Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pullman's latest books

There was an interview with Philip Pullman in the paper today, since he spoke last night at the university of Toronto. His books are bestsellers, not too far behind the Potter series. But Christians have a problem with them because of their anti-church slant. Pullman is a confessed atheist, and I remember when my husband was reading the Golden Compass to our son and I was half listening, I remember feeling alarmed over some of the passages, and that was before I'd heard any criticism of the series.

Yes, it alarms me that there's a growing fascination for darkness, and yes it alarms me that Christian children are being fed a steady diet of the most subtle things that pull in other directions. But it's also interesting that kids -- and adults -- are fascinated by the sheer power of evil and the absolute power of goodness to overcome it. Maybe this speaks to what we in the church have done with the scary events of the Old Testament -- with battles, and visions, and vengeance and exile.

Why is the church ignoring the full range of human emotion and actions in its efforts to be nice, and good guys? The result is a church rendered lifeless, bloodless and ineffectual. Maybe we could take a few lessons from Pullman's book, instead of denying their power.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Battle of the wills

Trying to curtail your teenager's screen time is a little like living through some of the Old Testament prophets and their times. I've been through Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel and now Hosea -- just for a little light reading.

Ironically, the notebook I use to jot down thoughts from my daily devotions used to belong to my teenager when he was little -- it started life as a "war" book, and the first page is a highly detailed battle scene, with tanks, and stick figures holding on to their helmets, sandbags and barbed wire.

Appropriate, I'd say. Most days, it feels like charging the ramparts in a tank, or at the very least wearing a pith helmet, scrambling up sandbags, scaling barbed wire, and blasting the enemy media crap with both barrels.

Sadly, the battle imagery is just that -- imagery. You can't use it for real, because it won't get you anywhere. But reason doesn't work either. I'm finding it has to be replacement strategies, just like you did with your two-year-old -- "oh look Timmy there's a bulldozer over there" while you hastily snatch the bag of candies out of reach.

Except teenagers are a lot quicker than toddlers, and a lot more ornery when you tangle with them.

So, instead, we use "incentives" -- cuz money talks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Married an Unbeliever...

A little over 20 years ago, I met a lovely man with all sorts of good ethics and honesty, but when he told me he was very anti-church and anti-Christian, I merely shrugged it off, secretly thinking that one day, one day..... I would change him!

Oops. Two decades later, and he's no closer to becoming a Christian, and I have to rethink what this means, especially with kids.

I've concluded the following:

1) badgering someone to become a Christian, whether he's your husband or the stranger on the bus, doesn't work
2) try to remember all the good things your spouse does, because good is of God. (and praise him or her for it!)
3) dump the moral superiority -- we've got nothing to be superior about. God forgave us (and continues to forgive us) when he died on the cross, and we continue to let him down.
4) don't barricade yourself into a tight little Christian group that your spouse has no way of joining -- when you entertain, mix things up and add a few non-Christian faces.
5) try to avoid being gleeful when something he'd done that is clearly non-Christian ends up failing
6) pray ceaselessly -- it worked for St Monica (whose son was St Augustine)
7) do not think leaving the marriage will make you happier -- even two Christians on the same page will find plenty to argue about
8) act with grace (love), speak with truth (boundaries, limits, etc.) at all times (at least when you're not tempted to lose your temper)
9) Jesus never talked about being a Christian in his parables, but he spoke lots about becoming fully human, and a little more divine by giving to the poor, treating your neighbour with compassion, planting good seeds, and so on

What about the kids?
For spiritually single women like me, the findings of recent studies on church attendance are grim. Although the numbers vary according to the study, it was found that when both parents take children to church, as much as 75 percent become attenders; if dads only take kids to church, that drops to 55 percent, but when it’s only the moms taking them, the percentage plummets to a mere 15 percent.

However, I’m not one to give up hope – and here’s why:

-- studies show that children derive their image of God from their fathers – since my husband is gentle, nurturing and ethical, I’m banking that they will continue to see God in a similar light
-- I try to be an informed Christian, so I can talk to my children about their faith as it relates to culture, helping them to discern difficult moral and spiritual issues
-- We attend a vibrant church, filled with children and youth, and alive with the Holy Spirit; I want my children interacting with real people who are Christian – caring, smart, holy, and fun
-- I send them to summer camp to nurture their connection to God’s created world and to a Christian community
-- I pray – a lot – to keep my relationship with God strong, and to ask on behalf of my children (and my husband) that they will come to know and love the Lord

In the Interests of Time

If you're a mom like me, time is usually in short supply, and yet we always want to feel as though we're giving our families the best part of ourselves. For some reason, we also believe that means making homemade bread and canning our own tomatoes.

Well, ladies, let me tell you. The tomatoes you can are no fresh (and possibly less so) than the ones you buy in the can. So instead of spending all that time canning your tomatoes, buy them and use the time to spend doing something fun with your kids, or spouse. (Now, if your idea of fun with the kids is canning tomatoes, be my guest.)

And to save even more time, here's a great recipe for making homemade tomato sauce that's delicious, fresh and so fast you'll feel like a no-stress mama.

Put 2-3 tbsp olive oil in a pot, add razor thin slices from about half a medium onion, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, two cloves garlic minced (or larger if you're rushed), and a few leaves of dry basil, crushed. Heat that for a few minutes on low, til the onion gets clear. Add about 1/2 cup wine (optional), cook a minute or so. Then add a 28-oz can of tomatoes, then fill can about 1/3, swish around to get the tomato bits, and add to the pot. Cook on medium to low for about 30-40 minutes. (You can also add half a large carrot, grated for extra flavour, but it's optional.)

TIP: Make double the amount, and you have extra for chili, lasagna, or hot lunches.

Hallowed Eve?

So, as usual I'm working on things at the last minute. This is not good when it comes to Halloween, because there's always so much to do -- buy the pumpkin, carve it, hang out a ghost (sheet with a head created out of old socks stuffed into the centre and tied with binder twine), find the kids costumes, and so on.

Inevitably, the costumes change -- many years my son planned one thing two weeks before, only to change his mind the day before. So I got smart with my daughter and figured we could hold off on pulling it all together til the day before, because I was so sure she'd change her mind.

Uh-unh, no change. She still wants to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which I have problems with. Not only is the cult of the underworld, the nod to death and potential for satanic attraction something that worries me, but what in heaven's name does this girl wear that distinguishes her from any other teenager?

I asked A what made a good Buffy, what this vampire slayer wore. I was told she wears a black shirt, blue jeans, and carries a stake and a cross. How was that going to make her stand out? I tried telling her that she was going to get mighty tired telling every house what her costume was.

Then I got serious and had a mother-daughter talk in the car on the way to gymnastics about how I had a problem with her carrying a cross around. A didn't understand. So I explained even more -- that having a cross as a "magic symbol" to eradicate vampires which don't even exist, seemed to me to be a little insulting to Jesus and the price he paid on the cross.

I watched her reaction in the rear view mirror - eyebrows raised, she said Mom what are you talking about? So I explained even more, that it was only God who overcomes evil, and that a teenager wielding a cross and stake was no match for Satan.

Her eyes popped out even more: Oh mom, you just don't get it.

Me: Yes, I do.

Her: No, you don't. It's Halloween. It's fun. You get candy. Why are you talking like this, about God and Jesus and satan and all that?

Me: You mean, it's a night for getting candy, and why am I getting all serious about the MEANING of life and death and good and evil?

Her: Yes, that's what I mean.

Me: I guess I see your point.
But can you go without the cross?

She sighs, and agrees.
So now she'll be going out in a black shirt (which we don't have), blue jeans, (which we do), and carrying a stake so she looks like the vampire. Oh brother.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"About noon, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' "Then I asked, 'Who are you, Lord?' "'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'" -- Acts 26:13-18 (NIV)

I have always wondered how many times God had to goad Saul before he capitulated. I also wonder how many more of us God calls in similarly dramatic ways -- the miraculous healing of a family member, the rescue of a marriage, the voice of God heard through others -- and who ignore his beckoning.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Who Jesus Married

In keeping with our spiritually mismatched home, my children are being raised in two churches. They and I go to an Anglican church, where we've found a wonderful community that is both nurturing and theologically disciplined. They also attend a Catholic school. This year -- with Aidan in Gr 8 and Anna in Gr 2 -- was significant since Gr 2 is the time for First COmmunion and Gr 8 is for Confirmation. While Aidan made a decision to be confirmed in the Anglican church, Anna was quite adamant about taking First Communion. After having a conversation with the priest to assure him that we would try to come once a month and Anna would not take communion outside the RC church, we went ahead with it.

I've been watching as she's been preparing in her classroom, trying to correct some of the inaccuracies that pop up from time to time -- they are instructed by the teachers, not the priest, so these things happen (such as Jesus is the son of God, therefore not God.)

Yesterday, as Anna was having her bath and washing her hair in preparation for putting on her pretty, and simple, white dress, we talked about why she was making such a big deal out of being prepared and looking her best, and what it meant to take first communion.

I explained that since the church was the bride of Christ we are to imitate a wedding as we join with Jesus. When I told her that white was also the symbol of purity, she asked why the boys were wearing black, so I said you girls and boys are mimicing a wedding occasion that you become officially and publicly committed to Jesus.

She then asked me if Jesus got married in real life, and I said no. To this she thought a moment, and then said: That's good. Because it would have been unfair to the rest of us if he had.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Spiritual Mismatches

I’ve always had a soft spot for Hosea – that nice prophet commanded by God to marry a prostitute. He entered this marital union with eyes wide open, knowing life would not be all wine, roses and connubial bliss. He accepted his role as picture of God’s forbearance with Israel, as they willingly threw themselves on the altar of a pagan culture.

Life as metaphor is as effective today. Living in a secular world, it’s inevitable that some Christians will fall in love and marry non-believers. I know because it happened to me, and while I may not be God’s chosen metaphor for life today, I do inhabit a strange border between faith and culture.

My atheist husband and I have had many heated discussions – me dodging potshots intended to blow my beliefs out of the water, all the while lobbing a few defence-of-the-faith salvos of my own.

Add the challenge of trying to raise faithful children who will able to walk the line in a problematic culture and it makes for an interesting life, indeed.

Of course, it’s not all bad – being held accountable makes you either cave or get serious.

I chose the latter, though my choice of methods was probably not all that wise. Assuming that dealing with an intelligent academic required rigorous intellectual apologetics, I took a religious studies degree, volunteered for every social justice activity going, taught Sunday school, and boned up on every issue facing my evangelical church, from gay marriage to creationism and intelligent design, from stem cell research, to abortion.

While it accomplished exhaustion for me, it resulted in an intellectual impasse for us. Until my husband’s mid-life crisis hit, that is. As my honest, gentle man turned into a narcissist and worse, there was little I could do but sit by and watch our marriage unravel.

Pain is a mighty teacher, though, and after 40 years on intellectual autopilot, I learned to let go of the strictures around my heart. After indulging in many of my own narcissistic tears, I got real – about my marriage, myself, and God.

Can our attitudes be an obstacle? My pastor seems to think so:“If they’re aggressive about their own faith, the believer can prevent the spouse coming to faith.”

Take the example of Sarah Ruth in Flannery O’Connor’s short story Parker’s Back. A chapter-and-verse quoting evangelical, she marries OE Parker, a tattoo-covered transient who has avoided God all his life. After a tractor accident results in a burning bush/tree, Parker gets his last tattoo -- the face of the Byzantine Christ gracing the whole of his back. Furious, Sarah Ruth beats him with a broom and sends him away.

I have read that story many times, always gleaning something new. Recently it occurred to me that maybe my metaphor is more Sarah Ruth than Hosea. So angry about an unbelieving husband, and forgetting all about joy, we overlook the signs of God’s grace in our other’s lives. Like my husband and his work with the poor, homeless and marginalized.

I am now wondering what kind of Christ I have painted on my back. As Donald Miller puts it in Blue Like Jazz, “nothing’s going to change in the Congo until we figure out what’s wrong with the person in the mirror.”

My pastor advises mixed marriage couples like us to “aim for mutual respect.”

He had a good point – I’d never considered my husband’s perspective of being married to a Christian. So I asked him. Initially he tiptoed through his answer, but after warming up and seeing it wasn’t coming to verbal blows, he was blunt: “It’s weird. And irritating – that whole notion that everything is God’s plan and people have no choice or say in their lives.” There was more -- much more -- and mostly fairly common liberal views, but I'll stop there.

Except to say that his view of me surprised -- and hurt. I thought that his objections were mostly control issues: God as “puppet-master”; pushy evangelizers; the church “club” for special members who’ve passed the test.

Then something my six-year-old daughter said gave me pause. She asked why Daddy didn’t go to church, and I explained he didn’t believe in God. After an incredulous “How could he not believe in God? God is everywhere,” she added: “Daddy doesn’t believe because he can’t see God.”

If our lives are witness to God, then maybe Daddy is blind to Him because Mommy’s been so busy trying to be perfectly moral that she’s forgotten how to be the face of Christ. Like Sarah Jane, I’d been holding up a God more closely resembling an orderly control freak than a welcoming servant king. As such, maybe my faith is not all that different from Daddy’s progressivist atheism.

A line from William Edgar’s essay in Finding God at Harvard hit home: “Becoming a Christian means that one's foundation is radically changed. But it takes a lifetime -- and, I suppose, an eternity -- to become fully conformed to what we are foundationally.”

Life as workshop for working out the mess it means to be human -- and perhaps the bridge for better communication between Christians and non-believers.

Finding the common language to express it is a challenge, but I think the answer lies in parables. I’ve seen them work -- during a particularly difficult time in our marriage, a couple of movies deeply affected my husband, and like Adam recognizing himself in Eve, he identified with the tragic depiction of someone bereft of community.

Can my husband and I find a story to share? The Christian story, as simple and obvious as it sounds – an invitation to love and be loved -- might be a good place to start. As the Catholic Catechism states, “sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer” can prepare the non-believer for the “grace of conversion.”

My pastor seconds that: “The top priority has to be that the unbeliever knows they’re loved by their spouse. It all comes back to love.”

Living authentically – to love others, not just our families but our communities, too, to lay the foundation of the Biblical story within our heart, to wear the dark-eyed Christ on our back, to continuously forgive those who wrong us -- is a pretty powerful witness. Going forth like so, can the world dismiss Christians as narrow-minded, pushy, privileged members of some elite club?

That simple love story certainly convicted Gomer -- humbled by lessons learned by her travails in the world, she made her way back to the forgiveness of Hosea.

Will my husband and I ever resolve our differences? Maybe not. But we are learning to discuss them respectfully. And I am learning the simple, but hard, lesson that the picture of God’s welcome, hospitality and forbearance is worth a thousand words.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Fog Lifts

Since Belinda tells me she found it sad that my last post before hiding away for 3 months was darkness falls, I figured I'd post again with a brighter title.

I've been holed up with my computer the last while writing a book on home staging -- more on that later, since I really didn't think bursting onto the book publishing scene would be with a decorating book, but there you have it. During it all, or perhaps because of it all, my mind keeps wandering to home improvement, and especially that kitchen floor.

I have just finished reading Maxine Hancock's Living on Less and Liking it More, and realize that my $80K kitchen floor is yet another example of how "just one thing more" before I'm truly happy consumes and conquers us.

So I will repair the floor (although first I have to reinforce the joists underneath and reinsulate it), but I won't get a new kitchen, or knock out walls, or subject us all to plaster dust, or worse having to move elsewhere for a month while it's done... and I'm really quite happy about it.