Monday, October 31, 2011

10/31. Ugh.

It's Halloween. I've never liked Halloween. Well, I probably liked it when I was a kid trick-or-treating. I even have a memory of looking at some costume ideas in some craft book and getting excited about coming up with a costume. But it's been a while since I've really enjoyed it.

For one thing, I stink at costumes. I gave up making my kids' costumes a few years ago. Forget being frugal -- it's not worth the stress it puts me through. I can afford to go to the costume store, so I do. Not that the costume store was an easy out this year. My 11-year-old is too big for the kids' section now, and there was next to nothing appropriate in the grown-up section. When did Halloween become such a sleezy holiday?? She's going as Nefertiti, the ancient Egyptian queen/goddess . . . only because it was the only costume that covered her body enough. Luckily, she's into ancient gods and goddesses now, so she's content.

I'm also not crazy about the "evil" side of the day. It doesn't bother me as much as it does some people. I can take some of the TV shows and all as mostly being in good fun. But I know there's a danger here for people who, for various reasons, have an unhealthy attraction to "dark" things, and that bothers me.

But most of all, the whole trick-or-treating thing bugs me. I mean, seriously -- whose idea was it to send their kids out begging for candy at their neighbors' doors? Why, on this one day of the year, do we decide this behavior is appropriate? The children are usually not polite or grateful. Some of the older kids barely even make an attempt at a costume. And do we really think children need more candy? Maybe it's because, for the last several years, I've lived in neighborhoods where parents bus their kids in and drop them off to trick-or-treat . . . but I find the whole process very disillusioning.

When the girls were younger, we would have a "fall" party for their friends (not a Halloween party, because some of their friends didn't celebrate Halloween). There are lots of things about the fall that I love and love to celebrate, and these were always fun parties, without all the stuff I don't like about Halloween. Maybe I should find the energy to do something like that again next year.

But I don't suppose that will stem the tide of trick-or-treaters. Ah, well. I bought extra candy this year so I won't run out. Bring 'em on.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

True Lovers of the Soul

While I was walking the dog in the dark, early hours this morning, I was trying to think of what I should blog about today. But I was distracted by the sore on the back of my right hand that the dog's leash kept irritating.

See, the handle of the leash at some point scraped too hard on the high middle knuckle on the back of my hand and broke the skin a bit. And because of its prominent position jutting out proudly from the top of my dominant hand, that tender little spot now gets re-scraped over and over by various other offenders -- the lid of the container of cleaning wipes, the opening of the bag of dried cranberries . . . but most often and most offensively by the handle of that cursed dog leash. My knuckle just hurts like the bloody dickens.

Yes, I try holding the leash in my left hand, but I'm apparently a right-handed dog walker. My mind wanders and the sudden flash of pain shows that I've reverted to old habits again. I have to be constantly aware of this sore spot and protect it, or it just gets scraped up again.

I'm reading a book called When You've Been Wronged. It's about moving from bitterness to forgiveness in relationships. It has been bringing to mind people in my life who injure like the dog's leash -- they attack the same spot on my spirit, over and over and over. I can't avoid these people any more than I can avoid walking the dog (unless I want to deal with messes in my house). So I just have to always be conscious of this open sore, allowing a cushion of air around it in hopes it won't get scraped again.

That's a tiring way to relate to someone. And it doesn't allow much space for real relationship. I find myself getting annoyed at these people because they don't bend or move to accommodate my sores. But then, why would they? My sores don't hurt them.

But, you know, the important and valuable relationships in my life are the ones where my sores do hurt them. Where they are willing to bend and move themselves to keep from causing me pain. That's a true lover. Bear one another's burdens, scripture tells us. I need lovers like that . . and I need to be a lover like that. I need to look at the people I love today and make sure I'm moving and bending myself to protect the sores on their spirits.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Our small group met downtown Saturday evening to see the movie "Courageous". Yes, I cried several times. And I wasn't sure I would, even though everybody warned me to take tissue along. You see, I tend to watch such movies with a very critical eye.

I'm inspired by this church in Georgia that decided to create some serious movies with Christian themes and promote them on a national scale. That's big and bold and . . . well, courageous. I had mixed feelings about their earlier efforts. "Facing the Giants" had some wonderful moments and was very well-done in a lot of ways. But then it had some scenes with some very amateur actors that were almost excruciating to watch. "Fireproof" was better, but still had some spots that just made me squirm.

With both movies, I felt like, for non-professional productions, they were pretty fantastic. But to really compete against the Hollywood establishment, they were going to need to up the ante a lot. "Courageous" does that, but I'm not sure it's quite there.

I feel strongly about the idea of having movies out there that demonstrate Christian thought and worldview in a positive way without being preachy. But to be effective, they've got to be very high quality. And again, they can't be preachy. They can't simply be a thinly veiled attempt to convert the masses. That's laborious viewing for believers and nonbelievers alike.

All this said . . . I really did enjoy watching "Courageous". A wonderful story about what it means to be a man and a father. Our world needs to hear this. Our boys -- young and old -- need to see what it looks like to be a godly man . . . and be inspired to want to be one.

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Big Dysfunctional Family

I'm going to wade into dangerous territory here . . . a topic I'm not well-informed on and one that many of my friends are very angry about (on both sides): Occupy Wall Street.

I've been a little frustrated at the coverage I've seen of the protestors (mostly Fox News coverage), because they mainly focus on the weirdos out there, of which there are many. But I assume there are some intelligent, articulate people there, too. It isn't right to characterize the Tea Party by a handful of idiots with racist signs -- and it isn't right to characterize OWS by the hey-wows on dope.

Mike Huckabee had some thoughtful remarks about this movement last night. I tried to find his comments online and couldn't (I kind of suck at that), and we didn't DVR the show, so I can't watch it again. But he basically said that the OWS folks have a right to be angry -- they're just angry at the wrong people.

They're angry, as I understand it, about the banks and corporations and investors and all who took big risks with people's money and futures and then got bailed out by the government with no consequences for their bad behavior. Well, so am I! So are all conservatives! Haven't you heard us all gritching about the bailouts?

Thing is, I blame the government for that. Even the Bush administration. All sorts of government entities, it sounds like, were intervening in the markets to muck things up rather than let it run its natural free-market course. From what I hear, it sounds like they created a problem that they then had to try to fix with ridiculous bailouts.

But the OWS folks are mad at the corporations . . . for what exactly? For taking the bailout money? For not using the bailout money well? For taking too many risks in the first place? I'm not exactly sure. And I'm not exactly sure what they want to happen now to fix it all.

Huckabee said that Wall Street has become a high stakes casino where investors gamble other people's futures and then get bailed out by the government when their gambles don't work out. Like a dysfunctional parent/child relationship. A kid stupidly spends all his gas money on booze every month, and his dad continues to get up in the middle of the night to pick him up when the truck runs out of gas out in the boondocks -- and then fills up his tank for him again. I think the OWS folks are raging at the investors behaving like irresponsible selfish children -- and rightfully so. But the rest of us are more angry at the parents for sheltering the children from the natural consequences of their bad behavior. That's what will force the children to grow up.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Homeschooling Failures

Our eldest is not doing as well on tests lately as we'd like. In one class, for example, she has A+'s on every assignment, but her test scores . . . well, they're definitely not A+'s. We know what a bright kid she is. Hubby asked me the other night if she knows how to study for tests, which initially invoked a bit of resentment in me.

But as it turns out, that's a fantastic question.

See, teaching one-on-one, like in homeschooling, is a different game entirely than teaching a group in a classroom setting. When I taught my daughter History, for example, I knew the information and concepts I wanted her to understand. I tried to present them in a way that fit her learning style. We reviewed them frequently. When she clearly didn't understand something, we went over it again, usually in a different manner.

I knew if she understood the material or not -- and I didn't actually test her until I knew she understood the material. I mean, the goal was her learning the material, yes? If she didn't get something, we kept working on it until she did. Tests, for me, were not to assess her understanding -- I did that as I taught. Tests were just a written record to prove someday (if necessary) that the material had been covered successfully.

But when I taught 25 kids in a high school English classroom, I couldn't assess every student's understanding as I taught. There wasn't time to interact with every student individually and question them about the information. I assigned written exercises which often showed me which kids needed more help, but not always. Ultimately, in a classroom, it's the student's responsibility to take in the information and evaluate themselves to know if they're not getting it -- and then go ask for help. Unfortunately, by test time, it's already too late. The class is done with that unit and moving on.

So, no, I probably didn't teach my eldest how to learn in that situation -- when information is presented to you in a blanket one-size-fits-all fashion and you have to take charge of your learning and make it fit you, and get help when it doesn't. And I should have. I knew all along that she would eventually be going back into a factory-model education system, and I should have planned better for that. I focused on her learning -- but success in school these days is as much about working the system as it is about learning (a fact which I have bemoaned since my first year teaching).

Sigh! Every homeschooling mother has fears of putting her child in a "real" classroom someday and finding out she failed her kid entirely. So, I didn't fail her entirely. But I should have anticipated this problem. My bad.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where's the Debate?

SIGH! Okay, folks, let's get a few things out of the way about American politics and economics. There are always some far-out wackos on each extreme side, but for the most part, we all want the same things:

Nobody, conservative or liberal, wants poor people to have to do without food, shelter, health care, etc.

Nobody wants anyone, rich or poor, to behave unjustly toward another.

Nobody wants corporations to run the country or abuse their employees or communities -- but everyone wants corporations to be successful, because successful corporations create jobs and feed pensions and 401k's.

We all want everyone in the country to have the opportunity to succeed and prosper when they put forth the effort.

I'll say it again -- we all want the same things, we just disagree about how to get there. Liberals (to my understanding) don't trust the free market to provide necessary things, like healthcare, to the masses in a just way. Conservatives believe that, with certain specific, limited regulations in place, the free market is the only way to ensure that affordable, advanced healthcare is available for the masses. Liberals look at the state of our economy now and say, see, the free market hasn't worked. Conservatives say, our markets haven't been genuinely free for a long time, which is why we're where we are today.

The debate we need to be having in our country is about free markets. But instead, we're calling rich people greedy and painting Hitler moustaches on posters of our president. It's ridiculous. We're trying to win people to our side by appealing to their basest fears and prejudices rather than to their highest values and intellect.

I'm afraid next year's ugly presidential campaign will be the death of me. Because Lord knows, it's going to be u-g-l-y.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Calling

We got back from Hyllningsfest in Lindsborg last night. I mentioned to my eldest on the way to school this morning that by the next Hyllningsfest (in two years), we will be talking about colleges for her. "I have no idea where I want to go to college!" she lamented. "I don't even know what I want to do with my life!" In my prayers driving out of the high school parking lot, I prayed that God would give her a clear calling for her future.

But then I thought, what if she isn't supposed to know her calling yet when she gets out of high school? What if she doesn't know until she meets the man she's supposed to marry -- what if her calling is to be a mother and a "helpmeet"? What if the thing God made her for and wants her to devote her energy and passion to is raising her children and supporting her husband in his calling?

I have known women like that. Women who never really had a job, but raised amazing children and were their husbands' "right-hand men" in the work God called them to do. They had just as much skill and talent and passion about what they were doing as any career woman on the fast-track. They had just as much influence on their world, maybe more. They were very happy. But I wonder how many people over the years had looked at them as sadly unambitious and thought they were wasting their lives.

I want my daughters to go to college. And I've become more convinced, too, that they need to start right after high school and get, at least, the basic courses out of the way while they're still fresh in their minds and while they're still used to a study routine. It would be much harder to come back to that stuff a few years later when they've decided on a career path finally. But I do hope I, and the other important people in their lives, will give them grace and encouragement if they come to realize that their future isn't going to require a college degree, or even a paying job.

As I've said before, that's one of my beefs with the women's rights movement -- the way it has demonized the "traditional" woman. I thought the idea was to open up more options for women, not to exchange one set for another.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Open Hand

Phil Vischer created VeggieTales -- and then lost the company when it went bankrupt. In an interview I just read, he said, "Rather than seeking God and asking Him, 'How do you want me to move forward?' I did some spiritual math and said, 'OK, how could I have more impact? By just making my films or by building the next Disney?'"

I don't think that way. I'm too much of a wimp to actually dream of something so bold as to build the next Disney. I've actually always admired people who dream boldly like that and wondered if something was wrong with me to not have more ambition. But Vischer's story rings true to me. He says,

"We're drinking a cocktail that's a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel . . . Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It's the Oprah god. . . I realized I'm not supposed to be pursuing impact, I'm supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have."

I'm not supposed to be pursuing impact. For someone who writes dramas -- and drama is supposed to be all about impact -- those are tough words. But I know they're true. Randy, on our worship-planning team at Hope in NJ, was the one who always cautioned us when we were toeing the line with merely manipulating the congregation's emotions. That's not worship -- and it's not genuine impact.

So, what do we do? As Vischer says, we pursue God. The impact is up to him. When I'm pursuing God when I write dramas, that means some sketches will move the congregation powerfully . . . some will touch a handful of people and leave the rest dry . . . some may fall flat but change the life of the actor portraying it . . . and some may be just about business God has to do with me. But they will always have impact -- the impact God wants it to have, whether that's what I had in mind or not. What I have in mind simply isn't the point.

"There's something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous. . . the only thing I can't let go of is God. Everything else should be held with an open hand."

Monday, October 3, 2011


Our worship leader, Jeff Ream, closed the service yesterday by singing "The Lord's Prayer" -- the good, old traditional one people sing at weddings and such. It was downright glorious! I was on a high from that for quite a while after the service ended.

And Pastor Jeff (different Jeff) mentioned in his sermon how in seminary, he studied the old church fathers who would get up at 4am every morning and pray for two or three hours before they ever started their day. (The topic of the day was prayer, if you haven't guessed.)

All this served to remind me of Choi, the friend in college who sang "The Lord's Prayer" at my best friend Christine's wedding. Choi was from Korea. He was very quiet and shy when we first met him. Another friend at school told us that Choi was up every morning at 6am; he went outside into a kind of empty area of the campus between the dorms and prayed for an hour every morning. Kevin told us, if you're outside at that time, you can hear his beautiful voice belting out Korean hymns.

I was profoundly impressed by this kind of devotion. Within a couple years, however, Choi became quite Americanized -- in his lifestyle and in his faith. I expect he was a believer still, but I never heard about him getting up at 6am to pray anymore. In fact, he was the epitome of the lazy bum college student, struggling to get out of bed at all. Good guy, but quite American now.

When did "American" become the equivalent of "lazy"? It's been sometime since the last World War . . . when and how did that shift take place from the Greatest Generation to the sorry state of affairs we have today? My fear is that, whatever exactly caused the change, it was introduced into our lives as "progress" -- as something that would make our lives better -- and we bought into it whole-heartedly, not realizing how this was going to eat at our souls.

Progress is not always the forward motion it is purported to be. Sometimes, we would do well to look for the ancient paths and walk in them.