Monday, June 29, 2015

The Cornelius Decision

So, who else is watching "A.D.", the TV series? I rarely read any comments about it on FB, even from my rabid Christian friends, so I wonder.

It hasn't grabbed me and addicted me (like other shows I'm having to wait until the fall to see again . . . grrr), but it's interesting. Some folks are probably upset about the "extra-biblical" material, angles on the story that were not in the original text. The traveling Ethopian eunuch was involved in a plot against the Romans? James arranged with Caiaphas for the Jesus-followers to be accepted into the temple again? And John the disciple as a black man . . . I understand the desire for ethnic diversity here, but that's really stretching things.

I'm not necessarily bothered by these angles, though. It concerns me a little that the biblically illiterate will watch this and think this is all in the Bible, but because none of it that I've seen yet is contradictory to the important message and spirit of the text, I'm okay with it so far. In fact, as a Bible student and script writer, I'm pretty fascinated by the background stories they are supposing here, based on the sketchy details we are given in the book.

We just caught up yesterday on the episode we missed on vacation. And this was an episode I've been waiting for. From the beginning, when Pilate sent his top centurion out to do some violence and called him Cornelius, I've been waiting for the soldier's conversion -- because I knew this HAD to be that Cornelius. And it was. Great idea to have such a crucial character to the gospel story involved in everything from the start, even though in the Bible he pops up pretty randomly and isn't heard from again.

So, yesterday, Cornelius met Jesus. And he is then immediately called in by Pilate to lead his squadron of soldiers to bring the golden statue of Caligula into the Jewish temple . . . and to kill every Jew that tries to stop them. He's a soldier; he's been given orders, orders he must obey or he will be killed himself. Peter asks him what he will do. Cornelius responds that he will pray that the Holy Spirit shows him what to do. Good answer.

So, Cornelius marches his troops with the offensive statue to the gates of the temple, where he politely asks (there's a change right there) the high priest to step aside so he can fulfill his orders. In answer, Caiaphas offers his throat -- kill me if you must, I won't allow you to desecrate God's temple. Cornelius must decide which master he will obey: his earthly master or his heavenly master. And he must decide in a very public way, with EVERYONE watching. He hesitates.

And in that moment, the mob behind him attacks his squadron, and he is left alone kneeling and praying with his new Christian brothers, while the battle rages without his participation. And his soldiers don't seem to notice.

The episode ended before we found out if there will be consequences for Cornelius not obeying Pilate's orders. I suspect there will be. But isn't it interesting that this episode aired now? An episode that deals with the question of what do I do when doing my job, when obeying governmental authority, goes directly against what I know is God's will?

I'm anxious to see how this will play out in "A.D." I'm even more anxious to see how it will play out in my country.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Isms

I've been vacationing with the family, so I haven't written for a while. And what I'm going to write about today, I'm a little nervous about, because believe it or not, I don't like controversy. But it's been heavy on my heart, and I feel like I need to say it.

The shooting in Charleston. So terribly sad. But as I joined the online grieving, I was convicted by some of the comments I read. Sentiments along the lines of, "How could this still be happening in our country?" "I thought we had moved past this!" "When will we eradicate racism in our society?"

Sentiments I would have shared in the not-so-distant past, but I don't think I can share today. Because, friends, I don't think we will ever "move past this." I don't think we will ever "eradicate racism." Not really. And so, as much as we need to fight racism, we've really got to focus on a more important task.

I just re-read a book over vacation that I'll be assigning my daughter in English class this fall: The Deadliest Monster. It compares the worldviews of two classic monster stories (which she will also be reading). In Frankenstein, the doctor creates a being who is pure and innocent in its creation; it only becomes a monster when it is treated cruelly by society. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll recognizes within himself a virtuous self and an evil self and tries to isolate the evil self so as to be able to indulge it once in a while without damage to his reputation; however, the evil self, through the indulgence, becomes more and more powerful and eventually takes over.

The question in this book is, which monster do you believe in? Modern society believes in Frankenstein. We are born good -- the only reason we do bad things is because society messes us up. The solution then is to fix society (laws, education, etc.) so that people are never "trained" to do bad things. We need to pass strong hate crime laws, integrate our schools and neighborhoods, and teach our kids that we are all equal. Then we will get past racism. We will eradicate it.

But the reality is that we are not Frankensteins -- we are Jekyll/Hydes. We are not born good -- we are born with an evil self lurking within us. We are born selfish little snits that need to be "trained" to do good. Racism (at least the selfish, prideful seed that becomes racism) is within us from the womb.

There's an old saying that God doesn't have grandchildren, only children. Righteousness is not passed down from generation to generation. It is not a legacy we leave our offspring. Good manners, maybe. Religious traditions, certainly. Moral habits and desires, perhaps. But not righteousness. Righteousness must be re-born in every individual, one at a time. Who was it that said "We are always one generation away from apostasy"? This is truth. One generation.

I long for a day when our world is genuinely color-blind . . . and gender-blind, and class-blind, and blind to every difference between us that doesn't matter. When my friend's dark brown skin is of no more consequence than my other friend's bright red hair. When we stop celebrating women's history month because women's history is just American history.

But the truth is, IF that day were to ever come, there would still be those who find a reason to hate a group of other people and use guns or bombs to kill them. "Racism" may not be the cause, but there will always be an "ism". No matter what laws we pass . . . no matter how we educate . . . there will always be an "ism".

Because God doesn't have grandchildren. Racism is not a result of bad training; it is a result of an unrighteous heart. The re-birthing of righteous hearts: that's what will stop the isms.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Lethargy

I love summer. I'm not going to lie: one of the best things about being a teacher and living on a school schedule is that everything changes in the summer. I need that change. I've thought many times that I wouldn't do very well in a "regular" job that is basically the same schedule every day all year long for years and years. I need to switch things up in my life on a regular basis.

Notice, however, that I didn't say anything about getting my summer "off." In a sense, I do; but in another sense, I am still working. I have three new classes I'm teaching this fall that I have to read all the literature for and make plans for. I'm also helping with a week of VBS at our church, teaching a two-week drama camp at the end of July, and we're leaving tomorrow for a one-week vacation. And in August, I'll have another Bible study curriculum I'm supposed to write. Frankly, I'm starting to feel a little pressure that I'm not going to get it all done in time -- at least in time to feel like I'm doing it well, up to my own high standards for my teaching.

But as I said, at least things change in the summer. No getting up to an alarm. No packing lunches. I can sit and work outside if I want. My deadlines are self-imposed, for the most part, so I feel more in control of things. Life is so much more relaxing.

So, yeah . . . summer. It's not "time off", but it's "time different", and that's good for me.

To a degree.

I'm also finding, however, that other aspects of the summer "time different" are not to my benefit. I need routine. I need breaks from my routine occasionally, but then I really need to get back into routine. When I'm out of routine too long, I get lethargic . . . mentally and physically.

Lately I've found that I go to bed with a to-do list for the next day and a lot of enthusiasm about getting that stuff done. Because I really like getting things done. Productivity is an idol I have to be very cautious of; I tend to serve it and give it more value than is appropriate.

However, that's not a problem for me these days. I wake up in the morning and I'm dragging. I'm dragging myself into the kitchen to get a bite to eat. I'm dragging myself over to the laptop to check if something important came in overnight that I need to address. And then I'm dragging myself through my Facebook feed (which is much too addictive -- I've got to set some rules for myself about FB if I'm going to make it through the summer).

All my bedtime enthusiasm is gone. I look at that to-do list and everything looks like a drag . . .  or it looks overwhelming . . . or it looks like something I can't start quite yet because of this or that or the other . . . or it looks like something I need somebody else for and everyone else is unavailable . . . or it looks like something that really isn't that important to do right now . . . or . . . I'm full of excuses. And out of motivation.

I've been blaming this on the lousy sleep I've been getting; for a few weeks now, I've been waking up early and only drowsing through the wee hours of the morning. But I've started to wonder if even the lousy sleep is a consequence of my lack of schedule.

When the sun dawns on a whole day that is open and free, it feels ridiculous to impose a strict schedule on myself. But when I go to bed at night, I look back on the freedom of my day and see how I've abused it. I need a schedule. I've got to make it happen.

But it won't happen quite yet. Tomorrow we leave for vacation, and traveling has its own schedule. I may find time in that schedule for blogging, but I may not. So, in case I don't, enjoy this lovely week of June -- and get up and get something done!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Nature = Love

Here's more evidence that God loves us: nature is beautiful.

For those of you unaware, we've had a deluge of rain in Texas this year. Serious flooding about a month ago, in fact. But after many years of drought, rain is a glorious sight, too. Everything is so green and lovely.

I walk around the neighborhood with our dog and marvel at the beauty of the world God gave us. All the green. So many shades of green. Such a soothing color, green. Soft and gentle in the grasses of the lawn and the leaves on the trees and bushes.

And the contrast of the green leaves against the bright blue of the sky is remarkable. Somewhere in my very limited science fiction exposure, I read a novel about a world where the sky was pink or something. And of course, on every other planet, where there is no atmosphere, you only see dark space. I like the option given us.

 I have discovered in recent years that I have a particular affinity for texture. I prefer woven baskets to smooth flat boxes. And I love looking at the various uses of stone and brick in our neighborhood -- in the mailboxes, in the driveways, in planters and steps, even in the houses themselves.

And the sparkle of the flowers sprinkled here and there. Just in our front yard, we have lantana, esperanza, plumbago, and another purple flower that Charlie my plant-knowledgable neighbor can't identify for me. Plus the cactus is just about to bloom. Orange, yellow, red, and purple surprises accenting the soft greens and browns. Big and bold . . . or small and delicate . . .

In Texas (at least in our part of Texas, but I've heard it's a state-wide thing), there are wildflowers growing along all the roadways. The famous bluebonnets pop up to signal the start of spring here, but even now that they are gone, there are still flowers everywhere.

Walking around our neighborhood, I'm entranced by the sights . . . and sounds. Birds chirping. What a great idea that was! Again, such a calming thing to sit in our courtyard area and hear birds, twittering to each other, singing to the blue sky. Bright green lizards and fuzzy brown squirrels scamper up and down our maze of live oaks. Blue jays and other birds I'm not informed enough to pin a name to light on the edge of our stone fountain to get a drink or a quick shower.

And the fountain! Water! Water is an essential to our existence, but God didn't have to make it such a pleasing thing to the eye. Or the ear. The sound of water gurgling, or flowing, or crashing in waves . . . we record those sounds and listen to them in our urban apartments to drown out the car horns and sooth our troubled souls.

Again, God didn't have to make any of our environment beautiful. He was under no such obligation to us; life itself was his greatest gift, and He could have stopped there. We could live on a planet of empty vastness like the moon. We could live in broad deserts of nothingness (not that deserts don't have their own grandeur, but still). We have beauty, in various forms, all of which ease our souls and draw us to Him, if we let it.

Thanks, Lord. I'm gonna go take a walk now.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Pastor, the Black Man, and My Father

The story came to me second- or third-hand, so the details may be wrong . . . but the details don't really matter.

In the latter years of my father's struggle with Alzheimer's, many of his old friends started coming to my mother sharing stories of how he had made a difference in their lives. One of them was our pastor, a godly, well-educated man who happened to have a very strong Southern accent.

Pastor shared how, when he first came to our little Southern Baptist church, there was an African-American man in the congregation (we'll call him "Bill") who clearly had a distinct dislike for him. Pastor didn't know why, although he had his suspicions. But he waited patiently, hoping to win him over in time.

Then the day came when Bill's wife didn't get a Sunday School teaching position she wanted. There was nothing malicious in the decision -- a decision Pastor had nothing to do with anyway. But Bill arrived at that evening's church service breathing violence, making threats, demanding to speak to the pastor alone in his office right now. Pastor agreed to speak with him, but only if my father was there, also. Bill agreed.

Once the office door was closed, Bill began to rage. You hate me . . .You did this . . . You did that . . You've always done this . . . You're a racist! . . . You're a hypocrite! . . . You hate me!!.

Pastor and my father sat quietly and let him vent. When he was finished and stood panting in front of them, there was a long pause. And then my father leaned over, looked the angry man directly in the eye, and said calmly and purposefully:

"Bill, you know that nothing you just said is true. You know Pastor is not a racist. You know he does not hate you. You know he loves you as a brother in Christ. Everything you just said is a lie . . . and you know it."

Bill looked at him for a minute. Then he looked at Pastor for a minute. Then he sat in his chair and began to weep. And the hour that followed was filled with old stories, old injustices, old hurts, and long overdue forgiveness and healing. The brotherly love I saw between these two men in all the years I grew up in that church never gave any indication of this rocky start in their relationship.

Praise God, He is Jehovah Rapha, the God Who Heals.

I am honored that God chose to speak love and truth through my father that night. And I wish there were more voices speaking this way to people today.

Yes, friends, you have been wronged. Your pain is legitimate. There has been injustice and there still is. But let's live in the truth.

Citizen, this police officer did not stop you just because you're black.

Friend, this neighbor does not hate you because you're a lesbian.

Son, this teacher does not call you out more because you're Latino.

Sister, this boss did not pass you over for that promotion because you're a woman.

Brother in Christ, this comment is not an attack on you because you're a Christian.

There has been injustice in the past . . . and there is injustice now and will be in the future. But that doesn't mean that THIS is injustice, or that everything is injustice. And it is no answer or solution to injustice to accuse other innocent people unjustly.

Be committed to truth. Walk and live in the light. If we want others to not make assumptions about us based on our "type," we must afford them the same courtesy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Best Nugget of Wisdom

"If you were to give somebody your best nugget of wisdom, what would it be?"

The Pastor asked us that question to begin his sermon last Sunday, his introduction to a sermon series on the book of Proverbs. But he really shouldn't begin like that because then my mind started ruminating on that question and I wasn't listening to him very closely anymore.

My best nugget of wisdom. If I had one bit of advice to give the world.

Well, the number one nugget of wisdom would be to seek and know God. Period. Above all else. Not join the church, or do good things, or love everybody. KNOW GOD. Everything else falls into place after that.

But that's not what came to mind immediately last Sunday morning. The first best nugget of wisdom
that I fell upon in that moment was this:

Commit to live in truth.

Complete, absolute truth.

No more lies. No more hiding. No more deceit. No more sneaking around. No more masks. No more justifying the unjustifiable. TRUTH.

Be who you are, unashamedly. If you are ashamed of who you are, figure out if you should be ashamed and if so, change that. If you should not, own yourself as a beloved creation of God and learn to accept the child He made.

If you have done shameful things in the past, recognize that once you ask for forgiveness, God wipes that as far away as the east is from the west (I love that image) . . . and then God uses your experience to shape you into who he wants. OWN your failings as much as you own your successes. It's who you are, and it shows God's hand in your life. Perfect people are no testimony to God's grace -- broken people are.

Don't lie. To anyone. Don't hide things. If you are hiding something from someone, good heavens -- that should send off major alarms in your spirit. Why are you hiding this??? Be honest with yourself. I have heard the most ridiculous justifications for covering stuff up. I've known people who convinced themselves they were doing someone else a favor -- "protecting" them -- by deceiving them in the most unconscionable ways. Very rarely is there a good reason to lie to another person. 99 times out of 100, it is wrong. Stop thinking yours is that precious one in a hundred situation every time it's hard to tell the truth.

(If somebody is too weak emotionally to handle the truth, you are only contributing to their weakness by "protecting" them. Speak the truth in love -- help them grow in emotional strength. Someday you won't be able to protect them anymore.)

Stop lying to yourself. Really, that's the most remarkable thing: we tell ourselves things that we KNOW are not true -- and we believe ourselves!! Stop it. Just stop. Nothing is ever better in your life when you are denying the truth. Nothing.

And stop lying to God. You know He knows it all anyway, so it's a waste of time.

Once you stop putting a mask on for God and yourself, you stop needing to have it on for the world . . . and you will be AMAZED how much happier you will be. I promise you.

John called it "living in the light." Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Those are heavy, heavy chains you are binding yourself up with. Throw them off, my friend. Live in truth.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Legal Homeschooling

Because I'm back to homeschooling in the fall, and because I don't feel I've got a complete grip on the ins and outs of homeschooling through high school, and because I haven't been to a homeschool convention in many years (and because I'm one of those weirdos that really enjoys things like homeschool conventions), I went to the FEAST homeschool convention this weekend here in San Antonio.

And because I'm new to Texas, one of the workshops I attended was the one about Homeschooling and the Law in Texas. I figure, I better be sure I'm legal.

This is the third state I've homeschooled in. New Jersey was amazingly hands-off about homeschooling -- there were really no regulations of any kind, essentially. I kept hearing about the overbearing, overwhelming regulations in next-door Pennsylvania and thanking my lucky stars I didn't live there.

Iowa was something in between. We had to "register" with the local school district every year, and we had to do something every year to give evidence that our students were progressing (standardized tests, portfolio . . . I paid a woman to come in and check on us once a quarter . . . she was nice and it was easy). The cool thing in Iowa was that, in our district anyway, we were able to participate in just about anything in the public schools we wanted to sign our kids up for. My youngest took violin lessons. My oldest was "dual enrolled" for eighth grade, going to the public middle school for science and the "exploratory" class with a quarter each of art, music, etc.

Texas seems to be about as free as New Jersey. The workshop speaker said the only requirements to homeschool in Texas (where a homeschool is considered the equivalent of a private school) is that you use a curriculum and that you are making "bona fide" progress in that curriculum. I asked him about that, because I am an English teacher and I don't purchase an English curriculum for my kids -- I know what they need to learn. He said that is fine. I just need to be able, if asked sometime, so produce something that shows what I'm covering and something that proves I've been covering it.

I'm not gonna lie: it is really nice to live in a state where you have so much freedom in your homeschool. But I'm also not gonna lie about this: I'm not completely comfortable with the idea of homeschoolers having such little oversight. I mean, I know I'm going to teach my children well -- and I know when I find I'm not doing a good job, I'm going to look for someone to do a better job (I've already hired a woman to do biology labs with my daughter next year because I know myself better than to believe I'm going to navigate that road successfully).

And the truth is, I have not personally known any homeschool parent who would ever have shirked their duty toward their children in homeschooling. This is a huge commitment; nobody is going to take it on who isn't going to take it seriously.

Except the really rare, really messed-up people out there. And there are a few. And a part of me still believes that the state has a stake in making sure children are protected from neglectful and abusive parents, whether they neglect to feed them or neglect to educate them.

Our workshop speaker gave a bit of the history of homeschooling in Texas. In the 80s, it was illegal to homeschool in the state, period (as it was in much of the country). He related stories of families at that time who did "CPS drills" in their school day. The kids knew when the doorbell rang, they had to pick up their books, go to mom and dad's closet, and sit in there quietly with the lights off and door shut until mom came to say the coast was clear.

Now, as grateful as I am for the pioneers of that period who went through great struggles to give me the freedom to educate my children that I enjoy today, I was uncomfortable with these stories. If it was illegal to homeschool, why were they homeschooling? I expect their answer was that they felt called of God to do it, and their obedience to God trumps their obedience to the state. And even though I don't see a biblical requirement to homeschool (certainly a case to be made for it, but not a requirement), I guess I'd have to accept that answer from those law-breaking pioneers.

Mainly because I anticipate situations coming up when Christians (maybe even I myself) will be called by God to obey in a way that the laws of the land forbid. And I anticipate there will be other Christians arguing with them (or me) that such a reading of the Bible is ridiculous. (I already get those comments now.)

And if obeying my God means breaking the law, paying fine, going to jail, or doing "CPS drills" to protect my kids, I guess that's what I will do. Just like marriage vows . . . the commitment I made many years ago to submit to my Lord doesn't get revoked when obedience gets hard.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Benedict and Daniel

These new pictures of Bruce Jenner make me sad. The effusive praise coming from his supporters makes me sad. The hateful spite coming from his detractors makes me sad. The whole flippin' situation . . . sad, sad, sad. I grieve over what is happening in our country.

I posted an article on FB yesterday about a movement that's apparently been around but I'd never heard of: the Benedict Option. Here's the gist of it. America is going the way of ancient Rome, morally imploding. For the past few decades, religious social conservatives have believed themselves to be the majority and tried to get everyone to band together and vote the right way to protect and maintain their beliefs. It is becoming increasingly clear that they are no longer the majority (if they ever were) and that they are, in fact, becoming social pariahs. The Moral Majority approach will no longer work. We need instead to follow the example of St. Benedict who, when Rome was falling, created small communities where truth was taught and maintained. We need to "cultivate and preserve a robustly Christian subculture within an increasingly hostile common culture."

Interesting, because I've kind of been thinking along those lines for quite a while now.

Benedict created monasteries -- and that kind of cocooning is not what is needed now, I don't think. (Not sure it's even feasible in this day and age.) But I've thought for a long time (and have written about it here) that the Church in America is going to soon have to start taking a Daniel approach to ministry.

Daniel was one of the Hebrews carried away to Babylon during the Jewish exile. Because he was upper class and well-educated, he was brought to the court, probably with the hopes that they could re-educate him to their beliefs and he would be an asset to their side. Instead, he stood firm on his own beliefs (recall the lion's den story) and ended up influencing the king himself. Others in exile were like him, and they preserved the Hebrew faith until they were allowed to go home.

I heard a speaker once talking about starting a church in Salt Lake City with a Daniel approach, as opposed to a David and Goliath approach. Rather than storming the place to conquer the enemy (which seems to have been the way of the American Church lately), he entered as a guest in a foreign land, living out truth quietly and peacefully (whatever the consequences), praying for an invitation to give a reason for his belief.

This is the future of believers in America, I think. My principal spoke once of the fact that we are called to raise a Daniel generation. Amen.

No coming after the giants with rage and defiance. No hiding away in monasteries. Live quietly and peacefully within the hostile land. Live out the truth, whatever the consequences, and pray that others look at your life and want to have what you have. Quietly, peacefully, and lovingly.

Because Christ said his disciples would be known by their love. Not our politics . . . not our morals . . . not our rhetoric . . . by our love.  And Lord knows, that is NOT what the American Church is known for these days.