Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I boycott

Edmund Burke, statesman, said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. I maintain that it is also a victory for evil when good women SAY nothing. Week after week, my blood boils as I cannot help but view the Cosmopolitan magazine cover at area stores (particularly Walmart). It is so prominently displayed at a child's eye level at virtually every check out lane.

Repeatedly I have voiced my objection to the content of the magazine and shared my concerns with store managers. I routinely ask that they move the magazine to another location, if not remove it from their store altogether. My husband has joined me in this quest. It has made a difference in the placement of the magazine in the Greensburg, Indiana Walmart store. That store manager deserves to be commended. Regrettably, that particular store stands out because it stands alone. Cincinnati Walmarts, noticeably the Mason store, where I have shopped almost exclusively for the past several years, appear not to care. Their aisles still display Cosmo on nearly every end cap.

My dismay and disgust regarding magazines that reduce the self worth of a woman to her ability to perform in bed, and that objectify women in general, was turned to another magazine this past week. I am absolutely appalled by this year's edition of the Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated. This is pornography masked as "sports" material. What is the point of this edition? Are these women competitive swimmers? Hardly. Are they even athletes? Apparently the barely clad model on the cover is actually a skier. Why don't we see her in her ski outfit? She isn't even wearing a bathing suit. She has a barely there bikini bottom and her arms are crossed provocatively across her bare breasts.

Why do we as a society place greater value on female breast size and buttocks, than on character, integrity, or even athletic ability? If every other edition of Sports Illustrated throughout the year features men and their sports capability, what is the point of this particular issue? Are there ever issues that feature scantily dressed men posed provocatively on beaches? No. Do the editors devote an entire issue each year to nearly naked MALE bodies? NO. This is a magazine supposedly dedicated to emphasizing athletic talent. What is the talent being displayed in the swimsuit edition? What message is being given, about the value of a woman? Is it that women are only to be valued for the way their body appears?

Society, why do we embrace this? Women, why do we tolerate it? Christians, how can we ignore it?

Don't try to justify it. Don't present the argument to me that men are just wired this way, and so it's okay to devote magazines to such material. Don't try to convince me that it is "art", and therefore we are merely "admiring" the human body. That is a lame argument and I am not buying it. It is a load of garbage.

A friend recently shared a story with me about dairy farmers that he knew years ago. Apparently the dairy farm regulations were quite strict because bacteria has the ability to grow very easily in milk. Therefore, the barns needed to be kept impeccably clean. The walls were painted white, making it easy to spot any filth that accumulated, so that it could then be washed off. One particular farm got into trouble for trying to skirt the rules. Rather than spend hours cleaning, the farmers tried to get by with merely painting over the filth so that it gave the appearance of cleanliness. The problem was, glossing over filth does not remove the filth. Thus, the bacteria was still able to grow and spread. This story applies to what is happening with these magazines. Regardless of how many attempts are made to gloss over and minimize the content, the "filth" is still having an impact on society and the evil is growing.

Perhaps the afternoon that I first noticed the SI magazine, it hit a nerve because I had just spent half the day helping a woman escape from a situation of domestic abuse. I was feeling particularly raw after spending the morning in court with that young wife, as she was granted a restraining order so that she would receive a modicum of protection from her husband. He is a man with a history of substance abuse, who has appeared before the court other times for domestic violence issues. This is a man who viewed his wife as merely an object meant to serve his needs, and she was desperate to escape this man's frightening, menacing behavior.

I heard her story and witnessed her fear and desperation. It hit close to home because I have lived that same story. It is my privilege, and a testament to God's amazing grace, that I might be of some service to another human being moving through, moving beyond their brokenness on the path toward healing.

However, I continue to feel a sense of outrage when I witness oppression and degradation, when I encounter anything or anyone that attempts to convey that another human being has little or no worth. Last summer, on a mission trip, I met another woman who was victimized in such a manner. I was working on her home, and I overheard this woman, with a charming, husky voice, singing to her toddler. I remarked on how touched I was by the sweetness of her song to her little boy. She was embarrassed that I had heard her singing because, as she told me shamefully, “I have a terrible voice”. Her comment was so far from true that I was quick to reassure her that her voice held a lovely quality. She disagreed, telling me that ever since her accident, she’s hated the sounds that come from her throat.

I assumed that perhaps this woman had been in a farming accident, as she lived in the country, or perhaps she had experienced a bout with cancer. As she showed me the circular milky, white scar at the base of her throat, I was horrified to learn that the “accident” of which she spoke occurred when her ex husband had grabbed her by the throat and attempted to choke her. He pressed so hard against her skin that his thumb poked a hole straight through her larynx. She is fortunate to be alive, let alone able to sing. How in the world can one human being do such a thing to another? I believe it is because that human being does not view the other as a living creature, but rather as merely an object. It is difficult to feel compassion or experience empathy for something…for someone… that has been objectified and is viewed as inanimate.

I am certain that I was unable to convey the depth of my conviction and passion as I stood in the BP gas station last week, in front of their display. I know that I did not regal the clerk with the entire tale of my experiences. I merely stated, as I often do, that their store display bothered me, & that I take issue with magazines that objectify women. Her attitude, conveying to me that she neither had anything to do with the placement of the display nor believed that there WAS anything she could do about it, troubled me. She implied that I didn't have to look at it if it bothered me. (Does anyone have a can of white pant? The filth is starting to show. Let's cover it up with another layer.)

When I attempted to persuade her to consider what I was saying, I mentioned that I was feeling raw from a morning in court with a domestic abuse survivor whose husband treated her as an object so that viewing this magazine that portrays other women in this light was particularly disturbing. What was her unsympathetic response? She stated quite firmly "women in those situations (where they are being abused) deserve what they get so I don't want to hear about it!"

I knew it was pointless to continue then, how do you expect compassion from someone whose mind is closed & heart is sadly absent? (The walls may be white, the filth glossed over, meanwhile the disease continues to grow and spread.)

My stomach was churning when I left that store, my heart racing, my ire aroused. No one, I don't care where she has been or what mistakes she has made in the past, no one deserves to be treated as an object and abused. Every human being deserves to be valued & treated with respect. Every human being has worth to Christ.

Maybe BP gas station attendants or Walmart store managers think it is pointless. Maybe other women have given up hope. Maybe other Christians have forgotten their voice. But I'm not handing anyone a paintbrush today. I'm rolling up my sleeves & asking, how might I work to eliminate this problem? I am going to pause and look deeply into the eyes of everyone I met, and implore them to see...truly see..other human beings as having value and worth. I am crying out to all of you who support Cosmo or Sports Illustrated, all those publications that portray women as objects, to please stop. Stop reading them & stop buying them. Stop allowing this to continue by supporting them with your dollars.

Christians, hear these words from Paul, “and now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Before you look at or purchase another such magazine, or support a business that promotes these ideals, examine your thoughts, and search your hearts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Being that grain of rice

"A single grain of rice can tip the scale." So said the emperor of China at the beginning of the animated classic, "Mulan". I loved that movie the first time I watched it with my daughters, and with each subsequent viewing, it grew on me. I could write pages upon pages of thoughts that stem from its message, however tonight I am contemplating that first profound line. Those words foreshadow the events of Mulan's journey, and how one young woman ultimately leads the army to defeat the Huns.

I need to remember that sentiment tonight. Sometimes I feel deeply, horribly alone. When I made the decision to quit my gym in response to their refusal to do anything about the content of their music videos, I felt alone. Granted, afterward I received an outpouring of support from friends and family, but in that moment, I felt alone. Week after week, I face a similar challenge. I have embarked on a one woman battle against the cover and content of Cosmopolitan magazine. I recognize that we have a "freedom of speech", and that is a blessing as I freely express myself often in writing. We also have the "freedom of the press", which is another bonus as a dream of mine is to someday write a book. However, sometimes evil hides behind the guise of those freedoms.

Yes. In case it isn't apparent, I am calling Cosmopolitan magazine evil. I find it offensive, outrageous, distasteful, and disappointing. Month after month, it's cover tantalizes viewers with titles that all espouse adult themes. It is a pornographic magazine posing as fashion and free relationship advice. Week after week, I go to my area grocery stores, only to have it put in my face and the sight of my children at the check out line. It's at eye level, and more often than not, there is nothing to protect my daughters eyes from reading what is posted on the cover. Visit after visit, I ask to speak to a manager. I state that my preference would be that their particular store would not carry the magazine at all, but specifically point out that I would like for them to be sure to place the "protective cover" in front of the magazine when it has lewd pictures and/or crude messages (which is all the time).

They do have a plastic piece that goes in front of the magazine and will cover some of the article titles. Sometimes it will be out, however in general, the majority of Walmart stores and Kroger stores, "forget" to place those plastic pieces on the magazines.

Why do I care so much? Does it really matter? Aren't I just being a "prude" or "fuddy dud", or am I behind the times? I suppose I am to a certain extent. I know I often wore the label "goody two shoes" when I was in high school. I was known as being "old fashioned" and that was okay with me. In college, that title felt a bit uncomfortable. I grew weary of being "goody-goody". I regret that because there were times that I didn't fully value myself, didn't recognize my own worth, and there are times that same concept (of not fully recognizing my own 'beloved' status in God's eyes) still applies today. However, I will gladly bear the title "old fashioned" today. I don't mind being behind the times because I am truly not "behind" anything that detracts from the value of a person. I do not support language that desensitizes minds and makes it seem okay to be crass, crude, and vulgar. I deplore anything that takes away from all that God intended for us to be.

1 Peter 3: 3-4 reads, "
Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." Things like Cosmopolitan magazine, or images out there on the computer, even in a place as seemingly innocuous as Facebook, are implying that what is on the outside is what makes us beautiful. They are trying to make people, young women in particular, believe that it is the body and what is or is not on the body, that makes you beautiful. That is so wrong. God loves us at such a deeper level than that. God says in Isaiah, that He loved us even before we were born. He loved us before we were fashioned in the womb. God loved us even before time began. So our physical bodies and our "beloved" status from God are not synonymous. We are beloved because we are beloved.

It isn't anything we do or say or wear. We are simply loved.

I could preach this message fervently until my last breath escaped me, but do I live into it? No. I fail just as readily as anyone else. I am guilty of have "devalued" myself often throughout the years. I have often downplayed my intelligence. I lie on my driver's license about my weight. I tolerated abuse in a relationship for many years because I didn't connect the dots and believe/recognize/embrace the message that I have value and worth and meaning in God's eyes. I have "played blonde" time and time again because intelligence can be a source of ridicule. In school, when I encountered people who didn't appreciate me for my brain, and called me "Dexter", (while there were times I held my head high and remained proud of my achievements), I sometimes simply played dumb. Even now, sometimes I make silly comments, not because I love to laugh and be silly (which I do!), but rather because I am still downplaying who I really am.

I remember intentionally failing a test in 7th grade, marking every single answer incorrectly, because I so desperately wanted to fit in, didn't want to stand out. Remarkably, I had an amazing teacher who wouldn't let me do that to myself. He pulled me aside after grading the tests and asked me just what I thought I was doing. (Bless you Mr. Rehberg, wherever you are, for not allowing me to be less than I really was.) That teacher recognized that I was attempting to "dumb down" in order to be like everyone else, and he held me accountable. He threw out that test, and made me take it over, in the way that I was truly capable of doing it.

I regret that I have stumbled over the years. I regret that there are still times at present that I am unable to look in the mirror and tell the woman that I see just how precious she really is in the sight of God. However, I celebrate the fact that there are more and more days when I AM able to fully value who I am, and who God designed me to be. It is in recognition of my own struggle at embracing self worth, that I have entered into battle with the Cosmopolitans of the world. For each and every woman out there, ESPECIALLY the young ones among us, I want to be like my teacher, grasping them figuratively on the shoulder, asking, "What are you doing? Don't try to be like everyone else. Be who God designed you to be. Recognize your beauty and value and worth in His eyes." And maybe, just maybe, even on those days or nights when I feel horribly and helplessly alone, I can be the single grain of rice that tips the scales. May it be so. Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Death of Integrity?

Conserve. Go Green. Reduce, reuse, recycle. We are bombarded with this message wherever we look. Do you remember the Keep America Beautiful public service announcement in the early 1970s? The commercial featured a Native American Indian crying a single tear when looking upon a polluted landscape. Trash is thrown from a speeding car and lands at his feet. The announcer sternly and memorably declares: "People start pollution; people can stop it."

Visit the zoo and you are implored to protect animals from extinction. Save and protect injured or orphaned wild animals. Adopt a gorilla. Donate money to the World Wildlife Conservation fund. Save the whales. The pleas are endless. “The World Society for the Protection of Animals is doing their best but they need more help if these poor creatures are to be saved.” We worry about plants, the environment, animals; however something toxic is seeping into our moral landscape.

If you witnessed a murder, would you try & stop it? Would you at least call 911? In the 1960's, no one helped Kitty Genovese, a New York City woman who was stabbed to death near her home. “The circumstances of her murder and the supposed lack of reaction of numerous neighbors were reported by a newspaper article published two weeks later; the common portrayal of neighbors being fully aware, but completely nonresponsive has later been criticized as inaccurate. Nonetheless, it prompted investigation into the social psychological phenomenon that has become known as the bystander effect and especially diffusion of responsibility.”

In the 1930's, millions sat back while Jews were herded to concentration camps. “After 1939 with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps increasingly became places where the enemies of the Nazis were enslaved, starved, tortured and killed. Millions of prisoners died in the concentration camps through mistreatment, disease, starvation, overwork or were executed as unfit for labor. More than three million Jews died in them. Near the end of the war, the camps became sites for horrific medical experiments. Female prisoners were routinely raped and degraded in the camps. The camps were liberated by the Allies between 1943 and 1945, often too late to save the prisoners remaining."

In the 1990's, the world sat back while hundreds of thousands were slaughtered in Rwanda. “The official figures published by the Rwandan government estimated the number of victims of the genocide to 1,174,000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute). Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are now HIV-positive. There are about 400,000 orphans and nearly 85,000 of them have become heads of families. According to recent commentators the news media played a crucial role in the genocide: local print and radio media fueled the killings, while the international media either ignored or seriously misconstrued events on the ground. Despite emphatic demands from UNAMIR's commanders in Rwanda before and throughout the genocide, its requests for authorization to end it were refused and its intervention-capacity was even reduced.”

Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, Kitty Genovese’s murder, genocide in Rwanda…. Each of these tragic situations could have been averted if good people had intervened earlier. There is another death happening today. Our consciences are being attacked. Our character is being slayed; our integrity wounded & bleeding. We are still experiencing the “bystander effect”, as we wait around to see who will accept responsibility. Who will take responsibility for the death of integrity?

On June 2nd, while exercising at my gym, Lifetime Fitness in Mason, I was appalled when a music video displaying scantily clad young women rubbing up against one another in a dance club, appeared on a screen. I immediately called over an employee and pointed out the video. The camera focused on the women’s breasts and buttocks while they were on a beach, and then zoomed in even closer as they danced with one another provocatively. The Fitness employee agreed with me that the video resembled a pornographic film, however he seemed unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation. When I asked who might be responsible for the content displayed on the facility’s screens, he was unsure. He then stated that if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to watch it. When I said I didn’t accept his answer, he suggested that a comment could be made to the manager of the gym.

I found the manager, and attempted to discuss the situation with him. He was incredibly dismissive and unhelpful. He said he wasn’t responsible, and when I pressed him to tell me who WAS responsible for choosing the content of the music videos, he said the corporate office chose them. He declined to help me contact the corporate office, and when I pressed for more information, he replied, “I guess you can look that up on our website.” I went home and looked up the website (because the manager did not provide me with any contact information), and proceeded to send an email detailing my experience and asking to be contacted. Three weeks went by, and no one, including the manager of LifeTime, followed up with me. I went into the facility to cancel my membership, and was asked by the Front Desk Supervisor to wait another 24 hours while she contacted both the manager and the corporate office.

Another FORTY EIGHT hours passed, and the following day, I went in to cancel my membership again. At this time, I learned that since I was now in another calendar month, I was going to be charged for that month even though I declined to use the facility any further. Although two voicemail messages were left for the manager of the Mason facility, he failed to ever follow up with me, nor did anyone from the corporate office follow up.

I loved my gym. I worked out there four to five times a week. I’ve been a member since they opened in Mason two years ago. I have raved about their facility to numerous friends, and as a result, many of them became members. The cardio equipment is top notch, the strength training machines are well maintained, the pool is beautiful, the locker rooms are always clean, and the class offerings are plentiful. Lifetime is clearly committed to improving the health and fitness of those in the community. However, equally obvious to this observer, they do not care about the moral health and well being of those within their circle of influence. When I lamented to the Front Desk Supervisor about the inappropriate content of the music video, she shared that I was not the only one who had made a comment. However, her understanding is that apparently the corporate office wants to appeal to the “diverse” population that belongs to their 85 facilities nationwide. Evidently, “diversity” under their definition equates with “crudity”. Why must we lower our standards in order to diversify?

Is integrity dying? Does character matter? Does morality matter? When people groan over “society today”, do they ever ask themselves what role they play in its decline? Edmund Burke is credited with saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The content of the music video I saw at Lifetime was evil. It was appalling. The behavior of the young women was not only inappropriate, it was repugnant and not something I wish to observe or have my daughters emulate. I want my girls to know that the content of their character is of vastly greater importance than the size of their breasts. I want to be known for what I believe and not for my appearance. Sadly the gym appears to care more about what is on one’s outside than the whole person. I will miss that facility. It means a sacrifice in several ways. I’m sacrificing $140 for a service I’m not even going to use during the months of June and July, and I’m sacrificing great basketball courts, rock climbing walls, equipment, etc. However, these sacrifices are minute in comparison to sacrificing my integrity, my character, and my soul. Integrity will not die today.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Soaring Balloons

Balloons spilled over the backseat, filling the car from floor to ceiling. Perhaps there were only 40 of them, but it looked like hundreds! All different colors, merrily waving to me as I attempted to glance out using my rearview mirror. It was a cheery sight, and brought a smile to my face as I reflected upon what it meant to turn forty! How delightful to have so many good friends, such an awesome family, and to be part of a terrific congregation.

The next day, however, presented feelings of a different kind. Instead of the buoyant, proud balloons that greeted me jubilantly the morning prior, now I met a pathetic assortment of drooping, wrinkled latex, bowing low against the seats. I'd forgotten to bring in the balloons the night before, so I had to run several errands with a car full of worn out, tired looking...things... attached to ribbon.

Isn't that like life? We are flying high one day, on top of the world, barely able to contain our joy and enthusiasm, loosely held by ribbons of responsibility, ready to soar past any doubts and worries. Then the next day finds that those ribbons feel like chains, and we feel as if the air is slowly leaking from our "balloon" and we feel limp and weary, unable to rise above the challenges upon us.

What do we do when that happens? One day, I'm feeling buoyant, confident, secure, like my birthday balloons were when I received them. Another day, I'm feeling weary, drained, pulled down, like those balloons that had lost their air. I was struck, looking back at those limp balloons, at how easily we can get sucked into that pattern, of looking back... looking down... focusing on our flaws, failures, wrinkles. Last night, at youth group, I complimented one of the members of our Praise Band. I told her how beautifully she had sang during Worship Service in the morning. Instead of embracing the compliment, and acknowledging her gifts and talents, she shrugged off my praise. She put herself down, and said, "I didn't sound good, I sounded like a guy." Now, this young woman has a lovely voice! She has a fantastic range, and the ability to hit some high notes as well as carrying off lower ones. I wasn't just trying to make her feel good, I was being sincere with my comment. She really had sounded good, and more than that, her singing made me feel closer to the Spirit during morning worship.

When she remarked, "I sound like a guy", I had the thought that sometimes I feel as if I walk like a guy when I'm wearing heels. I made a funny remark to that effect, and some of our teens laughed because I said the word transvestite. Afterward, I wondered about the appropriateness, and I also reflected upon where that thought came from. I had a conversation with one of the students, and suddenly remembered where that "voice" began.

In high school, I was a "nerd", or as they called them at my school, a "dexter". I had straight A's, and I really liked school. I enjoyed learning, and that's something that has stuck with me into adulthood. I have always loved to read and expand my horizons with new ideas, thoughts. Not only was I a "dexter", I also played sports, so I was a "jock" as well. I wasn't as concerned with fashion in those days, and I didn't dress up that often. At my school, the cheerleaders were a lot like the stereotypical portrayal of cheerleaders that are often seen in movies or t.v.shows. One rare day, when I wore a dress and heels to school (because I might have had a presentation to do in class... I really don't remember the circumstances), one of the prettiest cheerleaders remarked that I looked ridiculous in heels and that I walked like a "transvestite".

I have to confess that at the time, I didn't even know what that term meant. I thought she was calling me a vampire, implying that I came from Transylvania. I think I responded back to her, asking if she was saying I was a vampire. Then she stated, "No stupid... a guy in drag." I still didn't get it, and wondered what was the guy dragging? Oh my... just thinking about this makes me feel like a dork! I think she ended up being exasperated with trying to explain her insults, and just walked away, leaving me with the parting shot that I looked ridiculous trying to walk in high heels.

Well, if that cheerleader could see me now! I often wear heels, and think I've learned to walk fairly well in them. Obviously though, twenty years have passed, and that comment still lurks deep within my subconscious, and cuts through the layers to send a jab on occasion. It's not alone. I have an entire closet full of "skeletons", past hurts and shames, that pound on the door of my heart, and try to rattle my confidence, try to "deflate the balloon" of my self esteem. It's amazing how quickly that door can open, how sly those old wounds can be, just waiting to pull you back into patterns of hurt and shame.

In the reading this week for Systematic Theology, we are examing "Sin and Theodicy". I find all of our theology material challenging, especially when confronted with unfamiliar terms, or perspectives that feel foreign. However, in the book, "Lift Every Voice", there are several essays discussing sin and shame, and the concepts they convey struck a chord. Particularly one that deals with domestic violence and abuse. I've been there. I've experienced that, and it's a constant struggle to walk away and let go of hurts and shames. There are too many days when I fall into the trap of looking back, and there's that limp and sagging "balloon" that seems to be me. My skeletons try to mock me, and say, "Look at us. Look at all your flaws and failures. See how low you have been, how closely to the ground you are dragging." Those old skeletons want to see me crushed, defeated, afraid.

I came across a terrific quote a while back. It held out the idea of throwing open the door of your "closet" and grabbing those skeletons out from within the recesses of the dark, and then dancing with them! I love that image, of fearlessly flinging open the door, and letting the Light, the Son, inside, sweeping away the darkness and the hold those old skeletons might have on you! I imagined throwing wide the door of the closet, taking the skeletons, one by one, and dancing them across the room, and outside to the trash!

God says, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will rescue you forevermore." All we have to do is to give all our fears and shames to Him. We might feel limp, crushed, dragging.... Life, circumstances, people, our own mind... may all conspire against us and attempt to cause us to feel unworthy, weak, weary, aware of all our fears and failures. However, God is truly "mighty to save". He is able, able to clean us, able to heal all our wounds, able to love us, even when we feel the most unworthy and undeserving of that love. Still, He loves. He separates us from our sin, when we ask Him to clean us and make us whole. He takes all those old skeletons and makes them go away. He puts them away from us, "as far as the east is from the west", as if they were stones thrown away to the furthest spot in the sea. Isn't that marvelous? Isn't it amazing?

So, any day we are tempted to fall into the trap, to sink back into the pattern of shame, doubt, fear, failure, unworthiness, let us be mindful of this great God that we have! He doesn't view us like we are someone "in drag", someone stumbling. God sees us as precious, as His chosen ones, His treasure, worthy of His great love. May we claim that promise, and soar, jubilant, triumpantly filled with the knowledge that we are so much more than what the world wants to tell us that we are. We are children of the King! Amen.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Come on now, fly!

As traffic came to a screeching halt, I sat in helpless frustration. Peering through my windshield, I could see nothing to explain the disruption of our progress. Wild honking quickly drew my attention to the goose attempting to make his way across five lanes of traffic. I asked myself a question I've pondered many times while watching winged creatures cross the road on foot, "Why in the world is he walking when he has the ability to fly?" Incredible!

Why indeed? Why do we humans allow ourselves to crawl through circumstances over which we could soar? I have pity when I watch Friend Goose, wild eyed and overwhelmed, stuck out in traffic. I'm not always so patient or generous with myself.

The first class of my current semester in seminary, I sat wild eyed and overwhelmed as I observed the flow of mental traffic, as those capable, quick minds of the other students, much further along in their schooling, grasped the concepts our professor introduced. I forgot about any intellectual skills I might possess as I crawled my way through the class.

I wandered around wide eyed and blundering as I experienced interaction with the police yet again when I needed their assistance picking up my daughters from their weekly visitation. Shame and hopelessness threatened to overwhelm me as I stood there rooted to the spot, not moving forward, let alone soaring through the moment.

As I watched the goose move back & forth, futilely attempting to get to the other side of his problem, I was struck by the desire to become a goose as well, so I could come alongside of him, show him where to go, remind him of his wings, and encourage him to fly! It startled me to realize that is exactly what Christ did for us! God came alongside of us in human form, so He could talk to us in a language we'd understand. Jesus entered into our reality, transforming Himself in order to show us the way, reminding us to stretch our wings & soar as we are transformed by His redeeming love. We don't need to remain stuck when we encounter Christ.

May we hear His voice loud & clear, reminding us of our ability to fly. May we have the strength & courage to soar into the embrace of His love.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finding Renewal

I began today finding renewal in a way hitherto unexplored by me. As I entered my church, I headed to the ladies restroom as I often do. In this way, I am able to discover any lipstick on my teeth or remnants of breakfast that may be residing on my chin prior to having members of my congregation discover them. Today was no different as I marched in the room and headed straight for the mirror, to realize that part of my head looked like a science experiment in static electricity.

Having been privy to the inside of the men's restroom after searching for a small child, I am aware that men do not have luxuries that we ladies do, such as sweetly scented soaps, soothing hand lotions, and the ever important can of hair spray. Often appreciating these nice gestures, today I decided to take advantage of one item in particular, the hair spray. I wanted to go back from the science experiment look to my normally fluffed out hair. As I held the bottle to my head and sprayed, I realized something seemed odd. Rather than a shot of sticky substance designed to blast my hair back into conformity, I was hit with a fine, soft sweetly smelling mist that brought to mind a glade of trees with flowers all around them.

That sweet mist quickly brought me back to reality as I discovered that I had now sprayed my head with "Glade Renewal" Bathroom spray! Wow... talk about getting renewed and refreshed all in one shot! I must talk to our church trustees about placing these spray bottles in a better location than on the sink next to all the other supplies in front of the mirror. We don't want any other unsuspecting ladies plastering themselves and being renewed with "Glade".

Of course, I suppose one might ask, would anyone else be as unobservant as I? Has anyone else sprayed this item in the wrong direction? Actually, I seem to often have issues with being distracted and times where I'm not thinking clearly. There are times when I am filled with doubts about my abilities, and then there are the usual worries about the kids, worry about having money to meet all the doctor bills and other necessary expenses, worry about the opinion of this or that old so & so and what he has to say about my faith or my parenting skills, and the list continues.... Sometimes when you are trying to juggle all these things, it feels like something is going to get dropped or blow up in your face at some point. Actually, for me, I experienced both this week.

I decided to finally take my Christmas tree down. It is a big, beautiful artificial tree. However, taking it apart and then lugging it down to the first floor of my building, across the parking lot, and then heaving it up into it's place at the back of the garage, is quite a process. I had a little bit of the "woe is me" thing going on, especially after my younger daughter said "too bad we don't have a man to take it down". I told her that I can do anything a man could do, after all, my 98 year old grandma once called me a "real man" when she saw me carrying some heavy boxes. Not only did her comment cause me some time in therapy... no wait... wrong the positive side of that jeering, oh I meant cheering, comment was that my grandma was actually impressed with my strength in taking care of what I saw needed to be done.

After I got the tree settled precariously into it's spot in the back of the garage, (where it only fell back onto my head one time), I realized that I had another problem. The ten 2 liter bottles of pop that I was keeping in the garage had all frozen solid. Three had exploded everywhere, while the other 7 were dangerously close to shooting off as well. I decided to take action quickly. Being the strong and strange "real man" that I am, I gathered up all 7 bottles and took off for the building. Halfway through the parking lot, I lost my grip (on the bottles, the mind was already long gone!), and they rolled every which way as I chased them. Two more blew, so I carried the remaing five inside to thaw out.

Good grief, I'm either the Queen of Comedy or suffering from bad kharma. And somedays, it feels like a combination of both. Somedays I feel stuck, paraylzed by circumstances, and wonder who in the world would want to be around some wacky lady who blows up pop bottles and uses air freshner as a beauty accessory! Who indeed? Even more, what does that goofy dingbat chasing down fast rolling pop bottles as they head under parked cars and behind trees.... what does she have to offer to the people of God? Do they even want Ms. AirFreshner Head teaching them?

When those kind of thoughts are rolling around in my head as fast as those pop bottles rolled down the pavement, it is exactly the time to stop and actually find renewal and refreshment. God's House is a great place to start. Being in a Sunday School Class, a Small Group, a Bible Study, or in worship service are exactly where to go when renewal is needed. These places lift you up when you are down, connect you with fellow believers, which in turn, plugs you in more deeply into God's love and grace.

I sat in on a Sunday School Class today that was talking about choices we have in the way we view life. The Scripture was dealing with Moses leading the Israelites out of Eygpt, with all of their fears, doubts, and worries. We found them stopped in front of the Red Sea. God had been leading them, and we see Moses facing forward, anticipating what God will do for them next. We see all the Israelites, with panic in their hearts as they watch the approaching army which Eygpt has sent after them. The Israelities looking back see death and destruction. Moses looking forward sees miracles, hope, and life. God does part the Red Sea, and the Israelites are led through, by moving forward they find renewal in their lives.

I shared with the class a brief story from the book "God Psychiatry" by Charles Allen. In it, he gives an illustration of two men who had both gone to New York City, now meeting together and sharing the stories of their experience. The first man said it was a horrible experience, with wickedness and depravity on every street. He said that everywhere you turned, you would see hookers and drug dealers, and that the city itself was dirty and depressed. He could not imagine ever wanting to return. The second fellow had something entirely different to report. He could not get over all the magnificent museums with great works of art, the many fine restaurants, fabulous stores, and other wonderful sights, like the Statue of Liberty. He thought he would need a lengthy visit in order to hit all the places he wanted to see.

Two different men, two vastly different viewpoints. How do we get to that point? Which guy are we, the one who saw the trash, and the guy who saw all the treasure, all the potential? I won't be a "pollyanna" and act as if there are no problems or griefs to bear in the this world, however I would like to adopt the model of the second man who saw all the good there was to see. You can still acknowledge the bad in the world without diminishing your character when you embrace the positives.

God, we ask for your precious humor to carry us through the crazy days of life that involve mistakes and spills and broken places. We ask that You would renew our spirits and minds, so that using your eyes, we might see through anothers' pain and lift their arms to steady them as they continue to walk. Praise God, that although static may make our hair feel stuck, or our feet to feel immobilized, that you help us to lift our feet and move once more.

Thank you for your many blessings Lord. It is well with my soul.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Celebrating Hannakah

I celebrated Hannakah for the first time ever, on December 25. Yes, that is Christmas Day, and I have always celebrated it AS Christmas Day. This year, however, December 25 was different for me. I knew I wasn't going to have my children, and while I am blessed with many good folks in my life, any number of whom would have welcomed me into their celebration with their own family, I didn't want to spend the 25th doing "Christmas".

Instead, I spent the day with some very dear friends who are Jewish. What a neat opportunity to not only be with people I love, who helped ease the ache of not being with my daughters, but to also learn about another tradition. I heard how Hannakah came to be, as told by a child (one of the best kind of teachers!), helped light a minorah, and participated in singing traditional Hannakah songs.

I must confess however, that the absolute neatest part was getting to wear the fun Hannakah glasses! It was totally amazing! The glasses looked like the 3-D kind that you get from the movie theater, and once we all had them on, we turned out the lights and looked at the minorah candles. Where the lights were at the tip, gleamed with the Star of David! We walked to the front door and looked out upon the street, and all the lights were transformed into Stars. It was absolutely incredible. My friends are wonderful to have included me in their celebration. They even let me take a pair of the glasses home with me! I've enjoyed putting them on as I've looked for the Star of David in my home lights.

What if we could have special glasses for every day? What if we had the ability to use a special lense with which to see the light inside of others? What would we see? Would we see their "stars"? Would we see their abilities and their unique characteristics? What if we were privileged with the sight of their pain, their wounds, their fears? If we had that kind of insight, how would we treat one another? Would it make us more compassionate, more understanding, more forgiving?

As I sit here in the darkness, gazing at my own candlelight, miraculously observing the Star of David that has appeared, I am mindful of the lens with which Christ our Savior observes me. Christ can see into my soul. He sees my character. He sees who I am when no one else is looking. And amazingly, He loves me anyway! He takes away all my sin and my shame, and He sees what I may become. He sees the star power within me and He lights up my world.

My prayer for tonight is that He will touch my eyes, so that when I look at others, I will see past their outer being, see past the words that may hurt or the attitude that may hold others at arms length. May I look at them with eyes of love and compassion, and reflect to them the love of Christ.