Boxed Inside The Clean Club

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I’ve never been much of a club person. The main reason is probably because the majority of  clubs in the small towns I’ve lived in are usually craft-oriented. I’ve lived among whole colonies of Martha Stewart clones.  These amazing women organize clubs for quilters, knitters, scrapbookers, beaders, potters, wool-spinners, candlemakers, soap carvers and twiggy wreathers, to name a few.

But never anything for someone with my particular disability. You see, I was born with an unfortunate predisposition to clumsiness and fumbly-fingeredness.

I am handicraft impaired.

There is no humiliation quite as raw as the type that occurs when someone like me struggles through a Friendly Plastic jewelry making class only to find that their modeling plastic is anything but friendly. Especially when the year is 1989 and everyone else has produced glorious purple, fuchsia, and silver-colored earring medallions with their plastic chunks. My medallions look like toucan poop on juice can lids.

There is only one club involving craft-making in which I can achieve a modicum of success. It is called Kindergarten. My back and legs may cramp from crouching on the tiny chairs, and the cracker portions may be unsatisfyingly small, but the oohs and ahhs I receive from my tablemates when I hold up a completed paper bag pig puppet make it all worthwhile. I am at home in the safety scissors crowd.

Sewing defeats me before I even start. I cried my way through sewing in 4H and got a generous D in ninth grade Home Ec when the teacher pointed out that I had sewed the skirt waistband onto the hem end. I modeled that fiasco with a Mrs. Wiggin’s gait as the darts constricted my knees. (Does anyone else out there remember Carol Burnett as Mrs. Wiggins and how Tim Conway’s Mr. Tudball said Mrs. HuhWiggins?)

Suffice it to say that I’m happiest when I’m outside a crafting club, rather than inside where, even though the members are sweet and kind and the coffee is delicious, I just don’t fit in.

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The most notable member of the mega-righteous Pharisee Club was Saul–later known as Paul the Apostle.  As a Pharisee, Paul lived and breathed the Old Covenant practices and prided himself on mastering the art of regulation-keeping. He reported that he was “faultless” in his legalistic righteousness. This extreme legalism also blinded him. Similar to the other strict Pharisees, he had no vision beyond what he presumed God to be.

Metaphorically speaking, Paul and his Pharisee cronies lived in a big box.  Orderly, spacious, fenced and hedged, it was their Law Clubhouse. It had taken centuries to build, but was nearly complete by the time Jesus arrived. The Law Clubhouse became an elite retreat for the brightest and best of the Pharisees. They stayed separated from the rest of society in the immaculate building and admitted entrance only to those who conformed to their high standards.

As nice a place as the Law House was, however, its interior was always dark. And that was exactly what led to the blindness of the Pharisees. Like moles living underground, the Pharisees had no need for eyesight as long as they stayed inside their familiar, dark dwelling. They could feel their way around just fine.

Inside the Law House, Paul was the supervisor of the house’s security team, ordering various punishments and death sentences to the pagans who tried to gain entrance illegally. The blasphemers who, even though they didn’t submit to proper rule-keeping, claimed to be children of God. Being that sort of commander was hard work, but somebody had to do it. And, in spite of, or maybe because of his blindness, Paul did it well.

Unfortunately though, like an Olympian whose promising athletic future is brought to a screeching halt by a serious injury, Paul’s career was derailed on the road to Damascus. In a curious twist, his Pharisaical, spiritual blindness would be zapped with a dose of physical blindness. He would be struck blind by a LASIK beam so powerful it would knock him right out the Clubhouse and out beyond the perfect hedges. When he would finally regain his sight, he would find himself among the clumsy pagans he had previously punished. And he would surprise himself by enjoying their company.

Even more astonishing would be his face-to-face with Jesus. Once his blindness was cured, Paul would see that Jesus was the Messiah and that Jesus had chosen to live outside the immaculate Clubhouse.

Outside the rules.

Outside the traditions.

Outside the box.

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Pharisaism is an equal opportunity disease. It infects Christians of all persuasions, denominations, and non-denominations. Its symptoms are not necessarily manifested in the practices of individual churches, but in the prevailing attitudes of individual members. I believe God is happy with the differences He has created in the hearts of believers, so we shouldn’t judge whether or not Pharisaism exists in certain congregations based on their worship preferences.

Unfortunately though, Pharisaism has definitely sickened some churches. These are the ones with a number of people as ill as I used to be. The ones with the amazing ability to craft gorgeous church services and build frameworks on which to display their immaculate standards. Places where even though the members are kind and sweet, and the coffee is delicious, the  orthodoxy-impaired among us just don’t fit in.

Places and people that the struggling, fumbly-fingered sinners steer away from in the same way I run from an army of kindly scrapbookers carrying their nauseatingly organized supply boxes.

But that’s okay. I’m perfectly content to spend my time crafting a poem–an ode to God–while waiting in the car in a Home Depot parking lot. A lot of inspiration can occur when one’s husband is dreaming big in the store’s power tool aisle. And sometimes, even though my poems are now written outside a church clubhouse, they still turn out theologically correct.

At least my kindergarten friends think so.

Our family photos. Scrapbook this, Martha Stewart!

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The Time-Saving Benefits of Prejudice

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“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.” – E. B. White

“The less secure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudice.” – Clint Eastwood

“Presumption and Prejudice like to play in the dark places where their Facts friends are not allowed. Presumption holds the gate open for Prejudice to sneak inside, and then slams it shut in the face of the Facts.” – Me.

The Pharisees’ prejudice against Jesus reared its ugly head from the very beginning of his ministry. They decided from their first few encounters with him that he was not sent from God.  He couldn’t be. After over five centuries of a fragmented national identity, the Jewish peoples’ longing for a Messiah king was huge. They fully expected God to send them a holy, courageous leader to overthrow their oppressive Roman rulers and restore their nation and their fortunes. They believed that this Messiah would reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

And of course, they were the mega-righteous, groomed and ready to be the first recipients of God’s lavish rewards. As ordinary and low-class as Jesus appeared, he just didn’t’ fit their Messiah profile.

The dictionary definition of prejudice is “a preconceived opinion not based on reason.” It stems from Latin roots that denote “pre-” or “before-judging,” or, a type of judging that happens before any evidence or relevant facts are brought forth.

The little the Pharisees knew about Jesus was enough, in their minds, to judge him as a dangerous, dirty impostor. For one thing, He came from the dumpy town of Nazareth–not Bethlehem, as their holy scriptures clearly indicated would be the case. Secondly, Jesus taught the people as if  he possessed some sort of Rabbinic authority, but all the Pharisees knew that he had never studied under any of their recognized Jewish teachers. They thought he was a sham.

Silly Pharisees. If they had only run a background check on Jesus before they judged him, they wouldn’t have been so quick to kill him later. They would have found out that Jesus was born in what would be the modern equivalent of an emergency roadside birth in Bethlehem, and they would have realized that Jesus’ Father dictated to Moses and the prophets all the curriculum used in their distinguished seminaries. Unfortunately, they took the quick and easy Presumptive road instead.

(On the subject of emergency births, I just read several fascinating accounts of roadside deliveries and I’ve concluded that if Jesus had been born in today’s world, Mary would have done what seems to be the trendy thing among such easy-birthers–she would have named her baby after the freeway on which he was born. I’m now glad he came back then. It would be weird to worship a God named Pomona, I-84, or Tri-State.)

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Before my Pharisaism diagnosis, I took great pride in not being prejudiced. As a loving Christian Pharisee, I was certainly never racist or intolerant in any way. I saw all people, regardless of age, race, or gender as precious individuals, created in the image of God. My brothers and sisters all.

…Wellll…except for the less-informed ones. The people in the world who I decided weren’t Spirit-filled Christians. The ones who didn’t live a clean life as I defined it. The ones who slept in and stayed home on Sunday mornings. The ones who parented sloppily–whose children sported shocking tattoos and hair dyed in colors that were never meant to be included in the human gene pool. The ones who used profanities and had no appreciation for my lofty Christianese. The ones who didn’t tithe ten percent of their income to a church or to worthy Christian causes. Or even the supposed-Christians whose church services included rote rituals and voted Democrat and allowed all kinds of riff-raff to be ordained as clergy.

It was truly wonderful to have the benefit that the gift of Holy Spirit discernment gave me. I could quickly filter all my observations through my spiritual judgment and not have to bother spending all that time and effort to get to know people’s hearts.

I had more important things to do. Like studying the bible and praying and going to church three times a week and doing music and children’s ministry and cleaning the church and cooking extra casseroles to make up for the slackers who always forgot potluck Sunday and applauding tract-plastering campaigns to inform the lost in my community that they needed to ask Jesus into their hearts so they could be as sacrificially busy for God as I was. Phew.

It was a blessed thing to clearly see that I wasn’t prejudiced.

It wasn’t such a blessed thing to later find out that one of the most effective treatments for Pharisaical judgmentalism is the forced swallowing of large doses of my own medicine.

Huge, Costco-sized bottles of it.

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There is no prejudice so strong as that which arises from a fancied exemption from all prejudice. – William Hazlitt

Our third oldest in Feb. 2003 -
First, the pink--

--and then, the blue!

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(Coming up next in Monday’s post: A look at why being blind was fine as long as I stayed “Boxed Inside the Clean Club.”)

A Partial View of Raw Egg Skating

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Wally, my inner Pharisee, tended to my blindness like it was a toxic, rare mushroom growing in the darkest part of my soul. This blindness sprang up from a bed of decaying detritus and quickly matured to the point where it spawned two children, Presumption and Prejudice. Representing the fruits of his dark labor, Wally delighted in every opportunity my blindness provided for these offshoots to exercise their developing muscles.

Presumptions, similar to assumptions, can be the ideas we form, or the conclusions we reach from our own reasoning. They’re the concepts we talk about or act on that we don’t bother to fact check.

Similar to white button mushrooms, most presumptions are of the harmless, everyday variety. Some of mine might be presuming that the pickle jar lid is screwed on tight when I grab it from the frig shelf, or presuming that my new gray-masking hair color will turn out exactly like the pretty lady’s on the outside of the box.

If these innocent presumptions are proven wrong, I might end up with pickle juice saturating the much-labored-over homemade cheesecake on the bottom frig shelf, or be forced to endure the humiliation of eggplant-tinted hair clashing with my winter coat, but I’m not truly harmed. I don’t die.

Pharisaical presumptions aren’t nearly as harmless, though. The Pharisees based their whole religious system on the premise that they could figure God out. That they could be (as Satan promised in the Garden of Eden), “like God, knowing good and evil.” The problem was, they forgot that they couldn’t see the whole picture, that their field of vision was limited, and that they had no business deciding who was, and who wasn’t following God.

I, like them, became a rogue judge, sentencing people on the basis of my very narrow views. And I, like them, thought I had figured God out. I could spot an unbeliever, or at least a disobedient believer, a mile away and have just the right cliché to spout off as my wise answer to their supposed deficit.

I was a presumptive fool and remained one until my sickness was diagnosed.

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Making decisions based on only a partial view of the whole picture can be downright dangerous. Or at least messy.

Way, way back, in my single mom days, I ran a small marketing office out of my home. Every day, after ushering my four school age children out the door, I would plop my fifth child—toddler Zach—down on the couch in front of Sesame Street and prayed that he would stay there long enough for me to place a few important phone calls. These results of these calls could sometimes make the difference between whether or not my bills would get paid each month.

Of course, Zach would inevitably wander away from the couch and make good use of his unsupervised time. And I would inevitably get stuck on a call and finally make it back downstairs to face disturbing scenarios such as all our family’s snowboots lined up on top of the piano, or a whole tub of margarine smeared all over the kitchen cupboards and all over Zach’s little half-naked body. (I can still picture how brilliantly his wild curls glistened on that margarine day—I’ve often wondered if a merger between the Suave shampoo producers and the Blue Bonnet makers should be considered by those in charge of such things. Smoothing Essence of Transfat, perhaps.)

Zach's curls then

On one particular morning, I received a really promising phone call. Right in the middle of it, though, I heard a persistent banging noise coming from the kitchen downstairs. Worried about what Zach might be doing this time, I put the caller on hold and dashed downstairs. Not bothering to actually go into the kitchen, I peeked through the utility room doorway. I couldn’t quite see exactly what he was doing because the table and chairs blocked my full view of the kitchen, but over the top of the table, I could see his springy curls waving gleefully as he darted back and forth on the kitchen floor.

I presumed he was merely sliding on his socks. The banging I heard was the thump he made each time he hit the wall or the cupboard on opposite sides of the room. Afraid to keep my caller on hold for too long, I figured little Zach was just having some harmless fun and, as long as the banging persisted, I knew where he was, so I ran back up to my phone.

After twenty minutes or so, I ended the call, surprised that I could still hear Zach’s thumping. It seemed he was really enjoying his new activity. When I stepped into the kitchen, however, and took in the complete picture, without the table blocking my view, I realized that nothing was as I had presumed. What I hadn’t seen earlier was that the refrigerator door was hanging wide open and Zach had cracked an entire dozen eggs onto the floor below. He had been skating in a massive raw egg puddle the entire time.

Raw eggs and eggshells were smeared everywhere—on the floor, on the walls, and of course in Zach’s curls. Scarier still, the frig motor was whirring and whining like it was about to blow up. I slid my way to the frig door, slamming it shut with my foot as I fell into it. Ouch, oof, ERGH! If the motor on that old refrigerator had died, I absolutely could not have afforded a new one.

Zach, having discarded his diaper in some yolk sludge, wore nothing but socks and several of his sisters’ necklaces. He beamed with delight under curls that glistened this time with Essence of Albumen, while stripes of egg yolk and crushed shells criss-crossed his little chest like native war paint. It was a disaster that could have been mitigated, possibly even avoided, if I had bothered to check out the whole picture earlier.

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The Pharisees arrogantly judged Jesus based on their presumed knowledge of his background and education. And we all know how that turned out.

Messy.

Very, very messy.

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(Coming up: A look at my diseased tendency to bypass the facts in Thursday’s post entitled, “The Time-Saving Benefits of Prejudice.”)

Zach's curls now--the result of all that margarine

Oh Magoo, You’ve Done It Again!

Referring to the 1997 Mr. Magoo movie, Don Markstein of Toonopedia fame commented,

“The Disney film drew protest from advocates of the vision-impaired, who pointed out rather vociferously that there is nothing funny about blindness. They’re right, of course — but it’s not his blindness that has always made Mr. Magoo pathetically funny. It’s the fact that he stubbornly refuses to admit or compensate for his disability.”

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If I had been diagnosed with a disease such as hardening of the arteries, my doctor would have advised me to make lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as take certain medications. If my condition wasn’t too advanced, these changes could help me avert a heart attack or stroke.

In a figurative sense, my diagnosis of  Pharisaism similarly forced me to make lifestyle and spiritual outlook changes. I would have to confront the causes and symptoms of my “hardened heart” (something Jesus accused the Pharisees of having) in order to avert a shallow and legalistic faith.

The first symptom was spiritual blindness. In order to understand my particular type of blindness I went back to my medical manual, the bible, and read about the Pharisees’ sight impairment. Their insight impairment.

The Pharisees’ figurative blindness was evident from the moment they stumbled onto the stage of Jesus’ ministry. These self-important clerical leaders first showed up at the Jordan River to investigate John the Baptist, whom they probably suspected was a religious insurrectionist. He emerged from the wilds of the desert as a bug-eating character dressed in rough clothing and quickly attracted a following. People came from all over to hear his radical message. He proclaimed that the long-awaited Messiah was finally arriving and that individuals needed to be ready to meet him. His job was to “prepare the way for the Lord,” or “to clear the road.”

John’s preparation, of course, did not involve clearing a literal road for the Messiah to travel on; it involved clearing out the path to people’s hearts.

When the crowd heard John’s words, they submitted to the only outward rite that was associated with belief in the Messiah—baptism. John declared that being baptized was a public sign of a person’s awareness of their sin. By recognizing and confessing that they were sinful, people were, in effect, preparing their hearts to receive forgiveness from Jesus. They were clearing the road for him to come to them.

The Pharisees simply couldn’t wrap their minds around this.  Biased as they were by their preconceived notions of what a prophet sent from God should look and sound like, they completely missed the point of John’s powerful preaching. To them, baptism had always been a rite reserved for converts to Judaism. They couldn’t figure out why people who were already Jews would do this. They certainly didn’t need John’s baptism.

A public sign of sin recognition was not on the agenda for those who considered themselves the most pious, the most religious, and therefore the most sanitized from sin. They were completely blind to their own inward sins of pride, greed, selfishness, and hypocrisy.

And so was I.

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One of my important bible word searches revealed a seemingly inordinate number of sight-impaired people in the New Testament. Jesus bumped into them everywhere he went. (‘Scuse the pun.) As an extremely nearsighted person myself, I pondered this for a while. It dawned on me that without my bifocals or my mega-correcting contacts I could have been one of the blind roadside sitters in Jesus’ day, crying out to him for mercy when he walked by.

In fact, a huge number of us would have been in that position. Millions have sight issues to one degree or another, but modern optical technology insures that in developed nations, at least, many of us can carry on with normal lives. For me, that means that my glasses and contacts are daily, tangible instruments of God’s mercy in my life.

As referred to in my last post, my husband’s stinging sentence was the laser beam that instantly corrected my vision. I’ve read that the LASIK surgical procedure for eyesight correction can often be completed in less than ten minutes. Mike’s incisive honesty cured my blindness in less than ten seconds. That procedure instantly gave me insight. I could suddenly see what was inside of my heart, and what I saw made me realize that I was sick. Sin sick. Sick with sins that were as acceptable in church as a drinking problem is at a frat party.

True to the typical onset of Pharisaism, blindness had developed in me first. It was Wally The Internal Pharisee’s doing. Looking back through my spiritual medical history, I’ve concluded that Wally probably moved into my heart about ten years after I became a Christian. He arrived quietly, slowly, sneakily—slithering into my being like a crafty snake and setting about the business of dulling my senses in tiny, almost imperceptible increments. My decreasing ability to see clearly caused me to start to wander off the right faith path. Without realizing it, I began to veer off course, just like the Pharisees of old.

The danger for me was that, unlike physical blindness, which is the loss of sight to the outside, spiritual blindness prevented me from seeing inside myself. It blocked my vision into my own heart—again, keeping the illness “out there,” instead of “in here.” It ensured that I didn’t seek help because it kept me from seeing that I needed any! I stood in my ignorance like a Pharisee standing on the banks of the Jordan River refusing to dive into the waters of repentance.  Like him, my haughty blindness kept me from enjoying God’s plan of freedom for me. As Luke reported:

“…all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism.” Luke 7:29-30 (NLT)

To make matters worse, the dimmer my ability to look into myself became, the more I fixed my focus on everyone and everything outside of me. How many times did I participate in passionate discourses about the sad state of the culture, out there? How many times, often in a bible study setting, did I play the part of latter days doomsayer—pronouncing judgment on our nation’s moral bankruptcy and teachers with tattoos? And over how many church potluck platefuls did I rouse a whole table of eaters to join with me in denouncing celebrities’ and politicians’ greed?

Or, how about the times when I even decried the shortcomings of the church—out there? When I instigated a tsk-tsking conversation lamenting other denominations’ lack of Holy Spiritness, or certain church leaders’ abundance of self-righteousness?  How many reproving sentences did I start with the phrase, “The church today is just so___          .” You fill in the blank. I dished out my stale and tasteless observations like an ungloved lunch lady with weeping sores on my hands.

I became so blind to myself, but so focused on others that I could spot the tiniest piece of sawdust in someone’s eye while not even noticing that I had a huge wooden barn beam jutting out of my own.

“Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again!” was the catchphrase Mr. Magoo always congratulated himself with as he blindly mistook his acts of destruction for brilliant deeds.

So, suffering as I was in the throes of my Pharisaism, I was a veritable Mr. Magoo, driving my jalopy all over other people’s lawns, thinking I was on a road.  I gossiped and judged and left a wake of disaster behind me, yet congratulated myself on a job for Jesus well done.

My blind judgmentalism made me a menace to society–and to the church.

I’m ashamed of how long I went around that way.

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..Then Jesus [said], “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” John 9:39-41 (NLT)

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(Coming up: My sick presumptions are exposed in Monday’s post entitled, “A Partial View of Raw Egg Skating.”)

I Am The Goat on “Let’s Make a Deal”

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. No one should expect that if they do something completely opposite to what the Christian radio marriage experts advise they will experience marital healing. No Christian radio guy would ever, ever encourage a man to insult his wife in a fit of exasperation. Goodness, no. That would be like telling parents to make sure their kids watch nonstop network TV shows and/or play video games as much as possible and also provide plenty of chips and candy to eat whilst they are obeying such parental instruction. Yet, a moment of unholy husband behavior is exactly what it took to break through my righteous denial.

My Pharisaical denial.

This denial is actually a form of blindness, which is one of the major Pharisaism disease symptoms. The worst thing about Pharisaical blindness is that it results in the sufferer being blind to the fact that they are blind.

Like other Christian Pharisees, I suffered from a superior attitude. I had been a Christian so long I forgot that underneath my Sunday wardrobe I was still a heathen like everybody else on this planet. I thought that my bible study and church commitment made me smarter, more aware than other people. Maybe even more saintly than my good husband.

Fortunately, God’s love for me was too strong to let me stay on the top of my gleaming, isolating pedestal. He loved me enough to shove  me off.

It happened on a day that Mike and I were squabbling about something and I had been trying to get him to see that his negative assessment of my intentions was wrong. I had pointed out that I was innocent of whatever I was accused of, and that he needed to repent of his misjudgment of me. I was, after all, the special wife that God had graced his life with.

Mike wasn’t buying it. He was tired.

“Oh, you think so, huh?? Well, I got news for you, Willow—you ain’t no prize!!”

“Huh-baaaa!” My shocked gasp came out sounding more like a barnyard bleat. Mike’s cruel and badly-grammared retort stabbed into the very core of my wifely heart. My noble heart, my brave heart.

Yes, that’s it. In a flash I saw myself as a martyred William Wallace from the movie, Braveheart, panting, gulping, his eyes rolling back in his head as he is being drawn, quartered, and tortured beyond agony. I, too, gulped and panted as my insensitive husband ripped open my emotional bowels with those cutting and hostile words.

“Buh-haaa—” I opened my mouth to utter words of righteous defense, but could only deliver another bleat.

Something inexplicable had pulled the proverbial rug out from under me and rendered me mute. Try as I might, I couldn’t say a thing. I wanted to scream back, “How dare you?! How dare you tell me I’m no prize! I get up every morning and make your breakfast and make your lunch and iron your shirts and play piano in church, and read my bible…and…!” but I felt like I was falling and the terror of that sensation kept my words stuck inside my larynx.

Like Milt Van Weet, I had lost my footing at the pinnacle of my high place and was on a slippery death slide, bouncing like a plinko chip between the magnetted markers of my godly attributes.

I simply stared at Mike with my eyes bugging and my mouth gaping like a caught trout.  Something odd, something small, niggly and strange was fluttering in the back of my throat. Having always thoroughly charred my family’s meat entrees before serving, I knew it couldn’t be a tapeworm that was emerging from my upper digestive system like I had read about happening to an overseas missionary once. And it was too smooth and cool to be acid reflux.

It was the same two-syllabled word that William Wallace yelled at the historic moment of his death.

FREEDOM!

The word reverberated through my mind like an ambulance siren. It provided the horrible and beautiful soundtrack for my deadly freefall. I was powerless to stop whatever was happening in me. All I knew was that something, or someone, inside of me had been knocked down, out of the way, and was no longer blocking the view from my heart. I was suddenly seeing things I hadn’t seen in years. Surprising things.

I saw that Mike was right.

As ol’ King James so eloquently stated in Psalm 119:130, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.”

The light of Mike’s prophetic insult showed me the truth about myself at the exact moment I felt myself plunging over the roof edge. In my terror, I saw a squishy manure pile below me. I desperately hoped I would land in it.

I did.

Thud. My crash landing broke my muteness and knocked some unexpected words right out of me. “Oof, you’re right—I ain’t no prize. I need help.

Now it was Mike’s turn to bug his eyes and gape his mouth.

I think this is actually a llama.

I felt like Mike was a contestant on the old “Let’s Make a Deal” game show and I was the prize he won after choosing Door #2. Carefully adorned as I was, in a painted mask and a plush Proverbs Thirty One designer robe, I had always assumed I was his Big Deal prize—the most expensive prize offered at the end of the show. But now, instead of reaffirming my priceless value, it felt like my husband had basically just called me a “zonk”—a junk prize that contestants would get stuck with if they didn’t pick the right box or the right door. Instead of appliances, jewelry, or cars, a zonk could be a rusty wheelbarrow, fake money or a live animal.

So, after being married to me for a long time, Mike finally spoke the hard truth. The truth that underneath my pious clothing, I wasn’t the Big Deal prize that I had always assumed myself to be. I was a goat.

A stupid, bleating goat.

A zonk.

But in a weird way, I felt relieved, exhilarated. It hit me that I wouldn’t have to work to be a prize anymore. I never was, and I never could be. And it wasn’t going to matter ever again. Because seeing clearly was so much better than looking good. Looking good had been so much hard work.

To quote writer Donald Miller, “The more time and effort we put into making ourselves look great, the longer and harder the fall when the truth comes out. And eventually the truth comes out.”

A great truth had just come out. Actually—vomited out, like a slimy Jonah expelled from the odoriferous belly of a fish onto the beach. It was a warning I needed to take to heart. It was the truth that I wasn’t okay, and I had to be okay with that.

Mike was okay with it. In fact, being the outdoorsy, farmer-type guy that he is, he much preferred to have a goat. He didn’t consider a goat a zonk. For years, he had been trying to find a chemical-free way to clear the weeds from our eight acres. He was delighted to have the real me step out of my pretentious and useless costume. Now, we could work together, we could connect. The moment I knew that I wasn’t the Big Deal prize became the moment that my husband decided I was.

Life is just so strange sometimes.

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I received my diagnosis that day. The insult was the scalpel that cleanly sliced me open and allowed a shaft of light to expose the nasty Pharisee (named “Wally” from this point on) who had taken up comfortable residence in me like one of the mucus guys in the Mucinex® commercials. He wasn’t in my lungs, though. He was in my heart—incubating, metastasizing, releasing his venom, molecule by molecule into my blood as it pumped through every cell of my being. I was gravely ill and hadn’t even known it.

Predictably, though, identifying my disease was only the beginning. Wally was a crafty scoundrel, an enemy occupier who wasn’t about to give up easily. He had lied to me for years and each lie would have to be uncovered and refuted for me to receive lasting deliverance. Knowing that staying in close relationship with God and with others was the greatest threat to his survival, Wally had done his best to wall me off—to separate me from the realities of life outside religion. He clouded my senses, masked my face, and taught me to speak in Christianese, a language not easily understood by those outside the church.

But my wounding would ultimately lead to my healing. Once the wound cracked Wally’s walls and exposed him in all his pathological piety, he would have no choice but to leave.

It was all just a matter of time.

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(Coming up: Seeing my blindness in my Thursday post entitled, “Oh Magoo, You’ve Done It Again!)

Milt and Dorrie: Another Crisis Story

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(Before I go into the details of how my own identity crisis exposed my Pharisaism, I wanted to share another person’s “Crisis Results From Stubbornness” story.)

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My friend Milt was a lot like me, refusing to heed warnings and thinking everything was fine, until that one fateful day…

“Oh, no!”

Fort PretzelDorrie’s legs hit the table as she leapt up, making her pretzel sculpture collapse in a puddle of royal icing. She had glanced out the kitchen window just in time to see her husband, Milt, lose his balance on the top of the barn roof.

“Milt, NO!!” She screamed through the window, as if that would do any good.

Horrified, she watched Milt sway among the hundreds of weather vanes that lined the entire roof from the tip to the eaves. Falling from a steep barn roof would be bad enough, but falling on a slope among hundreds of pointed metal skewers…Dear Lord, no!

Dorrie bolted out the kitchen door. Her heart raced as terrible possibilities crowded into her mind. Her worst nightmare was coming to life—she had warned Milt for years that his weather vane collection was out of control. Just yesterday she had insisted that he stop magnetically mounting the silly vanes to the metal roof that had come to resemble a giant porcupine with quills poised to ward off predators.

Dorrie’s insistence seemed to only fuel Milt’s obsession, though. What started out as an entertaining display was now a grotesque curiosity. Milt scouted out every type of weather vane figurine imaginable—from traditional roosters and horses, to tractors and even presidential heads. Some made music when they spun and others sported glittering crystals. Some, like the one made from discarded dentures, were just plain stupid.

But lately, something else started bothering Dorrie even more than the weather vanes. It was a niggling suspicion that something was wrong with Milt’s health. Something that he either didn’t see, or was stubbornly ignoring. Dorrie started noticing how Milt became short of breath after very little exertion, and how he started napping several times a day. At first, she just thought it was part of the normal aging process, but when Milt fell asleep in the middle of his favorite local TV show, Fertilizers Forever, Dorrie knew her husband was in trouble.

When she urged him to see a doctor, Milt became defensive. He vehemently objected to the idea that there was anything wrong. He actually raised his voice to her and told her to leave him alone. It was one of the worst arguments they had experienced in decades, and it left Dorrie feeling powerless.

She got the last word in that day, however. “Milt, if you don’t see the doctor soon, you’re going to end up in the back of an ambulance, wishing you had listened to me! Is it going to take a crisis for you to deal with this?”

And so, the crisis was now upon them.

Dorrie rushed to where the ladder leaned against the barn and watched Milt slump forward then fall facedown, his torso thankfully landing in a narrow space between the swordfish weather vane and the Viking’s helmet on the Norwegian vane. It was obvious that Milt hadn’t slipped—it looked like he had passed out before he fell.

“Milt! Milt! Are you okay? Talk to me!” Dorrie panicked as Milt’s limp body started sliding down the steep roof, bouncing in between the poles of the weather vanes like a Plinko chip on the Price is Right.

In her terror, Dorrie couldn’t decide if she should run inside and grab the phone, or stay to try and somehow prevent Milt from hitting the ground. Her ambivalence manifested in dance steps. The steps that Milt had been too tired to execute with her in the living room for months. How she missed dancing with him…

She executed a Texas two-step, starting for the house, then turning back toward the barn. What should I do? The old barn was huge, with the roof edge standing over fifteen feet above the ground, so breaking Milt’s fall would probably have disastrous results.

Side-cross-side. She turned toward the house.

“Help!” Milt, still slowly sliding down, moaned the word as he regained consciousness.

Reverse-turn-step. “I’m here, darling!” Dorrie yelled.

With her heart booming inside her ribcage, she stretched her arms out in a futile catching gesture beneath the roof edge.

Milt’s path of descent kept changing as he hit the weather vanes, zump, zump, zump. Dorrie darted back and forth, not sure over which point along the roof edge his limp body would plunge. Suddenly, two vanes in a row diverted him horizontally enough to set him on a course for the far end of the barn, where, if he was lucky, he could be deposited directly onto a huge squishy manure pile.

Dorrie ran for the north end of the barn and started to climb over the manure pile fence when God’s saving grace intervened. She looked back up just in time to see Milt’s pant leg snag a corner of the square flange at the base of the Saint Bernard weather vane.

“Oof,” he grunted as he was jerked to a tenuous standstill. He was splayed facedown with his free leg dangling only inches from the edge.  Moaning, he grabbed onto the base of the Ronald Reagan vane.

“Hang on, darling!” Dorrie called out.

She held her breath and prayed for the success of the neodymium magnets that Milt used to bond all his vanes to the barn roof. It was an odd moment, considering that Dorrie had prayed for the magnets’ failure for years. Now, the only thing standing between Milton VanWeet and death was the singular attraction between a rare earth element and a chunk of metal roofing.

“Dorrie, Dorrie,” Milt gasped, “You’re right—something’s wrong with me. Get help, please!”

Dorrie might have cheered if the moment hadn’t been so serious. Apparently, the crisis had done its job. It had ripped the denial, the blinders from Milt’s internal eyesight. But, was it too late?

She turned and ran for her phone. Deep inside, she knew nothing would ever be the same again. What she wouldn’t know until later, though, was just how good the change would be.

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(Coming Up: The crisis that shattered my pious self-image in my next post entitled, “I Am the Goat on ‘Let’s Make a Deal.'”)

Armchair Epidemiology Clearly Impresses the Dog

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Our family dog, Lucky, is really smart. Book smart. You can see that from his picture:

Most mornings, lulled by the clicking of the keyboard keys, he snoozes underneath my feet while I write. He’s a laid-back, aging Golden Retriever.

Underneath his affable expression, however, lies the keen mind of a literary connoisseur. I know this because, whenever I read a particularly brilliant piece of my work out loud to him, he always gets up and nuzzles his approval into my ribs. Amazingly enough, he seems to have an ear for masterful prose. He’s truly a good, faithful dog.

Lucky was right there with me when the whole Pharisee thing started. It was several years ago, and I remember playing around with my Bible Explorer software in an effort to at least look like a bible scholar. It seemed like an endeavor noble enough to justify housework avoidance. Of course, no one was home at the time to see me so hard at work at the computer, but the dog was clearly impressed.

For some reason that day, I got the big idea to use the Explorer search feature to look up different references to body parts in the Old Testament. (Don’t ask me why, just accept it). That was fun initially, but after coming across 2Chronicles 21:15, “You yourself will suffer with a severe intestinal disease that will get worse each day until your bowels come out,” I decided instead to look up different animals in the New Testament. I was, after all, gaining knowledge for the Kingdom of which animals are a component. Lucky heartily approved.

After reading through sheep and lion references, the word “viper” came up and led me to a passage where John the Baptist heckles the Pharisees. Off on an attention deficit tangent, then, I did a search on “Pharisees” and was really surprised to see that that word is mentioned over a hundred times in the first four gospels alone. Even more intriguing was that almost every single one of those references relates a direct interaction with Jesus. That’s when I knew I was on to something big. So did the dog.

Interested in diving deeper into the subject, I started outlining every encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees in the four gospels.Not long into this, though, my skin prickled. I saw that almost all of Jesus’ interactions with those Jewish religious leaders painted a bleak picture. These guys all came across as so rigid, dour, and superior that I could imagine photos of them lining a cold hallway in the old Soviet Kremlin. therussianshop.com

Sort of a photographic record of militant leaders, caught in various arrogant poses, flaunting their positions of dominance. I shuddered. So did the dog.

Underneath the hardened expressions of those Pharisees, then, I caught a glimpse of something else. It was something in their features, something eerily similar to the demeanor sometimes seen in modern Evangelical Christians. This did not completely surprise me—I had already heard many sermons discussing the parallels between Pharisees and present-day Christians.

What did surprise me, though, was that it almost felt like both the old Pharisees and certain contemporary Christians were sick. I know some teaching says that there is a “spirit” of Pharisaism, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that both groups were actually diseased.

Wow! This was information that other Christians really needed to know. Especially my family members, who were under the mistaken impression that I often traded valuable housecleaning time for useless computer time. And although there already existed quite a bit of writing on this topic, I believed I could present my findings in such a way that thousands upon millions of Christian people would read it and see their sickness and folly. Ah, yes, all would be saved just in time to escape the Great Tribulation brought down on us by the country’s Leftist Liberals with their pagan Socialist Media lackeys and our nation’s Handwriting-Impaired Generation of Fornication. And all would appreciate me and thank me for thusly informing them. Pharisaical Christians everywhere would repent and be nice. I would be a hero.

I paused to smile at my happy thoughts. Lucky smiled and started licking my snowboots.

Actual one, right here

The deer would laugh their heads off if they saw me tip-toeing around their poo piles in a pair of these.

(Yes, I said snowboots. They may be clompy in the house, but they’re cushy inside and I like to wear them when I write. Yes, even in summer. Don’t make fun of me–I live in the woods so nobody sees me during the day. Besides that, I don’t make fun of city people’s rice paperish flip-flops. Which, by the way, if worn in my backyard would vaporize in a whiff of steam with the first pile of coyote scat their wearer stepped in. Who’d be laughing then? Huh? Snowboots in summer would suddenly seem lovely.)

So, as I dug further into the history of the Pharisees, I really began to see myself as a disease researcher. An epidemiologist, to be exact. I knew I was called to a unique ministry, one that would identify, once and for all, the core problem with the American church. It was simply a matter of proving my disease postulate.

I would do exactly what an epidemiologist would do—study and report the cause and distribution of a disease within a given population.

I decided that by studying the Pharisees’ history I could identify the cause of Pharisaism, and then, by studying the current state of Evangelicals, I could track its distribution. My precious outline would provide the framework with which to showcase the whole spectacular revelation.

Sigh.

Of course, like all my other grandiose dreams, this one was destined for the compost heap. I would soon find out that my precious outline was not meant to provide the answer to why the Pharisees were the way they were, or why modern Pharisaical Christians are the way they are. It would take a personal crisis for me to see that my outline was for me.

It would become my Treatment Plan for a disease I was about to find out was not “out there,” but “in here.”

In me.

And Lucky had seen it coming all along.

Like I said, he’s a smart dog.

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(Coming up: How my friend’s stubbornness almost killed him in my next post entitled, “Milt and Dorrie–Another Crisis Story.'”)