Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Great Cup of Hot Chocolate

This may stun some of you: I had my first trip to a Starbucks today. I don't drink coffee, so I've never had an occasion to go to a Starbucks. But my illustrious Worship Pastor gave me a $10 gift card for Christmas, so I decided it was time to stop in and spend my free money.

While looking at the menu, I decided I made a mistake in making this stop alone. Although I hate coffee and tea, I imagine there was probably a drink or two up there that I might have liked if some experienced coffee shop friend had been there to guide me to it. Nevertheless, they always have the old stand-by for me -- hot chocolate. I got a small cup and a mini-vanilla bean scone (because baked goods are oh, so tempting to me).

I have to say, if that hot chocolate is representative of the quality of their other drinks, I finally understand the Starbucks craze. I think that was the best cup of hot chocolate I've had in years. Creamy, rich, just the right amount of sweetness, just the right amount of chocolateness, just the right temperature. No undissolved grainy stuff floating around. Ah. It really was amazingly good.

I was drinking it when I picked up Leslie at school. She said she'd had hot chocolate at Starbucks (how has my 13-year-old been there when I hadn't yet?), and didn't like it. It was way too cold, and watery. Hmmm. Perhaps they gave her a kids' version or something. Or maybe I just got lucky.

Anyway, I still have credit on my gift card, and I may be stopping at Starbucks more often now. But I think I'll use the drive-thru, now that I know what I want. Then I can resist the baked goods -- which are oh, so tempting to me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Growing Up -- At Least in my Dreams

This may be a strange post--it's about dreams. Some of you may have heard of the "Actor's Dream", where you're on-stage in front of an audience and have no idea what your lines are or what you're doing. I've had plenty of those over the years. In the year before I got married, I also had several "Wedding Dreams", where my processional music is playing, everyone's in the sanctuary looking for me to start walking down the aisle, and I'm running around frantically looking for my bouquet . . or my shoes . . or the sanctuary door.

I had a similar dream last night. Too long and complicated to explain in detail, but I showed up at the church with a script in hand that I was supposed to perform with a guy in the service that night -- only I didn't have a guy. I grabbed someone I knew as "Kevin" and asked him if he thought he could memorize this real quick and do it with me and he said he could. Fast forward through 15 minutes or so of dreamworld weirdness . . . and it's time for the service to start, and Kevin is nowhere to be seen.

So, I grab another guy and ask him if he will at least read the script with me, which he says he will do, only I realize that I gave Kevin my only copy of the script. So, I hunt all over the building looking for Kevin and my script, to no avail. At this point, it's 10 minutes past time to start the service and the worship band has been vamping all that time, waiting for me because not only is this skit one of the first things in the service, but apparently, I'm leading the music as well. So, I walk onto the platform in front of the congregation -- suddenly realizing that I have no idea what this service is about, who's speaking, what we're singing, what my drama had to do with anything -- and I grab a mike.

And I start to talk. I tell everyone in the audience, "Folks, you'll have to forgive me here -- in the past few minutes I have completely spaced out and I'm not sure what I'm doing!" Everyone chuckles a little. I look at the band and get no hints at where I should go from here. But the music they're playing sounds a bit like "I'll Fly Away", so I start singing. Soon, I realize I don't remember the words to that, and so I start asking the congregation for requests of what they'd like to sing . . .

And I woke up. But funny thing is, I didn't wake up in a breathless state of panic like with my past actor's dreams -- I just woke up calmly trying to remember the verses to "I'll Fly Away". Even in my dream, I never exactly reached a state of frenzied anxiety. Somehow, I had complete confidence that if I stood on that platform and just honestly and humorously explained to everyone what was going on, they would forgive me, I'd find some way to work things out, and we'd all laugh about it later.

Where'd I find that kind of composure? I know this wasn't reality, but I was still amazed at how self-assured I was. The situation called for running screaming into the night, and I just stood there spilling my guts to a room of strangers, not worried in the least at what they would think of me. Has my dreamworld self really matured that much in the last couple decades? And if so, has my real-world self matured in the same way?

I'm not sure I want to know. No, I do want to know -- I just don't want to experience the potentially disastrous situation I would have to go through to find out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Decisions, Decisions . . .

Forcing myself to post. I don't feel like I have time, but it's good for me . . . I always feel better after I do . . . like exercise.

Last year, when we were deciding what to do with the girls' education this year, we were leaning toward enrolling them in the schools at Sergeant Bluff, a small town just south of us (we live right on the southern edge of Sioux City, so Sergeant Bluff is as close or closer than most of "the big city"). And we were going to, but by the time we decided that, we were past the deadline for open enrollment. Oh, well, we said. If the girls are miserable in the Sioux City schools, we can always send them to Sergeant Bluff the next year.

Well, it's getting close to that open enrollment deadline again, so I thought I'd revisit the question with them, thinking I knew the answer. I was correct in Leslie's case. She feels settled where she's at -- she's enrolled for East High, has a locker partner even, and doesn't want to start over again at another school. Understandable.

Eastin, however, surprised me. Turns out, she really liked Sergeant Bluff Elementary when we visited it last year, and thinks she might like to try it. Not that she's had a bad experience at Sunnyside, here in town, but the other school looked very inviting. (I kind of think she's one of those people that just wants to experience everything, afraid she's going to miss out, you know?)

And so now we have a decision to make. Stick with the devil we know, or chance things with the devil we don't know. Will the smaller school environment be a warmer, more comfortable place for her to learn and grow, or will the smaller school have less resources for her education? I'm not sure. And how difficult will it be to have kids in two different school districts? I can't really say.

And then there's always the homeschooling option again. Before we mentioned Sergeant Bluff, Eastin was wanting to be homeschooled again next year. Too many choices....

When we were considering homeschooling in the first place, I remember that once I (we) got to a point that I was truly willing to do whatever was God's will, whatever was best for my kids, even if it was not what I desired most . . . then the decision was easy. The best choice was clear. Not so in this case. I can see advantages and disadvantages to all three options, and none stands out of the pack yet. Maybe I'm not yet really to a point of personal neutrality and submission on the matter. Unfortunately, this decision has a deadline which is coming very quickly.

We're blessed to live in a nation where we have so many choices. But choices can really be a pain in the rear sometimes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Up From Slavery

Every once in a while, I study something with one of the girls in homeschool that gets me so excited, I'm downright annoying. The Revolutionary War was like that -- my favorite period of history. My latest thrill: Booker T. Washington's autobiography, Up From Slavery.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy this. In fact, when I looked at the book in the library, I wondered if we should just read excerpts -- it looked like it would be pretty lethargic reading. OH, no. Fascinating book! Fascinating life! Fascinating, fascinating man!

The actual story of his life is remarkable -- born a slave, the lowest of the low . . . the determination he had to get himself an education, whatever it took (and it took a lot) . . . and by the end of his life, he's a celebrated figure around the world, honored by presidents, millionaires, even Queen Victoria. But most of all, I love hearing his insights into humanity and education and race. A couple of the principles he expounded to the world that I most admire:

- When he started the Tuskegee Institute, he was adamant about the fact that they needed to provide industrial education and home life education to these newly freed slaves as much as academic education. He was frustrated with negroes floating around the South flaunting a scanty knowledge of Latin phrases and conjugations, but who had no marketable skills needed in the society and who didn't know enough to even brush their teeth. Book smarts is NOT superior to life smarts.

- He thought that blacks and whites were both hurt by slavery. For instance, the institution caused both the slave and the owner to see manual labor as a dishonorable thing, something to be avoided. But God created man to work, even before the fall, and in our work we find dignity.

- He emphasized up to the end of his life that the way for race relations to improve in the South (and in the whole country) was not for blacks to rise up demanding rights, but for blacks to prove themselves to their white detractors as peaceable, indispensible members of the society with much to contribute. "No man who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward," he wrote. Reminds me of a quote from Oprah that I've always loved: "Excellence is the best deterrent to racism and sexism."

- A principle that he repeatedly emphasizes as a key for the success of his people is one that I think applies to all of us -- the idea of learning to do "a common thing in an uncommon manner". To find something that society needs and offer it to them at an exceptional level of quality. "In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion, or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants." I LOVE this. Do a common thing in an uncommon manner.

I love this book. Really. I think every one of you that is reading my blog right now needs to go to your local library, check out a copy, and read it. Look past the boring, formal voice typical of the writing of the period and listen to the heart and mind of this man. Absolutely fascinating.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Humps and Arcs

Eastin is playing in an Upward Basketball league, run by a local Baptist church, again this year. It's a great program, providing a valuable service and outreach to the community. But there is one thing about it that annoys me.

During the half-time of every game, the coaches and teams go to their "locker rooms" to confer and someone from the church comes to the middle of the courts to do a "devotion" for all the spectators. Now, I don't necessarily have an issue with this conceptually. But it seems like every week, this ends up being your standard gospel presentation.

It's kind of funny that this annoys me. I grew up in an old-fashioned Southern Baptist church where the gospel was presented every Sunday morning. You simply couldn't let an opportunity get by for somebody to hear the Good News and respond. This is what was expected. This was normal to me.

When we started attending more "seeker-friendly" churches, one of the things that made me unsure of the whole idea was that there wasn't an invitation every week. How are these seekers supposed to get saved?? In fact, I found that the plan of salvation -- or even the idea that one needs to make a decision for Christ -- was rarely mentioned from the pulpit at all. And this really bothered me. However, as I stayed and learned, I realized that this less in-your-face approach was much more effective in a lot of ways. I still get concerned about people "falling through the cracks" and missing some important truths . . . but I figure that probably happened the old way, too. God's got it all in control.

But now I'm back in the Bible Belt. And the fact that I feel discomfort, and almost embarrassment, at hearing a blatant call to Christ at a church-sponsored event upsets me. Have I now swung too far the other way? Am I now "ashamed of the gospel", as Paul exhorts us not to be? I don't think so -- I think I'm just feeling empathy for Unchurched Harry and Mary for whom this is awkward and confrontational . . . and often pretty incomprehensible.

This may be symptomatic of a problem I've noted in myself over the years: a general lack of interest in "evangelism", as the traditional church does it. I've found that the church focuses an awful lot of time and energy on getting people over that hump of making a decision for Christ, but all too often stops there. Personally, I feel much more called to help people on the other side of that hump continue to grow -- or to help people who are a million miles away get at least within eyesight of that hump.

The hump-jumping moment is rarely my focus, and I wonder if that should trouble me more than it does. Don't get me wrong -- I'm always thrilled when a person chooses to make Jesus Lord of their life. But, you know, there's an element in the Christian community that evaluates how effective you are in your Christian walk by how many people you have led to Christ. If that's the criteria, I'm a spiritual wimp. But I question that criteria. My experience in seeker-focused churches has reminded me that a lot of groundwork comes before jumping the hump . . . and much of that groundwork involves believers just living a life worthy of a lost world's attention. If I'm helping believers grow in their faith and live that kind of life, I'm contributing to the whole process. Right?

Happily, my current church seems to strike a balance between the two extremes that I feel pretty comfortable with. So far, at least. Everything in life seems to be about balance . . . moderation . . . avoiding inappropriate extremes. Society swings on a pendulum, and we rarely seem to have the perspective to know where we are on the arc.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Try to Avoid Talking Politics, But . . .

Sometime early in our marriage, we were watching a debate between the two candidates running for governor of Kansas. I don't remember even who they were now, or what all they were debating -- I wasn't that much into politics at the time. But one exchange between the two of them has stuck with me over the years.

The incumbent was being criticized by his opponent for breaking a certain promise he had made during his campaign for office four years before. I don't remember the governor's exact words, but his response was to this effect: When I made that promise, I honestly believed that was the best thing for the state. When I became governor, I became privy to information I didn't have before and realized that I was very wrong. So, I chose to do what I now knew was the best thing for the state rather than to keep a promise that would ultimately hurt the people.

I liked that answer. That's the way a servant of the people should operate in office. They shouldn't make such promises in the first place when they don't know all the facts (and nobody outside of the office does), but when they screw up, they should do the right thing by the people and admit they were mistaken.

Fast forward to 2010 . . and President Obama . . and Guantanamo Bay. As you may recall, during his campaign, then-Senator Obama railed against the place, and he promised that it would be closed by now. It is not. I don't know what reasons his administration is giving for this failure, nor what the real reasons might be. It may be that someone or something else has gotten in the way of his accomplishing what he still wants to do. It may be all political.

But I don't like to think the worst of someone; I choose to give him the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that once he got into office and became privy to the information that only presidents and their immediate advisors are privy to, he realized that he was wrong. That shutting down Gitmo was going to put our country in serious jeopardy -- and so he didn't do it. Yeah . . . I would really like to think that. I would feel better about him if he would acknowledge that fact. I would have felt even better about him if he (like so many of us) had seen from the beginning the folly of such an action. But even if he feels he has to hide his real reasons to save face with his supporters, if he just does the right thing to protect the citizens of the country, I'm content. For now.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong about him. But I sure hope not. As I said, I don't like to think the worst of someone.