June 28, 2010

The Wagon Wheel Coffee Table of Christendom

Do you remember the scene in When Harry Met Sally, where Marie and Jess pull Harry and Sally into their heated dispute over the wagon wheel coffee table? One of my favorite movie lines comes from that scene, when Marie says, "Everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but  they couldn't possibly all have good taste."

I think the Christian equivalent of that line goes like this: "Everyone thinks they have the spiritual gift of discernment and a sense of humor, but they couldn't possibly all have, well, either one." (If you've watched many televangelists, you know good taste is not highly valued by evangelicals, and don't get me started on the absence of a sense of humor exhibited by too many Christians.)

Simply put, discernment is the ability to recognize truth, and no one wants to admit they might not have that ability. Our lack of discernment is much more insidious than Jess's affection for his coffee table. It's exhibited on many levels, not the least of which is mindlessly forwarding emails, the equivalent of the "stupid, wagon-wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale coffee table," that even Harry couldn't support Jess on. (Okay, Harry's mind was on his ex-wife and Ira, but still, he attacked the coffee table when Jess was hoping for some back-up.)

I get emails all the time from my Christian friends that leave me wondering what they're thinking. Any "you won't see this in the mainstream media" line sends them into a frenzy of forwarding because they think we're all being kept from the truth and it's their duty, as a Christian, to let the rest of us know about this conspiracy. The only problem is that if they had any sense of discernment at all, they would know they're forwarding nonsense.

Jonathan Acuff tackled this issue in a post this past week, Not using snopes.com or google. He offered a number of tips for discerning the veracity of a forwarded email. For instance, the "Fwd" in the subject line should be our first clue. "If you're a Christian, you must read this," is another clue that should tell us to check it out before clicking that forward button.

Jonathan also uncovered an urban legend on snopes.com that, to their credit, even my friends who are the most egregious in this regard have never forwarded to me. Evidently there is an urban legend that claims a hole to hell has been drilled in Siberia. He didn't go into it, but there are actual YouTube videos that claim to have recorded the voices of thousands millions of voices screaming from the pit of the hole in question. 

Pardon my French, but WTH are people thinking when they send this stuff out? This was part of my reply to Jonathan's post:

My issue with these mindless forwards is that the story of Jesus is hard to believe. It defies logic. It takes faith. When Christians show ourselves to be gullible chumps who will believe absolutely anything that is forwarded to us in an email, how can we expect anyone to take our faith in Christ seriously? How can we expect to witness effectively when we believe someone actually dug a hole to hell in Siberia? 

I know I'm preaching to the choir since you all are clearly discerning readers. But I need to unload. Since we're half-way between Presidential election cycles, perhaps this is a good time to tell you that it's not just the alleged hole-to-hell in Siberia that makes me crazy. It's the political nonsense that my Christian friends send me during every Presidential election, things they forward without stopping to question, because it supports their political point of view. Again, that damages our witness as followers of Christ.

The same is true of Facebook. I have friends who put every viral post that comes along in their status bars, again, never questioning them because they support their point of view. I know they mean well. I know they believe they're speaking up for Jesus. The only problem is you can't spread a lie and speak up for Jesus at the same time. Alright, that's not the only problem with forwarding without question, but you get my point.

I feel better now. Thank you for indulging my rant. You have been terribly patient to keep reading to this point. Now, to reward you for your patience, here's the wagon wheel table clip from When Harry Met Sally:  Even after all these years, it still makes me laugh.


June 22, 2010

50 Things? Are You Kidding Me?

I wasn't sure I would tackle another writing assignment from Mama Kat this week, but the very first prompt made me laugh out loud.

1) The Love List. Write a list of 50 things you look for in a man. 

FIFTY?  Did I read that right? Has Mama Kat truly lost it this time?

Despite the fact that over the years people have implied that I might be, um, picky, never in my life did I have a list of 50 things I looked for in a man. Now I realize that with my paltry list, I have never even approached the realm of picky.

I'm sure my list was far different 25 years ago...who remembers that far back? It may have been longer, but I'm sure it was still short of 50. At this point in my life there are only a dozen or so items that I would look for, assuming I thought it was worth my time to look. With only a dozen items when I could have listed 50, this is really more of a Quarter-List, don't you think?

Alright. I've stalled as long as I can. Without further ado, here's the list:

1. A man who shares my faith. (Someone who is genuinely committed to Christ, not someone who says, "I consider myself a Christian but I don't buy that whole resurrection thing.")

2. A man who shares my moral values. (You would think sharing my faith would cover that, but alas, not so much.)

3. A man who doesn't think being the leader of the family is just a trump card from God to get his own way. (There seems to be a lot of that and I have to tell ya, I'm not remotely amused by it.)

4. A man who treats people in service roles with respect. (It's true that you can judge a man's character by how he treats waitresses.)

5. A man who knows himself and is secure enough with who he is that he isn't looking for someone to constantly feed his ego. (Something about sapping all of the energy out of you makes a man exceedingly unattractive.)

6. A man with a sense of humor. (I think there's a direct correlation between humor and intellect.)

7. A man who is old enough to have a first-hand memory of the moon landing. (Remember Delusions of Cougardom?)

8. A man who can have a conversation that doesn't revolve around himself. (Experience tells me that this one might be asking too much.)

9. If divorced, a man who is introspective enough to acknowledge his contribution to the failure of the marriage. (In case you're not aware of this, "It was all her fault," is never a good sign.)

10. A man who is not a total wuss when it comes to color. (I've mentioned this in passing at least once before, but beige is not a color.)

11. A man who can respect my opinions, whether he always agrees with me or not. (It's no fun being with someone who wants to debate all the time. For instance, I am never going to be a fan of Rush Limbaugh so don't waste your time - and mine - by trying to convince me to like him.)

12. A man who does not possess automatic weapons. (I live in a state where the legislature encourages anarchy because you never know when Bambi might rise up and try to shoot people.)

That's it...oh, wait. There is one more. He would have to love like accept cats. (Although who wouldn't love Lucy and Ethel?)

That's Ethel on the left, curled up with her sister, Lucy. 

For the record, I might be willing to compromise a little on #10. The bedspread under the lavender throw in the picture above is khaki. See? That's practically beige.

Tell, me, am I unreasonable? Am I totally unrealistic? Any major omissions?

Anybody want to share your list?

June 21, 2010

Some to Jesus, I Surrender

This morning I read an interesting post over at Red Letter Believers about surrender. As I read the words, familiar lyrics came to mind.

I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Jesus, I surrender
I surrender all.

The reality is "I surrender some." I think I can fairly say that "I surrender most," but I don't surrender all. I hate admitting that I wrestle with God to hang onto the control that I don't want to give up. Ironic, isn't it? I want to maintain control, even though I know in my heart that God can do it better.

I want to surrender all.


"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" - Mark 9:24

June 19, 2010

The Final Word on Popular Girls

The post I wrote on popular girls generated more comments than most of my posts receive. I wrote about the layers of popularity, and the difference between popular girls that everyone likes versus the popular girls that virtually no one really likes. Women responded to it because nearly everyone can relate.

Girls, especially, deal with social pressure in high school that is almost universal. Regardless of our spot on the social ladder, dealing with insecurities is a rite of passage for most teenage girls. It's a rough time, and it often brings out the worst in us, whether we're at the top or the bottom of the ladder. There are regrets about things we said, as well as the things we didn't say.

Most of us are blessed enough to not be remembered by everyone in the class. Yes, we had embarrassing moments, we had unfortunate moments, but in all likelihood, no one else remembers those awful moments as clearly as we do ourselves.

It's a little different when it comes to the popular girls on the ladder's top rung. Everyone remembers them. Some (mostly guys) may have been oblivious at the time to the power this group held over the rest of the girls in the class, but everyone remembers them. There are many moments that the popular girls may not remember, but that are frozen in time for the girls they hurt. We may not even remember many specifics, but we remember the feelings they generated. We remember the pain they caused our friends. We remember the attitudes that we found so offensive.

What we forget is that a combination of time and life experience changes most people for the better. We know we have changed. We see the changes in the classmates with whom we have kept in touch. We look around and are amazed at what incredible people they have become.

Meanwhile, we assume those at the very top of the ladder are still snarky 16-year-old girls, frozen in time along with our memories of them. We don't give them credit for changing. Naturally, they sense that. So it's understandable if they tend to stick to the safety of their group at class reunions. They know they formed reputations for themselves as teenagers that are difficult to overcome as adults. So when it appears difficult for them to reach out beyond their inner circle, perhaps that's our opportunity to reach out to them. Perhaps that's the sign that it's time to forget who was popular and who wasn't and just be glad to see everyone together, remembering good times.

By middle-age, the power base in most classes has not just shifted, it has evaporated. The footing becomes much more equal, as the ladder has been thrown out.

Which is as it should be. Ladders are dangerous, especially near the top.

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Colossians 3:13

June 17, 2010

High School Gets Better When You're Middle-Aged

My last post about the popular girls in high school generated a number of comments. One recurring theme in the comments was that a lot of you avoid reunions like the plague. I understand the feelings behind those comments. I worked 20-25 hours a week in high school so even if I had not been as painfully introverted as I was, I didn't have time to do much socializing. I had a handful of friends I was close to, and beyond that, I really didn't care if I ever saw the rest of my classmates again. I was so done with the class as a whole that I didn't even go to graduation, opting instead to visit family in Chicago.

Throughout my 20s, I ran into classmates from time to time, and I discovered something. It wasn't awful. I had one of those encounters 9 years after graduation and this particular classmate mentioned that a group was getting together to start planning the 10-year-reunion and she wondered if I'd like to help.

I think I looked at her with a frozen smile but I don't remember if any words came out of my mouth. She was one of those student government types who was also into speech and debate and was very persuasive, so whether or not I responded verbally, somehow I wound up committed to showing up for the first reunion meeting.

There turned out to be a very big group interested in helping with that reunion. Despite my lack of involvement in high school, I knew a lot of them. It wasn't as painful as I had expected. It was actually okay but I was still introverted by nature and it occurred to me during that meeting that if I didn't have a job at the reunion - a reason why I had to be there - I wouldn't show up. And there were a handful of people I wanted to see so I decided I would commit to helping.

Our high school was unique in the community. One building housed both a junior high and a high school so many of us had spent 6 years together, from 7th to 12 grades. There were others who had come from feeder schools in the 10th grade. Even though we hadn't all known each other well, there were countless shared memories. During the year that we worked on planning that reunion, I began to realize the power of those common memories, and how strong a bond they can create. At the same time, we were creating new memories together, memories that would strengthen that bond.

The reunion came, and it was a typical 10-year-reunion. Most of us (probably all of us) reverted to our high school roles. In many ways, it was every horrible thing that people dread about a 10-year reunion.

Except for one thing. I had made a friend in kindergarten and we had remained friends even when I moved away in the 4th grade. We wrote letters back and forth, and I would spend a night or two at her house whenever we came back to visit family. When we moved back in the 6th grade, she and I picked up where we had left off and remained close friends until the 9th grade. Sometime during late winter or spring of 9th grade, we got into a fight in gym. She said things, I said worse things, and before we knew it, there was a rift in our friendship that we could not overcome. We talked politely if we ran into each other after that, but we were no longer friends in high school. We had turned into former friends.

That changed when we saw each other at the 10-year-reunion. The fight we had in 9th grade was forgotten and for the second time in our lives, we picked up where we had left off. By then, she had moved away, but we have kept in touch ever since. When her father died several years later, I was grateful to be able to attend his service and see her family. A few years ago, when 2 separate hurricanes made landfall within a few weeks of one another in the town where she lives, I tracked her brother down at his mountain cabin to find out if she and her family were alright.

She is one of my few adult friends who knew my dad, so the first day I was back at work after he died 6 years ago, I cried when I saw an email pop up from her. She had not known my dad was sick - it was just a forwarded email - and yet, coming from her that morning struck me as a God-thing. I emailed her back and told her my dad had passed away and she was able to respond in a way that no one else could have. If either of us had stayed away from that 10-year reunion, that would not have happened. We'd still be former friends who had lost track of each other.

They say each reunion gets better, and in my experience, that's absolutely true. As anti-social as I was in high school, I have renewed acquaintances and strengthened friendships at every reunion. I continue to work on the committees, because I'm still an introvert who needs a reason to have to show up, but I truly enjoy each reunion more than the one before.

It's true that people revert to their high school roles at the 10-year reunion. It's much less so at the 20-year, and by the 30-year, walls are starting to fall as people are just happy to see each other. They say that by 40-year reunions, the walls are pretty much forgotten. I believe them.

It has been 3 years since our last reunion. Facebook has become a catalyst for drawing us together that we never had before. We are able to keep up with each other, connect with new friends, and find common ground that we never knew existed. I send Farmville gifts to friends whose names I long ago thought had become a permanent part of my past. I find some classmates I agree with politically, others who have the same taste in music, and still others who encourage me with the scripture they post on their walls. I see the news of their families, and I rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. I see 51-year-old faces on profiles while memories of 15-year-old kids fill my head. Classmates I had not known well all those years ago have become my strongest supporters.

So there you have it from someone who did nothing social in high school. If you want to stay away from your reunions, then that's your choice But recognize that you might be missing out on one of life's greatest blessings...making new friends who will encourage you, and connecting with old friends who matter more to you than you ever knew.

June 16, 2010

The Curse of the Popular Girls

It's time for another one of Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop prompts. It's a topic I have considered writing about before but I always talked myself out of it. There are popular girls to contend with throughout our lives, but it's those popular girls from high school who leave the most lasting impression, and for some, the deepest scars. The thing that has stopped me from tackling this subject up until now is that I still live in the same city where I went to high school, and while my blog may look anonymous, it's not to the readers who know me. I could tell you this post is merely a general observation and any similarity to actual persons or groups is purely coincidental but I don't think anyone would believe me. However since this was a topic I had considered - over and over again - I decided that perhaps the prompt from Mama Kat was a sign that I should just go with it.

Sure, high school was a long time ago, but has it been long enough? (Hmmm, I wonder if this could be my ticket off of the reunion committee.)

Popular is an interesting term that we throw around when we're young. According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions is "commonly liked or approved." That's not what it meant when I was in high school. As a friend recently described it, the true meaning of the word in high school is "the girls nobody likes but everybody wants to be friends with them anyway." Going with that definition, one of the greatest ironies about the "popular" girls from high school was the mind-boggling speed with which they lost their brand of popularity after graduation. These girls didn't seem to notice that they have lost what passed for popularity right away. It was a gradual process, taking place over decades.

Before I get too much further into it, here is my disclaimer: I was so far down on the social ladder that it took decades for me to realize that there were rungs on the ladder, so my perspective on the popular girls is viewed from that angle. I always understood that I was closer to the bottom of the ladder and that these other girls were at the very top but I thought there were a lot more girls at the top than was actually the case.

You see, there was a hierarchy to popularity that I totally missed at the time. Naturally, the "popular" girls were at the very top of the food chain ladder . The term we used for them back then was socs. (For those who are younger and who have never read - or seen - The Outsiders, it's pronounced so-shez, with a long o.) We'll call them the Inner Circle.

Now I still don't understand how they achieved their place on the ladder's top rung, but it seemed to be a mostly self-appointed position. I think they were all cheerleaders, but all of the cheerleaders were not part of the Inner Circle. When we were in our 20s, one friend shared her theory about what they looked for before allowing anyone a position in the group. Her theory was that they were all members of the same country club. Make that The Country Club - none of the other clubs could compare. I actually kind of liked her theory because it meant the Inner Circle had a clear litmus test. Either you belonged to The Country Club or you didn't. It's not like they were relying on subjective things like personality, or clothes, or heaven forbid, intellect. No, if my friend's theory was correct, it wasn't personal. It was more like a marketing decision. They were protecting their brand.

What I didn't realize for many years was that the Inner Circle of socs was quite small - just a handful of girls - which may support my friend's "Country Club" theory. Beyond that, there was a small peripheral group. There were constant changes in the peripheral group as girls gained and lost favor with the Inner Circle. No one outside the Inner Circle could be expected to keep track of who was in, and who was out.

Beyond that peripheral group was a group that was genuinely popular, in that everyone pretty much liked them. Like the Inner Circle, they included a number of cheerleaders in their mix so they looked a lot like the Inner Circle, but they were not a group of girls anyone would associate with the term mean girls. These truly popular girls greeted everyone with a smile. They knew a lot of our names, no small feat in a class of nearly 500. From my rung near the floor, I assumed they were part of the Inner Circle - they were just the nice ones. I was nearly 30 before I figured out they weren't just the nice ones - they were a different group entirely, located higher than my most of my friends and I were on the social ladder, but not dangerously close to the top.

I began to realize how small the Inner Circle really was at our 10-year reunion, when they could be seated at a table for 10, including the spouses of those who were married.  This was when I began to see the layers of socdom that I had never known existed. (Pronounced sosh-dom, I don't know if such a word actually exists but I like it and people instinctively understand the meaning.) It opened my eyes to the difference between the popular group that nearly nobody really liked and the popular group that nearly everybody really liked.

By the 20-year reunion, enough socs were married at the same time that some of the spouses were sent to other tables, but the Inner Circle could still be seated together. There were a couple of shout-outs to the "A" clique in the reunion directory that year, which was the first time a number of us learned that this was how they referred to themselves. The fact they chose to go by a name that insulted the rest of the class seemed to fit. On the plus side, one member of the Inner Circle used the directory to offer an apology for how bad the social cliques had been. I admired her for that, and began to wonder if perhaps there was hope for the Inner Circle, after all.

A few years before our 30-year reunion, Mean Girls came out and there was no doubt in my own mind that most of my class pictured the Inner Circle every time we heard the title. And this was when I began to wonder what it's like to be saddled for decades with a reputation from 3 years of high school that is so difficult to overcome. Did they realize their faces filled many of our heads whenever we heard Tina Fey promote Mean Girls? Even as I was starting to feel (a little bit) sorry for them, I often wondered aloud why they bothered to come to reunions at all since at the first two reunions, they had still stuck mostly to their A-clique friends. Wouldn't it be easier to just meet at a restaurant and forget the rest of us?

But by the time the 30-year reunion weekend came around, I was starting to think maybe I had never given the Inner Circle enough credit for the courage it must take to face people who don't have a lot of respect for the way they treated the rest of the class in high school. As I watched them at that reunion, I saw that they were trying harder than they ever had before. They were making an effort to talk to more people. It didn't always look like it came naturally, but that made me respect the effort that much more.

After the bad press from the A-clique references in the previous reunion directory, I had joked that they needed a PR consultant to fix their image. But the truth is that time and maturity go a long way towards changing people. They're not there yet. They still struggle to venture away from the safety of the Inner Circle. But after 30+ years, they're trying...

In recent years, I have come to realize that their exclusivity must have put the Inner Circle at a disadvantage in the real world. The rest of us learned early on that the top rung of the ladder is neither the safest nor the most desirable place to be. It was on the lower rungs that we made the friends who can be relied upon to support us wherever life takes us. And it was from those lower rungs that we learned not to be bothered so much by the older versions of popular girl cliques, wherever we find them.


June 14, 2010

A Forgotten Word: Sacrifice

When I was growing up, World War II always struck me as being part of the far distant past. Somewhere along the way, I did the math and realized that the war had been over less than 14 years when I was born. It's hard to believe that I ever thought 14 years was a long time. For crying out loud, 1996 was 14 years ago. That was like, what, yesterday?

My parents talked about the war, but since parents nearly always seem ancient to their children, I didn't really  relate to the stories. Of course my mom talked about the war much more than my dad. My dad served in England during the war, and his brothers and brothers-in-law all served, as well. My dad mentioned his service from time to time when it was relevant, but like most men who served, the times that he voluntarily brought the war up in conversation were few and far between.

When my mom talked about the war, she often told stories about the things everyone had to do without due to rationing. She told stories of women drawing lines on the back of their legs to look like the nylons they could not buy. She talked about enrolling in college at a time when many women went to school to find a husband, and upon arrival, discovering that nearly all the men had left to serve in the war. Her first cousin was still enrolled at that point but naturally, he didn't count. Later she went to work at the U.S. Army Command in Fort Worth after she discovered the employees there could buy chocolate candy bars. But all things considered, I think my mom's greatest war sacrifice was shoes. Sixty years later, she still isn't over that one.

The sacrifices didn't end as soon as the soldiers came home. Mom told stories about how it took awhile for factories to gear back up for consumer goods after the war ended, and between the Great Depression and the war, there was pent up demand for things like cars, causing rifts in families where relatives were competing for the few cars that were available. Some of those rifts hadn't entirely healed by the time I was born - not that we were related to any of those people....

And of course for Boomers, lives that were cushy by our parents' standards were still pretty spartan compared to today's. It's not unusual, when I'm with a group of friends my age and older, for us to talk about growing up with attic fans to cool the house at night, and sleeping on sheets that were hung outside to dry. People didn't expect as much as we do now. The Christmas I was 14, there was an oil embargo that led President Nixon to ask Americans to do without outside Christmas lights. For the most part, people complied. He lowered the maximum speed limit on interstates from 75 to 55. The response to that was, um, mixed.

When President Carter took office, reliance on foreign oil was becoming more of an issue, with long gas lines in major cities. To help cut the energy demand, Carter asked us to lower our thermostats to 68 degrees in the winter and raise them to 78 degrees in the summer. For the most part, people refused. That's the last time I remember a president asking us to make any sacrifices.

About that time, someone in Texas sent us a 45 rpm single called, "Freeze a Yankee." The chorus went like this:

Freeze A Yankee,
drive 75 and freeze them alive
Freeze a Yankee,
Let your thermostat rise and give them a surprise.

It was not one of our finest periods. Unfortunately, we haven't improved much in the years since then.

Our reliance on foreign oil has only increased. We have domestic oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, wiping out fishing and hospitality industries along the coast. We have resisted efforts to get serious about clean energy in this country, because it's hard. It will cost money. We don't want to change our way of life. But the mess in the Gulf needs to change our way of life. If it doesn't, then what was it for?

I still think we have to continue drilling because we have never developed a Plan B. At the same time, we cannot wait any longer to get Plan B together. It's time to get serious about developing alternative energy sources. It's time to get serious about clean energy. It's time to start making sacrifices.


June 13, 2010

Hi, My Name is Margaret, But You Can Call Me Martha

I love that one of Jesus' favorite places seems to have been the home of a couple of sisters from Bethany. We don't know if their brother, Lazarus, lived there as well, but it appears that Martha and Mary shared the house and that they were both single. There is no clearer person in the New Testament to whom I can personally relate than Martha.

Like Martha, I am task-oriented. Like Martha, I am often irritated when I feel like I'm doing the tasks from which everyone else benefits but for which no one else is willing to do the work. Like Martha, I often turn to Jesus and tell him exactly what I'm thinking. Like Martha, I often ask him why he couldn't do this or that.

To be honest, deep down, I have always thought that Martha gets a bum rap. She had guests to feed. What woman, other than her sister Mary, would ignore the physical needs of her guests? If Jesus had not chastised Martha himself, I'd think we were making too much of her request for help. But he did chastise Martha, and as a result, I have to confront those Martha-tendencies in myself.

The irony here, is that I think Martha was doing her best to be a Proverbs 31 kind of woman...the same woman I went after in my last post. I see Martha as the flip (single) side of the same task-oriented coin on which the Proverbs 31 woman represents married women. I'm sure Martha was up before dawn and that she worked late into the night to provide for herself and her younger sister, Mary. (Clearly, Mary wasn't any help at all.) She didn't have servants or there would have been no need for her to ask for Mary's help.

I'm sure Martha feared the Lord. Aside from marital status, the main difference between Martha and the woman King Lemuel's mom told him about is that Martha puts a human face on the desire to do it all, and to do it all perfectly. But we haven't built a cottage industry on teaching women to become like Martha. We don't push the boundaries of idolatry with Martha. Instead of looking up to Martha, we look down on her. We don't look down on her because she was single or because she was childless. We look down on Martha because Jesus told her that her priorities, noble as they were, were misplaced.

How does Jesus respond to her focus on her tasks? In a nutshell, he tells her that it's not possible to do everything. He tells her she will have to make choices, and that those tasks on which she has placed so much importance are not as important as relationships...particularly a relationship with him.

The section about Jesus' visit to the home in Luke 10 begins by telling us that "Martha opened her home to him." I don't know how many people Jesus had with traveling with him, but I imagine it might have included all 12 disciples, and possibly others who tagged along. Opening her home to Jesus was a big deal. It meant a lot of preparation. It meant feeding her guests. (Did they have potluck dinners then?) Hospitality was a top priority in her culture and Martha was just trying to do everything she could to make sure everything was perfect for her guests. She must have worked very hard to have enough food to feed such a large group. She took the responsibilities of a hostess very seriously.

I fully understand Martha's attention to the task at hand. If she didn't do it, who would? I can picture her in the kitchen, slamming things down and wondering if Mary would ever take the hint to come help. Sure, Jesus had fed thousands from a few loaves and fishes, but Martha couldn't very well ask a guest if he was planning to whip up dinner, could she? As Mary sat at the feet of Jesus oblivious to the bad vibes coming from the kitchen, did Jesus hear the sounds and know what Mary was thinking? I'm going with "yes" on that one.

Perhaps because of my affinity with Martha, this story has always felt like Jesus is talking directly to me. I have often wondered if there was more to the conversation in Luke 10 than was recorded. When Martha interrupted Jesus to ask him to tell Mary to help, did Jesus ask Martha why she was so focused on food preparation? It would have been like him to remind her of previous miracles...did he in this instance? Would she have mumbled something in response about trying to be like the Proverbs 31 woman? Or do the words that were recorded reflect everything that Jesus said to Martha on the subject?

"Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Did Martha have an "aha" moment and join Mary at Jesus' feet, or did she just turn around and go back into the kitchen to finish dinner, no doubt feeling rather embarrassed?

We don't know. 

We do know that in her quest to be the perfect hostess, she created an awkward moment for her guests. We know that she put the guest of honor on the spot, asking him to mediate a case of sibling rivalry. We know that her quest to do everything - and to do it perfectly - left her frazzled, angry, and perhaps a shade bitter.

We also know that she softened after that event, while still maintaining her frank demeanor. Along with Mary, Martha continued to have a close relationship with Jesus. When the sisters' brother, Lazarus died, both sisters greeted Jesus with the same phrase, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Mary fell at His feet before uttering the phrase. Ever the task-oriented woman, Martha spoke to Jesus standing up, and made it a point to assure Jesus that she knew that God would give him whatever he asked. With my Baptist sensibility and restraint, I relate more to Martha. But it was the emotional plea of Mary that he responded to, filling with emotion himself.

The last time we see Martha is at a dinner before Passover, when Mary poured perfume on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair, the symbolic preparation of his body for burial. Martha served, in silence, finally learning to accept that we are all equipped in different ways. She was gifted to serve. Again, I can relate. I wonder if Martha, like Mary, understood the prophecy that was about to be played out. Did she recognize the full significance of the evening? Was she so filled with emotion that she turned to her tasks, to keep from showing her grief at the thought of what was to come?

The Holy Spirit had not yet inhabited followers of Christ, but Martha had learned the fruit of the Spirit directly from Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. We don't need to try to be the Proverbs 31 woman when we bear that kind of fruit.

Martha Margaret

June 12, 2010

Why I'm Not a Fan of the Proverbs 31 Woman

I know for some of you, this post is going to be tantamount to heresy, so I hope the title served as a sufficient warning. There's no sense in beating around the bush, so let's jump right into my heretical thoughts on Proverbs 31.

I'd be lying if I told you that I think actually becoming the Proverbs 31 woman is an attainable goal.

For. anyone.

Now if your mother is (or was) the Proverbs 31 woman, then accept my apology. If you are married to the Proverbs 31 woman, then clearly, I'm wrong about this. She must exist. So you can stop reading right now and go back to the Proverbs 31 woman in your life. If you are the Proverbs 31 woman, then you have my full admiration, and I'm sure you have lots of work you need to be back to, so don't let us keep you.

Shhhhh. Are the Proverbs 31 devotees gone now? No, I think their computers might be a little slow to close this screen due to all of the multi-tasking that they do. Let's give them just another second...

OK, for those who are still reading, I admit the Proverbs 31 woman has many, many, wonderful qualities. And that's what baffles me. How can any one woman fit all of that criteria? The whole concept looks great on paper, but holy cow, it would take a whole stinking village to do all that she does.

Perhaps we should start with the chapter's author. Proverbs 31:1 attributes the writing to King Lemuel, who was sharing the lessons of his mother.

My first thought when reading that is, "His mother? There we go."

My second thought is, "Who the heck is King Lemuel?"

The answer to that is nobody knows for sure. He is not listed among the kings of Israel. Some say that he was from Arabia, perhaps descended from Abraham's son, Ishmael. Jewish tradition suggests that Lemuel was a pseudonym for King Solomon. And, of course, King Solomon's mother was the infamous Bathsheba...and as we know, Bathsheba was no Proverbs 31 woman.

So whether it was Bathsheba or some forgotten king's mother, what was this mother's point? Was she trying to set the bar so high that no woman could ever measure up to her standards? Was she telling her son the kind of wife and mother she would have been if she had it to do over again? Maybe it was Bathsheba, and she just didn't care for Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines. Or maybe Proverbs 31 explains why Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines in the first place. Perhaps he was desperately seeking the perfect woman, you know, the woman his mother led him to believe existed in real life.

Why does the Proverbs 31 woman bother me? Her description seems to set the bar unrealistically high. I'm thinking the woman would have to get by on about 15 minutes of sleep a night. She is both a businesswoman and a stay-at-home-housewife. She gets up while it's still dark; she provides food for her family and servants; she buys fields and plants vineyards; she is a tireless worker; she makes a profit; she doesn't turn the light out at night (because clearly, her work is never done); she spins her own fabric; she makes her family's clothes; she makes clothing for merchants to sell; she makes linens for her bed; she makes her husband look good; she speaks with wisdom (when does she have time to talk?); and her children call her blessed, although I don't see where she has a spare minute to spend with her children. For that matter, when would she have had the time and energy to actually conceive any children?

I know many noble women who fit many of the characteristics of the Proverbs 31 woman but I don't know any one woman who fits them all. Certainly there are a number of worthy and attainable goals provided by the chapter. Making your husband look good is never a bad idea. Living your life in a way that makes your children call you blessed, is another good piece of advice. Managing your household well is a great practical tip and helps create the opportunities needed for a healthy, balanced family life.

But working all day and all night and trying to be all things to all people? Bad advice, destined to make anyone crack under pressure. I think I'm sticking with my "no one is good enough for my son" theory on the part of the king's mother.

Instead of entire books, Bible studies, and conferences built around the full chapter, which I can only assume would make any reader or participant feel like a failure, I wish we'd place more emphasis on the verse that I think was the king's mother's best advice:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Now that's the woman I want to be.

Image: Tim Seed / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

June 11, 2010

30 Things I Vow To Do This Summer


It's time for another Writer's Workshop assignment from Mama Kat. I was not going to do this prompt, because the idea of listing 30 things to do this summer overwhelmed me. After reading other lists, I'm feeling inspired, and if I post my summer 2010 resolutions, I'm more likely to accomplish them, so here we are. There are some fun things (see #1 on the list) and some things I just need to get taken care of so I won't be stressed this fall when work becomes much more hectic. I like to think there's a balance of fun and productive things to do before Labor Day.

1. Meet my new grand-niece who will be moving here with her parents in August!
2. Clean out the junk in my guest room.
3. Move the massive bookcase from the hall into my guest room.
4. Fix the toilet in the hall bath.
5. Replace the faucet in my bathroom.
6. Read more. OK, read.
7. Brush my cats daily...or at least every other day.
8. Visit my sister in Minnesota.
9. Nap in a hammock at my sister's.
10. Get the self-tanner routine down so it doesn't take planning.
11. Start phasing the red out of my hair...at least a little.
12. Keep growing my hair out.
13. Walk early in the morning in the evenings.
14. Get the weights out from behind the sofa and actually use them.
15. Get my old movie posters out from under the bed and onto eBay.
16. Figure out the converter boxes so I can ditch cable.
17. Make it to the Farmer's Market.
18. Nap on Friday afternoons in June and July when I get off work at noon.
19. Make it to work by 8:00 on Fridays so I can get off at noon.
20. Train my new neighbor to help water the common areas.
21. Repaint my outdoor chairs.
22. Figure out what will grow in the flower bed where none of the bulbs survived this past winter, even though the planting will have to wait until fall since it's already too blasted hot to plant anything there.
23. Clean my office.
24. Set up a new filing system at work.
25. Try to set aside one night a month to have friends over.
26. Spend time playing around with Photoshop so I won't forget what I learned in a one-day class this week!
27. Write a bunch Single and Sane posts in advance.
28. Become better about responding to everyone who is kind enough to comment on my blog.
29. Spend time sitting on the patio doing nothing except listening to the sounds of summer.
30. Train myself to sign my name to my posts so those of you who don't know me can learn my name. (Yes, Virginia, I do have a name!)

Now go check out all the other bloggers' work on Mama's Kat's post.

Mama's Losin' It


June 9, 2010

A Plague of Flies

I had friends over one summer night several years ago. It was getting late and everyone was starting to talk about leaving and as a couple of them were starting to gather their things, something strange happened. I noticed a fly land on the wall opposite me. Then another, and another, and another...soon there were dozens of black flies on my yellow wall.

I sat frozen on the sofa, mortified. What could be drawing so many flies inside my house? Was I a lousy housekeeper? Worse, had something died in my wall?

If anyone else noticed, they didn't say anything. We all stood up as everyone gradually began to pick up their things and move towards the front door, still visiting. I breathed a sigh of relief as the last friend walked out and I headed back to the wall of flies. They were still there, and even as I took a newspaper and began to swat them, none flew away. It was as though they were drugged as I killed them, one by one, and occasionally two by two.

I never said anything about it to anyone until a couple of weeks later, as I was eating lunch with two coworkers and out of the blue, one of them asked, "Have either of you noticed anything strange with flies?"

The other two of us replied in unison, "You, too?"

We all lived several miles apart, yet we had each experienced the same thing, as a number of flies had come into our houses out of nowhere, landed a wall, and stayed there as though they were paralyzed while we swatted them. (Clearly all three of us would harm a fly. I'm sorry, but they carry nasty stuff and there were a LOT of them.) We laughed as one of the women told us she had called her husband in a panic, practically screaming into the phone, "You have to come home right now! There are flies in the house!"

All of us had been embarrassed about it, wondering what we had done to cause this plague of flies to descend on our homes. I still don't know what the deal was with those darn flies, but it just took one person to speak up and let us know that we weren't alone...someone else had faced the same thing.

How often do we carry something around inside that embarrasses us? How many times do we refuse to speak up because we think nobody else has the same problem? It just takes one person to start...


Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. ~ I Thes. 5:11

June 5, 2010

Anti-British or Anti-Tony?

I heard on the news this morning that BP has decided to pull Tony Hayward away from his role as the public face for the oil spill that continues to plague the Gulf Coast. Apparently they have decided it would be better to have American executives take over the role because they fear anti-British sentiment is rising in the U.S.

Make no mistake. It's not anti-British sentiment, but anti-Tony sentiment that is the problem. It's not just that effort after effort to plug the leak has failed. It's that Tony Hayward has been wrong about pretty much everything to this point. And not just wrong, but arrogant and insensitive in the process.

He insisted the environmental damage would be "modest" even as oil was headed to the Louisiana marshlands. He continued to allow his company to use dangerous dispersants even after the EPA told them to find something else. He insisted there was no scientific evidence for the existence of an oil plume beneath the surface of the water. According to CNN, "researchers at the University of South Florida have completed laboratory tests confirming that the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico has collected into oil plumes beneath the surface. The plumes are as wide as 6 miles, though their lengths are unclear, researchers said." Now he's telling us that workers who have been sickened are just suffering from food poisoning, even though they are not all from the same area.

This week, he told us nobody wants to get their life back more than he does. Is he kidding? None of the fisherman in Louisiana are going to get their lives back anytime soon. Tony may not get his life back either after the mess he has created with his poorly chosen words. With BP's survival coming more and more into question, I don't know how he can survive as its leader.

Today, despite outrage over $50 million spent in advertising to help BP's image, those ads continue to run. BP, you want to make this right? You can start by actually cleaning up your mess. You need to pay for the berms needed to create barriers off the coast. You need to clean up ALL of the soiled beaches, EVERY day. You need to follow through on promises of payment to fishermen. You need to do whatever it takes, instead of just telling us you're going to do whatever it takes.

BP, you need to worry less about your image and pull your PR campaign because it's just making us angrier, particularly as we watch the pictures of wildlife covered in oil, and the faces of men and women who make a living off of the coast, wondering how they're going to pay their bills.

BP, you need to do right by those who were killed and injured in the explosion of the rig. There will a poignant reminder of the irreparable harm your decisions caused this week, as the families of the 11 men killed travel to Washington to meet with President Obama on Thursday. You can't fix the damage to those families - families who will never get their lives back to where they were - but you'd darn well better do everything you can to help them.

The rest of us need to take a hard look at ourselves. Like the families of coal miners killed, the families we'll see at the White House this week are the faces of the price that we pay for energy in the United States. The reality is that we cannot just stop drilling for oil, anymore than we can just stop mining for coal. But we have to be prepared to do what it takes to make both industries as safe as possible. More than that, we have to be prepared to make some sacrifices as individuals.

Good grief, we don't blame Britain for the mess in the Gulf. We are all responsible, in some way, for the mess that's spreading further each day. As a nation, we are becoming increasingly anti-BP, which is unfortunate because of all of the honest people who are connected to BP, who are just as sickened by the same images we all see.

We're not anti-British, but we have become anti-Tony.

June 3, 2010

And Then There Was One

Blanche Devereaux wasn't a great literary character, and she didn't change the world, but when Rue McClanahan brought her to life, she changed attitudes. Of course she had plenty of help from the other Golden Girls, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Betty White.

Rue McClanahan's passing this morning at the age of 76 came far too soon. When the Golden Girls began in 1985, those of us who were 20-somethings thought all the ladies were pretty far along in life. Now I realize "Blanche" was 51, which somehow doesn't seem all that far along to me now. =)

We loved the show because all four ladies managed to make us see that women can age gracefully, and have fun throughout their lives. They taught us that you can be both more relaxed and more attractive as you get older. They taught us the importance of caring more about what you think of yourself, and less about what others think of you. They made aging seem much more appealing than we had ever thought possible. While dating was a big part of the show, they also showed us that there is no shame in singleness. Early on, McClanahan told the New York Times that they wanted people to see "that when people mature, they add layers. They don't turn into other creatures. The truth is we all still have our child, our adolescent and your young woman living in us."

And now, at 88 (and-a-half), only Betty White is left. She's the Energizer Bunny of the group. Her recent stint on SNL showed us, once again, that women can age gracefully and have fun throughout their lives. She even has a new show starting on TV Land in a couple of weeks. She will play the caretaker of a house rented by Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick. It may not be the Golden Girls, but with a strong cast it might just make it. From the clips I've seen, it looks live Betty White is channeling another great character, Sue Ann Niven, along with Sophia Petrillo. Take a look...

Here's hoping that Betty White continues to have a long run!

June 2, 2010

Tipper and Al

With the announcement of the Gore separation, it appears that another couple is headed towards singledom. I keep wondering why this one seems to be hitting people harder than most celebrity breakups.

Maybe it's because we've "known" the Gores for so long. Twenty-five years ago, when Tipper was just beginning to push for warning labels for records marketed to children, I thought Tipper would be a great name for an Irish Setter. A few years later, when Al Gore joined Bill Clinton's campaign, we all got to know Al and Tipper better and the Gores' marriage seemed, well, solid. As the years went by, their marriage only seemed stronger - particularly in comparison to that other marriage - and while I found "The Kiss" at the 2000 Democratic convention pretty obnoxious, it still reminded us how committed Al and Tipper appeared to be to one another.

Maybe it's because we didn't see this coming. If Bill and Hillary announced a separation, we'd look at each other knowingly and say, "She finally had enough." If Rudy and Judy broke up we'd shrug our shoulders and say, "What did they expect when they started dating each other when he was still married?" We don't like to be surprised by these things - as if couples should give us a heads up when things start falling apart.

Maybe it's because they seemed to be such good friends. Gosh, if they can't make it...we don't even want to finish the sentence. I think that's the part that scares most of us, whether we're married or single.

There's a lot of speculation - particularly on the morning news shows and the cable networks - about why the Gores would take this step after 40 years. Even as the anchors say it makes them uncomfortable to discuss it...they continue to discuss it.

I hope the talking heads move on soon and give the Gores some peace. They don't owe us an explanation, no matter how curious we may be.