Monday, October 26, 2015

Our Current Neurosis

A theme of distress has arisen among the females of our household: the theme of Too Much To Do in Too Few Hours of the Day.

It manifests itself differently in each of us, owing to our individual personalities, weaknesses, and neurotic tendencies. But we all are feeling that stress. I need to do this. I have to do this. I should do this. I want to do this. I feel guilty because I'm not doing this. I'm unhealthy because I'm not doing this. And this. And this.

And can I be honest? I don't necessarily look at what we're trying to accomplish in a week and think it's too much. Now, maybe my perception has just become warped -- that's certainly within the realm of possibility. But I don't feel like we're expecting a lot of ourselves.

But maybe that's because when I think of everything I have to do, I think of the big stuff. School, homeschool, curriculum writing, plays and such. That all looks busy, but doable.

Then I add in the once-in-a-while events that come up: the church luncheon yesterday (I'm just helping set up and clean up -- no big deal). Halloween (buy candy, carve a pumpkin -- not so bad). Make my Christmas list (just sitting down and thinking for a while, right?). Again, each of these are stressors, but they are just momentary interruptions.

Here's what I forget: life.

The everyday life stuff. In the midst of the big things are the little things: figuring out what to cook for meals, picking up the house, doing laundry, packing lunches, walking the dog, cleaning out the fountain, backing up my laptop, vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher, making sure we have toilet paper in the house, coloring my hair, exercising, mopping mud stains, Bible study, pulling weeds, paying bills, buying groceries, refilling prescriptions and picking them up, cleaning toilets, dumping bad food from the fridge, watering flowers, dusting, taking care of the dog's nails and teeth, finding missing items, replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors, cleaning out the microwave, showering . . .

The little things are what get missed. And the little things add up fast. And the little things undone make me feel like I'm a crazy woman and failing at life.

How does this happen? Women in my situation from the 1920s would look on my life, with all the modern technological advantages, and think I'm living on Easy Street. Nope. More stressed than ever. And I don't think I know anyone who isn't stressed in a similar way. Do you? No, you don't either.

As I said, the three of us ladies in our home all deal with this in different ways. And none of our methods are wholly successful or healthy. In fact, some of them have become decidedly unhealthy and need to be dealt with.

Which is now another item on the to-do list: fix neurosis.

Sigh. Well, despite it all, I still feel like this is the most enjoyable season of my life so far. I enjoy my family tremendously, and they all enjoy each other. I love the work I'm doing. I love the house I'm living in.

Life is good . . . I just have to remind myself of that when I see more muddy footprints at the front door. Life is good.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Good Samaritan, Take Two

So, I've known the story of The Good Samaritan probably all my life. It's one of those Bible stories that even the non-believers know and like because it's about being good to people, regardless of who they are. At least, that's what we all thought it was about.

Yesterday morning, we had a guest preacher, and he gave us a new twist on the story (a phrase which, I will say, I am always a bit cautious of when we're referring to the Bible . . . I generally have a hard time believing that a couple millenia of Spirit-filled, serious Bible scholars and teachers might have TOTALLY missed the point of a passage . . . but fresh eyes are always good, so carry on).

Our speaker emphasized that correct interpretation of scripture always requires reading in context (very true). And he made note of the context in which this story is told: 1) Jesus has just set his course toward Jerusalem for the final week of his life, so the whole dying-for-the-world business was on his mind, and 2) he has just been asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" So, this story, he proposed, is about how to inherit eternal life -- a remark that initially sent some alarms off in my brain because, as mentioned earlier, we read this as a story about being good . . . and being good is not how you get eternal life.

However, that was not his take on it, much to my relief. He started with identifying who each of these characters must represent, because this is a parable and symbolism is inherent in the genre.

So, if we're talking about how to inherit eternal life, who must the beaten up person on the road be? The needy person? The desperate person who requires assistance? Well, obviously, he is one who is in need of eternal life. Beaten and bruised by the ravages of sin. Ah . . . and then everything else clearly falls into place.

The priest and the Levite -- obvious representatives of the Jewish law -- pass the man by because they either can't help him or won't.

The one who stops, and picks him up, and takes him to shelter, and cares for his needs, and pays the price it takes for him to be healed -- that's the Samaritan. The Unlikely Savior. The person one would least expect. The one scorned by the establishment religious folks . . . the one who "came to his own, but his own would not receive him."

Because THIS is how one inherits eternal life: our Unlikely Savior pays the price for our healing.

Well. How have I lived in Christian circles, attended church all my life, studied scripture and Bible teaching for years and years, and never heard that take on the story?

I'm still going to need to think about it, because as he said, context is important, and the immediate context of that story is Jesus' interrogator asking him, "And who is my neighbor?" which is where we get our traditional interpretation of what Jesus is trying to teach us here. Then again, scripture is a multi-layered thing, and there's no reason the story can't have both meanings. Both meanings are consistent with the rest of the Word.

But I have to say, I like this new interpretation . . . if for no other reason, because it pulls us away from the "Do Good Things" interpretation. Not that we shouldn't do good things. Not that we shouldn't show love to our neighbor. Not that there's anything wrong with that take on the story. But as I said, even the non-believers love that one -- there's nothing distinctly Christian in the call to Do Good Things. It can be a slippery slope from there to a very worldly gospel of works that deceives many into thinking they are earning their way into heaven.

So, I'll meditate on this one for a while. After all, we can never meditate on the gospel story too much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Too Lazy for Due Diligence

I'm not normally a . . . you know . . . activist type. But I had a thought while driving home from Kansas this past weekend.

About an hour north of Austin on I-35 (Austin! I-35! Oh, Texas friends, you know the insanity, don't you), our traffic slowed to a crawl for about twenty minutes. On a Sunday night after 10pm, I couldn't imagine what would be causing a traffic jam other than an accident, and hubby saw some flashing lights way ahead of us, so we assumed that was the case.

But as we neared the problem area, we saw that the flashing lights were on some kind of construction-looking vehicles, not emergency response vehicles. And these vehicles were empty and not moving; they were way off to the side of the road cushioned by three lanes of traffic blocked by orange barrels -- those orange barrels they use to block off construction areas.

Yet, we saw no construction. No construction work going on, of course (as if they'd be out fixing our roadways at night on a Sunday, the least busy traffic time on the highway, as would be logical). But there wasn't even any evidence of construction in progress. Three perfectly good, very drivable lanes were simply blocked off for no apparent reason, and all the Sunday night traffic on I-35 (north of Austin! Insanity!) was funneled into one lane . . . again, for no apparent reason.

Now, I know you all are thinking, "OH, yeah, I see that all the time. Drives me crazy." Because yeah -- we do see that all the time, don't we? Traffic lanes blocked off for "potential" construction zones although they are completely passable at that time and it seems they will be for the foreseeable future. And the flow of traffic is drastically disrupted because of it. We are all aggravated about that.

And my question is, why do we put up with it?

Doesn't the Department of Transportation work for us? If everyone who drove through that single lane of traffic Sunday night -- or even just half of the people -- wrote or called the state highway officials and complained about the situation, wouldn't they have to do something about it? If everyone who ever finds themselves in such a situation contacted the officials to bring the problem to their attention, wouldn't just the extra phone and email traffic be annoying enough for those officials to make more effort to prevent such scenarios from occurring in the first place? You would think so.

So why don't we make such calls? I submit two reasons. One, we are lazy. Two, we assume there is a reason for the blockage that we just aren't aware of. The first reason is obviously unacceptable; citizens cannot be lazy in a democracy. And I'm not sure the second reason is acceptable, either. We're not stupid. We can look at a piece of highway and tell if it is drivable or not. Why do we assume such incompetence from ourselves?

It concerns me a bit that we have this tendency to look at situations created by our government agencies -- situations that seem to all intelligent observation to be useless, wasteful, inefficient, perhaps even unethical or illegal -- but we don't trust our instincts about that. We give our government the benefit of the doubt. Do they deserve that benefit? Perhaps. But I think we lose something important in our lack of diligence in their oversight. And it starts in the little situations . . . the three lanes of traffic blocked off for no apparent reason.

But I'll admit: I'm too lazy to do anything about it. Sigh! We deserve the government we get.

Monday, October 5, 2015

My Social Justice Problem

I realized something in Sunday School yesterday that I'm not happy about. The word "justice" -- especially the phrase "social justice" -- when it is used by fellow Christians sets alarms off in my brain.

I'm not happy at that discovery. It shouldn't be so. And yet it is.

"Justice" is one of the attributes of God. God is just; even more, God IS justice. Our only conception of the idea of justice comes from God's interaction with us through the law. It's not like it's a cuss word or anything.

But it has seemed to become a buzzword for a certain segment of the Christian world, a segment that I have unfortunately often disagreed with on a variety of issues, issues that those brothers and sisters promoted in the name of "social justice." I sat yesterday and tried to pinpoint for myself again what all it was I disagreed with them on . . . and I had a hard time doing so. The biggest differences were political, I think. My social-justice-loving Christian friends seem to also want to use the government as a means to achieve this social justice, which I often question the wisdom of.

Ah . . . and now I think I remember the big culprit in this: Obamacare.

It was when Obamacare was being debated that I found myself mentally setting apart a camp of people (Christian and nonChristian) who seemed to be all about "social justice" and seemed to be getting it all wrong.

It went like this: As much as I am concerned about making good health care available to all who need it, I was very reluctant about Obamacare (and still am). Admittedly, the people on "my side" of the argument had not approached the problem which much sense of urgency, to their shame. But Obamacare didn't seem to be the answer. I saw too many problems with the proposed system. It just didn't seem to be the best way to do this; it seemed to be an emotional, rushed reaction to the problem.

But the real stunner was the reaction I got from social-justice-touting friends when I expressed my concerns. Rarely were those concerns addressed in a reasonable manner. I was called selfish. Completely uncompassionate. Unchristian. Clearly unchristian. I was told I obviously hated poor people. Obviously. I was called a spoiled rich girl who had never had to suffer in my life and so my opinion had no validity in this debate.

Yes. Those very things were said to me. Often implied, but sometimes directly and bluntly. And it hurt me and angered me.

And so, my social-justice-promoting Christian friends got put in a mental box in my mind: they are WRONG. They are wrong about me, they are wrong about Obamacare, they are wrong, wrong, wrong about so many, many things. It was an emotional reaction, and it kept me from seeing what they were right about.

Which, I imagine, is exactly what they did to me, too.

I still get alarms up when my Christian friends start talking "justice" too much . . . partly because I think in the fight for justice, they often forget the need for "justification" (as we eventually got to in our Sunday School lesson). And I acknowledge that in my corner, the pendulum often swings too far in one direction, too. But I was reminded yesterday of how past wounds and personal feelings can color our "theology" and make us haughty. And wrong.

God gave us emotions, and they motivate us to act, which is good. But even our emotions are fallen and cannot be trusted alone. The heart is deceitful above all things, Jeremiah tells us. We would all do well to remember that. I'm trying to, at least.