Author Archives: So Here's Us.... life on the raggedy edge.

About So Here's Us.... life on the raggedy edge.

I'm a bookworm, nature lover, kick-boxer, candy fiend, sci fi geek, home body, progressive Christian and part-time student. I love my crazy life and the messy, fun, stubborn, silly, brilliant people who populate it.

What I’m Into: Summer 2014

It’s been a long time since I shared a “What I’m Into” post. I haven’t posted much of anything for the past 3 months. Clearly, I’m not that into blogging lately. Not that I’ve lost my love for writing as a hobby/therapy/desperate bid for attention – let’s pretend I didn’t actually spell out that last reason out, shall we?

The truth is, I’ve spent a great deal of my writing mojo on other projects lately. Hesitantly poking my nose into freelance articles, writing poetry and short stories I may never show anyone, and even, deep breath admitting this out loud, the start of my sci-fi YA novel. There are other outlets that would make more sense both financially and practically right now. But sometimes you have to do what makes your heart sing, no matter how silly it seems to everyone else.

So here’s a few of the other things that made my heart sing this summer:

the Calgary Stampede, steak and cheese bread from Ceasar’s, making s’mores with family from far and wide, a backyard full of toys and half-naked cousins, little ones kissing Gigi on the cheek

sour cherry slurpees, lifesaver popsicles and watermelon on the hot, miserable days

kiddie pools, beach days and eating on the deck

finding new sci-fi buddies in my own house (thanks to Aunt Colleen for the amazing Marvel-cation you gave L and C this summer) – next up: Star Trek

brand new text books full of things to learn (art history, medieval literature and creative writing)

Reading

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is technically a children’s book (ages 9-12), but I’ve read it twice already. This should be required reading for everyone who’s ever known someone with a disability, or ever will. Funny, gut-wrenching and uplifting by turns it follows Auggie Pullman, who was born with a drastic facial deformity, as he attends school (grade 5) for the first time.

Cinder, followed by Scarlett and Cress in short order. I both love and hate the cliff-hanger endings, especially since the fourth and final installment doesn’t come out until next year. The premise of these futuristic fairy tales (Cinderella the cyborg) is intriguing and the writing is solid, if not brilliant. I’ll go a long way for a clever premise.

Black Dog, Dream Dog is a sweet tale written by Michelle Superle for young dog lovers. I am neither of those things, but a fan of the author and the art of gentle story-telling. They don’t make enough like these anymore.

Bloom by Kelle Hampton has been sitting on my shelf for months. It’s recommended to me, and no doubt every other mother of a child with Down Syndrome, on a regular basis. I admire Kelle’s unvarnished honesty, her stunning photography and her lovely writing. BUT, her experience is as different from mine as night and day. It was so hard to relate to. For those with little experience in the messiness of life, those who pursue picture perfect and are facing the first bump in the road, this might be the book for you. But not for me.

I also really, really wanted to enjoy Blue Shoe by one of my favourite authors Anne Lamotte, but alas, I hated it.

Watching

This summer my TV (read: Netflix) watching has consisted of:

  • Season 2 of Veronica Mars
  • Suits – a stylish and fun (though unrealistic) drama about lawyers
  • A blast from my far past – Highlander (full episodes found on Youtube)
  • Extant – weird, but interesting
  • Under the Dome – losing steam, but refusing to give up entirely

The movies that I’ve enjoyed lately are:

  • If I Stay, a sugary sweet, but still palatable story about family, death and young love
  • The silly, but strangely endearing Guardians of the Galaxy
  • And for some reason, despite the gory violence, Lucy

I don’t know if I’m getting old (or boring according to my kids), but I’m enjoying documentaries and Ted Talks an awful lot these days. Here’s a few of my favourites:

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

If you stumble on me doing an aggressive Wonderwoman pose in the bathroom, blame science.

The Happiness Advantage

The Game that can give you 10 Extra Years of Life

Blogging

Summer isn’t all fun and games. I’m learning to Exhale and accept that Grown Up is Hard to Be. I even posted my first celebraty tribute: Robin Williams and the Human Condition.

We celebrated 19 years of imperfect, but mostly happy marriage this July – Beyond Obligation.

The summer is also a time for birthdays, which in our family means birthday letters. After much discussion, the kids agreed they can be posted on the blog (I suspect it has something to do with the rave reviews we give them). He’s big. He’s bad. He’s four., Raising You is an Art, not a Science, and Prima Ballerina.

So here’s us, facing an uncertain fall full of new things. Teacher’s strike looming, all new SEA’s and teachers for the girl, full time school for me and 4 days a week of preschool for the boy. Wonderwoman poses for everyone.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer:

what I'm into


Unpacking: Two Years Ago Today

The tag on the back says “12 mos” – a measure of size and not age. I shake out the blue and white checked pants before folding them, tangible proof that our almost two-year-old is much smaller than most his age. Tiny shirts, pants, footie pajamas and an impressive array of cute onesies emerge from cloth shopping bags, filling the mostly empty drawers. I move the size 2 outfits we’d purchased to the closet. The weight and height measurements we had gleaned from medical files did nothing to prepare us for the Lilliputian dimensions of our brand new toddler.

Brand new to us, that is. Up until now he’d been an abstraction, the idea of a son sketched out in black and white via e-mails and social workers’ reports. He had seemed to come to life in daydreams fueled by my own fervent desires and charitable impulses. Caught up in my excitement, his big sisters painted this very room themselves; a sloppy, but affectionate gesture. Jungle green smeared over princess pink walls. Lions, tigers, bears and a miniature Webkinz elephant were rescued from stuffed animal purgatory to serve as both decoration and entertainment.

He came with his own stuffed animals too. Clothes, toys, soothers, a neon mobile that plays nature sounds and lull-a-byes at the press of a button; I’m told he prefers falling asleep to Bach each night (classy). He has a favourite blanket, book, game, food, way of being woken each morning and, no doubt, a thousand other things I didn’t even think to ask about. In real life, we have more questions than answers. I have no idea if he’ll like his room.

When I brought my daughters home, these same drawers were bursting with clothes. From day one I was the acknowledged expert on who they were and what they needed. It wasn’t that complicated; newborn infants are more potential than established personality. But almost two-year-olds don’t fit neatly into the boxes my imagination had constructed. He came with his own things. He came with his own identity.

A worn blue T-shirt, obviously a favourite, clutched in my hand, it finally occurs to me that, in all their wisdom, the Government of Canada, under the auspices of the Ministry of Child and Family Development, has seen fit to give us an actual person.

First steps in the door bringing our new son home forever!

First steps in the door, bringing our new son home forever!

So here’s us, two years after first bringing home boy. We’ve learned a lot and we still have a lot to learn. It’s been a wild ride! It never ceases to amaze me that they gave us a real, live person. For Keeps!

We love, love, love this little guy. Happy FOR KEEPS Day to us!


What I Believe: What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?

I was raised by Jesus. He was always there in songs and prayers, bible storybooks and Sunday School flannelgraph. He was as real to me as any person I knew in person.

heart handIn fact, he was flesh and blood to me, in the lives of my parents and grandparents and countless aunts and uncles of the church. It was from them I learned about love. The kind of love that gets its hands dirty, that dispenses advice alongside hugs and casseroles, that quietly slips money to those who need it, that faithfully prays and cares and shows up when normal people would give up; that opens up their homes and their hearts to strangers, and keeps doing it again and again, even when they get burned.

The Divide

It’s because of this heritage, and not to spite it, that I find myself in the open waters of a new kind of Christianity. Not just me, but thousands and thousands of others. Not just young people like me (okay fine, young at heart, though middle-aged in body); in fact, our new church has a far better balance of ages/stages than the old one.

The Christian church has been in the throes of growing pains for quite awhile, a polarization of sorts. The Neo-Reformed movement and other conservative trends pulling back, while the emerging church and progressive Christianity (two different, but similar theological movements) are pushing out.

Love it, hate it, or just try to ignore it and hope it goes away – this is the landscape. I’ve sat on both sides of the debates, so I can honestly say, there are wonderful, sincere people I respect on almost every point on the spectrum. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get nasty.

In fact, both as a Fundamentalist Christian and now as a Progressive one, my feelings have been hurt; I have felt misunderstood and underestimated. Not because of the issues, but because of the assumptions made about my motivations and character. And I’m sad to admit that I’ve done the same to others.

As a conservative I was accused of being a Pharisee; a dark insult for church folks – implying a harsh, arrogant and legalistic attitude which Jesus loathes. Why couldn’t they see how sincerely devoted I was to pleasing God and doing the right thing? How hard I struggled to make myself and the whole world better? I was not this caricature they were painting. I was not the villain.

As a progressive I’ve been accused of taking the easy, immature path. It’s been assumed that I am conforming to the world, selling out, giving in, flirting with sin… even endangering the wellbeing of my children. And still I find myself asking: why can’t they see how sincerely devoted I am to pleasing God and doing the right thing, to making myself and the whole world better?

The truth is, none of us are the caricature-version of ourselves, not even the most belligerent, obnoxious extremists. It’s not that simple, a cast of villains and heroes. That would be easier, simpler, a stroke to the ego, but it’s childish to paint the world in black and white.

We disagree in important ways, about important issues; there’s no way to soft petal that. But the ‘Christian thing to do’ is to assume the best about each other’s intentions as we do it. After all, we struggle with both pride and conformity on both sides of this divide.

What Does “Progressive Christianity” Mean To Me?

After wrestling through this section, I added the “to me” to the subtitle. As labels often are, ‘Progressive Christianity’ is an awkward and frequently misunderstood phrase, with a shadow of political rhetoric behind it. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve got for now. It also encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices. As I’ve only begun to dip my toe into these waters, I’m hardly one to speak expertly on such a complicated subject. But, when have I ever let that stop me? ;)

After extensive reading on the subject, I actually like Wikipedia’s summary a lot:

Progressive Christianity is a form of Christianity which is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to “love one another” (John 15:17) within the teaching of Jesus Christ. This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy, tolerance, often through political activism.

shakespeare

As much as the term ‘Progressive Christian’ has gained traction recently, it isn’t a new one; it was first used over 100 years ago. Nor is it confined to any particular denomination: Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, or even Emergent. It’s often confused with the ideology of Liberal Christianity, which at first glance seems similar, but stems from an entirely different view of Christ and the bible (see: Not Conservative, Not Liberal: Progressive ).

Where conservative theologians see the bible as a timeless, inerrant blueprint upon which every facet of life should be built (with varying degrees of literalism), liberal theologians see it as an interesting ancient document from which we can draw useful and inspiring lessons, but nothing more. On the other hand, progressives (along with many different stripes of Christians throughout history) believe that the bible is a sacred book, divinely inspired by God and written (as well as translated) by men in the context of their particular culture, containing both spiritual power and cultural bias. Unlike most evangelicals, we are not tied to “sola scriptura,” believing that God is revealed also through nature, tradition, experience, common sense, science… et cetera. After all, the Word of God is not really a book, it’s actually a person – Jesus (so says the bible).

So What?

My journey from conservative evangelicalism has included a long process of questioning and rebuilding my faith (see: Breaking Up with my Church, From Certainty to Mystery and Embracing a Bigger Gospel for more on that). It was in reading the parables that I saw my troubles most clearly. I am much more like the older brother than the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I relate to the religious man thanking God for my superior morality and good life, not the sinner desperately begging for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). I’m the hard worker who is outraged when the lazy drunk shows up at the last minute and gets paid the same wage (Matt 20:1-16). No matter how you slice it, I’m not the hero, I’m the cautionary tale.

It’s us, the religious ones, that have the hardest time accepting complete and undeserved grace. We also have the hardest time giving it freely.

I realized that my practice of Christianity was not nurturing the kind of humility necessary to love like Jesus does. I was deeply entrenched in an Us/Them mentality, and it was no longer ringing true. Somewhere along the way I had simplified what is meant to be complex and mysterious, and complexified what is meant to be simple and straightforward.

What does this look like for me?

For me, this looks like fighting for social justice, against consumerism and for the protection of nature. It stands up for the oppressed, the hungry, the addicted, the hurting and the lonely. It insists on respect for all people, especially those who lack power. It promotes feminism both in and out of the church, affirms LGBT people and gay marriage. It shocks and horrifies my conservative friends and family.

Inevitably these arguments end in a standoff between two sets of priorities: being right vs. doing good. This is not to say that we aren’t able to both be right and do good, but where there is humanity in the mix, life is rarely simple. In the face of complexity, most Christians choose to err either on the side of holiness or on the side of love.

I don’t always get it right. In fact, my biggest struggle is scrutinizing specks in the eyes of evangelicalism, rather than focusing on being healthy myself. I have a long road ahead of me, learning to live without judgment and exclusion. It is a radical, difficult, but ultimately rewarding choice. I draw deeply on the examples of my family and my evangelical heritage, because even as we may disagree, there are many who get this part right.

When we choose to love selflessly without judgment or agenda, we are acting as the hands and feet of Christ, no matter what our label or political position. This much we can agree on.

So here’s me, and I hope to someday address these specific issues on this blog, especially gay rights, which is particularly contentious and confusing for Christians right now. Someday.


Full of Sound and Fury

A swirl of bright colours and perfect faces;
cheap laughs and predictable drama,
where nobody knows your name.

I’m drawn in,
like a moth to its shiny doom.
Here there are no expectations,
no obligations,
no need to be or do or say the right thing.
Here is an easy void.
And I fall in,
barely noticing.

It’s so easy,
so comfortable to shift mind and body into neutral;
letting time wash over me like a lukewarm shower.
Hours down the drain,
with nothing to show for it.

Click, click, click… sigh.

There’s nothing on.

couch potato

So here’s me, unapologetic TV and film buff,
but the first to admit that it’s 90% useless, pointless crap.

This is my Five Minute Friday contribution on lisajobaker.com for the topic: NOTHING. I must admit, that I went back and reformatted (totally against the rules), but after writing it, I realized it was more poem than prose.

5minutefriday


I Live In Between

Most of my life is spent in a place of too much and not enough.

Too much to do, and not enough time.
Too much stuff, and not enough space.
Too much eaten, and not enough activity.
Too much spent, and not enough saved.
Too much stress, and not enough rest.

You get the picture. You probably live in this picture too. Most of us internet-trawling, Facebook-posting, smart-phone-clutching, Consumers-and-Users do. We don’t want to. We don’t plan to. We read and write and repost all sorts of things to avoid it. But, it’s the curse of modern life.

I suspect the subsistence-farming, factory-working, drought-surviving, war-enduring, HaveNots-and-MakingDoers are living their own form of too much and not enough. A far grimmer version. Perhaps, it’s the curse of human life.

This morning I gamely wrestled six bags, three children, a dented flute, a half-eaten muffin and a small plastic snailery (hastily fashioned out of an old pop bottle for Mrs Gander’s class) out the front door. We were running late. Again. With even the smallest chance of sunshine, ghostly white people like us must sunscreen before leaving the house. I always forget to account for this extra 5 minutes in my mad dash to all our various schools.

Fortunately we have very good friends who give the highschooler a ride everyday. The elementary schoolers were impatiently buckled into the van, the preschooler was crawling between the seats chasing a bug and I was checking one more time to make sure I had a good copy of my paper for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Even Mom goes to school these days.

As we pulled out, we began our not-so-beloved, but totally neccessary for Mom’s sanity, prayer ritual. Everyone pitches in a couple items, out loud, on the way down the street. And I remember that I actually love these little people and that life, and this day, is bigger than the latest version of yes-you-really-have-to-wear-that (shoe/sock/coat/sunscreen). It’s like a reset, as we face down another day. My favourite was the boy’s prayer:

Ah… God,
School!!!
Ah-mennnnn.

What more needs to be said, really? We arrived at our first stop, flush with success, just as the first bell rang. Of course the snailery was sitting on the porch by the front door. Of course.

Pack it back in, turn around, scoop it up, try again. Even later than ever. Again.

I used to think that this is where life is lived – in the doing: in the tasks accomplished and customers served. The bulk of my life – so  full of too much, so starved by not enough – is not a bad place, not really. I don’t regret it or hate it. I’m not willing to trade it in for another rendition. I’m not looking for a transformation or some fancy new system guarunteed to cure all my woes. Sure, I’ll seek a better balance, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever arrive.

Instead I’m changing my focus. I picked the word “Breathe” as my resolution this year. And it’s a strangely powerful one.

I’m as busy as ever, but that is not how I live. Not anymore. I live in the spaces between too much and not enough.

I live in the slight breeze tickling my face.
I live in the warm press of little bodies beside me at 6 am.
I live in the stretch of my legs on the trampoline during ‘ring-around-the-rosie.’
I live in the laugh shared over a ridiculous inside joke.
I live in the beat of a catchy tune, the blue sky as far as I can see, the smell of rain on the horizon…

I live in these moments that are just right and more than enough. There’s no trick, no equation, no escape needed. Life trickles into the gaps of everyday. It’s a gift. We just have to live it.life

Be still and know that I am God.

Breathe.

So here’s me, the crazy person who thought an intensive May/June writing course (cram 13 weeks of work into 8) would be a great fit for our life. Maybe not, but I’m actually feeling a lot LESS stressed than expected because those technicolour moments of life are powerful. Who knew, I just needed to learn to breathe all these years.


What I’m Into: April 2014

How did May sneak up on me? Not to mention the entirety of this past year. Yet, here I sit with sun beams and computer screen competing for my attention (sunbeams are pulling into the lead… I may never finish this post).

On Friday, for Pro-D day, I packed up all the kids, and a spare, along with juice boxes, pita chips, sushi, a giant umbrella, towels, kites, buckets, shovels and dozen plastic dinosaurs. The first beach day of the year was definitely the highlight of the month!

My One Word this year is “Breathe” as I’m learning to taste and savour life moment by moment. I’m still a novice at this. But, somehow, it’s so much easier in the sunshine.

Here’s a taste of my past month…

Reading

What if you woke up one day and 10 years had passed? One minute you’re happily married, expecting your first child and the next you’ve got three kids and are in the midst of a messy divorce. Although the bump-to-the-head-causing-amnesia plot device is pretty cliché, What Alice Forgot (Moriarty) is engaging enough to live it down. I couldn’t help but wonder what 29-year-old me would think of how my life has actually turned out.

Another fun read by Rainbow Rowell, Attachments is an offbeat romance which unfolds primarily through email. Lincoln, an internet security officer is tasked with reading through all flagged messages on the company server. Instead of reporting the witty banter between two of his coworkers he finds himself enjoying and eventually falling for one of them, who he’s never met.

On a more serious note, I borrowed I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Yousafzai) from our 12-year-old neighbour and am currently concocting schemes to get my children to read it. Yes, it is an interesting look at life as a Muslim in Pakistan, but it is the personality of Malala herself that is most compelling. In light of the kidnapping and enslavement of Nigerian schoolgirls recently, the issue of girls education is more pressing than ever.

It’s not all fun reading at our house. The Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder (Kranowitz) is practically required reading for anyone whose child has trouble coping with the demands of daily life and seems a little out of step with the rest (typically developing and special needs kids). Whether it is to rule out or better understand this particular brand of struggle, this book presents a ton of information and many practical suggestions.

I put off reading A Generous Orthodoxy for a long time, because the subtitle is both long and confusing. I’m glad I did, because it is a perfect time for me to read it now. McLaren explores both the strengths and issues embodied by many distinctive groups within Christianity, encouraging us to recognize and embrace the contributions of each one while building a less defensive faith community. Something for everyone to both appreciate and hate. Good stuff.

Watching

Netflix apparently knows me well. They suggested I might like The 100 about a post-apocalyptic earth – both the humans who’ve lived for generations aboard a space station and the group of 100 teenagers they send to earth both to reduce the strain on resources and to ascertain if it is now survivable. What would we sacrifice in the name of survival? At what point is our humanity at risk?

I’ve converted my husband. After season 1 of Veronica Mars he is a believer. If only I could break him of his nasty House of Cards habit. Yuck.

Call me an idealist. Most of the time I like a hero who is unswervingly good. Which is why Captain America is my favourite Avenger despite his terrible costume and cheesy patriotism (after all, I am Canadian). I wasn’t disappointed by Captain America:  The Winter Soldier - definitely the best Marvel movie so far!

Thinking Deep Thoughts

As we’ve found ourselves moving into a new spiritual community I’ve been contemplating the nature of friendship, both building new relationships and maintaining established ones. I am, admittedly, a technophile with my iPhone always close at hand. I feel the draw of easy, efficient, but ultimately superficial social media connections. Ironically, there are several articles and videos making their way around Facebook right now about the drawbacks and dangers of our new virtual communities.

also: Loneliness in the Age of Facebook

They’re not wrong. As I click back to my newsfeed after watching/reading these kind of things I’m filled with guilt and discouragement and worry. Social media certainly has a dark side. It can be too much about too little, a poor substitute for real intimacy, and it can swallow up my actual life.

BUT, it’s only a tool. Built to serve us, not for us to serve it. We can use its power for our good.  I’m reminded of the advice and encouragement I’ve gotten from friends and family when I needed it most, the nephews and nieces whose faces and habits I am familiar with though they live far away, the childhood companions I’ve connected with (both online and in person), the new friends I’ve gotten to know and appreciate though my face-to-face with fellow adults is limited, and the cherished old friends I haven’t lost touch with though we no longer move in the same circles. There are so many things I love about it, that make my life better, when I use it to enhance reality and actual friendship, not to replace it.

Now, to figure out how to do that…

Blogging

I’ve  added another post to my What I Believe series about my changing views on God and the world and our place in it: Embracing a Bigger Gospel

I also posted a short story I wrote which was… wait for it… published in UFV’s literary magazine! Yay! The Stranger (aka – Who Will Remember) is about memory and family and losing both through dementia.stranger

So here’s me, from the sunny West Coast. My sincere condolences to everyone else in the world. While I was splashing in the ocean my family in Calgary was digging themselves out of yet another snowstorm.

Once again, I am linking up with a group of talented bloggers for Leigh Kramer’s “What I’m Into”
– definitely worth checking out!
what I'm into

 

 


What I Believe: Embracing a Bigger Gospel

This is a record. I have never spent so much time, so much energy, so many words on a single blog post. Thus far, I have written 2 complete drafts, only to scrap them entirely and start again.

I had promised another edition of my What I Believe series (where I broke up with my church and decided I’m not sure of anything), to whoever might still be interested in my post-evangelical philosophies (concerned family and new church friends mostly).

The first one I crafted was full of scripture references, arguments and intellectual debate. Like I’d  been taught. A gospel staked out in careful boundaries, defensible territory against the attack, with a few darts strategically thrown at the theology I once called home. A gospel of knowing.

The second swung the other way entirely – a way we’ve only recently embraced. Apologizing for the years I believed that I (and those like me) cornered the market on truth. Offering questions in place of answers. Exploring a God who reveals himself through a bigger story, defying simplistic outlines and smug certainties. A gospel of not-knowing.

The truth is, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I wish I had the wisdom, ability and time to properly express the flavour and freedom of this knowing-but-not-knowing journey we’re on (no doubt this sounds utterly absurd to many of you – it certainly would’ve to me, until recently). We are Christians, but not the way we used to be.

The gospel I once knew

In this context I’m using the term “gospel” to refer to an overarching central truth, specifically as it relates to the purpose and message of Christianity. It is used interchangeably in many churches with the phrase “the Good News.”

hellThe gospel I have believed most of my life goes something like this: God created humanity, but we rejected him (sin) and are as a result condemned to an eternity of punishment (hell), but God loved his wayward creation, so He sent his own Son (Jesus) to become human and take that punishment on himself (dying on the cross and rising again), now everyone who consciously chooses to believe this gospel (usually praying a prayer or having a spiritual experience) and live a Jesus honouring life (not as a prerequisite for, but as an inevitable proof of your sincerity) will become favoured children of God and eventually escape punishment.

This belief was the filter through which I understood the bible and the world around me. It was the motivation, sometimes inspiration and sometimes guilt, behind most of our life decisions. In theory, all evangelicals consider themselves missionaries. We wanted as many people as possible to know God and escape an eternity of brutal torture (and we would have been evil schmucks if we didn’t). It’s hard for people outside this paradigm to fully appreciate how all consuming this worldview is.

We all filter

A few years ago, a close relative of mine decided that there were only 7 righteous people left in the world (including him). Because that’s what the bible said. To him. He believed it sincerely, and everything he read in scripture and saw in the world only confirmed this further. It was his filter.

It seemed clear to us that he wasn’t thinking straight. This was not logical, nor was it an historically acceptable interpretation. But it seemed evident to him.

It’s entirely human to see what we want, what we expect. This is how we make sense of the world. It’s how our brains work. And we all do it.

Christian Smith describes this phenomenon when it comes to understanding the Bible as putting a puzzle together. Whatever picture you see on the box, that’s how you fit the pieces together. Some pictures (systems of belief) fit better than others and are more widely accepted, but there are always a few pieces that don’t work as well. We filter those through the words and ideas that seem more important, more central to our big picture, whatever that happens to be.

The picture on the box

My own experiences and interpretations of the Bible, of nature, and the still, small voice in my heart give me insight, but as a human being I can be misled, mistaken and willfully obtuse. History shows that the whole of the Christian church has been misled, mistaken and willfully obtuse over the years, on many issues.

But faith is not about perfect understanding or certainty, it’s choosing a confident hope. I still believe. I believe that a loving God created the world and redeemed it through Jesus Christ. I believe this powerful grace stretches farther and wider and deeper than I ever imagined.faith-hope-love

This is the good news I embrace. A gospel where love has the final word; where Christ’s sacrifice to redeem all humanity is powerful enough to do just that. The picture I see is one of “Ultimate Redemption” – that while there will be judgment and may be punishment, in the end, all will have a clear understanding and ultimately be reconciled to God. To me, this picture better reflects the overarching story of a broken world and a loving Messiah than an extremely limited redemption of those who adhere to a certain theology, say the right words in the right order (sinners prayer) or live a certain lifestyle… most of whom are born in a specific time and place where this is a cultural inevitability.

There is a surprisingly strong scriptural basis for universal reconciliation (which has many different forms). It’s not simply wishful thinking. It’s not even a stretch. Some of the key bible verses are: Galatians, John 12:32, Acts 3:21, Romans 5:18-21, 1 Cor 3:12-15, 15:22-28, 2 Cor 5:19, Eph 1:10, Phil 2:9-11, Col 1:20, 1 Tim 2:14, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 – for a more thorough explanation of this picture: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm.

This is not a new position. Historically it falls within the orthodoxy of Christianity, though some modern evangelicals like to believe otherwise. Even Gregory of Nyssa, who edited the Nicene creed (which is widely accepted as the most basic definition of Christian orthodoxy) taught this, along with several other significant fathers of the early church.

Final word to Jesus

When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, he didn’t diagram, or alliterate, or clearly outline the steps to get in – instead he told stories. “The kingdom of God is like this…” he would say. Telling ridiculous stories about a love that defies the rules, that was, and is still today, a scandal to good, moral people.

Jesus declared freedom to the oppressed, an end to the Law and an inclusive grace. This is the picture I see now, and it fits. I’m trading in systems of sin management, a focus on who’s in and who’s out, a fear-driven and defensive perspective – for freedom. To trust that Jesus has both the power and the will to reconcile all things to himself. To extend the same unconditional love to others without agenda (which sounds pretty, but can actually be very uncomfortable). To see that there is more to truth and to life than my own perspective – but all truth is God’s truth, so this is nothing to fear.

The kingdom of God is like this: we need, God provides.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus],
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood,
shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

So here’s me, embracing a new picture of God and the world around me.

Stay tuned for my final installment:
What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?
Why I support feminists, gays, tree-huggers and other crazy liberals Mark Driscoll has been warning you about.

 


How to Make a Real Live Friend

It starts with my best face, my best chit chat, my best me. A brief warmth and pressure, hands touching, nothing more. Tentative, sanitized, easy.

Next, we test the waters. Lining up topics from lightest to heaviest. Basic information with hints of personality. I don’t always follow the rules, I overshare, I talk too much and listen too little. Did you really want to know about my day? Did I really want to know about yours?

If all goes well and life allows, we invest something. Some time. Some memory. Some effort. Venturing onto private property, dishes in the sink, lego on the floor… I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.

Time is the final ingredient. The yeast in the dough. Settling in, getting messy, sticking it out for the hard stuff. I’ll show you me, if you let me see you.

It’s not like it used to be. When “wanna be my friend?” wasn’t quite so complicated. When clicking “confirm” didn’t mean anything.thumbs up

So here’s me, where making friends at 38 is different for a whole lot of reasons, but definitely worth the effort.

Today I’m joining Lisa Jo Baker‘s
Five Minute Friday writing challenge on the word:
Friend

5minutefriday


The Marriage of Two Minds

The challenge: “Tell a story, in 50 words or less.”

“Opposites attract!” friends quipped.

He, drawn like a moth to a flame, warmed to her vivacity, sparks of passion and life. She, lured by his depth, quenched herself with serene and steady.

Inevitably, her words burn and his silence douses. Opposite becomes opposition. Coexistence, a chore.

So they become something new.

Together.

fire and water

So here’s my verse for the Word Press Writing Challenge:Fifty http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/writing-challenge-fifty/
That was easier said than done.

The title of this piece is a play on Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare. It’s one of my favourite poems, a tribute to timeless, unfailing love. Although love itself must never alter or compromise, we must if relationships are to endure. Not entirely, not unilaterally, but in little ways every day.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

 


The Stranger: A Short Story

Somewhere between fact and fiction lies this story.

My trip down memory lane this summer has sixteen lanes of traffic, on both sides. Interstate 5 stretches all the way from Canada to Southern California and it’s a road I know well. At every stop on this familiar road trip, I’ve been reading and re-reading an article written by Martha Gellhorn, about her memories of World War II. She was front and centre at some of the pivotal points in history, yet 50 years later she’s struggling to make sense of it all. With her memory fading, the coherence and purpose she once had now elude her. It’s frustrating as hell. How do we make sense of the world when we can’t make sense of ourselves anymore?

As I muscle my way across the lanes of traffic onto my exit, I try to focus on the mission at hand. This is difficult under a deluge of my own memories. I spent many blistering summers here in Eagle Rock, a relatively affluent suburb of Los Angeles. My holidays were punctuated by trips to the library, to the beach, to church, and to buy household items and underwear with Grandma at the Glendale Galleria (which sounded SO much more glamorous to my childish ears than “mall”). Occasionally, a longsuffering relative would bundle some of us kids off to Knott’s Berry Farm or, on a really good day, Disneyland.

I angle my wheels toward the curb and pull on the parking brake, before clambering out with an armful of bags and papers and empty soda cans. I once tried to roller skate down this very street with my cousin Janis. Lined with palm trees, Hermosa Drive is just as picturesque as I remember, but seems even steeper and more dangerous to my adult eyes. What were we thinking?

But today isn’t a holiday. Nor is it time to wallow in nostalgia. Today, I’m here to work, reviving an old skill set for an important man. It’s been years since I coddled, cajoled and provided personal care to several elderly clients. It wasn’t a job I loved at the time, but it feels important in hindsight. At least I know what I’m doing.

The white house halfway up the block is a poor man’s Georgian mansion. What it lacks in size, and adjoining plantation, it makes up for in sheer panache. The four towering pillars at the front would seem pretentious on any other façade, but this house has the supreme self-confidence to pull it off. No longer pristine, it maintains an air of shabby elegance. The extra wide front door has an antique brass knocker on its brow and I’m thrilled to announce my arrival with a brisk rat-a-tat-tat. “Simple pleasures for simple minds,” my husband always teases. When no one comes after several minutes, I’m forced to resort to the doorbell after all.house

Shifting from one foot to the other, I juggle my packages back and forth, sagging under the weight of old insecurities. As extensively as the family has briefed me on the situation there is still so much uncertainty. I’m not sure how I’ll be received.

When the door finally opens I am surprised by the blast of heat. It’s even hotter inside than out. An industrious Mexican woman greets me before bustling past.

“I will see you next week SeñorBob,” she calls over her shoulder.

The Señor is enthroned in a frayed green armchair on the other side of the room. Straight-backed, legs planted wide, with a cane in his hand like a sceptre, he scowls over the coffee table at me.

“Well… you gonna come in, or what?”

I’ve never encountered a more intimidating stranger.

I try to ease the heavy door shut, but the hot Santa Ana wind wrestles it out of my grasp with a resounding bang. I take a deep breath and paste a smile on my face. The key to confidence is: fake it ‘til you make it. I’ll pretend he’s glad to see me.

I try to make nice; the polite chit-chat strangers use to grease the wheels of introduction. “It sure is windy. I guess they don’t call the Santa Anas “devil winds” for nothing. I thought they were going to knock me right off the road. Is it normally like this? I see they’re filming a movie in the house up the road. Do you get a lot of that around here? Have you had lunch yet?”

Smooth. Nothing says “trust me, I’m here to help” like a nervous ramble.

He’s unmoved. Not a word; just a glare.

I feel less like an intruder when I notice the food stains on his white dress shirt and catch a whiff of his scent. Unwashed Old Man will never make my top ten aromas, but today it smells like a welcome. He does need me, even if he can’t see it right now.

Putting down my things, I excuse myself to the washroom, a genteel Canadian-ism which makes him snort.

“The bathroom’s in the back. Don’t touch anything.”

The washroom’s a study in pink. Someone loved dusty rose once upon a time. Behind the toilet a faded sign, written on the cardboard sleeve salvaged from a package of pantyhose, is taped to the wall. The feminine script reads, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Ah yes, the classy prose of drought country. Before I dare to let anything mellow I help myself to a rag and give the whole room a wipe-down. It’s what my Grandma used to call a “lick and a promise,” but at least it’s a start.

He’s right outside, when I’m done, leaning heavily on his cane, stooped nearly in half.

“Might as well show you around,” he snarls.

Waving his hand dismissively toward the stairs, “Bedrooms,” then nodding toward the front room, “Keep the curtains closed; we don’t want the furniture to fade.” As we inch our way through the dining room, “Fer company” is all he says. Apparently the kitchen is self-explanatory.

He lights up as he hobbles into the backyard. Rendered speechless, I’m impressed by its beauty: the charming nooks, the hidden paths to benches and bird feeders, the dramatic blooms and rustic gazebo. Then he starts talking. He shows me the system he’s rigged to open the back gate with the touch of a button. He explains the construction of each sprinkler. He points out the fruit trees and names each type of flower. Even the grass receives an extensive lecture. “St. Augustine’s the way to go. It’s not like most grass around here, but it’s tougher, better, needs less water. No weeds dare grow when it’s taken root. Ya see how low to the ground it is. It don’t grow much higher than that; it don’t need much fussin’.”

Sure enough, the grass is unlike any I’m used to. It’s prickly and barely gives way under my feet. It suits him.

He settles himself on the back patio; waiting, I assume, for his lunch. He barks out an order: “sardines and crackers.” I try not to gag as I put a tray together. Whether that’s the rather pungent main course, or my deep seated aversion to submission, I can’t tell. I don’t generally take orders well.

We sit in silence. Chewing. Eyeing each other suspiciously.

“Used to have a dog around here, a stray. Just showed up one day begging for food and wouldn’t leave. Huge slobbering mountain of a beast. Not a lick of sense. No use to no one, that mutt.”

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“Spent a fortune on him, got his shots, took him to the vet, fed him here on the patio.”

“So what did you name him?”

“Didn’t name him. He weren’t my dog. We just called him ‘Dawg.’ This one time he got hisself tangled up in some barbed wire the neighbour left out. Howled bloody murder; most awful racket I ever heard. I was in the shower at the time, but I hoofed it out here fast as I could to save ‘im. There I was, buck nekkid, trying to unravel that dumb Dawg, ‘til Doris comes screeching out, ‘Grab a towel, Pa.’”

The floodgates have opened. Suddenly, he’s talking about anything, about everything. About his wife Doris and how she was always the smart one. About “The Meeting” and serving the Good Lord and walking the straight and narrow. About his son and grandson, who lived in an RV on the driveway for more than a year. About the doctors who told them to put their daughter in an institution when she was born, and were surprised by their vehement refusal. About the time they got into the car to go on a drive and didn’t stop until Michigan.

With each mumbled story the picture of a different man emerges. He’s an old school patriarch living “in the world, but not of it;” rough around the edges, with an unexpected marshmallow center. Listening to him feels like coming home.

Sometimes he finishes a story before moving on to the next one, but not often. Sometimes he simply trails away, then jumps in with a new thought from yet another decade. His memory seems to wax and wane without conscious control.

Out of the blue, he turns to me, tapping his fingers against his brow, “I’m losing my mind, ya know.”

There’s an edge of panic to his voice, but the statement is made with complete resignation. This man, who proudly pointed out his workshop and many homemade inventions throughout the house, who spent years building his own equipment, who was the go-to handyman in every sphere, cannot fix himself. And neither can I.

Without the mask of hostility, his confusion is more pronounced. Even as he reminisced, his memories seemed to slip through his fingers no matter how tightly he grasped for them; not just what he had done, but who he was and why he was here. Gellhorn once asked, “What is the use in having lived so long, travelled so widely, listened and looked so hard, if at the end you don’t know what you know?” It’s frightening, and worst of all, so very pointless.

I came here hoping he would recognize me. I imagined a few meals and a good cleaning and a friendly face could hold back the tide of dementia a little longer. I thought that was the job. But I was wrong.

At the end, when memory fails and we can no longer make sense of our lives, it’s up to our loved ones to do it for us. That is how memory, and meaning, lasts forever. This is the job. I am here to catch those memories as they slip away and make them mean something in the world, to make HIM mean something. It’s all I can do.

I put my hand on his arm and leaned close. “Don’t worry Grandpa, I’ll remember for you.”

This piece was published in the literary magazine “Louden Singletree” under creative non-fiction. 

What began as a composite character of all the clients I once worked with who suffered from dementia, evolved into a picture of my own Grandpa, as seen through the lens of my mom and sisters, my aunts and cousins, and those last few visits we had on the back porch of the Hermosa Drive house.


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