Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas gift to you... a recipe and a post where I use the word "delicious" a lot of times!

A fool-proof recipe - my gift to you
I was blessed with the most fabulous of grandmothers... A country mouse and a city mouse who had mad skillz in the garden and in the kitchen. I loved my maternal grandmother, Grandmother Martin – a teacher who wrote sonnets and painted, but had more access to my dad's mother, Grandmother Sneed, who lived in our same town. We had countless meals at her grandmotherly abode: piles of fried chicken, stacks of ham, vats of butterbeans, gobs of buttery sweet corn pudding, mountains of fluffy yeast rolls, acres of pie... and one thing we could always count on when she cooked for us was her famous macaroni and cheese.
GM Martin

It was so gooey and delicious that I was stunned when I learned that her recipe for macaroni and cheese was simply... macaroni. and. cheese. That is, layers of cooked macaroni and sharp cheddar cheese. She must have had magic hands or something, though, because I had very little luck when I tried to recreate it. Or very little skill, more like.

GM Sneed
If you haven't gathered by now from my constant self-deprecating remarks, I am not a great cook. I do okay, but I won't be entering any contests at the State Fair anytime soon. Or ever. I'm about as domestic as... a cheetah.

Recently, though, I did find a fantastic recipe for macaroni and cheese. It's no "Grandmother Sneed's" but it's pretty freakin' delicious. It comes from Norma Jean Darden, who is a former model, restaurateur and caterer up in New York... and as a Christmas gift to you... I'm going to share this recipe with you. It is delicious, decadent, and it never fails:
It's served here.

Norma Jean Darden's Mac 'n' Cheese
(makes approximately 6 servings)

2 cups dry macaroni
2 teaspoons salt
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 9" X 13" baking dish.
3. Cook the pasta in boiling water with the two teaspoons salt until al dente. Drain and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and whisk in the evaporated milk until well blended. Add 2 cups of the cheese, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, melted butter. and cooked pasta.
5. Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Top it evenly with the remaining cup of cheddar cheese.
6. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the custard has set and the cheese on top turns golden brown.

Merry Christmas, you beautiful people!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

This is me, feeling free...

So… here I am finally getting around to adding an entry to this here blog. I've been working and working and working and working… and trying to get the house ready for company… and for Christmas… It's a lot for one little woman to do. 

Anyway, I have two things to prattle on about… 

1. As a follow-up to the last post regarding the meaning of the word "neighbor"… well, I did have another thought… which doesn't render my first thought invalid – it's just an additional way of looking at it. Now, while writing the previous entry, I did a bit of research. On the internet, of course, but research nonetheless. I don't just spout out stuff without looking into it! I wanted to know what other people were saying about this famous story... and I found out that 3rd century theologian Origen had this convoluted allegory all worked out:
The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.*
Apparently a lot of people bought what Origen was selling, so maybe he had something there. I find it a bit too … something… I'm not exactly sure what. Too… explicit? Too specific? Too…? I mean, do the wounds really signify disobedience? Is the beast really the Lord's body? I don't know. I like my analogies a bit looser than that... 

I do, though, find it entertaining and informative to equate the Good Samaritan to Jesus. Like this: In another place Jesus says of the Pharisees: "They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." (Matthew 23:4) Conversely, He says of Himself, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

So, it's like he's saying, "Those guys are not going to lift one finger to help you. They won't… and they can't. I AM the one who can and WILL help you. They're just going to walk on by, but I'm gonna pick you up and save your life and pay your way." 

(As a weird aside, one time the Pharasees actually called Jesus a Samaritan! In John 8, they said, "The Jews answered him, "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?")

Another way too look at it is this: what if the guy in the ditch represents Jesus? I mean, in the parable of the sheep and the goats on Matthew 25, he says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." The "I" in this is the king in the story, but it is clear that he is speaking of Himself. So… if we look at it that way, did the priest and Levite give Jesus the time of day? Of course not! Did the Samaritan? Well, yeah! And, really, that's the kind of following Jesus attracted – hookers, tax collectors – you know, the rabble! "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-11) Yes, please!

Yeah, I photoshopped this – the 
CH News wouldn't print such a thing!
2. Okay, so the other thing I was going to say is that last year I wrote this blog about how I was nervous to have a blatantly Christian article published in the local paper in our decidedly left-leaning town. Of course nothing bad happened… in fact I actually got one or two head-swelling comments on it.

And I'd just like to say that this year's Christmas-themed column in the Chapel Hill News is even MORE Christian-y!! It has a LOT of Jesus and heaven and stuff in it! And I'm not a bit nervous! Not because it turned out well the first time… but because… well… I guess the doing something you've never done before is bound to be a bit scary. 

This year, though, I'm like - Whatever, man. JESUS. In Galatians Paul says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1) So this is me, feeling free… 

Well, that's all I've got right now. It's good to be back.

*Origen, Homily 34.3, Joseph T. Lienhard, trans., Origen: Homilies on Mark, Fragments on Mark (1996), 138.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Feel Free to Say, "Um... What?"

The Good Samaritan
A while back, I wrote a sort of rambling confused piece about the famous parable of the Good Samaritan (click here to read it), in which I pondered this question: “Who is my neighbor?” The parable, found in Luke 10, is actually Jesus’s response to that very question... but as with a lot of things Jesus said, I find the answer more confusing than the question!

Anyway, after writing that crazy thing, it suddenly came to me... an answer to satisfy my "Um... what?" I'm going to try to lay it out for you here, but I honestly don't know how clear it will be. That is to say, feel free to also say, "Um... what?"

To recap, the whole thing starts when a guy asks Jesus “How do I get eternal life?” So Jesus says, “What does the law say?” And the guy says, “"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, (Deuteronomy 6:5); and your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)."” Then Jesus says, “You are correct, sir!”

But… of course the guy can’t leave it there… the Message translation says that he was “looking for a loophole!” Anyway, he’s like, “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe he thought there should be a limit to the amount and scope of people he was required to love… So then Jesus tells this long story:
Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?"
He said, "He who showed mercy on him."
Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
What I have always found confusing about this is this: if you think about it, The man says, “Who is my neighbor?” (as in, “who do I have to love?”) and Jesus doesn't say that the neighbor is the one who needs your help – ie. the guy in the ditch. No, it says, that the neighbor was the one who HELPED the guy in the ditch. Um. What? I mean, wasn't the question sort of... who do I have to help? It just seems sort of flip-flopped to me.

"Won't you be my neighbor?"
In my previous blog, I sort of picked it apart and pondered over it, drawing no sound conclusion. Here, now, is the idea that invaded much later when my crazy mind was at rest:

And it’s that being a neighbor is a STATE OF MIND… and the helpful Samaritan actually lived in this state of mind. That is to say, there was no question for him about whether or not the guy in the ditch was or was not in his “jurisdiction.” Unlike the priest and Pharisee who were hanging out in their home state of disgust… fear and loathing… legalism and laziness… busy-ness and haste.

See what I mean? The weird thing is that the guy who was picking Jesus’ brain seemed to understand that all the little details of the law had an overarching spirit, and that this spirit was love… yet he still felt the need to figure out how he measured up.

And I have to say, I have felt his pain. It sure is a lot more convenient to have clear demarcations… specific instructions… Like when you’re on a diet – it’s a lot easier to have all the foods laid out on a menu plan than to just kind of wing it and all the time you’re wondering in the back of your head if you’ve eaten too much. People like me - we LIKE specific rules… so we’ll know if we’re hitting the mark.

A diet plan... much easier than guessing.
But I’ve got good news for us nitpicking legalists... First, there IS a clear demarcation… and it’s shaped exactly like a cross. And Jesus DID give a specific instruction… He said, “Believe in me.” And that’s really all there is to it. It’s completely easy.

However, it’s also difficult. I mean, you can’t lean on the picky little rules anymore. You can’t be the priest walking by the guy in the ditch who’s thinking, “If I touch that guy, I’ll be unclean,” or the pharisee hurrying by because he’s late for the class he’s teaching. No... now you’ve opened yourself up to that “neighbor” state of mind*… and the only boundary is Jesus Himself and His love and amazing grace.

*Now, as to how to achieve this state of mind... well... I'm still working on that. Paul tells the Romans to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." To which, I say, "Um.... what?"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Your Knees, Boy

Soul Asylum
So finally we come to the end of this epic journey (sic) through Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union. Was it good for you? Frankly, I'm a little tired. But this song… it's sooooo sweet! It's about… well… i think it's about … humility … and the humbler gifts… Click on the title and take a listen.


Tell me how you get that shine
You must polish all the time
Though I know your job is thankless
They will thank you up in heaven

Oh, the Sun Maid
Looking for the shade
The Sun Maid

Though they say she's not too bright
She takes care of all the light
Without you it's cold and stark
We would all be in the dark

Without the Sun Maid
Looking for the shade
She never gets paid
The Sun Maid

You are so taken for granted
WIth each and every seed that's planted
And the earth is so demanding
All the young girls are out tanning

With the Sun Maid
She's such and old maid
She never gets laid
I owe the Sun Maid

Now you're tired, your day is over
Now the moon is one day older

Oh, the Sun Maid...
It's… a song about moms! Or, more specifically, those who do the grunt work. Wiping noses and little tiny bottoms, cleaning and putting food on the table… I mean, the world needs its movie stars and astronauts and brain surgeons… but it also needs teachers, nurses and moms. And this song is an ode to these unnoticed, (hitherto) unsung heroes. 
A lot of the book of I Corinthians is Paul talking about all the different spiritual gifts people can have – teaching, preaching, miracles, healing, tongues, discernment… 

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (I Corinthians 12:4)
He has this great analogy about how the church is like a body. And all the parts are needed. The people with the humbler gifts (wiping asses, for instance) should not think less of themselves, nor should those around them.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (I Corinthians 12:24-25)
Therese of Lisieux said it this way:
"If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose,
spring would lose its loveliness."
She called the way of humility
"the little way."
This chapter is followed by I Corinthians 13, the classic wedding reading chapter about love… the point being that no matter what awesome superpower you have… if you don't have love… what good is it?

Now the Sun Maid… she's not all flashy and in your face – she's just hanging out, making things warm and shiny. Nobody notices her, but she's comes up faithfully every day… whether we notice or acknowledge her or not.

She's like one of those people Jesus talks about in his famous Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

Bono, kneeling.
He goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven belongs to these people. "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…" (Matthew 5:12)

My own psyche is a mix of pride and humility and teeth grinding resentment. Warranted or not, I can be a bit proud of my writing at times. On the other hand, for about three years, one of my jobs in life was the actual wiping of feces from my child's behind. I never resented it, as my joy in motherhood greatly eclipsed any humiliation I might have felt. I do, though, sometimes find myself resenting some of the other humbler tasks that are part of being me… such as cleaning toilets. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

Tell me how you
get that shine...
What I'm getting at is that … when I am down on my knees scrubbing a skanky bowl… it is at these times that I can remember the Sun Maid and the promise of heaven to the humble and humiliated. A certain surrender of pride and self concept may, in fact, be vital to my access heaven... as to accept Christ is to deny my own righteousness... As Bono says, "If you want to kiss the sky / Better learn how to kneel."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Grass is Blue

She loves rock 'n roll ...
and so do I!
As you may have ascertained by now... like Joan Jett, I love me some rock and roll. I have since I was maybe 12 years old and realized that there was more to music than the Osmonds. But far into my life, my husband turned me on to bluegrass – and I was delighted to find that it pushes my buttons too, in very different ways. So here we have...

10 Reasons I Love Bluegrass:

1. It's twangy! Like vinegary easter NC barbecue sauce or Greek yogurt! Tasty and good for you. The banjos, the mandolins, the high lonesome vocals… Some people find it irritating, I know, but it plucks my strings. It's artful, soulful, and shiver-inducing.

Nathan Stanley has been playing with 
his "Papaw" since he was yea big.
2. I love harmony singing. While Gregorian chants and solo singing have much to recommend them, I truly get off on a harmonic blend of complementary tones. I'm not a great singer, but I can never resist trying out my own variations on songs at church on or on the radio. It's a shame that I can't harmonize with myself! (I actually used to know a guy who could hum and whistle at the same time, and harmonize with himself!)

3. The skills. There are plenty of extremely talented musicians performing rock and roll… but BLUEGRASS? You pretty much HAVE to know your stuff. You can't fake it with three power chords and an anthemic chorus. 

I was a townie, but my dad grew up here.
4. It's a family affair. The Louvin Brothers. The Osborne Brothers. The Stanley Brothers. The Carter Family. Doc and Merle Watson. This particular brand of music is populated with bands who are related to each other. I saw Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys the other night and who was with him? His son AND his grandson. Sibling rivalry was intense in some of these groups, but in the case of the Stanleys last night… I saw nothing but love.

Guys in suits!
5. It resonates with my country soul. Yes, my dad was a dentist, my SAH mom a former art teacher. We lived in town and wore preppy clothes… belonged to the local country club, and even went to private school for a while. But you know what? My mother's father came from Virginia peanut farmers, and my dad came directly from a tobacco farm in Granville County. So I was a townie, through and through… even though I would occasionally, as small child, spend time at my grandparents' farm in the summers. They lived out on a dirt road, and I have vague memories of my grandmother cooking huge mid-day meals on her big iron stove for the farm workers. 

Guys in Nudie suits!
That is all to say that them there's my real roots. And though my experience is indirect at best, the music of the rural South rings a bell deep in my soul. A couple of weeks ago, Tom, Bill and I went to the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual convention and I encountered people from all over the world who love this homey, musical art. It's not hard to imagine how it might speak to someone from, say, the British Isles. I mean, that's where it came from to begin with, right? But I had to wonder… what does bluegrass mean to someone from, say, Japan? or Sweden? I don't know.

Does that sound weirdly racist? I hope not! I just know that when I hear it, I feel like am hearing the lives of my people. What do they hear? The lives of hardworking rural people everywhere? (As an aside, when I hear a song that narrates a story, I always picture it playing it out in black and white - enacted by people who look like they could be the members of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show... or maybe the people in my parents' old photos.)

Del McCoury and his
perfect pompadour
6. The clothes. OMG. Guys in suits! Sure some of the whippersnappers like Sam Bush act like every day is casual day, but a lot of those guys wear SUITS. It's classy. Or if they're a bit flash, they might don a Nudie suit, like Jim Lauderdale, or something sparkly like Nathan Stanley wears. It's ALL good.

7. The hair. Don't get me started about the hair, man. Del McCoury, Ralph Stanley and his grandson Nathan… These guys really know how to bouf it up, a la Conway Twitty. It's nostalgic… it's retro… or it's just how they've been styling their hair since they first got it!

8. The humility. Now, I've heard tall tales about Ricky Skaggs being kind of a jerk, but I have no way to confirm that. Maybe it's just malicious gossip… and Ralph Stanley? Well, he can be a bit of a grouch at times. But he's allowed, because he's ancient. In general I've found bluegrass musicians – of the old guard, anyway, to be gracious, humble, sweet… and pretty dang accessible. The manners their mommas taught them are on display for all to see. The other night the Clinch Mountain boys and also Ralph Jr. practically begged us to like them. Of course there was no need for that – we already did! 
This photo of Dewey Brown
of the Clinch Mountain Boys
and me illustrates points 8 AND 9!

And how many rock concerts have you attended that were followed by a meet-and-greet that wasn't part of a fancy expensive "deluxe" ticket package? This is NOT how bluegrass works, my friend. No, you'll find these guys lined up after the show with Sharpies at the ready. Of course they'd love you to buy something, but they'll sign anything you hand them… with gentlemanly charm.

9. It makes me feel young and pretty. Yes, there are young, attractive bluegrass musicians. And, yes, I like looking at young, attractive guys. On the other hand, I also have the sick tendency to look at young, attractive people and think, "Dang, I'm a lumpy old lady." But your average bluegrass musicians? Well they mostly likely just look like regular folks in their Sunday best – maybe with a flashy hat. And I like that. It's a comfortable perspective from which to view the world.
Hooch is definitely a
suitable topic for
bluegrass songs...

10. Saturday Night/Sunday morning. Yeah, bluegrass might be a family affair, but sometimes it's not exactly family fare. You see, the subject matter, well… it doesn't shy away from the underbelly of rural life – dark murders, cheating hearts, jail time and the production and consumption of whiskey... Those topics are not off limits in this genre, and I find them particularly fascinating. Though my people were mostly mild mannered Baptists, I can't help but think I've been granted a peek into their culture – the culture of the rural South. are church, Jesus, heavenly shores, 
and dearly departed mamas.
And speaking of Baptists… A large segment of bluegrass music is devoted to songs about Jesus and heaven and stuff like that – you know, the stuff I love. Seeing a good old country boy in a suit singing heartfelt songs about His Savior is a powerful soul stirrer for me. I always picture people who have worked incredibly hard all their lives and are yearning for the rest of heaven... And as a 51-year-old mom, I can completely dig that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Hundred Percent of the Time, with memes!

Are we there yet?! Ha! Just two more songs to go to spiritualize from Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union album! I am tempted to spit it out quickly and move on... and maybe I'll try that... (although you know that's probably not going to happen) Anyway... click on the title to hear the beautiful cacophony that is this song!


I don't own you
But I know you're mine
Never disown you
Never treat you unkind
But once in awhile you get on my nerves
Once in a while you get what you deserve
I need you ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time

If I asked you what's on your mind
Would you say me
Would they be thoughts unkind
Once in a while I'm not myself
Once in a while I think you're someone else
I want you ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time

Let's move in together
Happily ever after

I can't touch you
But you feel so f*cking fine
Let's just stay like this
And waste some more time
Once in a while you get in my way
Once in a while you know I gotta say
I love ya ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine per cent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time
Ninety-nine percent of the time

Sooo... my main point about this, is that human hearts and minds are so changeable. Here's a line from Jeremiah: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) And in I Kings, Elijah questions the people's inconstancy: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” I Kings 18:21) James says "the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:6)

If you're human – and I assume you are – you don't need me or the Bible to tell you that we are illogical, inconsistent and inconstant. And that's just on a regular day. On top of that, maybe we are not behaving our best because we're hungry, angry, lonely or tired... Heck when I had anorexia, I was a holy terror to the people I worked with. Just ask my husband, who just happened to have a desk pretty close to mine at the time. And now that I'm entering... um... that magical time called menopause... I'm thinking my hormones will bring out a whole new level of evil in my moods. 

And the singer of this song says that "once in a while," or more specifically ONE percent of the time, he is not able to whip up the affection and kindness due the person he's addressing. In my case, those numbers are more than a little off. In fact, I find that kindness is one of the more challenging aspects of the Christian life. I bet that more than once, you've met a person and thought, "I can't believe that a-hole is a Christian" or something similar. 

Bet the people in my house think that about me every single day... and I am not exaggerating a bit. Because it's especially hard to maintain an attitude of consistent calm and sweetness with those directly around me. I mean, they're always THERE! People I just see every now and then are easy to be nice to... it's those that occupy my living space that get the crap end of my humanity.

In the New Testament, Paul has to remind the folks he's writing to over and over to just be nice to each other. That's what we're like and there you have my first point. And my second point is ... that while we may be super mercurial, God is the absolute opposite. Here are some scriptures to go with that assertion: 

"God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Numbers 23:19)
"God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”" (Hebrews 13:5)
and how 'bout this classic:

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Here's my favorite – before Jesus went up into heaven, he said to his friends:

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I am sure there are a bunch more verses about God's unchanging faithfulness – it's one of His defining characteristics, after all... but I think I've made my point – There is no 99 percent about it. He is 100 percent love, 100 percent of the time. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Will I Ever Ever Ever Get Over It?

Soul Asylum
Not too many songs left in our quest to pull God out of Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union album... Here's the next one: (Click on the link to hear the song.)

You never grow out of mischief making
You never grow out of taking
You never grow out of complicating
When simple things are waiting
I'm growing into you
I'm growing into you

There's one thing that I know
That's perfectly clear
You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear

You never grow out of contemplating
When it ain't worth debating
You never grow out of mistake making
You never grow out of faking
But I'm growing into you
I'm growing into you

There's one thing that I know
That's perfectly clear
You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear

I'm growing into you
I'm growing into you
There's one thing that I know
That's perfectly clear
You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear

You never grow out of fear
You never grow out of fear
You never, never grow out of fear
And will I ever, ever, ever
Get over it, get over it

This heavy (but fascinating)
tomewill tell you about
process spirituality.
Well, this one's pretty straightforward, really… I probably don't even have to lay it out for you, right? I will anyway, though, because that's why we're here, right?

It's simply about what I've Ken Boa calls in his book Conformed to His Image "process spirituality." That is, when we are saved, we are saved right away… and completely. But we don't suddenly become perfect and sinless, as I am sure you have observed. No, instead we spend the rest of our lives sort of growing into who we already are in Christ… So while we still might make mischief and mistakes and complicate simple truths, we are also growing into God... It's a done deal, but it's also a process.

Who's the most spiritual
person you know of? That
Gideon at the State Fair?
It's a great song, full of truth... I have to wonder, though, about the singer's assertion that one never grows out of fear. I myself am the owner of many fine fears… but I do wonder if it's possible to be so trusting, and so constantly "in the Spirit" that fear has no place in one's life. Maybe not… I mean, I'm pretty sure one never stops SINNING… hence one's need for grace. So, maybe the guy's right. 

Pat Jacoway?
I mean, think of the oldest, most spiritually developed Christian you know of… Who is it? Billy Graham? Your grandma? That 90-year-old guy who sits just down the pew from you? The elderly Gideon who handed you the tiny Bible at the State Fair? Pat Jacoway? I assure you that this person – who ever he or she is – is NOT sinless. And they KNOW it. Old people go to church NOT because they're perfect… but because (besides the fact it's probably part of their raisin') they are intensely aware of their need for grace.

Remember that story about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery? 
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. 
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8)
My point in mentioning this lovely story is that it was the OLDER dudes who knew they didn't have it together. Likewise, the older I get, the more aware I am of my crappiness. BUT my heightened awareness of my crappiness also increases my tendency (and need) to acknowledge God's grace. I am forced to TRUST Him to be the righteousness that I lack. 

Not scared of these anymore...
And you know what trust is? The opposite of fear. And while I am still plenty afraid, I have noticed some of my fears waning with as I age. Such as my fear of french fries (ie. getting fat). Yeah, that's gone. In fact, I am totally the opposite of afraid of french fries. On the other hand, I do have new fears like, "What if I ruin my kid?" or "What if my business stops being lucrative?" My head knows that the remedy for these kinds of fears … just happens to be trust… trusting God with my kid and my business. But my heart knows that this is easier said than done. That's why you gotta kinda grow into it. 

I do sometimes fear I'll
ruin this guy, though!
But can you grow so far into it that you grow out of fear? John says "Perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18) Maybe if you so completely understand God's love for you... you stop being afraid? 

As you can see, I'm just puzzling this out as I type. In my interpretation, the singer of this song asserts that he is growing into God, but he is sure fear will be his lifelong companion… or will it? He still wonders in the end… "And will I ever, ever, ever get over it?" And my thought is…  that my life in God is a PROCESS… I just have to keep growing into Him… As John the Baptist said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30) The end result is up to God. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

I joined the Grave Dancers Union

Soul Asylum
Well... I've been a bit busy, as you may have guessed from the long stretches between posts... But my enthusiasm for this series (waxing spiritual over Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union album one song at a time) has not waned, though yours might have! Not to worry, though - only four songs left! Anyway, here's our next song (click on the title to hear the track):

Without A Trace

I fell in love with a hooker
She laughed in my face
So seriously I took her
I was a disgrace
I was out of line
I was out of place
Out of time to save face
See the open mouth of my suitcase
Saying leave this place
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace

I tried to get a good job with honest pay
I might as well join the mob
The benefits are okay
Standing in the sun with a popsicle
Everything is possible
With a lot of luck and a pretty face
And some time to waste
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace
Leave without a trace

I tried to dance at a funeral New Orleans style
I joined the Grave Dancers Union
I had to file
Trying to do the right thing play it straight
The right thing changes from state to state
Don't forget to take your mace
If you're out walking late
I liked to see your face
You left without a trace
Leave without a trace


This song proved to be a special challenge to me... Its meaning isn't really clear... to me, anyway... It's maybe about a guy who does dumb, embarrassing things that make him want to disappear... which I totally identify with... and then I realized that the guy in the first verse – the one who fell in love with a hooker – could be the prophet Hosea... who, famously, married a prostitute. BUT the thing is... GOD told him to do it! (When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” Hosea 2:2)
Jonah, pre-whale.

And then I thought... Sometimes God requires things of us that don't make sense (like standing in the sun with a popsicle?) and might even embarrass us. Yes, I admit that even though I love God and, like Paul, am not ashamed of the gospel... I am not spiritually advanced enough to NOT feel embarrassed sometimes. And yes, sometimes I want to run away... like the prophet Jonah did when God told him to go preach hellfire and damnation to the baby-eating Ninevites. First, Jonah probably thought they would kill him. Second, he really didn't want them to repent and be saved... so what did he do? He got on a boat and sailed the opposite way. He left "without a trace."

I wrote in this blog entry about times I felt like God was actually telling me specific things, and you might think that's several shades of crazy, but the fact remains, it was very real to me. And some of those times, the thing God was asking of me were NOT easy... and I DID want to flee... to disappear without a trace. Like when He "told" me – a fearful former anorexic – to stop exercising for a while. Or that time He prodded me relentlessly in the middle of a weekend road trip to break up with the super nice guy I was with RIGHT AWAY... nearly 300 miles from home.

Conversely, doing normal expected things like getting a good job with honest pay (second verse) – while not WRONG, per se – can be pointless if God is asking you to do something else. You might as well join the mob, right? For instance, sailing to Tarshish wasn't a wrong in itself, but God had asked Jonah to go to Ninevah... which landed him right in whale's gut. As Jonah found out, God has His ways of getting His way. IF we decide to listen to Him. And believe me, I have tried at times to shut Him out. Not a good idea. I may not have ended up in the belly of a whale, but it's never a good scene.
A funeral? Let's dance!

Anyway, as for the last verse... dancing at a funeral "New Orleans style" may not make sense to people either... it only makes sense if you actually believe that death is not the end... that there's something better ahead for that person's soul... As Christians, we have joined the union of folks who choose to set our eyes on heaven – union with God forever. And that might sound like a load of hooey to some people.

I guess the point is, God sometimes calls us to step out of the ordinary and do things that might make people point and laugh at us. And while there are general rules like the Ten Commandments and the general laws of love and grace, there's really no rule about these kinds of things (the right thing changes from state to state)... God just sometimes has His own ideas about what you should do, and you probably should just go with it. 
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways    and my thoughts than your thoughts.(Isaiah 55:8-9)

And in my experience, if God is in it, it's going to turn out much better than you ever imagined...*

*"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:21)