have me up all hours of the night waiting for them to come home in one piece. And they weren't ever, ever going to run off to a second-mortgage inducing private college on the West Coast to find themselves.

Then the strangest thing happened when I met and began to get to know Mr. Feeble. For the first time in my life I met someone who, in my estimation, deserved to be a Dad. It dawned on me that if I wanted to pursue my relationship with him, I'd have to think long and hard about the kid thing. It would be completely unfair of me to marry a man who wanted children, if I knew for sure that I didn't. But as time went on, and my love and trust for him grew more and more, it didn't seem like such a cockamamie idea anymore. He had a very simple but deep rooted faith that it would be OK, that having children would be challenging, but a risk worth taking for the joy it would be to raise up new little people. His quiet confidence about it gradually wore away my fears and doubts, and it made me think deeply about God's plans for us.

We were married two years ago this fall. In that time we've lost my mother-in-law, we've seen friends divorce, we've seen my parents getting older. We realized that we are now each other's family, and that's a stunning thought. We're a pretty happy family, quirky, sure, but loving. Surely God would know what kind of kid could weather our bouts of wackiness. Perhaps a second trip through the "Good Sense of Humor" line would provide the proper preparation for life with the Feebles.

Mr. Feeble's really good at making a big weekend breakfast. Sometimes I find myself grinning at the thought of a little Feeble looking up to him, helping him stir the pancake batter. Mr. Feeble would be a good lefty pitcher for batting practice. I can almost hear the sound of a baseball smacking against the house and a joyful little Feeble running the makeshift bases around the yard.

It's little dreams like this that for the first time have me thinking about all the good things and the joys that make the responsibilities and the demands worthwhile. Lately I find myself wondering which of our traits and peculiar personality quirks would be passed on, and what new wonderful gifts and talents Feeble Jr. could have that we never did. What opportunities and dreams s/he might pursue, and how we could help a little one find his or her way.

This may be the biggest thing I ever had to trust God for in my entire life, that he would give me the strength, the joy, and the hope to become a Mum.

To be continued...

Friday, November 26, 2004

Why I don't want a Hollywood Jesus

Maybe it's because I identify more with the all the women in the bible who were up to no good when Jesus came into their lives. We didn't need a small dose of cleaning up or a week in finishing school. We needed super-sized Salvation. So I gotta give a tip of my cap to someone who is brave or crazy enough to write and publish the things that every one thinks but never wants to admit they do.

I can't stop thinking about a comment thread I read some time ago. A magazine conducted an interview with Anne Lamott, a rather controversial writer who, because of her views and lifestyle, many Christians would rather not accept as a Christian. What grates on me the most is the magazine chose to excerpt one of my favorite passages from Traveling Mercies, the one in which she first senses the presence of Jesus at a critical moment in her life. She describes the sensation of knowing He wanted to be let into her life, and likened it to a cat that you let in the house in a moment of weakness who ends up staying there for good. When I read this the first time, I immediately identified with what she was describing - the gentle persistence of Jesus' shepherding Spirit coaxing a frightened and hurting person into His arms.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this anymore, but I couldn't believe the comments of people who derided this excerpt and doubted the validity of her experience. The fact that people got all bent out of shape about the cat metaphor she used is ridiculous. They obviously didn't get it. Why? How could you miss the beautiful sensitivity with which Jesus stole into her life? And don't even get me started on people denying the authenticity of someone else's walk and conversion experience. It happens so often, I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity to rant about that in another post.

Truth is, we want a Hollywood God. Christians long for the God of the Ten Commandments: an ocean splitting, fire-on-the-mountain, look-upon-me-and-die God. We pray for God to intervene dramatically in people's lives. We figure if He would just do something outrageously over-the-top, like giving us gold teeth or something, then our husband/wife/mother/friend/co-worker/bill collector would be saved and then treat us much better. Not only do we want Hollywood God, but we want foolproof conversions with instant sanctification. We want the neighborhood drunk to become abstinent in a flash, to prove the power of God to everyone far and wide.

When God chose to split history down the middle, He chose to do so in the form of a meek and mild little baby. Think about how gentle this was of Him! If it wasn't for the hosts of angels singing on high because they could hardly contain themselves, there'd be absolutely nothing at all remarkable about the day of Jesus' birth. If you or I set down to write a script about how the Savior of Mankind would come to visit His people, don't you think we would have come up with something a bit flashier? A bit more Wow? We certainly wouldn't spend the three quarters of our feature film script detailing his nondescript babyhood and early childhood, or His mundane work in a woodshop. The vehicle of choice for His triumphant entry into Jerusalem would not be a donkey. No, we'd want Him in cruising down Rodeo Drive in a Hummer, or even better, He'd just levitate over the Temple using the same special effects employed in The Matrix.

Had Jesus appeared in a flash before the woman at the well, complete with blazing eyes and a fearsome voice, I sincerely doubt she would have hung around to chat much. He came into her life gently, knowing exactly how to approach her and address the predicament of her life. We don't judge that today, do we? Ah, but when we look at the uncomfortableness of his disciples in that situation, we get the sense that they weren't much approving of Jesus' interaction with a woman of questionable character. Ditto the scene where Mary Magdalen washed Jesus' feet with her hair. How many people today would have flapped their gums about that? But because it's in the Bible, we gloss over it and don't give much thought of how shocking that scene must have been to those who were there at the time.

It was not a paragon of virtue that knelt in her living room one night by a window (why I had to be at the window I'm not sure - I guess it made it seem less like I was talking to the thin air). It was not a prim and proper prayer that blubbered out of my mouth, soaked with anguished tears and shame. There was no choir, no signs or wonders following what was said that night. But there was this stealthy Presence, absolutely calm and stilling, that quieted my crying and let me know that all my many and scattered apologies were heard and accepted. It was the same Presence who attended me, after I'd fallen again, and waited in a corner of my heart and mind to pick up the pieces and dust me off once more.

Anyway, regardless of how she lives, the stories she tells, or the person she voted for, I'm with Anne on this one. Think whatever you want to think about her, her books, her politics, or how she chooses to live her life. But in my opinion, she confesses an authentic, genuine encounter with Christ, one with which many of us "unsanctified" folks could probably identify.

Still don't believe it? Well, take it to Jesus honey and let Him straighten it out! ;-)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Giving Thanks

Dear Lord, thank you so much for:
  1. Another year of knowing You
  2. Providing all our needs
  3. Giving us tender hearts for one another
  4. Helping us resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully
  5. Our health
  6. Our extended family
  7. Our old friends
  8. Our new friends
  9. A safe place to call home
  10. Our food & provisions
  11. A peaceful election
  12. Our freedom
  13. Our two kitties who are still doing so well, though they're old
  14. My dad getting to see the Red Sox win the World Series in his lifetime
  15. Everything else I won't say here, but that you know in my heart.
Thank you for knowing my heart, and my thoughts afar off. Thank you for your mercy, patience, comfort, correction, providence, strength, wisdom, peace, compassion, and most of all your forgiveness.

If you never did anything more for me than to die on the cross to pay for my sins, it would still be reason to proclaim your goodness forever.

May we all have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving day, remembering the One who has given us so much.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

It's all about the pie

Getting in one more post today before I step into the nearest phone both, change into my super suit and become Pie Woman, Queen of the Oven.

The pie-making mantle has fallen to me this year. So in the tradition of my mother and grandmother before me, it is my task to make as many pies as possible in a 24 hour period. Thanksgiving, in my family, is not about the turkey so much as it is about eating several kinds of pie with every meal for the entire long weekend: pumpkin pie for breakfast, cherry pie for lunch, apple pie for dinner, and a sliver of mince for a late night snack. (Lemon meringue and blueberry are the auxiliary backup pies for those who fear there really is meat in the mince.)

If I believed in generational curses, I might think we needed to be delivered from the demon of pies, or that we have a stronghold of pastry worship somewhere in our lives. No my friends, we are just your old-fashioned, garden variety gluttons who are cursed with a gift for baking.

Apparently we are not alone in our obsession with pie. I just discovered there is an American Pie Council, and that January 23rd is National Pie Day. National Pie Day!?!!?? Now THERE'S a holiday I can dig. In addition to making pie, eating pie and having a "Pie Night", the APC recommends celebrating National Pie Day with these wholesome pie-related activities:

Sing pie songs, read pie books, quote pie poems, make pie charts.

If only every day were pie day! :)

Sowing Strife

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's the act of using Scripture to beat people up. I hate the tendency many of us Christians have to wield our ability to memorize and quote verse for verse like a weapon, as if that somehow makes us superior to everyone else.

This morning I really was hoping to share something uplifting to balance out some of the stuff I've written recently about abusive and deceptive practices in the church. Last night I thought I might write about some of the good things that came out of my church experience, and things that I'm grateful to have learned and come away with.

But while perusing some of my favorite blogs this morning I came upon a comment thread that absolutely sent me through the roof. I would link to it, because I consider this blogger a dear friend and mentor and I'd love to send readers her way, but I don't want to bring any more attention to a dispute that should not be happening. The person involved in stirring up the strife would probably love the attention. I'm not going to oblige.

Some time ago, I'm not sure when exactly, it dawned on me that my love for debate was getting me and a lot of other people into trouble. Jesus dealt with me on it, repeatedly. Mind you there is a big difference between standing up when wrongs have been committed and debating for the sake of argument. When we see misdeeds, abuses, manipulation, or any kinds of wrongs we should seek to set things straight, but prayerfully and with the wisdom, love and FEAR OF GOD. We should be very certain when we endeavor to correct that we have the right motives. Even if someone is wrong - if I go after that person just to prove how RIGHT I am, and not to offer godly correction and a chance for reconciliation, then I am just stirring up strife.

Here's what scripture has to say about stirring up strife:

Proverbs 15:18
A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.

Proverbs 16:28
A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.

Proverbs 17:19
He loveth transgression that loveth strife: and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.

Proverbs 20:3
It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.

Proverbs 26:17
He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.

Proverbs 26:21
As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Proverbs 29:22
An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.

Isaiah 58:4
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

Proverbs 17:14
The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.

The world has plenty of strife and wrath. When we engage in the same, how are we any different? Where is the love of God that constrains us? James 1:19 says we are to be "swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath". Verse 20 goes on to say that "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God".

So, dear gentle readers, consider this the next time your finger is poised precariously above the mouse button, your cursor arrow hovering over the word "Post".

... the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? ~ James 3:6-11 (emphasis mine)

It is our tip-tap-typing little fingers and not our tongues that are set on fire in the blogosphere. Our keyboards become the tongue with which we both bless God and curse men who are made in His image!

Some of us blog for the pure joy of writing and speaking our minds. Others love the opportunity to meet and fellowship with brothers and sisters around the globe, in far off places we may never see in our lifetimes. In the process of blogging, we have an opportunity to encourage, comfort, and edify one another. How we treat one another in the blogosphere should be no different than if we were face to face. Here we have a chance to strengthen weak hands and feeble knees and uphold those who stumble. It is certain this is what a loving and merciful Savior would want from us.

Yes there is room for debate and discussion. We must never stop thinking and questioning and proving all things. But let everything be done in the spirit of He who loves us all to the uttermost. Let's not argue just for the sake of arguing, and let us be careful what kind of picture our words paint of us.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 15:5

Ya hear that? So be patient and comforting toward one another.

Or I'll whack you. :)

May the great gift and blessing of the spirit and presence of Christ be with all of us always.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Dan Rather Stepping Down

ABC News is reporting that Dan Rather is stepping down from his anchor post this spring. He will stay on at 60 Minutes.

I don't agree with what he did, and I'm glad it was uncovered. But it is sad to see someone sacrifice their honor and reputation for one story.

Update: CNN reports...

Striking Gold?

I'm still shaking my head about Messy Christian's deliverance experiences. I'd heard about these episodes before from friends who went through them at other churches. One lady's experience was so intense she got sick, and others vomited. Thankfully, nothing like this ever happened in my former church, at least not that I ever saw. One of the reasons I initially trusted our pastors was that they explicitly spoke out against such a thing. I figured they'd always protect us from any foolishness.

So it was with increasing alarm as they began a full-court press for a revival. It seems to me that true revival is not something you can coax out of God, nor is it manifested in strange trancelike behavior or out of control worship services that never end and leave no time left for the actual preaching of the Word.

One of the straws that strained the camel's back (it took much more, sadly, before I decided to leave) was a traveling Cuban evangelist who came to speak for a week's worth of services, about five in all. From the beginning of this man's first sermon, I felt something was amiss; my heart was unsettled and the things he was saying were ringing false in my ears. He made several medical claims that just plain didn't make any sense. A woman who testified that she was going to have to have "surgery" to "remove diabetes" didn't have to have surgery once he prayed for her. Ok, so he could have misspoke, English wasn't his first language. But then he started telling of this mighty move of God, where gold dust filled the building the faithful were being given gold teeth.

Ok this got my attention. I sat bolt upright and looked around. "Dear God," I prayed, "Please don't let me yawn! Don't let him see my gold fillings!"

You see I'd had these fillings for years now, but I wasn't taking any chances. Good thing too, because I found out later that other folks with pre-existing gold dental work have been used to perpetuate this phony baloney in the past.

I waited for my pastors to intervene, to stop this man from making these outrageous and unscriptural claims. They didn't budge. They let him speak on. And on. And on. People were eating this stuff up. At the end of the service, many members went forward to be prayed over by this man. I sat stiffly in the pew, absolutely flabbergasted that no one else seemed to be skeptical of this man or his wild claims.

On my way out the door that night, I passed one of the pastor's wives and said: "Surgery to remove diabetes? Gold teeth?" She shrugged and gave me a look as if to say, "yeah, I don't know about this guy either." Well at least I wasn't the only skeptic in the house.

The following night I went back to the next service, completely expecting the senior pastor to take the pulpit and gently explain in so many words that they had sent this wacko packing, but no. He was back again, sitting on the platform and waiting to take the mic. I groaned. How could this be happening? Why are they letting this man go on?

It became my personal mission to sit there and pray for God's protection and discernment for our leaders and membership. God was merciful: there were no gold tooth sightings, no gold dust, no prosthetic limbs thrown onstage. But I was shaken up and beginning to doubt whether I should remain under this leadership. They were responsible for all of us, and for what was preached on their watch, and they were letting us down in a big way.

The scripture teaches us that all good and perfect gifts are from the Father, "in whom there is no variableness or turning". (James 1:17) Jesus taught his disciples that God is a good father who knows how to give gifts that are good (useful, beneficial) to his children. (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13). In Luke 11:13 specifically, Jesus refers to the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit. This indwelling of the spirit of Christ in us is to be desired above all, not gold dust, gold teeth or gold anything. The Bible says that people will receive crowns and heaven, and guess what they'll do with them? They'll cast them at Jesus' feet (Revelation 4:10) That's how little regard we'll have for gold in the very presence of Christ. I'd pull out my own fillings and cast them down if I found myself face-to-face with the living God.

Furthermore, Jesus himself said on earth that "this generation seeks a sign" (Matthew 12:39, Mark 8:12, Luke 11:29) and that no sign would be given it (except the Resurrection). I'm sorry people, if God himself sends his Son to walk amongst us, and be crucified, and be resurrected bodily, and people still don't believe in Him, then all the gold bridge work in the world ain't gonna convince them either. Worse, it'll just convince a doubting and jaded world that all we've got is a bunch of fairytales and hocus-pocus, instead of a Treasure in earthen (not gold) vessels.

Fire up the griddle!

The Virgin Mary Cheese Sandwich sold for USD $28,000.

Man, I'm in the wrong business!

Monday, November 22, 2004

My favorite evangelist

My mother is driving me batty by insisting I listen to this sermon or that sermon online. I don't know why I'm so averse to it, but I can't warm up to the idea of listening to canned sermons. It might have something to do with the years I spent listening to almost nothing but taped sermons. Regardless, she keeps downloading sermons and giving them to me on CD, as if having them on CD makes it more likely that I'll listen. (Oh why, Why, WHY, did I ever teach her how to do that??)

Yesterday I had to laugh when yet again, she nagged me about listening to some other sermon online. I wrote her back and said if I got around to it I would, but no guarantees. Within minutes her response came back: "download that sermon or I'm going to whack you!"

I wonder if Billy Graham ever considered such an approach? :)

Holiday Blahs

Ok, maybe it's because I've been seeing Christmas decorations in stores since Halloween, but I can't seem to get in the holiday groove. Despite the fact that Thanksgiving is breathing down my neck, I can't get motivated to shop for gifts, write Christmas cards, plan menus or start decorating. In fact, the Puritanical ban on celebrating Christmas almost makes sense to me these days. I feel like Charlie Brown, irritated by the commercial excesses and sad that the real inspiration and meaning in Christmas is buried somewhere with the 99 cent econopack Christmas cards in the bottom of a Walmart markdown bin.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Spiritual Warfare or Spiritual Abuse?

This post The Spookiness of Spiritual Warfare over at Totem to Temple has me thinking about something Mum always says: "What gets your attention, gets you." Those that get obsessed with finding the devil behind every chair will inevitably find him, and become enslaved by the pursuit. I believe we do have an adversary, but I also believe in a victorious risen Christ who is our strong high tower. As psalm 91 so beautifully reminds us, we are not to fear.

This also reminds me of the disciples trying everything they can think of, and yet being unsuccessful in their attempt to exorcise a demon possessed boy. Notice Jesus came on the scene after all their failed attempts. Reader take note: Jesus was not in the midst when all their fleshly efforts failed to deliver.

A scene that haunts me forever is that of several members of my former church pinning a girl down to the floor and screaming "we're not going to listen to you, come out of her, Satan!" in her face. As church members held down her arms and legs, a female member (not a pastor) straddled her body and screamed in her face while all the others prayed.

The girl, a minor, had been brought to the church by local "missionaries" who brought her there without the knowledge (or apparent consent) of her parents. We later learned she was mentally ill, and apparently this was why the missionaries believed she needed exorcism. So while our assistant pastor strolled up and down the altar praying, his flock took matters into their own hands and began to shout and scream at the "devil".

I watched and shook in horror, not believing my eyes. I approached the assistant pastor directly, to protest what was being done. He smiled a benign, saintly smile and reproached me, in an oh-so-condescending way that made me think he was going to reach out and pat me on the head like a child. He explained that this is how these things go, and that we must all pray and believe, etc. etc. etc.

Years later I read a shocking story of an autistic boy who was murdered during a similar sort of "exorcism" and I shook all over. I had tried to stop what they were doing to that girl, but when my efforts failed, I stood there helpless. To this day I wish that I had picked up the phone and called the cops. God forgive me that I didn't. My memory of how it all ended is fuzzy, but it seemed that the long and protracted session failed to produce any discernible "results" and everyone just went home. Nothing of the matter was ever said or addressed from the pulpit the following Sunday, and life went on. I never saw the girl or the missionaries again.

I still pray for that girl, and wonder what kind of toll this awful abuse has taken on her. Will she ever be able to see Jesus as something other than a brute and an interrogator? Not if these people are the only witness she'll ever see.

God have mercy on us all.

Mysterious ways all right!

Don't miss this great post over at Another Man's Meat. How often it is when we are feeling the least spiritual that God uses us...

If I were the NBA Commissioner

If I were the commissioner of the U.S. National Basketball Association, and I saw that riot on TV last Friday night, the entire Indiana Pacers team would be suspended for the rest of the season and all Detroit Pacers' home games would be moved to another venue, preferable in Dubuque Iowa.

This absolutely horrific and shameful
. Ron Artest and any other player who leaves the playing field to attack fans (however out of line) should be criminally charged and suspended from the league.

They're lucky they're not dealing with me as their commish!

Love in Sickness

So around Wednesday I started getting this pain in my belly that I noticed when I was bending or coughing. Didn't think too much of it until it started to get worse Friday. By Friday evening it was starting to be a little worrisome so I called my doctor's office. The doctor on call told me I should probably be seen, so we spent about three and a half hours in the Emergency Department on a Friday night (not my idea of a romantic evening for two).

As the doctors and nurses drew blood, pressed my tummy, checked my temperature, etc. My husband was an absolute trooper. I guessed it was kind of unsettling for him to see me in a hospital gurney with an IV needle sticking out of my hand. Both of us are no strangers to hospitals and illness, but it's always been someone else who was sick - my Mom, his Mom, etc. Two years ago before our wedding my Mom was in for major surgery and had a long recuperation. His Mom had a major stroke. She held on for as long as she could. To us it seemed she was determined to see us married. It was not to be. She died in our arms September 30, just twelve days before our wedding day.

So we've seen a lot, and we've been through a few things together. But we hadn't yet had to deal with one of us being sick. In the two years we've been married, we've never spent a night apart, a streak we'd kind of like to keep going. So there he sat by my bedside, talking to just keep up the normalcy, and to ease both our nerves. We talked about work, about friends, about silly things. He held my hand and stroked my cheek from time to time with a look in his eye that betrayed a little worry under the brave face.

Funny thing in a situation like that, my mind kind of goes on hyperdrive. I found myself praying my favorite Anne Lamott prayer: "help me, help me, help me!" It was like a drum track underlying all the rest of my scattered and zooming thoughts. I wish I could say I was all peaceful and composed and saintly looking, with a beatific glow on my face. I wasn't. I was edgy, tired, chatty, and silly. I have an unstoppable urge to crack jokes during emergencies. When the nurse handed me the red call button (the one that alerts the nurses you need something) I looked at her dolefully and said, "now are you sure you want to give me that much power?" Later she came to bring me to "the pelvic room" for an examination. "How long did you work here before you could say 'pelvic room' and not giggle?" I asked. In crisis mode, I become a total ham.

My husband plays along, to the dismay of some medical staff and to the great amusement of others. We've discovered this is how you find the good ones, the ones with sense of humor. Over the course of many personal tragedies we've discovered the huge importance of humor, and people who can share it with you even at the worst moments. "A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine." So we dished out the merry, the silly and the wacky moments to each other in the trauma room, making it a little easier to breathe. I don't remember the last time we had a romantic stroll down a beach lit by a fading sunset, but I will always remember this evening of brave faces, inane banter, and silly jokes.

Long story short, all my tests came out negative and much to my annoyance, they sent me home. The pain was the same, and still getting somewhat unbearable, but they couldn't discern what it was. At least I was in no apparent imminent danger of rupturing, as I had feared. It's Sunday now and I'm still watching my belly and eating with caution, but so far so good. Whatever it is, it seems to be giving up the fight. I'll take it.

Back home again we sat by the fire in our two favorite chairs, the two cats snuggled contentedly in each of our laps. We talked over the eventful night at the ER and laughed over some of it. Then we fell quiet and stared at the flames, lost in thought. In my mind I recounted every little thing my husband did that night - telling work stories to dispel the worry, cracking jokes about my urine sample, bravely escorting me into the dreaded pelvic room, holding my hand as the IV nurse poked and prodded for a vein, and praying the same manic "help her, help her, help her" prayer. "Love is doing," I thought. This is the stuff.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Do We Really Have Free Will?

In response to Jollyblogger's recent post Total Depravity and Free Will, Adrian Warnock posits that there is no such thing as a truly free will. This is all very interesting and I've been trying to get my head around it since yesterday.

Is it possible that we're confusing one's will with one's ability? It seems to be a fine line to me. It can be my will to see the top of a mountain, how I get there is irrelevant. I can will myself to fly, but whether that is by sprouting wings or boarding a Virgin Atlantic jet is immaterial. My will to fly is still there, even if I'm wingless and too poor to purchase an airline ticket. So the fact that my ability to act upon my will may be limited by the laws of physics or my economic situation does not limit my ability to want, think or believe something.

God is not restricted to operate within the laws of physics or a mortal nature. We are. Insofar as we are not able to do what we would like (i.e. sprout wings), we are limited, yes. But the limitations of the physical and natural world don't bind our minds or our thoughts.
As I was mulling all this over and trying to sort through my thoughts, Adrian posted this followup with a quote from Grudem that is worth noting:

But we are nonetheless free in the greatest sense that any creature of God could be free—we make willing choices, choices that have real effects. We are aware of no restraints on our will from God when we make decisions. We must insist that we have the power of willing choice; otherwise we will fall into the error of fatalism or determinism and thus conclude that our choices do not matter, or that we cannot really make willing choices.
This was exactly the point that I was hoping to make in response to Adrian's first post, but it wasn't coming out as eloquently as this!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Here we go...

Well it finally happened. I figured it was time to stop my prolific pontificating on other peoples' blogs. So here it is, my own personal soapbox.

Getting started is the hardest part it seems. I'd love to have some wise or notable words of my own to kick off the beginning of my first post.

Instead, I'll borrow them from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
It's a tough universe. There's all sorts of people and things trying to do you, kill you, rip you off, everything. If you're going to survive out there, you've really got to know where your towel is.
~Ford Prefect

I've got my towel handy, I'm ready for the ride.

My political compass

What is your political compass?

So let me get this straight... I'm left of Thatcher, right of Ghandi and straight down the middle ground between Authoritarianism and Libertarianism...

So does that make me Red or Blue?

I think I must be purple...

My Nom de Plume

My knees, which always have been unlike anyone else's, are in fact much unlike most other people's. I learned that the degree to which they turn in makes me severely knock kneed (also known as genu valgum). This didn't really concern me too much, until one day at what I thought was going to be a routine appointment, the orthopedic surgeon waltzed into the examination room and calmly, coldly, explained that I need to have my legs chopped above the knee and realigned, a process called Femoral Osteotomy. The average recuperation time for osteotomy is six to twelve months, barring any complications (of which many are possible) or need for additional surgery. Only about four thousand of them are performed in the U.S. in a year.

Yow! And I just thought I needed a knee brace!

It was a shocker, boy. For weeks I brooded over orthopedic Web sites and message boards, trying to get more information about this very rare procedure. It just didn't sound good, any way you sliced it. Though I wasn't experiencing much pain, I was being advised to seek the surgery so that I would stave off needing total knee replacement in seven years. YOW. Later, at my first physical therapy appointment, the therapist examined my knees and shook her head. "You realize that you are in for a lifetime of pain, don't you?" she said.

The surgeon gave me a long and depressing list of restrictions: No hiking (that really bums me out), no stair-stepper machines, no squatting (guess I better steer clear of places with only Turkish toilets), no step aerobics, and no digging in the garden (This one *really* hurts! ) I had to give up my elliptical machine, since it was aggravating my knee and no doubt contributing to the degeneration of the cartilage. Furthermore, I am to absolutely restrict the number of times I go up and down stairs during the day. This means getting up, getting dressed and going downstairs - ONCE. Then going upstairs in the evening, ONCE, when I'm ready to go to bed. He strongly recommended that if we ever find ourselves having to move, we should only buy single story, ranch-style homes. My eyes popped out of my head. "OK", I thought to myself, "So this guy is serious about no stair climbing!"

He saved the big whopper for last: "You don't have any small children that you have to care for, do you?"

No, not yet.

This is the sticking point. I'd have to have both legs done, so we're talking one to possibly two years of my life spent recuperating. Each surgery (presuming they did one leg at a time) would require me to be completely non-weight bearing for 8 to 10 weeks, and then limited mobility after that, with frequent return trips to the doctor & tons of physical therapy.

At the moment, I'm 33 and my husband's 34. We've been married 2 years and were just about ready to start having kids (this is how I got into all this mess in the first place, by going for a physical to make sure I was in OK shape to conceive). Having the surgery now would mean delaying our plans to have a family for an undetermined amount of time. I couldn't resolve myself to that. My husband is willing to support me either way and do whatever necessary (God bless him). But I just can't resolve myself to putting off having a family over this.

Thankfully I'm not experiencing a great deal of pain, nor am I debilitated. It's really just a nagging thing that's been getting more constant over time. Who knows what kinds of new procedures could be developed in the next couple of years? Who knows if we'll all still be here? Who knows whether or not my knees will actually get much worse? For the most part, I've been good about all the restrictions. Although it's nearly impossible to limit one's trips up and down stairs in a day (try it sometime, you'll be amazed how impossible it can be).

Anyway, fast forward to a couple months ago when I first found Messy Christian's blog. I couldn't believe what I was reading, someone who'd been through a similar church experience as I had. I wanted to comment on some of her posts, but feared being recognized by members of my former church (I've long since left my church, married and moved a couple of times. While I'm enjoying my newfound anonymity, other friends who left the same church haven't been so fortunate.) So I was trying to come up with a pseudonym for a new email address. I don't remember the particulars, but somehow I came across this Spurgeon sermon, which was excellent. But what really stood out to me was the text - Isaiah 35:3 - which says: Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees.

While reading the sermon, the thought struck me that for the first time in my life I felt like someone who couldn't be the strong one anymore, who at the moment couldn't carry anyone on my back. I felt weak and limited by my physical problems and rather depressed and sorrowful about my not-so-rosy prognosis. Nothing anyone could say would comfort me, and I asked people to please not try to offer me a million platitudes about my situation, or tell me what "they would do if they were in my shoes". It dawned on me that I was the feeble knees Spurgeon was talking about. It ain't flattering, but honey it's the truth.

I liked the double meaning as well. (I love irony!) "Feeble knees" certainly describes my physical state. I can't climb, I can't run, I can't dig, I can't help carry heavy objects when helping friends move. For the first time in my life, I'm just not very useful at all. It also describes somewhat of my current emotional and spiritual state, in that I'm learning all over again (maybe really for the first time) what it means to be the weak one who needs help, and needs to ask for it. Thank God Jesus is my strong high tower, and my Shepherd who knows all my afflictions. But whereas before it was always Me and Jesus, now it's me and Jesus, and my husband, and my physical therapist, and my orthopedic guy, and my foot doctor... You get the idea.

So feeble knees I have, ergo, Feeble Knees I am.

From Feebs' Kitchen: Pumpkin Bread with Caramel Glaze

Pumpkin Bread with Caramel Glaze
(makes 2 loaves -- one to give & one to keep -- or two to hoard and keep all to yourself ;-

Pumpkin Bread Ingredients
3-1/3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups white granulated sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 can solid pack pumpkin
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs lightly beaten
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Caramel Glaze Ingredients
1/4 cup butter (4 TBSP)
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream (heavy cream may also be used)
2/3 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

To make the bread:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9 x 13 inch loaf
pans and set them aside.
In large bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg) and stir
with a whisk until well combined. Stir in pecans, if using. In medium
bowl, lightly beat 4 eggs with a whisk and then add pumpkin, oil, and
water. Whisk together until well combined.
Pour pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients and stir with a large rubber
spatula or wooden spoon until combined - try to not over mix, it will
be somewhat lumpy. Just make sure the dry ingredients are well
incorporated into the batter.

Pour the batter into the 2 greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for
60 to 65 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the
center of each loaf comes out clean. Cool bread in pans for 10
minutes, then turn bread out of pans onto a wire rack and let cool to
room temperature.

To make the glaze:
Combine the butter, sugars and cream in a saucepan. Cook over medium
heat, stirring with a whisk until butter is melted and sugar is
dissolved (mixture should be slightly bubbly and have a rich light
brown color). Remove saucepan from heat and allow mixture to cool for
20 minutes. Stir in the confectioner's sugar and vanilla and whisk
vigorously until glaze is smooth with no lumps of sugar remaining.
Drizzle over the two loaves.