Archive for May, 2012

Crazy Night (or “Be Careful What You Write on the Internet”)

Wow, so last night I was reminded why I’m doing all this lighting and loving, and also why it is so important to build a home of peace and calm.  For one thing, you have to have peace and calm to anchor you when the crazy comes out!

Last night was a night of the crazy.  After a 12+ hour day, Greg came home to tell me that one of “our” kids–let’s call him Kid 1–got drilled in the throat with a ball going over fifty miles an hour while at baseball practice.  He tried to walk off the field, and then collapsed, vomiting blood.  Shortly afterward, he complained of difficulty breathing.  Obviously, the next step was to take Kid 1 to the hospital.  Thankfully, he is now just fine, but Greg had been talking to his mom over the phone, while on the way back from a community cookout, and was still a little shocked by it all.

We processed the events of the day together, and then I went to bed around 10:30.  A few minutes later, Greg came in and told me that another kid–let’s call him Kid 2–just called, and that he was home alone and (rightly) scared because of some stuff going on with his family.  Since there was a good chance that he was in danger, Greg said he would go pick him up and let him spend the night with us.  After Greg left, I got out of bed, moved both my kids to my bed, and changed Luke’s sheets for Kid 2.  To round out the night of musical beds, Greg would sleep in Anna’s room, since we can sleep 2 kids, one adult in our bed, but not 2 adults, one kid.  (And certainly not 2 adults, 2 kids!).

While Greg was on the way home with Kid 2, he saw on Facebook that Kid 3, a toddler, was taken to the hospital after falling out of a moving car.  He texted the mom, a friend of ours, and it seemed like the kid was alright, but I was freaked out anyway. After I got Kid 2 settled in for the night, I laid in bed texting the mom of Kid 3 to get updates until he was out of the hospital.  It was after midnight before I went to bed…and I am not a night owl!

But there was no time to sleep in this morning, because I needed to take care of Kid 2…and then prepare for Kids 4-8 to come over to play!  They had asked if they could come over last night at the cookout, and I didn’t see why not.  They will be here in about fifteen minutes.

Good grief–it seems as if God was like, “Are you really serious about that stuff you just wrote?  If so, then it’s time to make good on it!”

Lesson learned:  Be careful what you write on the internet:).

A Cozy House, Nestled Between Two Sex Offenders

I love our house.  I think it is perfect for us.  I love it’s size, I love its layout, I love it’s backyard, and I love the views.  I love the views from our window, the views from the road, the view from our swing in the backyard.  In fact, there is only one view of our house that I don’t love:  the view of our house as a small, red icon, obscured by two bright, green dots.

That’s what our house looks like on the sex offender registry map.  There’s our nice, cozy house…two doors up from one sex offender, and two doors down from another.

I remember the first time I saw it, shortly after we moved in.  In the two seconds it took me to orient myself to the map and to figure out where our house was, my heart almost stopped.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding me.’  I quickly called Greg to the computer so that he could share my horror.  We then spent the next half hour looking at that and several other sites, trying to gather more information about the nature of these people’s crimes.  To us, the sites were pretty opaque, but from what we could understand, their crimes were more “low level,” less serious…whatever that means.  Still, the realization of the darkness that surrounded us led to a serious talk.  I lamented that we hadn’t checked the registry before we moved in, but Greg disagreed that it should have made a difference, and ultimately, I saw his point.  The reality is that you cannot control who lives around you.  People move in and out all the time, and there are tons of people who should be on the registry, but aren’t.  At least here, we know what we are dealing with.  And on a larger scale, there are tons of dangerous people in this world, not just sex offenders, who could be living around us right now, and the only reason we don’t know it is because there isn’t a worldwide heinous-sin registry online (thank God).

The truth is, we generally have no idea who surrounds us day in and day out; we have no idea who we live alongside, drive alongside, shop alongside, worship alongside.  We can barely understand the darkness that lives in our own heart, much less the hearts of others, even our brothers and sisters in Christ!  That rather morbid awareness constantly looms over me.  At the worst level, it makes me fearful, and at a neutral level, it makes me vigilant regarding my children.  At the best level, though, it gives me a mission.

See, when I get a glimpse of the darkness of this world, be it through the nightly news or the sex offender registry, it makes me realize how important it is to build a home of light and love.  I work hard to build up my house, to make it a place full of love and joy and peace.  I want my house to be a safe haven for my family, both a training ground for action and a welcoming retreat from battle.  I want it to be a place where our souls can rest, can be refreshed…a place where our hearts are filled back up with love, which gives us the strength and confidence to take that love with us to the world.  The goal is to build a home that we can carry out with us into the world.  Ultimately, I want the love experienced in our house to internalize itself in each of our hearts, so that we can take that love and light with us into the darkness.  I want that “home” to never leave us, even when we leave it.  That’s a big part of my mission.

Also, I’m slowly realizing how those goals for my home can help more than just my family.  My home can even perhaps be that safe haven of love for others.  I first started thinking about this when some friends from school came over.  There was a boy about Anna’s age, who was recently adopted, and who always hovered close to his mom.  It was as if he was afraid that she would leave him without telling him.  They had been over once before, and although the boy ventured off to play several times, he was quick to come “check in” with his mom, just to make sure she was still there.  Well, on this visit, the older girl ran outside to play with Luke and Anna right when she got here, and the younger boy disappeared inside.  The mom was shocked.  She called his name and eventually went to find him.  He was in our family room, happily playing with Luke and Anna’s toys.  I didn’t think much of it, but the mom was flabbergasted and told me that he had never done that.  He had never felt comfortable enough at any other house, where he would just run off an play.  And then she said something that went straight to my heart; she said, “He must know that this is a house of peace and love.  He feels safe here.”  That blew me away.  It reminded me of something weird Greg had said earlier that week.  We had marveled over all the animals that we had seen around the house (five deer, a turkey, and a family of foxes living at the end of our driveway), and he had come in from the woods with news of more.  He said, “There is something big bedding down in the woods, like a deer or something.  I see the flat spots where it is laying.  Apparently,” he added jokingly, “the animals must know that this is a house of peace.”

I thought about his joke again last night, when we had an impromptu cookout for Memorial Day.  It started when we invited a couple over from church, and somehow that expanded into us inviting all the families at church (it’s not a big church).  So last night, we had about thirty people over to grill out and enjoy each other’s company.  It was especially cool to see how the older kids interacted with the younger kids, and especially how sweet they were to Luke and Anna.  One boy, especially, impressed me.  He was quiet, but happy throughout the evening.  At one point, when a young mom pulled up to the house with her three kids, he ran out in the rain to help her inside.  At another point, he came and told me that the trash was full and asked if he could take it out for me.  I thanked him for telling me and took the trash to the garage myself, but when I came back, he was digging out the food-covered plate that my son had thrown in without realizing there was no liner.  Throughout the night, he was so helpful and kind to the children, but always in an unassuming, natural way, not in a “look at me” way.  He just seemed to be such a good kid.  Afterward, I commented to Greg about how much I liked him.  Greg responded, “Yes, he has a good heart, and he can be a great kid…when he doesn’t feel threatened.  When he feels insecure though,  he can be a handful.”  Turns out, this sweet, thoughtful boy was currently suspended from Y.E.S. because of blatant disrespect.  And he was also known to pick on other kids!  What??  That revelation shocked me, but I think that Greg’s prognosis was right on.  The environment last night was non-threatening.  It was welcoming and happy and loving.  And it gave him the space to be a good person.  See, it’s easier to be light when you are surrounded by light.  It’s easier to show love when you are surrounded by love.  And that’s why it is so important to have an environment, a “home base,” of light and love.  I realized last night, yet again, that my home can be that refuge for other people besides my family.  In fact, I realized that that is my mission.  This world is so dark.  I want to be light.  But I don’t just want to be an individual light; I want to share that light with others.  After all,  I didn’t create my own light.  It originated from God, and it was passed to me by my family and so many of my wonderful friends.  And now my job is to keep that light burning, to keep that love flowing, so that it will pass on to others.  So that people like that teenage boy can come to our church, can come to my home, and be filled with enough light and love to sustain him when he goes out into a dark and threatening world.

And so we continue to try to bring that light in our cozy house, nestled between two sex offenders.

How do you bring light?

Kingdom Voices: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I agree with about 90% of this excerpt, taken from The Cost of Discipleship, but 100% of it makes me think:

What is undivided love?  Love which shows no special favour to those who love us in return.  When we love those who love us, our brethren, our nation, our friends, yes, and even our own congregation, we are no better than the heathen and publicans.  Such love is ordinary and natural, and not distinctively Christian.  We can love our kith and kin, our fellow-countrymen and our friends, whether we are Christians or not, and there is no need for Jesus to teach us that.  But he takes that kind of love for granted, and in contrast asserts that we must love our enemies.  Thus he shows us what he means by love, and the attitude we must display towards it.

How then do the disciples differ from the heathen?  What does it really mean to be Christian?  Here we meet the word that controls the whole chapter [Matthew 5], and sums up all we have heard so far.  What makes the Christian different from other men is the “peculiar,” the Πξρισσον, the “extraordinary”…

The Πξρισσον never merges into the το αυτο.  That was the fatal mistake of the false Protestant ethic which diluted Christian love into patriotism, loyalty to friends, and industriousness, which in short, perverted the better righteousness into justitia civilis.  Not in such terms as these does Jesus speak.  For him, the hall-mark of the Christian is the “extraordinary.”  The Christian cannot live at the world’s level, because he must always remember the Πξρισσον.

What is the precise nature of the Πξρισσον?  It is the life described int the beatitudes, the life of the followers of Jesus, the light which lights the world, the city set on the hill, the way of self-renunciation, of utter love, of absolute purity, truthfulness and meekness.  It is unreserved love for our enemies, for the unloving and unloved, love for our religious, political and personal adversaries.  In every case it is the love which was fulfilled in the cross of Jesus Christ himself, who went patiently and obediently to the cross–it is in fact the cross itself.

The Civil Reader–29 May 2012

Wow, I skipped last week, and now I have a million articles to share.  Thankfully, I’ve forgotten what most of them are, which leaves us with just a few!  I’d like to think that the fact that these have remained in my memory means that they are the creme de la creme.  (Don’t judge me for not knowing how to make accent marks.)


Culture Wars and the Future of the Evangelical Political Witness, at Mere Orthodoxy

I recently realized that almost all the blogs I read are more theologically and socially liberal than I am.  The problem I have with that is that, through my blog feed, I am giving myself an unbalanced view of reality.  Thus, I decided to add some more conservative voices to my feed and have found that I really enjoy them.  One of these voices is that of Matthew Anderson, who appears to be the chief writer for the site, Mere Orthodoxy.  He is a self-identifying conservative who seems to view politics very similarly to the way I do (which, of course, means he’s right….right?).  In the past week or two, he has been grappling with the idea of Christian political involvement, and I have been very interested to read what he says.  (See also:  “We are All Culture Warriors Now (?)” and “Post-Partisan Evangelicals and the Culture Wars:  An Attempt at Clarification”).


Love People, Not Projects, by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

All I really have to say to this article is:  Exactly!  As a naturally task-oriented person, I have a tendency to view people as projects, and these last few years have really opened my eyes to how dehumanizing that is to others.  Instead, God is helping me to better understand His intention for relationships and for the church.  Giving was never meant to be a one-way street.  While there are one-way gifts (um, Christ’s sacrifice comes to mind), the larger intention is always a mutually-participatory relationship.  And I have to tell you from experience that going about it that way is much more rewarding and exciting than the drudgery and ineffectiveness of trying to “save the world.”


This last section is tricky because the article I read was merely a gateway to another idea.  See, when I read Why Africa Needs a Study Bible, at Gospel Coalition, I was immediately distracted by the fact that the interviewee, Matthew Elliot, has written two books called, Feel:  The Power of Listening to Your Heart, and Faithful Feelings:  Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  I then quickly got lost in the reviews of these books and was very intrigued.  As I have alluded before on this blog, I have long been distrustful of the elevation of pure reason over emotion.  Instead, I see them both as tools given to us by God, both of which can be distorted.  In fact, sometimes I think that distorted reason is far more dangerous than distorted emotion.

Oddly, another article backed up my theory this week:  Richard Beck’s Orthodox Alexithymia.  In this thought-provoking article, he argues,

For the Greeks emotion was error-prone and wild. Consequently, the wise person would use reason to subdue, tame, and guide the emotions. Thus the vision of the detached, cool, and cerebral philosopher.

We now know that the Greeks got this wrong. When emotion is decoupled from reason we have something that looks like sociopathy.

He backs this up with some medical jargon about how the brain works and then extends the implications to religion:

When theology and doctrine become separated from emotion we end up with something dysfunctional and even monstrous.

I found myself agreeing with almost all of it.  For one thing, I would argue that the Bible warns us about trusting our intellect more than it does trusting our emotions.  But the bottom line for me is that everyone uses emotions to make decisions; emotion and reason are inextricably intertwined, and rightly so.  That is how God designed us.  Thus, the best thing people can do is to admit the emotions that play a part in their every decision, for the degree to which they believe that they are using reason apart from emotion is the degree to which they are delusional.

But that’s just my two cents on the matter.


I know I read more good stuff, but that’s all I can remember.  What have you been reading lately?

On Being Presumptuous

After my last article, Tim Fall emailed me and was all, “Hey, I can’t help but notice that you seem to be feeling ‘behind’ on your blog…so how about I write a guest post?”  And then I was like, “YES!  THANK YOU!  My kids seem to think that I should, like, be a mom or something these days.  It’s weird.”*  And then like magic,  I had a post in my inbox to share with you guys.  Wonderful. 

I hope to get back to writing regularly soon, mainly because I have approximately 1,214 blog posts in my head, and when I get to 1,300, my brain explodes.  Hopefully that won’t happen, but in the meantime, enjoy this great piece from my friend, Tim.

*Disclaimer:  That might not have been exactly how the conversation went.

A Call from the Principal

Years ago I got an unexpected call at work from my son’s Junior High principal. Not a good thing under most circumstance: this was no exception to the rule. She wanted to tell me that my son might be upset, and she called to let me know immediately rather than learn about it when I came home from work.

It turns out she had called him to her office to reprimand him. She said he was circulating an inappropriate petition concerning one of his teachers. I started to get an idea of the problem. He’d told us a few days before that some of the students were concerned with how this teacher was handling the class, and we had talked about it a bit in the days leading up to this phone call.

His idea of how best to handle it was to put the problem in writing and see if enough kids agreed so that he could then talk to her about it. He didn’t want to bother bringing it up with her if not many kids were bothered by it. I didn’t know the details of his plan, but the general topic of a petition came up.

I listened incredulously as the principal told me that once she found out about it, she called him out of class and into her office. I listened in sorrow as she described him getting upset and teary at being reprimanded (he’d never been called to the Principal’s office for anything!). I listened in disbelief as she told me her main concern was for the teacher – the TEACHER – as she might get her feelings hurt at the petition being circulated. I did not hear her say anything about students handling concerns in a creative and constructive manner. I did not hear her say she’d spent time listening to my son explain his intentions, or an explanation of the root of the concern itself. Nothing. The way she explained it to me, this conversation in her office was pretty one-sided. She spoke. My son got choked up.

I said thanks, ended the conversation as quickly as I could, and prayed for my son.

The Bike Ride to Suspension

It’s been a while since I thought of that phone call. Then I read this article today. A group of High School Seniors in Michigan decided to stage a massive bike ride to school as their Senior prank on the last day of classes. Sounds innocent enough, constructive and creative even, right? Not to the principal. She told all sixty-four participants it was a dangerous stunt: traffic could have snarled and they might have been injured – “your brains could have ended up splattered,” she told them. She would not countenance it! They were prohibited from Senior activities for the rest of the day and sent home. Some even missed a final exam.

Turns out, the Seniors had more on the ball than she gave them credit for. They had contacted the authorities ahead of time to take care of safety concerns and rode with a police escort. Not only that, the Mayor even accompanied the students on their route to school that morning. The only ones not in the know were the school officials, but letting them in on it would have defeated the purpose of a rather benign Senior prank, of course.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed. The suspension was lifted, teachers offered make-up tests, and the school district issued an apology complete with a statement from the Principal.

Waiting for All the Evidence to Come In

Jumping to conclusions is rarely a good practice – even if it is out of concern for the feelings of a Junior High School teacher or the safety of a few dozen graduating Seniors. It really doesn’t work at my job.

One thing I tell jurors repeatedly throughout trial is not to form their final opinions or conclusions, but to wait until all the evidence is in and then deliberate with all the other jurors in order to reach a verdict. In fact, this admonition has been adopted into a formal written jury instruction that applies in all trials in my state. The wisdom underlying it goes back thousands of years.

            Through presumption comes nothing but strife, but with those who receive counsel is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:12.)

Don’t presume. Talk things over with others. Then come to a reasoned conclusion. It’s so simple, right?

I don’t know about you, but I see people around me and jump to conclusions all the time, thinking I know what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t. That might hurt only me except there are times when I act on this utter lack of knowledge, this lack of reasoned consideration. That can lead to mistakes, big mistakes. So what should I do?

God’s wisdom still applies: don’t presume; get the facts; find someone to talk things over with. It’s simple, right?

And share your experiences here in the comments. None of us want to presume we have all the answers!

[Biography: Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids (one in college; one just graduated, woo-hoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California.]

“Behind” and “Supposed To”

I’m behind right now.

I’m behind on blogging (obviously).

I’m behind on cleaning.

I’m behind on our family’s yearly scrapbook.

I’m behind on my reading, Bible and otherwise.

I’m behind on laundry.

I’m behind.

Also, things aren’t going like they’re supposed to.

For example, this morning at 2:00 am, I was supposed to be sleeping.  Instead, I was holding Anna’s hair back while she puked.

Same story at 2:55, 3:45, 4:30, and 6:00.

At 1o:00 am, I was supposed to be hosting a tea party for Anna’s little preschool classmates to celebrate the end of school.  Luke was supposed to be at school for his last full day.  Greg was supposed to be at work.

Instead, the kids and I were in our pajamas, since Luke swore up and down that he felt sick, as well.  They were making who-knows-what out of spare pieces of felt, velcro fasteners, and tape.  Greg was running out to get popsicles before heading to work after letting me sleep a little bit.  I was trying to wake up by drinking coffee and reading last week’s Entertainment Weekly.  After I finished the movie reviews (and decided that I do, actually, want to see Battleship), I stared at the grungy craft-pocalypse landscape of my living room and reflected that I was “supposed to” be surrounded by little girls in princess dresses eating petit fours right now.

And then I paused…and I thought about those two concepts:  “behind” and “supposed to.”

I considered the areas, listed above, where I felt “behind.”  And then I considered where I wasn’t behind:  I wasn’t behind on loving my kids; I wasn’t behind on snuggles; I wasn’t behind on end-of-school year involvement or trips to the pool; I wasn’t behind on dates with my husband or time with our parents; I wasn’t behind on participation in my church; I wasn’t behind on my friendships.

Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t actually behind on anything.

And as far as “supposed to,” who said that today I was supposed to have a tea party?  Or that Anna wasn’t supposed to get sick?  Where was that written?  Who said that today was supposed to unfold any differently than it actually did?  What does “supposed to” even mean in this context?  I don’t know about you, but the events of my life generally don’t ask me beforehand if they are “supposed to” happen.  Reality doesn’t seem to care what it is “supposed to” look like.

Maybe, just maybe, my day was supposed to look just like this.

Now, there are definitely times when I am legitimately behind on important commitments that I’ve made, and in those times, I am “supposed to” fulfill my responsibilities, be they to the church, the state, my family, my friends, etc.  But I’m beginning to think that there are just as many times when “behind” and “supposed to” have no actual bearing on reality and that they merely represent these imaginary, parallel universes that I’ve created.  And the problem with these parallel universes is that they distract me from the perfectly legitimate reality that surrounds me.  They make my reality seem “less than,” and my efforts like failures.  They rob me of the peace and contentment that comes with accepting the life that God gives me, moment by moment.

I might come back and elaborate on these points later, because they are very intriguing to me, but right now, in Luke’s mind, I am “supposed to” be playing with Legos.  I think I will oblige…after I swing by the fridge and grab one of those petit fours that I just remembered I had!

Do you ever feel controlled by “behind” and “supposed to”?

Comma Splices and Premarital Sex: Both Still “Things”

A few months ago, while tutoring at Y.E.S., I was helping a 4th grader with a worksheet on commas.  The worksheet provided two paragraphs, with these instructions:  “Insert the missing __ commas.”  One paragraph’s instructions said seven, and the other’s said fifteen.  Those were the only instructions, and I could see no other grammatical errors in either paragraph besides missing commas.  While filling in the worksheet, however, we twice came across sentences like this:

Jack picked up his baseball glove he went to the game.

In case your English classes are a little fuzzy in your memory, those are two independent clauses (“Jack picked up his baseball glove,” and “he went to the game”) smushed together (update:  apparently, “smushed” is not a word).  In English, there are three ways to separate independent clauses:  a period, a semi-colon, and a coma + conjunction.  You can NOT put just a comma between them.  Two independent clauses separated by a comma is called a comma splice, and it is considered a major grammatical error.  And yet, the instructions only allowed the student to place commas to correct the errors.  Hence, the worksheet was prompting the student to form comma splices.

As an English nerd, I was appalled.

I refused to let the student put a comma there; instead, I had her put a semi-colon.  Who cared that she did not even know what a semi-colon was (*sob*)?  We were not going to make comma splices on MY watch!  I also wrote a little note to the teacher at the bottom of the page reminding her about comma splices (yes, I did).  I then vented to everyone around me who would listen, and left the tutoring session full of indignation.

Later, however, I began to second-guess myself.  I had to admit that comma splices were an epidemic among my college students, and they were having a really hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that they were wrong.  Plus, I had to admit that I saw comma splices everywhere I looked, even on advertisements and in published materials.  I even stopped reading Luke the Magic Treehouse series because of all the comma splices and sentence fragments!  So…maybe comma splices were okay now?  Even though I was raised to think that comma splices were wrong, and the grammar manuals to which I had referred throughout the semester also seemed to think they were wrong, I had to admit the possibility that such teachings were outdated.  After all, language is fluid, and the rules of grammar are always subtly shifting.  If my college students had not been taught that comma splices were wrong, and these elementary students were apparently being taught that they were just fine, then maybe I was the one who was wrong!  Maybe comma splices weren’t “still a thing.”

A reminder hanging in the hallway at my college.

Confused, I resolved to ask the head of the English department the next day at school.  I ran into him and another veteran professor in the hallway and posed the question, “Are comma splices still wrong?”  Now, I have to tell you that both of these professors are rather liberal in matters of grammar, as the trend among teaching writing is to move away from grammar and focus on content.  Even so, the rain of indignation that immediately poured down upon comma splices left no doubt as to their current, taboo nature.  Words like, “very, very wrong,” “major grammar error,” and “inelegant” abounded, and the veteran professor even said, “It tells me that they don’t know what constitutes a sentence.”  There was no doubt that these professors thought comma splices were wrong.  I felt better; after all, I had been waging a one-woman war against comma splices all semester!

Even though my heart told me that comma splices were “still a thing,” I felt like I had to ask because of all the evidence that suggested it wasn’t still a thing:  it was apparently being taught in public schools, most of the twenty-somethings I knew had no problem with it, I seemed to see it everywhere in culture, and people seemed to be forgetting why it was wrong.

So…along those lines, I also feel compelled to ask,

Is premarital sex still a thing?

No, really.  I’ve been raised to think it was wrong, and the Bible seems to clearly define proper sexuality as being solely within the realm of marriage, but based on the anecdotal evidence of Greg’s twitter feed and my 173 young, single, mommy friends on Facebook (not really, but it’s a lot), plus the not-so-anecdotal evidence of studies likethe one mentioned in this article, I am beginning to think we are undergoing a shift in thinking about sexual morality, not just in society, but in the church.  Because you see, 98% of Greg’s twitter friends and my Facebook friends are people whom I met in church.  Most would call themselves Christians. 

Now, before I ask my next question, I’ve got to say this:  I agree that the church has mishandled the sex issue in all sorts of ways, and I’m glad that we are exploring different ways to get our point across.  For example, in a recent post, Richard Beck argues that it is perhaps more relevant to talk about sexual promiscuity to college students in terms of wisdom and foolishness, rather than sin.  Also in the recent past, Rachel Held Evans has claimed that sex is one of the church’s blind spots, that we often use the virgin/whore dichotomy of looking at the issue, and that such talk further alienates sexually active people, rather than bringing them to repentance.  Even more recently, there was a debate on the site, Mere Orthodoxy, where one side was advocating that, given the number of sexually active young Christians, the church should start teaching about contraception.

So…okay, I get all that.  And part of me is glad that we are thinking outside the box here, seeing that our past efforts have tended to fail miserably.  But sometimes I just want to ask, “Can we still say that it is wrong?”

Seriously–can we?  Like, to people we know who are sexually active?  Should we?  Would it help, or would it only alienate?  I really wonder these things, because sometimes, for me, it often seems like the elephant in the room.  It sometimes seems that, while all of us in our little Christian bubble are yelling about the importance of sexual purity, we don’t always do a good job of effectively conveying that concept to people outside of our little Christian bubble.  Thus, we seem kind of like my English professors, ranting about comma splices, while most of the world doesn’t even know what comma splices are.  The problem is, I don’t really know how to pop that bubble, practically speaking, in my own life.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  as a youth minister’s wife, I’m not uncomfortable talking to teens about sex (sample question from teen when I first got into youth ministry:  “Have you ever had sex twice in one day?  What about six times?”).  I didn’t necessarily answer all those questions, but trust me, I have not the slightest problem telling young teenage virgins, pseudo-virgins, and almost-virgins to wait until marriage.  That conversation gets substantially more awkward, however, when I’m dealing with twenty-somethings who have been sexually active for a decade and truly see no problem with it.  I feel like I sound backwards, a complete relic of a bygone era.  And I don’t always handle it well.  Here, for example, is an excerpt from a conversation I recently had, in which I tried to work the concept of sex within marriage:

20-something woman:  Yeah, my mom has had a boyfriend for six years.  Before you ask, they don’t have plans to get married.

Me [laughing uncomfortably]:  Well…I mean, I kind of understand where they are coming from…

Woman:  Yeah, all my friends think I’m weird when I say I want to get married.

Me:  I think it’s good you want to get married.  With your mom, though, I was saying that I understand where she might be coming from because if she’s not a Christian….see, the Christian view of marriage is that [glancing back at my kids in their carseats] you wait, you know, until you get married, so…there’s not much chance of someone just staying together for years and years without it. 

Woman:  [laughs]

Me [pressing forward through the awkwardness]:  See, the Bible teaches that marriage is supposed to last forever, and most people don’t think of it like that today.  And so, you know, if you aren’t a Christian and don’t follow the Bible, then I could see why you wouldn’t want to get married…

What on earth?  What was I even trying to say?  I guess I was trying to remind the woman that marriage is more than just a word, since she said she wanted to get married one day, while at the same time trying not to come down too hard on her mom.  Good grief.  I sarcastically thought to myself, “Well, you handled that well,” and the conversation moved to something more benign.

Here’s the rub:  I think premarital sex is still a thing.  I think that it is wrong.  And I don’t say this as a cultural warrior, or someone who is ringing her hands and fearing for the future of our country (love casts out fear, my friends).  But I say this as a person who knows a lot of single moms…and to a woman, not one of them seems happy with her life.  In fact, the default setting for them seems to be “depressed and overwhelmed.”  And I don’t blame them one bit.  I cannot imagine raising children on my own; it’s hard enough when you are blessed with a support system.  And I do see it as a natural part of my Christian identity to help the single moms as much as I can.  Yet, with all that I do, I cannot replace a husband.  Being in this situation, I can’t help but think that it almost seems like I would be doing people a favor to overtly and regularly discuss God’s plan for marriage.  And yet, again, how do you do that in a culture when sex outside of marriage is the norm without alienating people?  I really don’t know yet.

By the way, a few week’s later, I asked the student from tutoring about her teacher’s reaction to my comma splice note.  The student shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know; she just seemed kind of confused.”

So am I, teacher.  So am I.

Any thoughts on how to handle the sex issue with twenty-somethings in the church?  And do you think premarital sex is still a “thing”?

A Slight Bit of Ridiculousness

I just have to share this.

Today as I was deciding what to wear, I chose a black short-sleeved shirt, with a tangerine (?) skirt (I’m horrible with colors).  It sounded like a nice, comfortable outfit, but suddenly, I froze:

Church is tonight, and I wore that black shirt on Sunday.

Yes, this was the thought that stopped me in my tracks.  I’m no fashionista–far from it–but you see, in the South, we have rules.  For example, you are not supposed to wear white in between Labor Day and Easter.  You’re just not.  Don’t ask me why.  But even though I think that rule is ridiculous, I can tell you that both females in this house follow it.  Even this year, when it was eighty degrees in early March, and Anna only had two pair of sandals, one of which was white, I made her wear her pink sandals repeatedly until Easter.  Only then did the white ones come out.

Another apparent rule is that you don’t wear the same thing to church two Sundays in a row (and I can only imagine that Sunday and Wednesday would be even worse).  Growing up, this was a familiar Sunday morning theme at our house:

“Did I wear this dress last Sunday?”  or

“Go change–you wore that last Sunday.”

And let me emphasize:  my mother is not a vain person.  But...those are the rules.

Nowadays, I am beginning to question these rules more and more.  One of my recent lines of inquiry has been regarding my appearance.  Specifically, how much time, money, and effort should I spend on my appearance?  The conclusions to which I have come at this time are as follows:  I want to be attractive for my husband.  I want to be modest for my Christian witness.  I want to be clean and hygienic for my health and for the sake of other people.  Other than that, I don’t need any rules about how and when to wear makeup, how many clothes I need to have, or how fashionable I need to be.

Basically, I’m trying to shed as much of the cultural baggage as possible in order to focus more of my energy on my real mission in this life.  And my mission is not to look like a 25-year-old forever.  Or to look like a runway model (haha).  Or to chase after a standard of beauty that is becoming increasingly unattainable.

Instead, my mission is to reflect God’s glory and be His ambassador on this earth.  

I don’t see how wearing the same shirt to church twice in a row is going to hinder that mission.  And so, daggonit, I’m wearing my black shirt tonight!  And there’s nothing yo can do to stop me!:)

The Civil Reader–15 May 2012

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Civil Reader.  Since Mother’s Day was on Sunday (I had a wonderful one; thanks for asking!), I thought I would start by sharing a couple of blogs on the subject.


How to Miss a Childhood

As someone who struggles to always be “present” for my children, I needed this little reminder.  Greg and I were just talking today about how we sometimes fear that our smart phones and the internet are rewiring our brains and making it impossible to just sit still and “be” for more than a few minutes.  Reading this blog gave me inspiration in my fight against internet distraction, and I reaped the benefits this week.  For example, I let Anna watch a video on my phone in the carpool line this afternoon.  Usually, I grow quickly bored without something to read, but today, I just adjusted the rearview mirror to watch her face while she watched the screen…and let me tell you, that was the real show.  I learned that, when watching a video, Anna’s brow furrows into a slight frown of concentration for most of the program, interrupted only by short, fleeting smiles or completely abrupt bursts of quick laughter, which meld back into her concentration frown almost as quickly as they come.  I spent the fifteen minutes of her video just marveling at the complexity of her features.  What a gift she is!

Where is the Mommy-War for the Motherless Child? by Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan

Kristen wrote this in response to the controversial Time magazine cover.  Only an excerpt from the blog itself will do it justice

I don’t much care if you breastfed your kid until they started kindergarten, or if you fed them formula from day one. I don’t really care if you turned your infant car-seat forward-facing prior to age 2, or if you homeschool, or if you send your kids to daycare while you go to work. Do you cosleep? Did you circumcise your son? I DON’T CARE.  Do you babywear? Push your kid around in a stroller? Use a leash for your kid at Disneyland?  Whatever.  Good for you.

When it comes to issues of motherhood, there is one issue I care about: some kids don’t have one.


On the Bible front, I enjoyed the following three articles

Let Them Both Grow Together, by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology

If I’ve ever heard a sermon on the parable of the weeds, I have forgotten it.  Thus, the story is always a treasure to find on my tours through the Bible.  It doesn’t take much to make this story come to life, because it really speaks for itself, but I like Beck’s thoughts here.  His one misstep, in my opinion, is when he makes a small, misguided attempt to label weeds–something the parable seems to speak against.  But I can understand the impulse; I think it is part of human nature to want to classify.  I, particularly, should have been a Victorian (hello, binomial nomenclature!) because I love the idea of separating things into parts and organizing them by kind.  Thus, I am naturally prone to applying such labels as “wheat” and “chaff.”  Maybe that’s why I find Jesus’ words here to be so instructive.

We are the Pharisees, by Jenny Rae Armstrong

When I first read Luke Timothy Johnson’s description of the Pharisees a few years ago, I was immediately filled with sympathy for them.  After all, unlike most of the Israelites in the Old Testament, the Pharisees were zealous for the Law and passionate about keeping it.  Honestly, if I didn’t have Jesus’ words to contradict them, I would probably think they were right on, based on my understanding of the Law from reading the OT.  I mean, keeping the particulars of the Law was important to God.  Think Uzzah.  Think Nadab and Abihu.  Think Moses’ blessings and curses.  The Pharisees probably worked harder at staying between the lines than any generation before them.  And yet…they missed it.  My sympathy for them is part of what made Jenny Armstrong’s article resonate with me.  I think we naturally have such a knee-jerk defensiveness when it comes to being described as a Pharisee that  we immediately dismiss it.  To do so, however, misses the many important lessons that they can teach us.  They are more than just mustache-twirling cartoons.

God Behaving Badly, Part One, by Frank Viola (an interview with David Lamb)

I was excited to see this interview, as Lamb’s book, God Behaving Badly, is on my must-read-soon list.  The full title is God Behaving Badly:  Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist?  In this interview, Viola plays devil’s advocate and asks Lamb some tough questions about God’s behavior in the OT.  I even threw in a question of my own in the comments, and Lamb gave a helpful response.  There is also a part 2 of the series, which is also good.


And lastly, here is a great read that is about so much more than the recent NC vote:

A Challenge to Both Sides of the Amendment One Debate, by Justin Lee at Crumbs from the Communion Table.

As a “Side B” Christian who “believes that the church has mishandled its response to homosexuality,” even as I affirm that the male/female relationship in marriage is God’s plan for sexuality, I really appreciated Justin Lee’s grace-filled response to Amendment One here.  I think he shares concepts that we all need to keep in mind during this election season and beyond.

I Love to Tell the Story

Yesterday in church, we sang some older songs, and this was one of them:

I love to tell the story 
	of unseen things above, 
	of Jesus and his glory, 
	of Jesus and his love.  
	I love to tell the story, 
	because I know 'tis true; 
	it satisfies my longings 
	as nothing else can do.  

	I love to tell the story, 
	'twill be my theme in glory, 
	to tell the old, old story 
	of Jesus and his love.

One thing I love about older songs is that, as I sing them, I imagine all the people in the past who have sung and clung to the song.  I picture all of us thinking about the words that we are singing, really meaning them, and allowing them to sink into our lives.  I wondered what, in particular, this song meant to people in the past.  What did “telling the story” look like to them?  How did they share the gospel?

As we sang, the words of the hymn filled my soul, and I thought, “Yes!  This is what I want to do!  I want not just my words, but my whole life to tell the story of Jesus.  I want my actions to put flesh on ‘unseen things above.’  I want my words and deeds to reflect ‘Jesus and his glory, Jesus and his love!'”  As I pondered this concept, several people in my life rushed to mind, people who needed to see the unseen, to see God’s glory and love at work in their lives.  I thought of tangible ways to tell this story to them, and I hope that I will follow through on those ways.

Even more than with specific actions, though, I want the very fabric of my life to tell that story.  Recently, I have realized more than ever how simply having a stable, godly marriage tells a story.  Loving my children tells a story.  Keeping a peaceful, welcoming home tells a story.  My life tells a story when we are giving kids rides to and from church, through the mundane conversations we have.  It tells a story when I interact with my kids at church and at Y.E.S.  It tells a story even when I’m not directly speaking to the kids who are watching me.  Knowing that I’m always telling a story makes me realize how important it is for my life to tell the right story.  I want to tell the story of Jesus’ glory and His love, not the story of petty human selfishness.  I screw up this story regularly, of course, but I pray that the overall narrative remains true to the gospel.

Anna’s little life told that story to us on Saturday.  From allowance and other sources, the kids had saved up about twenty dollars each, and we were going to take them to the mall to spend some of it.  Before we went, we asked them if they wanted to set any aside to give to the church.  Luke considered, and set aside $3, a perfectly reasonable amount.  Anna thought about it, and set aside $15.  The way she put it was that, “My heart told me I should give it to the church.  My heart told me that I had enough things.”  

How’s that for telling the story of Jesus’ love?  Greg and I were floored and asked her several times if she was sure she wanted to give so much.  Even Luke, my sensible child with his furrowed brow, said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Anna, are you sure?”  Anna was quite sure.  When he found that he could not appeal to her sense of reason, he sighed and said, “Well, if you find anything that you want but can’t afford, I will buy it for you if I have enough money.”  And with his generosity toward his sister, he told a story, too.  

Anna’s story was a little loud this morning, when she matter-of-factly dumped $15 in change into the collection plate without a second thought, and then went back to playing with her Strawberry Shortcake dolls.  Usually, though, the Christian stories being told all around us are quiet, behind-the-scenes affairs.  I am blown away by the stories of  Jesus’ love that I see all around me on a regular basis, and I can only hope that the story I tell will point to Jesus as well as those others do.

How do you tell the story?

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