Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"It Must Be By His Death . . . " -- Must It?

Rome is Brutus' first love. We read paragraph after paragraph of student writing supporting this thesis in my honors sophomore English class with Mr. Umansky. Frankly, writing and evaluating those paragraphs is all I remember about our Julius Caesar unit that year -- in fact, I wouldn't even remember that we read it except that thesis statement is seared into my brain: Rome is Brutus' first love.

But I've taught Julius Caesar several times since then, and I'm teaching it now, and I LO-O-OVE this play! And I am LOVING the discussions I'm having with this class.

The big debate yesterday: did Brutus have good reasons for joining the conspiracy to kill Caesar? Well, his reasons seem more noble than the others'. He loves Caesar, but he is afraid of what will happen to Rome if Caesar gains too much power, because he predicts power will corrupt him.

But how does he know power will corrupt him? He also predicts that Antony is but a limb of Caesar and won't be any danger. He predicts that the people will rule by their reason and appreciate what the conspirators have done for them. He predicts that letting Antony speak at Caesar's funeral will be to their advantage more than otherwise. And he was dead wrong about it all.

And is there ever a good reason, a noble reason to take a life? (Insert "American Sniper" discussion here.)

And what about Antony? He's noble for standing by Caesar . . . we think . . . but what are his motives? And what a two-faced sneak that man is! Making his peace with the conspirators, shaking their bloody hands, and then turning around and swearing vengeance. Is that noble or not?

How about that funeral oration of his? It's positively masterful. "Brutus is an honorable man" he tells them over and over, all the while proving definitively what a traitor Brutus is. Riling up the crowd with passion, denigrating himself humbly as "a plain, blunt man," -- "no orator, as Brutus is" -- oh, the irony!

And the crowd! The mob! It's laughable how changeable they are! "This Caesar was a tyrant!" One minute, and weeping for him the next. "Caesar's better parts shall be crowned in Brutus!" at one point, and then "Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay! Let not a traitor live!" just a few minutes later. So easily swayed by pretty words. (And when have we heard pretty words sway a changeable crowd into action unwise for the course of a country . . . ?)

Why, that mob actually murdered an innocent man in the streets just because he was unfortunate enough to have the same name as one of the conspirators. "I am Cinna, the poet!" he cried. "I am Cinna, the poet!!"

"Tear him for his bad verses!" the mob growls. Insert images of the Ferguson, Missouri, madness here.

Don't ever tell me that Shakespeare is not relevant to the modern reader. And don't ever tell me it isn't interesting to the modern teenager. They just need to know how to read it -- and to read it like it was meant to be read: with PASSION. Because as Antony tells us (long before Elizabeth Taylor did), "Passion, I see, is catching."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Watching With Your Brain On

The eldest's boyfriend was with us over the holidays and my girls introduced him to "Once Upon a Time" -- and got him properly addicted, like the rest of us are. Thanks to Hulu, as of yesterday, our family is caught up with the rest of the world and ready for new episodes to begin airing March 1st. Counting the days.

My 9th grade Bible class had an interesting discussion last week about entertainment and how we decide what is okay for us to watch as believers and what is not. An important verse we focused on was 1 Corinthians 10:31: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you dodo it all for the glory of God. Whatever we do must glorify God -- that is, it must proclaim who He is and the greatness of who He is. 

So, can we glorify God by watching a TV show that was not made to glorify God? Well, maybe.

The key point in our lesson was the need to be an active viewer and not a passive one. Most people (believers and nonbelievers) seem to use TV and movies to veg out to -- they just sit and absorb mindlessly, not thinking much about what is entering their minds. This is a problem. Because even shows that ARE made to glorify God will be imperfect and may have content that we should not be absorbing mindlessly. (There are even stories in the Bible that would be dangerous to absorb mindlessly.) We must engage our brains at all times when they are being influenced by narrative and images.

For example, I've talked with one of my daughters about some of the recurring themes in "Once Upon a Time," such as I will always find you. This is a motto for Snow White and Prince Charming, two of the main characters, who throughout their adventurous relationship are always being torn apart and seeking each other again. Doesn't this phrase bring to mind Jesus' parable of the lost sheep? God never abandons His own, never lets them stay lost; He will always find you. These two very imperfect characters are exemplifying one of God's most glorious attributes: his unconditional, never-failing love.

Another recurring theme: Magic always has a price. (Although I think I've only heard this phrase applied to what the show refers to as "black magic" -- "white magic" or good magic never seems to be as costly. Nevertheless . . . ) Whenever someone seeks out a magical solution to a problem, a solution that involves disrupting the natural order of things, they are always warned that it will cost them something. And yes, looking for answers outside of God's order and will . . . this would be sin. And yes, it always has a price.

But the prominent theme right now in the series seems to be the question of a person's nature. Evil is not born -- it's made, we have been told throughout the series. And we are always treated to the back story in every evil character's life, the things that happened that turned them bad. They weren't always this way; something or someone messed them up. And this is something I appreciate in the show. I have always taught my daughters to remember when they are wronged by somebody that this person is probably acting out the wrongs that have been done to them over the years. Sinners need our compassion more than our condemnation.

But the reason for this is because "there but for the grace of God go I." We are ALL sinners; we are all wrongdoers; we all have the capacity for great evil within us. Even the good guys in the show have done some terrible things. Snow White, the ultimate goody-two-shoes, murdered the Queen of Hearts. Even she has darkness in her heart. 

The big question now is can they change? Regina, the evil queen, is trying desperately to be a better person. Mr. Gold is trying desperately to appear to be a better person while still hanging on to his power. Can they actually change? Or are they doomed to the fate written for them by the Author of the storybook? 

It remains to be seen how Kitsis and Horowitz, the show's creators, will answer that question. But while watching, we remember that we already have the answer to the question. We know how people can change. We know the Author and the means he provided to rescue His fallen people. When we engage our minds and "have a conversation" with the show as we watch it (as opposed to mindlessly absorbing), we remind ourselves, and anyone listening, of what the truth really is, of who God really is and who we really are. We are making God known -- glorifying God. 

There's a fine line, of course, but I don't think I'm rationalizing my addiction here. I genuinely do find that watching this show helps me clarify truth in my mind. I find this with some other shows that fellow Christians object to, as well -- Harry Potter, for example. Paul points out in one of his letters that we cannot separate ourselves entirely from godlessness as long as we are living in the world. We must learn how to engage with it in a godly way. 

I hope I'm teaching my girls that. Turning off the TV is easy (and at times necessary), but turning on your brain is much more difficult -- and much more important a skill to learn, I think. The world we live in doesn't have an "off" button. It requires us to engage our brains.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Educating My Weird Girl

"Oh, my gosh! I LOVE standardized tests! They're, just, not like other tests. They're all multiple choice . . . and you get to fill in the answers in the little bubbles . . . and you use number two pencils . . . and they always have all these things to read, these short articles and stories, and they're so INTERESTING . . . oh, my gosh . . . I'm just, like, "OH, yeah -- I SO want to take this test!"

Believe it or not, there was not a hint of sarcasm in my daughter's voice when she said that yesterday. Just unbridled enthusiasm. Sometimes that girl is so fabulously weird, I can hardly stand it.

I may be enjoying her wonderful weirdness all the more next year. She won't be going back to her school. The board announced to the ninth grade parents that, financially, it is just not feasible for them to continue to offer high school classes right now. They're going to work on building up the student body K-8 until the numbers can support a high school.

For the school, I suppose it was the right decision. For our kids in the first SCA high school class, it means some decision-making. This group of five kids is such an amazing group -- I know because I get to teach them. We parents would love to find a way to keep them together next year.

We've talked some about doing our own little homeschool co-op . . . but only casually, we haven't had a time since the announcement to get together and talk about it officially . . . but I'm getting vibes that other families are unsure about that option . . . who knows what will happen at this point . . .

But my daughter, for her part, is ready to teach herself.

Seriously. She wants me to give her the curriculum and let her run. She was even asking the other day about the possibility of graduating early and going on to college.

And she's getting me excited about all this, too.

This is surprising to me, because I never intended to homeschool either of my girls through high school. I just didn't want to deal with the transcripts and official stuff. It all seemed too complicated and not worth my effort when there are good options out there for people who will take care of that for me.

I'm not exactly sure why my mind has changed. Maybe it's because I've been so involved in the planning for this high school program at SCA and thinking through what the students will need to do in the next four years. Now that I've done that thinking, my brain is also cranking with ways my fabulously weird daughter can do all this -- ways that take advantage of her fabulous weirdness. She's unique; I'd love for her educational experience to match her uniqueness. And figuring out how to do that suddenly sounds SO exciting.

Although not as exciting as standardized tests are to her, apparently. What a wonderful weirdo. Love this kid.

Monday, January 19, 2015

I'm Guilty, Too

Yesterday, Hubby and I joined our daughter at a youth group event focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. The man did great things. I believe the Spirit spoke through him to our country. I still can't hear the end of the "I Have a Dream" speech without tearing up -- I'm a sucker for powerful words containing powerful truth delivered in a powerful way.

But all I could think about last night was an unfortunate fact I learned about him in recent years: he cheated on his wife. Many times over.

I know, I know . . . this doesn't discredit any of the great things he did. All of us have our secret sins that we struggle with -- we'd all be shocked to see the ugliness in the lives of our greatest heroes, I'm sure. But this particular sin has been hounding me lately.

I just finished reading O'Reilly's Killing Patton (if you're curious for a review, a good book, but not as compelling to me as his other three). Patton cheated on his wife. FDR cheated on Eleanor. Everyone knows about Kennedy's dalliances (from one of O'Reilly's earlier books). And of course, history is filled with stories of influential men and women who fell in the same way. Frankly, I'm so tired of hearing about great people who change the world but can't keep the most basic promise they make to the person they are supposed to put first in their lives. Depressing.

What's worse, I seem to be inundated with stories of friends whose marriages are on the rocks right now because of adultery. Several more just in the last month or so.

Good grief. It makes me despair of my own daughters ever getting wed. I don't want to watch them suffer the pain of that kind of betrayal, and I've started to feel lately like it's almost inevitable that it will happen to one of them. If nothing else, I will probably spend their entire married lives watching for signs, suspicious . . . and I don't want to do that.

Why does sexual sin -- in every form -- so permeate our society? Not just our society . . . the world. Throughout history. Sex is a blessed gift from God. Why does mankind consistently mess it up so badly? Why can't we get this right?

A book I'm reading reminds me that the marriage relationship is a picture of our relationship with God. (In fact, every significant relationship we experience in life is used in scripture to tell us more about us and God.) And scripture also uses the experience of adultery as a metaphor for how we, on our end, broke that relationship.

That's sobering. I have just as adulterous a heart as all these philanderers I've mentioned. I consistently turn away from the One I gave my life to, the One I promised to put first in my life, and turn to other gods for relationship and satisfaction. And yet He calls me back -- over and over -- loves me anyway -- never lets go of me. Unbelievable.

If we weren't capable of such profound depths of sin, we would never know the extent of God's love and mercy and grace. What an amazing God we serve. He makes ALL things work for our good, even the sin and rebellion we repent of.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Other Idol of Choice

I have a to-do list app on my phone. I also have an agenda for school where I keep daily to-do lists, and my lesson plans are basically to-do lists for that hour. And on particularly busy days, I combine all of my various lists into one master hand-written list -- hand-written so I can physically cross items off and watch them disappear rather than swipe them to another day.

I've always been like this. When I taught high school twenty years ago, I had an agenda with a list of things to do when I got to school in the morning, a list of things to do over my planning period, a list of things to do at the end of the day, and a list of things to do at home in the evening. I misplaced that agenda one day and was completely lost for that twenty-four hours -- useless to humanity.

I know I'm not the only to-do list fanatic out there. A young mother friend on FB said that she writes "Keep children alive" on her daily lists so that she can definitely cross that one off at the end of the day and feel like she accomplished at least one important task. Had to chuckle at that one -- wish I'd thought of it.

I also know that I come by this listing urge naturally. Our eldest took an online Meyers-Briggs test the other day, so we all got to talking about our personality types. I'm an INFJ (the rarest type, apparently). The "J" means that I prioritize the decision-making part of my life over the information-gathering part -- I'm focused on getting stuff done. (I, Hubby, and the youngest are all J's; the eldest is a "P". That explains SOOO much.)

But times have come in my life when I am concerned about my focus on productivity. That probably sounds ridiculous to most of you -- who could have a problem with being productive? And I don't really have a problem with being productive. But I think I define the value of my day -- and my own personal value, as well -- by how productive I've been.

When Hubby comes home and asks, "How was your day?", my mind immediately goes to my to-do list. Even if I've had a joyous time with my girls, or had some meaningful conversations with friends, or whatever . . . if the to-do list remains unscathed, I have a hard time defining my day as good. My one focus throughout the day is to get things done. Not to enjoy people, or hear God, or make a difference in humanity, but to get things done.

That doesn't seem right.

There was one Christmas vacation while we were in Iowa when we came home earlier than usual, and I had a couple days at home that actually, truly felt free. I had no immediate responsibilities. I decided to completely set aside my to-do lists for those two days and simply do whatever I felt like doing in that moment.

It was the most bizarre feeling in the world. But it was also a good feeling.

I couldn't sustain that any longer than two days, however. Homeschool was starting up again, and I needed a couple days to get lesson plans done and the home life in order. And much as I enjoyed living spontaneously for a short time, it felt good to get back to knowing what needed to be done and doing it.

I still wish, however, that I could find a happy medium. That I could find a way to choose one day out of the week, at least, that I am not ruled by the tyranny of the list. Sunday should probably be that day, shouldn't it? Sabbath and all. A day set aside to worship God, not the god of productivity I serve much too much of my week.

Might have to experiment with that . . .

Monday, January 12, 2015

God's Record-Keeping

"If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, 
Lord, who could stand?" 
But with you there is forgiveness . . . (Psalm 130)

God doesn't keep a record of our sins. Psalm 130 tells us that. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs, and 1 John tells us that God is love, so -- again -- God keeps no record of wrongs. Psalm 103 tells us that when God removes our sin, He takes it as far as the east is from the west. God doesn't keep a record of our sins.

But this fact seems counterintuitive to us. The prevailing view in our culture (even among many Christians) is that God is like Santa Claus: keeping track of everything we do, weighing it all on a scale at the end of our lives to see if we are more good than bad, and determining our eternal fate by that measure. And such a measure requires record-keeping of our sins.

Scripture does not teach this. Not at all. Most other religions do teach this -- or some variation on the concept. When the concept is attached to the Christian gospel, it is a warping of the gospel truth.

God doesn't keep a record of our sins. The fact is, He doesn't need to. His primary concern is our being in a relationship with Him, and one transgression is all it takes to cut off that relationship -- a list of later transgressions is superfluous. And once the relationship is restored through Christ's sacrifice, our transgressions are a moot point.

Let me clarify: the transgressions are a moot point. The damage they cause is not.

This is something I feel like God has been showing me lately. When God looks at me, He doesn't see all the wrong I've done, or continue to do, or will inevitably do in the future. Those sins were covered by The Blood of the Lamb -- Hallelujah, Thine the Glory -- Jesus Saves, Jesus Saves.

What God sees when He looks at me are my wounds.

He sees the dead places that my sinful ways have created, the dried-upness and waste that needs to be hacked out of my soul and burned in the trash heap . . . leaving empty gaps that will ache until enough time has passed for new healthy growth to fill them.

He sees the calloused places that have grown thick and hard, like brick walls I've built to protect things needing to be protected -- and things needing to be destroyed -- walls that now block communication, block connection, block healing.

He sees the tender places, red and raw, that roar with pain when they are touched and hinder progress in my soul.

He sees the broken places, especially those that, like a poorly set broken bone, have "healed themselves" in a distorted fashion.

When God looks at me, a sinner saved by grace, He's not seeing the sins anymore: He's seeing the devastation left in my soul from my sins. And His goal is to restore. To heal.

The thing is, the restoration and healing can hurt and usually does. Even the antibiotic ointment a mama puts on her child's skinned knee can sting. But the greater the healing required, the greater the pain involved -- witness the cancer victim suffering under the effects of the radiation treatment that will save her life. Witness the man who leg bone has to be re-broken so it can be re-set and allowed to heal correctly.

I often misinterpret the pain that comes with the healing as punishment. God's upset about the sin He sees in me still. He's disciplining me, giving me what I deserve for my naughty, selfish, prideful ways. And yes, the Bible tells us not to scorn the discipline the Father gives His children. But discipline is not about punishment -- it's about training. Shaping. Molding. Yes, even healing, I think.

I'm finding that it does matter how I view God's discipline. If I think of it as punishment for my never-ending sins, I am disheartened . . . discouraged . . . even angry at a God who promised forgiveness and seems to be reneging on that promise. But if I think of it as shaping . . . cleansing . . . healing the damage left when my sins were removed, then I am grateful and ready to get on board with His program of discipline.

Cuz Lord knows, I need HEALING. And praise God, I know the Great Healer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


My name is Gwen, and I am a glutton.

gluttony (n.): an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires

I could have said something like "sugaraholic", because my problem is actually not necessarily with the total amounts of food I eat, but with the amount of sweets that I eat. But the term "sugaraholic" (which I have used to refer to myself many times before) has a bit of the same connotation that alcoholic does, implying some helplessless in the matter. And while yes, I believe I have created a physiological "dependency" in my body to some extent, the fact is, I'm not at all helpless about this.

This is a choice. And it is a sinful choice. You all are my "priests" today that I am confessing to.

I read an article recently that asked the question, what would happen if we, in the church, treated the sin of gluttony the same way we treat the sin of homosexuality? And goodness -- seriously, what would happen? Imagine how offended people would get! There's no denying that gluttony is probably an epidemic in our society and even in our churches. There's hardly a toe in the Body of Christ that wouldn't get stepped on.

But we gloss over gluttony. We make light of it. We even glorify it in some contexts. (How many over-eating Christians out there are livid about the sexual sin running rampant in our society and yet engorge themselves on a daily basis without a second thought -- even thanking God for the food He's provided for them to engorge themselves with?) I can think of friends right now who I know will think it is ridiculous that I am concerned about this problem of mine as a sin. A health issue, yes, but a sin? Come on, girlfriend -- if that's the worst you got, you got no sin problems . . . let me show you my rap sheet.

But anyone who knows their Bible knows that sin is sin is sin. And this is the sin God has been convicting me of for a long time now. It's not a small thing, at least not in my life.

Eating so much sugar makes my body weak, which hinders me from doing the work God has called me to.

Eating so much sugar affects my moods, which hurts my relationships, especially with my family, and keeps me from loving others in the way I am supposed to.

Eating so much sugar probably affects my sleep, which is already an issue and which affects everything already mentioned.

But even more so, eating so much sugar gets in the way of my relationship with God. I eat sugar for comfort, to feel better in a rough moment. I eat it for energy, to pick me up when I'm crashing. And God has already provided something to meet those needs in my life: Himself. HE is to be my comfort; HE is to carry me through difficult times. When I consistently turn to something else to play the role that God is supposed to play in my life, I'm breaking one of the Big Ten: that's idolatry.

It doesn't matter than I'm not obese or diabetic or anything like that. I'm not as intimate with my Father as He and I want to be -- and He's made it quite clear that this is one of the things standing in the way. Simply because it represents a choice I'm making that denies His being who He is. And there's no intimacy with God when you're denying who He is.

So there's my public confession, which I decided was necessary for me to actually lick this thing. First John (a favorite book of mine) tells us that "walking in the light" is necessary for fellowship with God, and fellowship with God has become my top priority. So I'm taking this problem out of the darkness and putting it into the light, where it can actually be dealt with. Feel free to pull your own sins out of darkness and join me in the light in this New Year, friends.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Things That Happen When You Get Old

(Not that 46 is old yet; "old" becomes a more and more relative term the older you get. But when I was 21, I thought 46 was pretty old, and to my teenage daughters, I'm sure 46 is getting up there. And Lord knows, I'm not getting younger. So, to get back to the topic at hand . . . )


- Bedtime comes a lot sooner -- and by your own choice.

- The extra weight you gain over the holidays is a lot harder to lose.

- Routine is more appreciated.

- Crowd noise is more annoying.

- Annoyance is harder to hide.

- Technology gets more ridiculously complicated.

- Your deceased parents appear much wiser than they did when you had them around to talk to.

- Cold weather is much less fun.

- Big city drivers get more stupid.

- Hymns grow more beautiful.

- Mornings are significantly stiffer in the joints.

- Sunshine is so much more glorious.

- Years pass more quickly.

- Faults, fears, and failures are harder to hide.

- I become more honest with myself.

- God becomes more obvious to me.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Feeding Myself at Church

Oh, my.

Have you ever read or heard something that so perfectly nailed the unworded sentiments of your heart that you were taken aback for a little bit?

That just happened.

I just read a blog post by a woman I've never heard of named Kate Conner. She's writing about why she's always hated women's ministry. Now mind you, I don't know that I've ever hated women's ministry. That's not where she nailed it. This is:

"I was tired of looking at myself through a Jesus lens. I just wanted to look at Jesus."

Bingo. Nothing but net there.

This is what bugs me about many "worship" songs out there. (Not all of them, but many.)

This is what has bugged me about many of the worship services we visited in the last year. (Not all of them, but many.)

This is what has bugged me about much of the seeker-focused movement in the church over the last couple decades or so. (Not all of it, but much of it.)

It focuses on the seeker. On the worshipper. On me.

A wise and discerning friend in New Jersey once remarked that the church needs to be very careful that we don't try to attract the unbeliever by offering him his own idol of choice -- whether that be materialism, prestige, comfort, pleasure, power, or the grandest of all modern-day idols, Self.

Conner says, "If you're OVER hearing how to be a better person and you wonder what's wrong with you because hearing that 'you are a child of God' doesn't really move or impress you very much - you're not alone. I was there too. I suspect that we are all just starving for The Main Thing."

Starving! Famished! There are churches where I come away from a service feeling like I did over much of our holiday vacation this year -- stuffed to the gills with junk food and sweets to where I can't eat another bite, but still hungry because there was nothing nutritious there to sustain me for the long run.

I think I've given up finding a church where this just happens. I've decided it's not the church's fault anymore. It's mine. The reality is that McDonald's has salads on their menu if I choose to order one . . . and most churches preach Jesus if I choose to look for Him. 

"If you think you don't like women's ministry, or church or whatever, maybe you're just tired of looking at yourself," Conner says.

Yep. Nailed it.