Thursday, May 19, 2011

One of THEM

An earlier post I wrote about cussing got a lot of positive response on Facebook -- and an interesting question. "How is one to know a religious person when one sees one?" my friend asks. A valid query. I assume he is wondering, specifically, how does one know that someone is the type of religious person who will be offended at cussing. After all, not all religious people are alike.

I probably should stop here and clarify that I tend to use the term "religious" in a pejorative sense. There are the Redeemed, people who know themselves and know God and are striving to live their lives in right relationship between the two. And then there are the Religious. In Jesus' time, these people were the Pharisees. Whitewashed tombs, Christ called them. Beautiful on the outside, full of death and corruption on the inside. Blind guides. Hypocrites and snakes. "You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." Jesus pulled no punches with these folks.

I openly admit to my status as a recovering Pharisee. Perhaps that is why I get so frustrated by them. But, to answer my friend's question, how is one to know a Pharisee when one sees one? Well, there are rarely any tell-tale signs directly on the person. The only surefire way is to mark how the person reacts to someone else's sin.

So, here's a test: upon meeting a new acquaintance whom one suspects of Pharisaic qualities, casually bring up something like . . . your lesbian best friend who is watching your kids for you tonight. Or the summer you spent volunteering at Planned Parenthood. Or just drop in a juicy curse word.

And then look at their eyes. Watch for one of the following reactions:

Fear. As in, "Oh, no! It's one of them! Back away slowly . . . hide the children . . . don't breathe in the heathenistic, heretical germs! We'll be infected!"

Hunger. As in, "Aha! It's one of them! A potential convert! I will crush him with my logical arguments for the faith and drag him, limp and defeated, into the kingdom of God. Another notch for my halo!"

Contempt. As in, "Hmph! It's one of them. Those small-minded, faithless, corrupt pea-brains who are destroying my beautiful one nation under God with their Godless liberalism. Scum-bags. Get outa my country."

Pity. As in, "Oh, dear! It's one of them! Poor, poor soul . . . oh, they just have to be miserable and they don't even know how miserable they are! Tsk, tsk, tsk."

Now, I should qualify this a bit to give a break to we recovering Pharisees. Like the recovering alcoholic whose mouth starts to water at the sight of beer even while he remembers with horror his last binge -- many of us will find ourselves reacting in one of these ways instinctively before our better parts get control and rein us in. Give your new acquaintances a little bit of time to show their true colors.

Ultimately, the Redeemed will come to look at you not as one of them but as . . . well, you. The you that God created and wants to redeem as well. And we hope you will look at us the same way.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Being Good Enough

Pastor Jeff preached last Sunday on religion. "Religion", as in rules, ritual, "the law". He listed eight rules that are common to all major religions and most minor ones:

1. Don't harm others with word or deed.
2. Honor your parents.
3. Be kind to siblings and the elderly.
4. Be honest in all your dealings.
5. Don't lie.
6. Don't have sex with another person's spouse.
7. Care for those who are weaker.
8. Put others first.

A very interesting list, actually. A couple things I noted about it . . .

- Every item on this list has to do with relationships, our interactions with others. Fascinating that every religion acknowledges that we are social beings and that how we live in society with others is a primary reflection of our "goodness".

- Not only are these rules common to almost all religions, but all of the good, reasonable nonreligious people I know would agree with them as well. Heck, even the naughty, unreasonable nonreligious people agree with them at heart.

- Not a person in the world lives up to this. We all fail. Nobody is "good". We usually try to rationalize our way into believing that we're "good enough", but deep down, most of us are disappointed in ourselves for how selfish we are, how much we hurt others, how miserably we miss the mark.

And, of course, this is where Christianity differs from all other major religions and most minor ones. Instead of offering eternal reward for everyone who manages to be "good enough", Christianity says, "You'll never be good enough." And this is not a statement of hopelessness -- it's a statement of freedom. You are free from the chains of performance anxiety; salvation is a free gift from God, not a prize you earn by good behavior.

Of course, most flavors of Christianity in the world today have missed the mark on that distinction, unfortunately. It's to our shame that the Church is usually the last place a sinner would go when looking for Grace.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How To Cuss

In my continuing efforts to explore the power of words -- and to offend just about everyone I know -- allow me to offer my rules for the use of cuss words. (Because, if we're going to cuss, we may as well do it with intelligence and integrity, yes?)

1) Do not cuss in front of children or teenagers who behave like children. They copy everything they hear and do not have the maturity to execute the task artfully. Plus, we want their primary language to be clean, for reasons delineated below.

2) Do not cuss in front of religious people unless they cuss in front of you first. Unfortunately, even in the population where grace should dominate, there are those who, the moment they hear a cuss word out of your mouth, will knock you down ten degrees in their estimation and then be on the lookout for every other fault you may have to discredit you. Their problem, not yours -- agreed. But if you are one who wants to have an impact on even these, you need to maintain their respect.

3) Do not use cuss words that refer to sexual activity or anatomy. They are simply vulgar. They take a beautiful gift from God and drag it through mud and stench.

4) Do not use God's name -- any of His names -- as cuss words. This is disrespectful enough to be one of the Big Ten. Even if you aren't a believer, you want to have respect for those around you for whom this is painfully offensive.

5) Do not use cuss words as "sentence enhancers", as Spongebob calls them. We all know people who can hardly get two sentences of conversation out without an off-color word thrown in. Such casual use strips the words of their power; they end up going the way of "awesome" and "epic", excellent words that are all but meaningless anymore. Plus, it is indicative of a small, lazy mind. Seriously -- get a vocabulary, dude.

6) If you are a person who finds that cuss words fall out of your mouth uncontrollably, without your even thinking about it, get a grip and fix that. Do not allow yourself to be enslaved to any unwholesome behavior. That's a danger signal you shouldn't ignore. Control your tongue -- do not let it control you.

7) Do not throw cuss words in for shock value. Shock is cheap and short-lived; strive instead to impact.

8) Avoid using substitutionary words in situations where it's clear you're simply scrounging for a substitute (e.g. What the frick . . ?) It just sounds awkward and strange.

9) When using cuss words, use them to express intensity or outrage in a controlled manner. Use them calmly, confident that they do not need to be shouted to be effective. In fact, shouting your cuss words lessens their impact -- they sound like an irrational explosion that is of no consequence. And when the use of such words is appropriate, do not shy away from using them.

10) And above all, use them grammatically and spell them correctly. "Damn" has an "n", people.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Order is a Virtue . . Right?

So, I'm debating whether I should write this post. I don't want to offend any friends. I don't want to make any of them feel guilty or reluctant to invite me over. I don't want to imply some righteous behavior or attitude in me that doesn't exist. I don't want to be inaccurate in my portrayal of myself and hear about it from loved ones later.

But I write about what's on my mind, and right now, housekeeping is on my mind.

A blogger friend wrote today about how she struggles with keeping her house in order. And how she basically has given up -- decided she's gifted in many other areas but not this one, and hired a housekeeper. For a short time in NJ, right after we started homeschooling, we had a cleaning service come in once a month. I stopped the service because 1) I was still having to spend lots of time picking up the house before they came so they could clean under the junk, 2) within an hour after they left, the house was cluttered again and my husband would come home and say, "I thought the cleaners came today!!", which annoyed me, and 3) I finally decided this was stupid -- I and my two daughters are all home all day, and we should be able to keep the house in order.

My mother was the ultimate homemaker. Her sister said it was really all she ever wanted to do in life. I remember after mom's death, my sisters and I reflected on her home and the fact that we never saw her clean the bathrooms, but the bathrooms were never dirty. She had it all down to an art form.

I'm trying to decide if it's because of her example that I feel stressed when the house is a mess. Could be. Or it could be some underlying pressure I feel to make my husband happy (he has the same issue with a messy house, interestingly enough). Or maybe a need for a sense of order is just innate to me.

Not that I'm very successful at maintaining order in the house. Even as a kid, my mom would get on my case about never hanging up my clothes, etc. But a few times a year, the mess would reach a point where it unnerved me, and I would spend a day putting everything in place, and often reorganizing in the process. And I loved doing it! I still love doing it, when it's done on my time.

But I have had many friends over the years whose houses were, frankly, almost always a mess. Most of them had young kids -- and maybe a lot of them -- so the mess was understandable. And it never offended me or bothered me to be at their house in the mess. I actually find it soothing to be with a friend who trusts your friendship enough to not feel like they have to put on their superwoman mask for you. But I know if I lived every day like that, I would never be at peace within myself. There would always be the overwhelming urge to stop the world and get this place in order . . . and the unbearable frustration that I simply couldn't do so.

I bring this up because the condition of my daughters' rooms and bathroom can make my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels sometimes. And I'm not sure if the problem is with them, or me, or the meeting of the two extremes. I don't know if I need to buckle down and get them to live more orderly lives, or if I should accept that they, perhaps, are far more "normal" than I am.

And it seems I need to figure this out, before I make someone in this house completely neurotic.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Sobering Death

I've been fascinated by the discussion happening this week about how we should be reacting to the death of Osama bin Laden. For my own part, I wasn't dancing in the living room, but that may primarily have been because of the late hour. My reaction was rather sober. "I hope this is for real. I hope it's for sure. I hope we don't have serious, violent reactions to this."

On the other hand, I found the videos of all the people celebrating to be rather exhilarating as well. At least, I wasn't offended by them. The reaction is quite understandable. The question is, is that reaction right? Or, perhaps the more important question for most of my friends, is it Christian?

It's a tricky question. One can find scripture to support both sides of the debate. In Ezekiel, God tells us that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but longs instead that they turn from their ways. On the other hand, there are passages throughout the Bible about God bringing justice upon the wicked and often using governmental authorities to do so. God's victory over evil sure seems like something we should celebrate.

Once again, there is danger in pulling out individual scriptures to back up whatever view you espouse. Rather than picking out our favorite trees, we need to study the layout of the entire forest. We need to examine the principles taught in the Bible. And one of the primary principles I find there -- particularly in the New Testament, the teachings of Christ -- is that God looks on the heart.

If those celebrants chanting in front of the White House at midnight were celebrating because they hated Osama bin Laden and wanted him to suffer for what he did to our country (and the world, really), then that's wrong. Hard as it may be to fathom, bin Laden was a man just like us. The sins that led him to the evil he committed are the same sins that we struggle with: selfishness, pride, lust for power and more. That he did not turn from his ways and turn to God in time to save himself (presumably) is a tragedy that God himself is mourning today.

However, if those celebrants were rejoicing over the deliverance from an agent of evil in this world, celebrating an event that may ultimately lead to a more secure world for all of us . . . well, yes, that is worth partying about.

I just pray that a more secure world will result from this death. And I'm not confident that it will, as much as the killing needed to happen. Now that the partying has subsided, it seems to me that a day of prayer and fasting for our country would be in order.