Monday, April 26, 2010

Evidence That Demands a Verdict

I arrived home from work around 5:00pm to an unexpected sound: the washing machine running. Considering the trouble we were having a few weeks ago before we got our replacement washer, you will understand when I tell you that my first thought was one of dread: Has that washer been running ALL DAY since I left for work this morning!? That's like ten hours straight! And then, Wait a second... I didn't start any wash this morning. Did I?

Considering my fragile mental state most mornings, I couldn't be quite sure that I hadn't. Still puzzling over the problem, I dumped my school stuff on the table and stomped across our minuscule kitchen to the laundry room, where I discovered that my ears did not deceive me: the washer was indeed cycling, completely empty and with the lid up.

I didn't have far to look for further evidence that my sister had been home in the middle of the day.

Kitchen evidence:
  • Bottle of vanilla extract on the counter and cookie sheet in the sink.
  • Mysterious crumbs on the counter nearest the dishwasher, as if someone stood there eating warm, crumbly cookies straight from the oven and then failed to clean up after herself.
  • Three (3!) open/empty soup cans left sitting upright on the bar, still inside a plastic shopping bag, as if someone had carried them in from her car but has chosen not to throw them away... yet.
Living-room evidence:
  • Computer plugged back in (disconnected everything this morning before leaving for work due to the aaaaaaaaah!-tons-of-lightning-and-thunder! that accompanied my dash out to the car).
  • Headphones plugged into the laptop as if someone has been watching Dr. Who reruns.
  • TV/DVD remotes on the sofa, rather than stacked up on the entertainment center where I normally keep them.
  • The broken (and Scotch-taped) slat in our horizontal blinds hanging askew: compelling evidence that someone other than me opened/shut the blinds last.
But the most telling clue of all: we are out of cold Cokes in the fridge!

EDIT: Sister says the soup cans are for VBS crafts, the cookies were gross, the vanilla bottle is empty and needs to be washed out, she hasn't touched the blinds, I never put the remotes away, and that she knows that she - for sure - shut the washer off before she went back to work. So go figure.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Thing About Camping

Packing Up to Go Home

This past weekend my sister and I helped take the youth group camping at a nearby state park. The weekend's activities included canoeing, hiking, card games, wood chopping, whittling, midnight geocaching, jumping, cooking over open flames, scrubbing pots with handfuls of sand (because we'd forgotten the scrubbers), storytelling around the campfire, and very little sleep.

The thing about camping (and let's get this straight: by camping I mean tenting) is that I've never really enjoyed it, possibly because nearly every time I've camped in the past ten years, I've been responsible for hordes of teenagers. But it's not just that. It's the late-night walks to the bath house, the spiders' webs that I never see until it's too late, the bug bites, and my special knack for always choosing the part of the tent directly over the most lumpy area of ground for my bedroll.

I'm not a novice in such situations. After all, I spent an entire summer living in a tent when I was sixteen. But let's face it. I'm not sixteen any more.

And I'm all for roughing it... you know, if we have to. Like, if there's some global catastrophe, and it's the only way of survival left available to us. Or if we're suddenly punted back in time and we find ourselves along the actual Oregon Trail. (Just a side note: it was decided this weekend that while my sister would not only survive but thrive in such a situation, I would die immediately of yellow fever.)

Not that I don't think camping is an important experience: I do. Why else would I take groups of teenagers camping each year, prying them away from their cell phones, game systems, Facebooks, and distracting modern conveniences in order to experience massive amounts of fresh air and (sometimes dangerous) close encounters with nature? Who hasn't experienced that rare blend of exhaustion and emotional clarity that can only be brought on by blending a lack of sleep with an overabundance of fresh air?

As I dragged myself home yesterday afternoon, reeking of woodsmoke and Off!, I thought about how different adult life has turned out to be from what I'd expected.

Most of us assume that when we grow up, we'll only do the things we want to do, and we'll be able to stop doing all the things we're forced to do when we're younger (such as go camping when we'd much rather stay at home for the weekend and be comfortable). We eventually learn, though, that some of the most important things we will ever do in life are the things that we do when we feel least like doing them, especially when we do those things for the best possible reasons.

But before I wax philosophical for the rest of the post, allow me to share with you several memorable moments of the weekend:
  • Two of the girls misheard my directions and thought I told them that if they had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and take a buddy with them, they would have to take a bunny. They really thought I said this at first, too, because while one girl was saying "What bunny?" another was saying, "Where are we supposed to get a bunny?"
  • One of the girls and I were walking along a bike trail in the middle of the night (slightly separated from the group while geocaching) when suddenly we heard a noise in the palmettos to our right. The next thing I knew, I was completely alone on the path. I've never seen a girl run so far so quickly.
  • While on the same bike path, another leader and I were walking in front of the group and came across two snakes slithering across our path. While the kids clumped up behind the leaders and acted, you know, like kids, I yelled, "Don't worry, I'll get it!!!" and started jumping up and down on a twig that was on the ground really close to the snakes. The kids didn't react, but the other leaders laughed... AT me. (Disclaimer: I was really, really tired at that point.)
  • We hid from the kids, jumped out, and scared them so badly that one fell over completely.
  • One of the girls killed a huge spider in the bath house by throwing a huge trash can across the room at it. Classy.
  • I dropped a piece of bacon on the ground while cooking over the skillet. Not my best moment, but one worth noting.
  • Also, this weekend I decided that I want to learn to throw knives. We'll see what happens with that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Look, Part II

Below is an exchange with a friend prompted by this post: The Look.

J: In the Simon/fish story, do you note that even though The Look forces Simon to action that he still doesn't do it with a willing heart? Jesus asked Simon to let down his NETS--plural--and Simon halfheartedly led down a NET--singular. Because he did not trust Jesus fully, he suffered loss as the net could not hold all the fish and was damaged. If Simon had obeyed, he would have had a wondrous catch, and his net would not have suffered. Simon's obedience was not complete.

I'm not picking on Simon, as he had worked hard all night and was most likely very tired. However, he lost the fullness of blessing Jesus had for him because he was unbelieving.

And I do believe The Look happened right at the colon, too!

I've often considered Jesus had The Look when speaking to the mob who wanted to stone the woman caught in sexual sin.

R: What an excellent point. I hadn't considered that.

Yes! The Look MUST have accompanied the writing-on-the-ground episode, and don't you just want to know exactly what it was that he wrote? That has been a much- debated point in this apartment.

I also believe that Jesus laid The Look on the crowd that wanted to cast Him off the cliff and stone Him at the beginning of His ministry. I've always pictured The Look causing them to step back and part for Him to "pass through the midst of them," although Bethany thinks I am wrong. She thinks that as they reached out to grasp Him, He allows them to grasp hold of each other instead of Him, and He leaves them wrestling, cartoon-like, as He passes through the crowd and on His way.

J: I've heard it said that Jesus wrote down the sins of the men involved, but I've never reconciled myself to that scenario. Wouldn't that have inflamed the mob and made them want to silence Him? There would have been angry outbursts and denials rather than a slipping away. Perhaps Jesus outlined the sins of their loved ones who could have serious repercussions if they received what they deserved without mercy--doing so without naming them but stating it in such a way that each man knew in his heart of hearts what He was talking about.

I'm more inclined to Bethany's view when it comes to the murderous crowd. The Look is highly effective when used upon loved ones--those who care about your opinion--and upon those under your authority. I would think angry mobs would be immune to The Look. Also, mobs come from all sides at a person, and Jesus wouldn't have had a 360° stare. Or would He?

Someday, we shall have these answers!

R: That's true about The Look. Whatever the explanation, it was due less to a display of power or of avoidance than it was that His time had not yet come.

* * * *

And also this:

N: and oh, the yearning of His heart in the words
in Mark 10:21 >

> '... And Jesus, *looking at him, loved him*,
and said to him,... one thing ...'

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Look

Anyone who has ever been a teacher (or a parent) can attest to the power of The Look. Indeed, even those who have only had teachers and parents will be equally willing to admit that there are certain looks given by certain people, the mere memory of which still has the power to shoot a dart of panic down the spine.

A study really could be made not just of what Jesus said while He was on earth, but of certain Looks He gave which have been recorded in Scripture. Particularly, Looks He shared with His disciple Simon Peter.

I have to admit that I was a bit baffled a few minutes ago when I went to the first passage that I planned to write about and found no mention of a Look in it. I've come to the conclusion that when I read the passage on my most recent read-through of the Gospels, I must have added The Look as I dramatized it in my mind.

But take a peek and see if you don't sense it too:
Now when he had left speaking, He said unto Simon, "Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught."

And Simon answering said unto him, "Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word, I will let down the net."

And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fish: and their net broke. (Luke 5:4-6)

Now call me imaginative, but I would insert Jesus' look right where the colon sits between nothing and nevertheless. Most people, when the make a statement like Simon's, are trying to talk an authority figure out of the necessity of doing something. They generally make their statement and then trail off, waiting for the other person to change their minds.

"Master, we have toiled all night and taken nothing..."

Here's where Jesus gives him The Look.

You know the Look I mean. It's the same sort of Look I give my 9th graders when they ask me a question, I tell them to read page 72 before asking me again, and they reply that they've "read page 72 already..."

My eyebrow goes up. My lips purse. I can feel my face sort of hardening, becoming as stern and unapproachable as marble. They know what this means. It's... The Look.

From the student will follow a slight roll of the head, a sigh, and then in a resigned, much put-upon tone, "Fine, if you say so. I'll read it again."

Ten seconds later: "Oh, nevermind! It's right here."

That's exactly what I imagine between Jesus and Simon Peter (bless his heart).

Peter: Master, we have toiled all day and taken nothing...

Jesus: *browraise*

(There follows an awkward pause. Other fisherman scuff toes against the deck and pick at fraying nets while Peter stands caught like a deer in the headlights, eyes watering from prolonged contact with The Look.)

Peter: (rushing) ...neverthelessatThywordIwillletdownthenet!

Ten seconds later, we have bursting nets, fish flopping everywhere, and Peter down on his knees in awe of the power of God.

This Look says
...whom do you say that I am?
...have you understood all these things?
...wherefore didst thou doubt?

The second Look is recorded in Luke's gospel, as Jesus was being taken on the night before his Passion to the first of six trials that He would endure before He reached the cross.

All night, He had been agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, finally relying on the spiritual strength of a ministering angel whom God sent to comfort Him when His own disciples fell asleep in the crucial moment.

Just hours before, when He had been meeting with the disciples in the upper room, He foretold of their abandonment. How they would all flee in terror and betray Him. Peter most vehemently denied this, claiming that he would rather lay down his life in order to follow Christ, but Jesus replied that before the rooster crowed (the next morning), Peter himself would have denied Jesus three times.

As you know, after Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the garden, He was first taken first to the house of Annas, father-in-law to Caiaphas, the High Priest. And as He is led to the house, Peter followed afar off. You know the story: As he watched, followed, and waited, three times he was asked if he was a follower of Christ, and three times he made hasty denials.

All the times I'd read this narrative in the past, I'd never noticed what transpired immediatly after his third denial:
...And Peter said, "Man, I know not what thou sayest." And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew.

And the Lord turned and looked on Peter.

And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said unto him, "Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice."

And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.

I should think so. Imagine how such a look would pierce.

This Look says
...are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?
...what, could ye not watch with me one hour?
...wherefore didst thou doubt?

Who would be able to stand before such a Look? Frankly, I am surprised Peter did not go out and hang himself the way Judas did. To have had the Lord look at Him at such a time, in such a way... But for the grace of God, I imagine such a Look would have haunted Peter throughout the rest of His days.

If the Lord manifested His physical presence in our lives on a daily basis, what sort of Looks would we have shared with Him over the course of our lives? What sort of Look would He have given us today?

Ah, for an awareness of such a daily presence. For it is indeed there.

* * * *

But for our blunders -- oh, in shame
Before the eyes of Heaven we fall...
Be merciful to me, a fool.
(Edward Rowland Sill)

"Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face..." (I Cor. 13:13)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lenten Reading

I did not grow up in a church which traditionally encouraged the giving up of things for Lent, but this year I became convicted in my soul that since Jesus gave up everything for me, I should be equally willing to give up something for Him.

And I knew that it would have to be something that mattered to me, otherwise what would be the point?

So I gave up recreational reading. I decided to read only what fostered spiritual development during my off-hours reading time (due to the nature of my job, it is to be understood that I could not give up all non-Spiritual reading altogether).

At first, this felt little more than an exercise, one that seemed to have no other impact on my daily life than that I couldn't read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it; however, the further into the forty days I progressed, the more I realized that this was the very essence of giving up: setting aside my own personal impulses in order to, as Paul puts it, keep under myself and bring myself into subjection. At times, it was much harder than I imagined it would be.

But then within the last week or so, I began to feel the impact of all of the spiritual food really kicking in. Concurrently with reading a Gospel Harmony during my devotions, I was also plowing through a paraphrased version of the works of Josephus. Suddenly, I was making connections like I'd never made them before. The powerful dynamic of the New Testament saga struck me with such force that I found myself up an hour earlier than I needed to be this morning in order to re-read the harmonized account of the Passion Week.

For thoughts, connections, and other spiritual blessings that the Lord bestowed on me this past week, keep your eyes tuned to this site.

For now, I present to you a complete chronology of my Lenten Reading.

Scriptural Readings:
I Corinthians
II Corinthians

General Reading:

Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest, David McCasland
(For review, see here.)

The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
I adore C.S. Lewis's writings not only for the clarity of his prose, but also for the depth to which his words pierce my conscience.

Burden of Truth: Defending the Truth in a World that Doesn't Believe It, Charles W. Colson
As this was written in the 90s, one can expect the examples to be a bit dated (and one would be right), but the message for Christians remains the same: standing up for the truth is our burden.

If, Amy Carmichael
I would venture to say that if a Christian cannot bring himself to read this book all the way through, then he knows nothing of Calvary love. And the task is more difficult than one might think: for me, each page turn seems to uncover a fresh conviction.

The three that struck me during this most recent reading:

"If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting 'Who made thee to differ? and what has thou that thou has not received?' then I know nothing of Calvary love."

"If in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain, and slip under the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

"If I fear to hold another to the highest goal because it is so much easier to avoid doing so, then I know nothing of Calvary love."

Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, T.S. Eliot
To say that I enjoyed reading TS Eliot's essays immensely would be an understatement, but one for which the reader will forgive me. The alternative, of course, would be for me to fly into intellectual raptures which would take reams of paper to relate appropriately. Let me just say that had I read this book ten years ago on the outset of my literary teaching career, my classes may well have turned out completely differently. On the other hand, I was most likely not at that point well read enough to have appreciated the subject matter. If you don't think you're up for the entire collection of essays, I recommend at least reading "Religion and Literature" or his criticisms of Milton and Tennyson.

Oh, and those who are well-read enough to appreciate them will find no shortage of intellectual snubs and jabs. Nobody does the literary burn better than Eliot.

(And those TS Eliot quotes that I was posting a few months ago? All taken from these essays, it would seem. It was a veritable buffet of delectably quotable snippets. Don't worry: you will be seeing much more about him from me in days to come.)

Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, Specially Arranged for Children, William F. Russell
Finished reading these to my class on Friday (we did one per day last quarter) and found these condensed versions to be worthwhile in getting the main stories across without falling into too many rabbit trails (although sometimes the rabbit trails are the best parts of the myths). But to use as an introduction and general overview to Greek and Roman mythology, I say this book was worth what I paid for it.

The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Felt the weight of this one more heavily than the last time that I read it. The book hasn't changed, of course, so that must mean that I have.

Josephus: Thrones of Blood, A History of the Time of Jesus, 37 B.C. to 70 A.D., Edited by Barbour Book Staff
Although my dad recommended the works of Josephus to me YEARS ago, he made the mistake of loaning me his all-in-one edition of The Antiquities of the Jews & The Jewish Wars, complete with eye-watering typefont and prose so dense I'm shocked it hasn't collapsed into a black hole. Unsurprisingly, I only made it about four pages before giving up completely, and even now I am shocked that the experience didn't set me off reading for life.

Fortunately, I stumbled across this highly abridged and modernized paraphrase, and am I so glad!

Josephus really does have everything.

Comedy (Titus taking a dart in the nose), Romance (lots of men marrying their own nieces and sisters), Tragedy (the destruction of the Jerusalem and all that went along with it), Family Drama (can we say Salome?), and Betrayal (the Josephus suicide pact).

In addition to those special treats, the reader also encounters: a river of boiling oil poured down the walls of Jerusalem, visions, dreams, baby-eating mothers, cross-dressing homosexual Jewish zealots, brave Bernice, dead bodies launched over walls, heads flying 12,000 feet, and the epic nuttiness of Caligula.

I say this is a must-read for history buffs and do-it-yourself Bible scholars alike. I found myself completely shocked and appalled at the utter insanity that ensued leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. I had known that Titus destroyed it as Jesus predicted, but I'd had no idea the extent to which the city had been overrun by warring factions of JEWS before the Romans put an end to the entire debacle. So, so sad.

* * * *

As noted above, I will have more to share regarding my Lenten readings and subsequent spiritual epiphanies at a later date. Until then, keep reading, keep growing, and press on!