Friday, July 31, 2015

On Princesses and Mustaches

I haven't blogged in over a week (if you haven't noticed this, no offense taken . . . I suppose). I've been helping direct a two-week drama camp at Crystal Sea Drama Company. A traditional melodrama, with olios, a curtain raiser, and lot of costume changes. I haven't had much else to think about for the past two weeks, so this morning you get:


- I was never taught how to direct; I just figured it out as I went. This week, I got to watch two directors at work and learn from them. Mrs. Miller, the theater's artistic director, is a stickler for detail, authenticity, and consistency – three of my weak areas. And she brought in a friend one evening to help the students with their melodramatic flair – I loved watching her help the actors think through their motivations and subtext and all. I will be a better director after having observed these two ladies at work.

- For the evening's "curtain raiser", we adapted the first play I wrote for the homeschool drama group in Sioux City: "The King and His Dancing Princesses." Now, that production had twenty-four actors, almost all newbies to the stage. For this production, we had six (after one girl got sick and had to drop out). SIX. I learned flexibility and adaptation this week. You wouldn't believe what these six kiddos are pulling off.

- I have a new appreciation for "techies". I've never really had techies before – I mean, I've had people willing to create some basic sets, find props and costumes . . . but a theater "techie" is a breed to themselves. There is a lovely young lady interning at CSDC this year; Mrs. Miller and I gave her a yard-long list of things to do to prepare for this show (everything from "take the sticker off the bottom of the cracker box" to "paint thirty signs for the sign girl" to "build five portable headboards"). She showed up every day and worked all day, systematically ticking off the items on the list – and did so with a smile and great enthusiasm for her work. What a gal.

- I'm so grateful to have this place for my own daughter to nurture her passions and talents. Last year at this time, she was doing the Shakespeare drama camp, her first introduction to CSDC, and she was nervous, shy, and not quite feeling like she fit in yet. This year, she's confident, loud, and right in the center of it all. Love seeing that.

If you're in San Antonio, swing by CSDC this weekend for Drama and Dessert. Eat some triple chocolate cake, take pictures in the photo booth, throw popcorn at the villains with their handlebar mustaches, and giggle at my silly princesses. You'll be amazed at what a bunch of dedicated kids (and two frazzled directors) can pull together in two weeks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ESP: Extra Spiritual Perception

When I was a kid, my best friend and I decided to learn braille, just in case we ever went blind. We also learned to spell in sign language, in case we went deaf. (I don't think we were really as pessimistic as that sounds -- we just liked to learn cool stuff.)

I was pretty fascinated with the idea of living without one of the senses back then. Even more fascinating to me is the idea of being born without one of the senses. Can you imagine never having been able to see? Not having any concept of what color is? And you wouldn't even miss it, because you've never experienced it. I don't know how you'd begin to explain color to someone born blind.

I was also fascinated with the idea of our possibly having senses that we aren't even aware of or using. I mean, we apparently only use a small percentage of our brain's capacity as it is -- who knows what we would be capable of if we were operating at our full potential? Maybe there's another way of "knowing" that we have inborn senses for, but don't know about. ESP and stuff. Yeah.

I kind of outgrew those fantasies a while ago . . . until I read A.W. Tozer, an old theologian who awoke those wonderings in me again.

Tozer notes that, for most people, even Christians, God is an inference more than He is a reality. We infer His existence based on the things we know. All evidence points to the fact that He is there, and that certain things are true about Him, so we assume it is so because we are a people of reason. (Romans says the natural world screams the existence of God, so that we are "without excuse.")

But the Bible doesn't treat God as an inference. When you read closely, the Bible clearly indicates that human beings should have the capacity to know God as a reality, the same way we know our fellow human beings.

How can this be, if God is spirit and we are material? ""We have in our hearts organs by means of which we can know God as certainly as we know material things through our familiar five senses," Tozer explains. "We apprehend the physical world by exercising the faculties given us for that purpose [vision, hearing, touch, etc.], and we possess spiritual faculties by means of which we can know God and the spiritual world if we will obey the Spirit's urge and begin to use them."


Now, these spiritual senses became deadened within us from The Fall, Tozer continues; we have to be spiritually regenerated -- "born again" -- for them to be turned back on so to speak. And even then, we don't know how to use them or even recognize the information they are giving us. (Like color to someone born blind -- how can we even conceive of what this would be like, this completely different way of "seeing" or knowing? How could someone who uses these senses explain it to the rest of us?)

I'll admit: the Realist in me thinks this sounds a bit out there. But the Believer in me recognizes that, as Tozer says, this is a reasonable assumption based on what the Bible teaches, if you believe what the Bible teaches We are made to know God. Not inferentially, but really. And there seems to have been people who have known God that way. I've met a few myself.

So, I've been praying lately for my spiritual senses to be turned on. Knowing God -- really knowing Him -- is what I'm created for, after all.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Burnin' Rubber, Baby

You don't have to know me too terribly well, I don't think, to recognize that the local drag races is not a likely spot to find me on a Saturday night. And yet, there I was. In fact, there we all were – my family of four. Hubby seems determined to give our girls a well-rounded education. "We should go to the races sometime," he said. So we went.

We had no idea what to expect. The website was pretty vague; we weren't even clear about what time the festivities started. We showed up at about 6:30 and parked in the grass, as instructed, so we wouldn't be mistaken for a racer. 

Cuz this was apparently a "run what ya brung" night, as my FB friend called it. Anybody can race any vehicle they want. For an extra $8, we could've added our van to the mix of competitors. It amused us that the woman at the gate asked to clarify that we were just there to watch. Did she really expect us to race our old minivan? Surely she was joking.

So. My first impression of the San Antonio Raceway? Burning rubber STINKS. Phew.

There were only a smattering of people in the stands, and frankly, our family seemed to be one of the most animated of the clusters, due mainly to the great classic rock music playing over the loud speakers. (Just take those old records off the shelf! . . . We will, we will rock you . . . More than a feelin' . . .) And probably to the fact that nobody was sitting close enough to us to pay any attention to what we said or did or how clearly ignorant we were of the proceedings.

Our youngest spent the first half hour or so wanting to be the announcer – which would have been hilarious considering she doesn't know a darn thing about cars. "And now, folks, we have a . . . pretty little red thing in the Napa Auto Parts lane, and a black car with some contraption on the hood in the other lane . . . yeah, I don't know what that is, but it looks like it might make the car go fast. On a side note, you can see Yours Truly in a production at Crystal Sea Drama Company August 1st and 2nd; buy your tickets now!" The rest of the time she focused on her eerily accurate predictions of racers' times when they crossed the finish line. Wish that was a marketable skill.

Our oldest admired the purple flames painted on two of the racing vehicles (one of which pretty much smoked its competition every time). She also got quite riled up every time a race between a Chevy and a Ford was announced, rooting wildly for the Ford (after asking her father, "Which one's the Ford?"). She also got tickled imagining her sister running down the track with a dog chasing her and spent ten minutes or so cracking herself up over that.

A few cars had little streams of steam shooting out of their hoods at the starting line. The announcers used the term "purging" to refer to them. Hubby googled that on his phone: something about . . . nitrous . . . something . . . I just labeled them the "bulimic" cars. We'll figure out the details when we're studying chemistry next year or something.

We enjoyed some interesting t-shirts. "F-- Your No Skateboarding Sign" (uncensored) stood directly in front of us for quite a while. (Wish I could  channel that passion into a more meaningful cause.) Another gentleman informed us in huge letters across his front, "I LOVE BEER," prompting my husband to threaten to wear a shirt next time saying "I LOVE PINOT NOIR AND A SMALL SLICE OF CAMEMBERT." We would probably be the only ones amused at that.

In the end, we spent two hours (in remarkable pleasant weather for south Texas in July) watching cars drive as fast as they could down that quarter-mile stretch – and a couple motorcycles, one of which gave me heart palpatations when it crossed the finish line going 150 mph (that's insanely dangerous, people!!). And I was amazed at how fast the time went and how entertained we were. I even got used to the burnt rubber smell. Gettin' a little less prissy all the time, people.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Self-Love Is the Default, Folks

The Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That's a pretty good sound bite. Jesus himself said that if you do that and love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, that sums up the entire law in a nutshell. 

But there is nothing simple about loving our neighbor as ourselves. There is not even anything simple in understanding what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I've heard this biblical command used over and over to teach that we need to learn to love ourselves more. How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don't love ourselves? Because, you know, we are SO filled with self-hate. We don't like who we are; we just don't accept ourselves for how we are made.

Good heavens. Satan must be particularly proud of himself for that one: turning the second greatest command of God into an invitation to indulge the most basic and greatest of all sins -- pride. Yep, that was pretty brilliant. And what suckers we are to fall for it.

I can't think of a single place in the Word where we are instructed to grow in love for ourselves, to try to love ourselves, or to love ourselves at all. Rather, we are constantly being told to die to ourselves, to put God and others above ourselves. In Jesus' command here, he assumes that we love ourselves from the start – which seems like a reasonable assumption to me, having observed myself and a good number of human beings for several years now. Our problem is never that we think of ourselves more lowly than we ought. Quite the contrary.

I've been reading and re-reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity during my nighttime devotions these days. (There's another brilliant one, C.S. Lewis. Not to compare him to Satan -- but yeah, brilliant.)  He talks about this self-love idea:

Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. . . . In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing.

So, the Self-Love contingency would say, "See? He can't like himself when he thinks he does horrible loathsome things. How could he?" But Lewis continues:

I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.

Part of this has to do with our definition of love. If you think love has to do with fondness or affection, you might have trouble loving loathsome people. But love is not a feeling; it is an action. Love is acting in another's best interests. (Which, Lewis notes, is easier to do when we are fond of the person, so it still behooves us to try to develop some fondness for folks . . . but it's not a requirement to obey the command.) Even when I hate the things I do, I still act in my own best interests.

And even when I hate the actions and behaviors of my neighbor, I can still act in their best interests. I can love them. I can even have some affection for most of them, if I give it some effort. 

This love command of Jesus' -- it really requires more attention than we give it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Seeing Christ in Even This

"A spiritually rigorous saint . . . sees every situation in which he finds himself as the means of obtaining a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ . . . Whatever we may be doing – even eating, drinking, or washing disciples' feet– we have to take the initiative of realizing and recognizing Jesus Christ in it." – Oswald Chambers

Oh, Oswald. He frequently challenges me.

This is true: life is not about self-realization, but about Christ-realization. Only when we come to know Him thoroughly and intimately do we come to know ourselves in any real sense, because we are His children and made in His image.

So, do I do that?

How do I see Christ when I'm writing lesson plans for my daughter's homeschool World History class for next year? I see Christ in the plotline of history, that nothing that has happened was out of His sight or sovereignty. I see His gift of language and love of variety in the many texts and instructional videos I look at to include in the plans. And I see His intimate attention to my daughter as I consider her particular academic bent and how she will absorb this information best.

How do I see Christ when I am revising my play for the smaller number of actors signed up for my drama camp in a week? I see, again, His intimate attention to each of His children reflected in my focus on each individual camper and what parts they can portray. I see His creativity in using story to communicate to His people. And I see His love for us in giving us the joy of story, dance, and music.

How do I see Christ when I'm walking the dog? I see Him in the joy our mutt experiences at the most simple things – smelling a tree, seeing a squirrel, hearing another dog behind a fence, and just being with one of his Persons – God gives me so many simple pleasures that I take for granted. I see Him in the beauty of nature around me, beauty He wasn't obligated to create for my pleasure, but He did.

How do I see Christ when I'm washing dishes? I see Him in the need for order: "a place for every thing and everything in its place" is merely a reflection of the order we see in His universe. I see Him in the need for self-discipline: I discipline myself to do the dishes even when I don't feel like it, and the Spirit gives me the discipline to obey even when I don't feel like it. And I see Him in the cleansing: Christ Jesus who made me clean, once and for all, because I fail miserably in maintaining any cleanliness in my soul.

Oh, Oswald. Thank you for challenging me in this discipline -- to use every situation to obtain a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Giving My Doctors a Break

I have such mixed feelings about the medical community these days. On the one hand, I have genuine appreciation for people who dedicate their lives to caring for and healing the sick. I have friends who are nurses and I know how hard they work and how exhausting it is, physically and emotionally. I'm sure it's the same for doctors. I couldn't do what they do, and we desperately need people to do these things.

On the other hand, I find my dealings with the medical community to be consistently frustrating. Most of it is the "bureaucracy" around them, I suspect. It's probably a lot like public education. The required paperwork and red tape and hoops to jump through make it all an ineffective circus; if teachers could just TEACH, for crying out loud,

I have friends with medical problems that nobody seems to be able to find an answer for. And I've experienced some of this, too. In the five years we lived in Sioux City, I saw seven different physicians trying to find answers to my sleep problems and never did. My husband has some kind of sinus and drainage issue that doctors have been working on for years to no avail. My regular bronchitis I get with any cold -- no doctor can ever give me anything that makes it better.

It drives me insane sometimes that we can spend all the time and money and hassle and never get answers. First, we go through the necessary processes to get a diagnosis -- which may involve lab work (which takes time to get results from) and imaging (which you have to make an appointment for elsewhere for AND takes time to get results from), and we usually have to harass the doctor's office to find out if they've received those results and then make another appointment (which we pay for) to go over the results.

Then the doctor makes his hypothesis about what is actually wrong (because that's all a diagnosis is, really -- an educated guess based on the evidence in front of them) and suggests a possible treatment. Said treatment will involve prescriptions (to be picked up at another place, and often waited for) and behavioral modifications (snort this stuff up your nose three times a day) and will, of course, require time to see if it is working or not. Once we've established that it is NOT working (which seems to be the norm for us), then we have to make another appointment (which we again pay for) to have them come up with another possible treatment and go through the whole process again.

In the end, when nothing is working after several weeks of continued misery, we end up revisiting that hypothesis and judging whether it was incorrect in the first place . . . and coming up with a second hypothesis requiring a whole different set of treatment options . . . yada yada yada. SIGH.

I have to really fight the frustration I feel at my doctors. I like my doctors, usually. I particularly like my current primary doctor. But it is really tempting sometimes to feel like they either have no idea what they're doing, or aren't trying very hard, or perhaps are even stringing us along to keep us coming back to make more money off of our misery. (I don't think that often, but . . . )

However, as I said, I try to fight those frustrating feelings. The truth is, fixing a human body is not like fixing a machine. Machines are simple. If you know how a machine works, you can repair what is not working pretty easily. (And yet, how often have you found mechanic types who get stumped at what's wrong with, say, your car? Or your phone?)

The human body is NOT a simple machine, as much as we'd like to think so. Medical science learns more and more about how our bodies work every year, but there is still SO much they don't understand. But even if they knew everything about our physical workings, we are not just physical beings. We are spiritual beings. And our spiritual lives -- our thoughts, our beliefs, our emotions, our wills -- profoundly affect how our physical bodies function. I don't think medical science will ever be able to get a complete grasp on that, because science, by definition, is limited to what is observable.

So, it really shouldn't surprise me so much that doctors can't figure out why I don't sleep well. And I should stop expecting the answer to be as easy to find as a broken timing belt in a car engine. Even my car stumps my mechanic sometimes -- my body is an even greater mystery.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Independent AND Interdependent

Independence. It's been on my mind lately, but not the kind of independence we celebrated this weekend.

I don't remember the article I read that got my mind cranking, but the cranking meshed with other things I've read and with personal experiences with loved ones. It was all about class -- our nation's economic classes and the cultures and values of the different groups.

The middle-to-upper classes, it seems, place a high value on independence. The ability to stand on one's own two feet, to take care of oneself. So they see education as important -- you need a degree to get a good job that will support yourself and your family. Money management is important -- you sacrifice and save money so that when an emergency happens, you have the resources to handle it, and so that when you're old and can't work anymore, you have resources to live on.

The poor, on the other hand -- the poverty class -- seem to place a higher value on interdependence. We take care of each other; we can rely on each other. When you need a place to stay, you can sleep on my couch as long as you need. I can drive you to work tomorrow, or you can borrow my car. Your kids can hang out at my house after school until you get home. I'll help you today because the day will come when I'll need someone to help me.

Of course, human nature being what it is, there are those in both cultures that warp these values into something sinful. There are people of means who become selfish and greedy and isolated in their independence, hoarding their resources to meet not only their needs but their luxurious desires. There are also poor people who take advantage of the generosity of others and become irresponsible, selfish moochers. Selfishness is no respecter of persons.

People from each class often see the sinful in the other and color the whole group with that color -- which results in their moving even further to the extreme of their own end of the spectrum. "See that free-loader? This is why you have to save your money. (And why we need to toughen the welfare system.)" Or conversely: "See that greedy rich man with the huge bank account? Money isn't as important as people are. I'd rather be poor and surrounded by people I love than rich and lonely. Come on; I just got paid -- let's spend it all on a fun weekend together."

We forget that this is not an either-or situation. It's a both-and situation. We need to be both independent and interdependent. They are not mutually exclusive, even though we think they are.

We have things to learn from each other. The poverty class can learn that sometimes, you need to pay attention that the way you help a friend in need is empowering them rather than enabling them. They can learn that sacrificing to save a little at a time not only means they have resources that keep them from needing to rely on others unnecessarily, but also gives them more resources to share. (Everyone "must work, doing something useful with their hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." Eph 4:28)

The upper-middle class can learn that sometimes you endure the inconvenience and the risk and simply give just because there is a need -- no strings attached, no judgments rendered -- and let God sort out the deserving and undeserving. They can learn that it's okay for us to lean on each other. That's how God made humanity: a body with interdependent parts. And they can learn that money is a tool, a tool to be used to build God's kingdom, not our own. (Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you." Matt 6:33)

I'm talking big-picture here, so don't yell at me about individual situations that don't fit this characterization. I just find that I'm learning much from those in my life that come from the other end of the spectrum . . . and I hope they're learning from me as well.