Friday, January 23, 2015

What I Think About Chickens and God

When I was in the first grade, I discovered one of my classmates lived right around the corner from me. She became my first unrelated friend. We lived in rural Northwest Ohio and spent the summers riding our bikes and/or walking down the freshly tarred back road she lived on. Maybe three quarters of a mile away, past nothing except a neighboring farm warranting its own traffic signs

(My sister kindly went and took these two shots for me today.) :)

and fields growing corn taller than we were, we would visit a drainage ditch with two tunnels under an even "backer" road. We called this magical place "The Bridge".

I introduced my brothers and cousins to The Bridge right away. My older brother almost stepped on a snake there once. My youngest brother liked watching two small otters that played there one year. My cousin David caught a crayfish, a.k.a. the strangest-looking creature I think I ever saw outside of a zoo or a science book. Me? I would lie on my stomach in one of the tunnels really still and suddenly spring my hand to try and catch minnows in the small pool of water below the tunnel's edge. I never succeeded. But I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whenever my hand moved in the water, the pool became murky and I would have to be still and wait for a while until I could see what was happening with the minnows again.

I've noticed this makes a good analogy for how my mind works. As I input information on a subject, it seems I can't think clearly about that subject for a very long time - like my mind takes time to unconsciously make up itself, with only data entry required by me. Also, my emotions and thoughts seem to be bound together somehow, because when I can't think, my emotions seem to make up the murky stuff I can't see through. It's akin to a snow globe sitting on an ever-shifting base. The confetti of my thoughts and emotions always seems to be in a blizzard through which I can only glimpse at what lies beneath it.

But every once in a while things settle and all of a sudden, for a few moments everything feels calm and I can actually articulate what I believe about things. Things like God, about whom my sense of perception is constantly evolving. I had one of those moments about 4:00 this morning. It was a welcome experience, because I have felt so completely ungrounded lately. I would like to articulate my thoughts here as a point of reference for my thinking in the near future.

In spite of often bordering on doubt as to whether God even actually exists, I confess I do still believe in a fundamental part of who I am. I do not know who, what, where, why, or how God is. As for "when" God is, God was, is, and will be; God is eternal and always. I have an inkling as to who and what God is, which informs my understanding of who and what I am as a human. God is my Creator, and God is love. The expression of God's image in me, therefore, is in the giving and receiving of love. And this informs the "why," as in, "Why are we here?" and "Why does God put us here and allow evil to dwell here with us?"

"Heaven," or "where" God is (according to traditional thought), is supposed to be perfect, with no pain or injustice. But in such an atmosphere, how would the God-likeness in us (the imago Dei) ever know expression? I believe evil and injustice and lack break the heart of God; but they serve a purpose. What would break God's heart more? Perhaps a perfect void of love (a.k.a. "hell")? In the face of cruelty and poverty and oppression, individuals have opportunity both to give and receive love, whether is be in the form of a blanket, a refuge, a smile.... Just as people grow in knowledge and maturity in so many other areas, they also grow in "the Spirit"...which I think "living in the Spirit (of God)" means living as God would (and does) live - in the continual giving and receiving of love. A child may be able to love by sharing a favorite toy. An adult may be able to love by sharing their home with a friend, or even stranger, in need. The greater the darkness, the greater the opportunity there seems to be for expressions of love, such as smuggling/harboring refugees from an attempted genocide.

(unknown source: I saw it on Facebook!)
As N.T. Wright (and others?) has articulated so much better than I, perhaps our longing - for home, peace, justice, etc. - is an echo of something we know deep inside of us exists, somewhere, sometime. Do I understand it all? NO. Do I believe? Yes. Something in me just won't let go.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Boxing Day (Recycled Post)

Link Here to Bloghop at DL Hammons

[I originally posted this during the A to Z Challenge in April 2013, but recently it has been getting some hits, so because people seem to be interested, here is a timely review of Boxing Day.]

December 26 is a national holiday known as Boxing Day in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada. Many people do not really understand the historical meaning of this holiday (kind-of like Christmas and Easter!), believing it to have arisen from the need to empty the house of empty gift boxes the day after Christmas. Rather, from what I can tell, December 25th was traditionally the date upon which people exchanged gifts with their equals – family and friends; while the 26th was a day for alms – when people gave gifts to those subservient to them, such as employees, servants, and the poor.

Honestly, I think Boxing Day has a more applicable meaning than our current translation of Christmas Day to the true spirit of Christmas. Christmas honors the historic moment when God became incarnate in human flesh, as the epitomic act of unearned favor, to live and die a human life in order to offer humanity true compassion and the gift of reconciliation with Him. As it plays out, though, Christmas is more often a time of exhaustion, overspending, and ungratefulness. (Don’t get me wrong – I actually really love the Christmas season!)

Wouldn’t it be better to honor God’s greatest gift…one which could not possibly ever be reciprocated…by giving with no strings attached to those less fortunate, as is the traditional habit on Boxing Day?

But then again…

During Easter I had a chance to partake of Communion. As I sat there holding my cup and cracker, I thought of how many people now and throughout the last two millennia have participated in this sacrament. I felt like God was saying to me, “Melody, you are a part of this. You’re included.” And really, isn’t that the whole point?

What did Jesus do for us? He changed our status. No longer do we receive our gifts on Boxing Day…no longer are we just the poor beggars down the street, mostly forgotten, but for this one time of the year…but we have been brought into the “in” group that exchanges its gifts on Christmas Day. Through Christ we have all been made equals. As Christ’s, we understand that each person is precious to Him, and all are invited to the same table of celebration.

I want to begin to recognize Boxing Day as an annual tradition, by volunteering in some service to my fellow humans. But more than that, I want to live each day in the attitude of Christmas – loving my neighbors as myself and, more importantly, as Christ.

“…For whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned], you did for Me” (--Jesus, in Matthew 25:40, NIV).
(When I went to save this picture to my files [found via Google images], I was going to call it simply “poor hands” but found it was already called “giving hands”. I think I like that better – giving hands, though often dirty, are beautiful, don’t you think?)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reading Through 2014; and Some Comments on Consolmagno's "Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?"

After completing my graduate degree coursework in September 2013, I decided to use 2014 to catch up on my reading for fun (instead of primarily for assignments)!! One of my year-long goals was to read at least one book per two weeks. I am now in the midst of my twenty-sixth, so...CHECKMATE! ;) I even caught up on a few classics I'd never had time for. Overall, I'm very satisfied with my year of reading.

Here are the books I read this year:

1) The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson
2) A Better Atonement by Tony Jones
3) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
4) The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
5) Dorothy Parker: Complete Stories
6) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
7) Wicked by Gregory Maguire
8) Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler
9) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
10) Three Lives by Gertrude Stein
11) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
12) Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
13) Southern Living: Easy Gardening (Spring 2010)
14) Russian Fairy Tales
15) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
16) Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
17) Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
18) World Systems Analysis (Okay...this one was for a class....) by Immanuel Wallerstein
19) Democracy and Social Ethics by Jane Addams
20) Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend
21) Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris
22) Hollow City (Miss Peregrine 2) by Ransom Riggs
23) The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Pat Rothfuss
24) The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
25) Outlander... Diana Gabaldon
And the one I am reading now: 26) Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller

I linked to the ones I blogged about while reading - relatively few! I actually blogged twice, though, about both Anna Karenina and Mission at Nuremberg. I think Mission at Nuremberg was my favorite of all. The Miss Peregrine books were really cool, because they were inspired and illustrated by old black-and-white photos found at thrift shops. What a great writing prompt, eh?!

The one I'm reading right now is pretty great, too. Written by an American research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, it examines various questions by lay Christians regarding the intricacies of the relationship between faith and science.

Right now I am on page 56 of 286. The authors have been having a discussion about religious fundamentalists who insist on a literal interpretation of Scripture...and also scientific fundamentalists who also insist on a literal interpretation of Scripture, and dismiss it altogether based on its incongruity with scientific discoveries.
"After all, what is a 'fundamentalist' but someone who has a flattened, one-dimensional view of the subject, and who thinks that if his view of the universe is true, then necessarily all other views must be false? When you think that the 'fundamentals' are all that's important, or that knowing the 'fundamentals' is enough by itself, it's like seeing only the dots of paint in Seurat's [pointillistic] painting [Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte]." --Consolmagno
"And, what is worse, it leads you to try to use the 'fundamentals' of one topic to solve te issues of a different topic. You're using the wrong tools to try to answer questions they were never designed for. It's misguided to ask whether the Big Bang theory would provide evidence for or against a scriptural story of Creation; the Big Bank Theory is a scientific theory, concerned with physical causes that are proximate and contingent. And it's wrong to ask whether a scriptural story of Creation would provide evidence for or against the Big Bang theory; scriptural stories of Creation are concerned with ultimate origins and with humanity's personal relationship with God. Those are the wrong questions for the tools at hand." --Mueller

(The authors then begin a discussion of what are the right questions.) They have already talked about the progressive development of discovery, both in science and theology, and point out the necessity of living in tension knowing all things have not yet been discovered, and so Christians must have faith in the ultimate unity of truth. (I'm sure you've heard the saying "all truth is God's truth." This idea expresses the same sentiment.)

This semester in my Macroeconomics class I learned the fallacy of composition, which states that it is a fallacy to assume that something is true of the whole just because it is true of one or some of the individual parts. In other words, because an economist understands the microeconomics of a situation, he or she does not necessarily understand the macroeconomic picture. For instance, the real estate market in Iowa does not necessarily reflect the state of property values or trade in the nation as a whole.

Just so, scientific discoveries can enlighten how we interpret Scripture, just as scriptural understanding can help us interpret scientific data to discover things about the God whom we believe created the universe. Advances in neither, however, cancel out the validity of the other discipline as a whole. If there are differences, we must hold our rationality and faith in tension and believe that ultimately, each will be fully revealed in such a way that neither conflicts with the other.

I trust in the ultimate unity of truth.

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Advent Lesson on Loving the Not-Particularly-Lovable

There comes a limit to my compassion, my understanding, my friendship...my love. Especially when it seems someone kicks and screams against it...or misuses or takes advantage of it.

In my entire life there have been MAYBE 10-12 people with whom I have particularly not meshed...people toward whom, for some reason or other, I found it difficult to live out the love of Christ. Or even just my own love. I'm a pretty loving person, after all...generally speaking.

But yeah, there have been times when, though I didn't not love someone, I chose to be selfish rather than giving...perhaps the person needed me and I chose to be lazy or self-serving rather than go the extra mile to do something for them. I have a couple of regrets in this area, in fact. But I'm talking about the people against whom I would rather take revenge. Someone from whom I would like to withhold love, in order to punish them, or at least in order to just "be done" with them in order to protect myself from more anger and/or hurt.

This Advent I am faced with a choice on how to act toward one such person.

My prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank You for the love You have shown me, and continue to show me, even when I don't particularly warrant it. Thank You for Your patience, and Your example of Self-abasing love. In this season, please help me to be conscious of every person as a soul that is precious to You - and especially help me to regard this person with whom I am in conflict as someone YOU love. Help me, when my love and patience and goodwill grow thin or even completely run out, to love this person with Your love. Thank You for trusting me with this opportunity to grow.

Friday, December 12, 2014

7QT - Creepy (and not-so-creepy) Thrift Store Finds, Advent Reflections, and Endings




---1---
I have not done 7QT in so long...but I have been collecting snapshots for a little Take I've been planning on CREEPY THRIFT STORE FINDS:

Hunchback Santa or South Park Santa?


Take your pick here....

I thought the PeeWee Herman costume was the creepy thing
about this photo, but now that I see the ceiling, I think I was mistaken.

There is absolutely NO CHANCE this doll will come to life and
kill you in your sleep if you take it home. Money-back guarantee.

Glowing, smiling rabbits in a rusted-out amusement park ride cage.
The thrift shop people really are trying to give the children nightmares.
 
---2---
Speaking of thrift store finds (but non-creepy ones this time), I learned a little more about my icon egg.
 

 
I discovered (from the Cross on the back of the egg) that it is Russian Orthodox in origin, and through a little more digging found that it is Our Lady of Kazan, or Holy Protectress of Russia. One Internet source said it was a tradition for mothers to present this icon to their daughters when they became brides, as a Protectress for the new couple's home. It made me like it even more that I acquired it :).
 
---3---
I posted on Facebook a couple of months ago:
I realized it was about this time last year that I was struggling SO MUCH, and no one knew. I was trying to pay my bills and live, but I had been paying rent, car insurance, a ridiculous buy-here-pay-here car payment, phone, and utilities, and living on ramen lol, all on a barely-more-than-minimum wage. I had applied for jobs ALL SUMMER. Finally got hired about mid-July to be a s...ubstitute teacher, but because of training and the slow moving process of getting hired to work for a school district, the job didn't actually start until well into September. By then it was too late. I was 4 weeks late on my car payment, and they came and took the car. My phone was shut off, my electricity was shut off, and I consequently ended up losing the second job, all within a two-week period!! Things are so much better now. Thankful that though the hard times definitely come, they also go. So grateful for those easier seasons, and for a good friend or two who come along to help you through the rough ones!!
Along those lines...lately I have taken a step in the right direction to get back on track toward my future career goals (teaching), and gotten another position as a substitute teacher for a school district nearby. I am loving it. On my way out of one of the schools last week I saw this bell in the schoolyard:
 

It reminded me of another bell that used to sit on a base across the street from where I lived from ages 12 to 14 or 15 near Sycamore, Ohio. It marked an old cemetery, mostly from the late 1800s, and I think it was a remainder from a church that had once stood there. But we, being very respectful and awed by historical artifacts like kids often are, would crouch behind the septic tank in our front yard and aim our bb guns at the bell. (I was a pretty good shot for a girl and all ;).)
 
---4---
Speaking of Advent...
Well...
Wait.
No, that is what we should be speaking of, isn't it?!
Okay. We will, then.
 
This poem by Luci Shaw was posted on Modern Mrs. Darcy this last Sunday, and it really struck a chord in me:
 
It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to, later, 
were those soft, inward 
flutterings
and the remembered surprise
of a brief encounter – spirit
with flesh.
Who would think it
more than a dream wish?
An implausible, laughable 
defense.
 
And it may seem much
too much to ask me
to be part of the 
risky thing – 
God’s shocking, unconventional,
unheard-of Thing
- to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory. 

Much as I hate to admit it, I know precious little about Advent. Oh, but I know all kinds of stuff about God. And despite all that deep, theological stuff I know, sometimes I still have the audacity to wonder if He's really even real.

So this season, despite how little I know about liturgy and Advent, I decided to do a little bit of intentional observation. I tune into an online Lectio Divina practice on Wednesday nights when I can (called Thin Places, by Extravagance UCC). I read Advent-themed blog posts. I am even reading through a daily devotional (of course, I miss about as many days as I hit on this). I'm even keeping a brief little journal of my reflections each day this season.

And this poem.... "...to ask me to be a part". To ask me to believe and risk ridicule and head wagging because I as a reasonable individual dare believe and stake my hope on an archaic fairy tale....

I seem to be learning a lot from Mary this Advent. From imagining the Nativity and her actions during the story, both told and what possibly went on that wasn't written word for word, to pondering on this poem and the things people must have thought and said about her, being pregnant and not married...and if she dared to tell anyone that she was a virgin. But she did it. She allowed God to use her in the most important of His acts toward humanity - giving us His Son. She faithfully obeyed. Maybe I can faithfully remain.
  
---5---
Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon I finished my last final for the semester! It was actually a 5-7 page essay for the class "History of the American South." Here was the essay question: "A variety of historians and other scholars have stressed the importance of the invention of the cotton gin, the Civil War, political reformers (Populists, Progressives, New Dealers), the invention of the air conditioner, and World War II to the history of the American South. Explain the importance of each of these items in terms of its impact on the South (economically, socially, culturally, politically, etc.). Rank them 1 through 5 and explain your choices." Whew! I really did like the class, but gosh, I'm glad it's over!
 
On Monday I had my World History 2 final. That professor did his exams in essay form, too, but the essays were shorter, and you didn't know what he was going to ask until you showed up (the American South was a one-week take-home paper). I didn't know half of what he asked about, so I filled in and wrote essays about other stuff we studied during the last half of the semester, hoping maybe he would give me some credit for learning, even though I apparently didn't learn the right stuff. We'll see.... :/
 
---6---
 So, in celebration of finishing the semester we went to dinner at the Whole Hog CafĂ© (inexpensive, good bbq), and then to the cheap movie theater to see Nightcrawler...which was good, but quite strange. And tonight we plan to finally put up the Christmas tree! I've been picking up a few Christmas ornaments here and there as I thrift shop. I'm happy with my little collection of classy, country-style decorations. They make me happy. :)
 
---7---
Jennifer, I must admit I was sad to see you relinquish the Quick Takes, but understand. You have so much on your plate. And really, this isn't good-bye, my invisible little Internet friend. I'll still follow your non-Quick Takes-hosting posts and continue to be inspired by the spectacularness of your life's mundanity :). Thank you for sharing it with us! And thank you for introducing us (or at least me) to Kelly! I believe this is the beginning of another beautiful virtual (imaginary? O.o) friendship!!
 
 
For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum! 



Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Spell of Shattered Sight

[source]
I am a Once Upon a Time fan - it is one of the handful of television shows I keep up with on Hulu. It often makes me think theologically. In the most recent episode [season 4, episode 9], for instance, Ingrid casts the spell of shattered sight on Anna; the purpose of the spell has always been to distort people's perceptions of what they see. Theologically, it makes me second-guess myself. The literal rendering of the Bible passages that speak of God allowing people to "believe a lie and be damned" or "turning them over to a reprobate mind" has always caused me fear - would God actually allow me to be deceived because I dared think outside the box of legalistic religion?

I don't think so. But I still have a few remnants of that insecurity.

And then on the road searching for Emma, Mary Margaret and Regina have a conversation about whoever wrote the book in which their lives have been chronicled. Regina is convinced that the author decided Mary Margaret was a hero and she, Regina, was a villain, and irredeemably so. "Free will be damned," she says.

I have ruminated on free will before...you know, as far as salvation and predestination and Calvinistic blah blah blah and all that. But I've never considered it in terms of the total outcome of "the story". Does free will have ultimate implications? Has God already decided, or foreseen, or whatever theological term you want to throw out there, how it all ends, and written the end of the book as destruction and punishment and cleansing...or is the book written in a choose-your-own-ending style? Maybe there is hope of redemption and reward and...and healing rather than purging. I don't know. Maybe it's time I delved back into the literature on free will and see if anyone has addressed this and how.

The episode also brings out the meaning of the song, Let It Go. Ingrid freezes Anna and Kristoff in the castle after declaring, "Sooner or later, everyone sees me as a monster. Maybe it's time to embrace it and be one." DUN-Dun-dun. The thing is...Ingrid had some choice all along. She let a few wrong people's wrong perceptions of her form her own expectations of all the people around her. She thought because a few misguided individuals saw her as a monster, so would everyone eventually. Perhaps it was even exacerbated because that is how she viewed herself. Classic case of psychological projection.

Allowing others' views of us to form our own self-perception is harmful. It's not a bad idea to take in feedback from others...but others can be very wrong. Every person is biased by their own worldview. I am in charge of who I want to be. I have to follow what I believe in - what I know in my heart I can live with.

The thrust of this episode is radical self-acceptance...and hope...and waiting patiently for a happy ending. I loved it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

7QT - Thrift Shop Icon Eggs and Solitaire-y Ne'er-Do-Wells.



---1---
Over the last few weeks I have been reading the two-book series of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. (I took a break this past week because I needed to focus on midterms.) But the books were inspired by old photographs found in bins at thrift stores and flea markets...you've probably seen them. I thought it was a great idea!! So today I went to a thrift store and finally found some here in town (I found some in the town I previously lived in, too, but these are the first I've come across here.) I found a few gems. I'll show you below!
 

This is the one I found the most striking.
---2---
I also found the following two intriguing.
 


What are they hiding behind their backs...?
---3---
And this one here?? Yeah. It looks all normal and everything....
 


But turn it around, and...
..."sort of a druggist" [druggist?]. Hmm.
---4---
The thrift store I went to was a new one to me, and I thought it was kind-of cool. They also had figurines of this Nigerian Santa:
 

 
And this obviously Pentecostal angel:
 
 
---5---
And this. I thought this was really cool and bought it. It is a wooden egg about the size of my hand. Are icons on wooden eggs a thing?
 


 
 
---6---
I tend to spend a little some an inordinate amount of time playing two-suit spider solitaire. I noticed the cards the other day...
Little Mister King looks angry. The Queen in turn looks worried.
And that ne'er-do-well Jack is just turning a blind eye, as usual....
---7---
Hope everyone has a great weekend!!
 
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!