Nudist Colony Disappointment

.

Long before Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl mishap added the term “wardrobe malfunction” to popular American vernacular, I coined my own original phrase for the many clothing disasters I have endured throughout my troubled social life. It is the simple sentence, “Oh no–I think my pants just ripped.”

The signalling rush of cool air through my seat area usually sets off a panicky search for a wall to back up against. In lieu of walls or trees or even a drinking fountain to hover in front of, I often grip the back of whatever chintzy pants or shorts I’m wearing and look for a gracious way to reverse walk out of public view. Of course, the act of walking backwards carries with it the potential of even worse hazards and so these moments have never ended well.

I can’t explain why I seem to be the victim of more pants-ripping than most people. I don’t wear my pants too tight and I try to steer toward sensible, sturdy fabrics. I think it has more to do with my tendency toward jerky, quick movements. I’m always rushing, and when that is combined with my clutziness–I drop things constantly and subsequently must bend over a lot–my clothing is put to the test. And more often than not, it flunks those tests.

For a time, I carried a tiny sewing kit in my purse. I even used it once. But once was all it took for me to find out that the snippet of thread that the kit contained would never be enough to sew up one of my signature San Andreas Fault-sized rips. I’ve also resorted to stapling a few rips with an office stapler, but that repair method always leaves odd puckers that make it look like I have a seat full of gravel or something.

It was the  discovery of duct tape for fabric repair that considerably reduced the severity of my clothing emergencies.

Hmm. Wait–before I go any further, the topic of fabric repair has just brought another childhood memory to the surface. I suddenly have a mental picture of my grandparents’ recliners stationed in front of their big RCA wood cabineted TV. I remember how they kept an end table between their two chairs that was always fully stocked with nail clippers, reading glasses, candy bowls, and of course, the two most important articles every devoted TV watcher in the 1970’s owned–the TV Guide mini magazine and the amazing remote control, something still quite novel for working class families back then.

I loved that remote. We didn’t have one at our house. As the person who usually sat on the floor in front of the TV at home, I was the remote. Obeying the whims of the watchers, I slid back and forth on the sculpted carpet, garnering plenty of static charges as I operated the clicking channel dial and the volume knobs.  I took a lot of electric hits, needless to say. Maybe enough to add up to a modern Tase or two. It’s a good thing we only got a few channels and we always sat through all the commercials.

Everybody sat through commercials back then. Commercial breaks gave people an opportunity to go to the bathroom and replenish their snack bowls. It probably wasn’t until sometime around the year 1985 that it dawned on Americans that they could watch something else between commercials. That must have then coincided with the start of antibiotic overuse and subsequent resistance as Americans began to experience a huge upsurge in the number of bladder infections from that time on.

But I digress. Back to fabric repair and then back to wardrobe malfunctions and then I promise I’ll get to the Pharisees’ clothing issues. Hang in here with me, please.

I was going to say that my Grampa’s recliner was upholstered in olive green vinyl. Even though the vinyl made for a really noisy and skin-rippingly sticky sitting experience when wearing shorts, it was an easy material to repair if damaged.

I’ll never forget how afraid I was to show Grampa the hole my pointy scissors made in the arm of his chair when I was cutting out paper dolls while watching The Price is Right. I was worried that I was going to be in big trouble because I had made a really big slit in the vinyl, but Grampa didn’t get upset at all. He just went to the kitchen, pawed around in the junk drawer, and came back with a piece of olive green patching vinyl and a book of matches. He then proceeded to wave the lit match above the slit until the material softened and placed a teensy piece of patch over it. He heated it up again, rubbed over the patch, and, voila!, good as new.

I’ve sometimes entertained the idea of owning vinyl pants.

That was, until I discovered duct tape.

My first brush with duct tape for fabric repair happened one day when, while doing my job as a part time highway contract mail carrier, I stupidly didn’t question the unusual amount of cool air that was flowing through the back of my jean shorts. After hefting bags of mail into the miniature post office at my route’s termination point and stopping to mingle with the customers, I discovered in the restroom that a huge rip had occurred sometime earlier and was irreverently displaying a (ahem) derriere cheek for all the world to see.

Mortified, I asked one of the ladies I had been visiting with why she hadn’t pointed this out to me and she replied that she “thought it was intentional.” What? It might have been the era of 90’s grunge, but I was a church pianist, for heaven’s sake—not a brazen hussy intentionally running around in public with my leopard-print panties roaring for attention from all the farmers and fisherman in the post office!

It was a scorching Montana prairie day and so I had no jacket or extra clothing with me. I was forty-five miles from home and I still had to finish my route. Thank goodness the postmistress had duct tape. Holding back tears of intense embarrassment, I patched my shorts from the inside, praying the rip would stay closed. It did. But I’ve had to put seven hundred miles between me and that place now to escape the humiliation of that moment.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last of such moments.

**********

So, finally, this brings me around to the subject of Pharisaism. Specifically to Mark 12:38:

“Jesus also taught: ‘Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.'” (NLT)

To me, the point of this reference isn’t so much about the clothes themselves, as it is about the flowing and parading of said robes. It sounds like these guys were showing off, like they were purposefully using their clothes to attract attention. And they were. Several commentaries mention that the Pharisees wore special robes to signify their position as religious gurus and to keep them visually separated from the common Jewish people.

They were a prime example of ostentation, which the dictionary defines as, “pretentious or conspicuous show; display intended to impress others.”

They wore these ostentatious robes, then, like fancy sandwich board signs. Like they were advertising their superior positions and intellectual greatness.

Before I come down too hard on the Pharisees, though, I have to say that we all use our clothing to say something or other about us. It’s natural. Even people who are adamantly against following fashion trends are telling us just that by wearing plain, utilitarian clothes. The only way to escape using clothes as a message about ourselves would be to revert back to a Chinese Red Revolution-style uniform code for all of society. Mao suits for everyone.Yay.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with diverse clothing choices. We all need to express our unique selves through our wardrobe from time to time. (Within the boundaries of modesty, of course.) But, using clothing to try and be someone we’re not can have silly consequences, indeed. Trust me, I know.

**********

The problem with the Pharisees’ robes was that it was yet another example of externalism–of trying to make the outside look like something that the inside just doesn’t match. Jesus called the Pharisees on this on many separate occasions, but they couldn’t comprehend what he was talking about. Most of them just tried even harder to prove their superiority to him.

The disease symptom of superiority was particularly vexing for me as a Pharisaism sufferer. I simply thought that, as a Christian, I was truly better than most people. I certainly would never have said that, but looking back, I see now how I really did feel that way about myself and my fellow believers.

I donned a religious persona, an ostentatious way of presenting myself and my beliefs that I thought would impress others. It made me think that I was above ordinary sinners, that through all my extensive bible study and worship, I had achieved a higher standing in regular society.  I displayed my lofty knowledge by speaking out and by being instructional at every opportunity to make sure no one would miss how exceptional I was as a devoted Christian.

I wore my spirituality robe like a sandwich board.

But it didn’t impress anyone. In fact, it only served to keep me separate, apart. And tragically so, considering the very ones I was trying to impress were the ones that I could have learned the most from. I wasted a lot of time parading about in a sandwich board when I could have been sitting quietly at a table with all kinds of ordinary, but really very wise sinners.

Eek! Well now–will you look at the clock?! I’VE GONE WAY OVER TIME AGAIN! Oh man–now my post title has nothing to do with the content so far and you’re probably feeling quite let down. I’m sorry.

I haven’t even gotten to my main point yet. I was about to talk about how clothes are also meant to cover stuff up and how we can make things look really good on the outside when they’re really awful underneath. And then I had planned to tell a story about an electrician I knew once who was overjoyed to win a bid on a rewiring project in a building at a nudist colony, but his experience didn’t pan out the way he had hoped it would.

He was greatly disappointed to find out that young, toned women generally don’t join nudist colonies. Aging, overweight people do. It was one giant wardrobe malfunction with nary anything even close to a Janet Jackson physique anywhere to be seen.

He regretted accepting the job there.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that truly wise, honest, reliable, God-fearing people don’t’ bother to drape themselves in layers of ostentation.

It’s generally the insecure, bloated, self-righteous Pharisees who do that. So it’s best to stay away from their colonies. You might see them stripped of their outside adornments and then you’ll find out they’re mushy like the rest of us.

It won’t be near as spiritually thrilling as you had hoped.

You’d regret accepting a job there.

.

Advertisements

Craving Sweet Praise

.

As I’ve mentioned before, our family eats a lot of wild game. At least my husband and sons do. I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to meat of any sort. Maybe that’s because transporting freshly killed animals is sometimes inconvenient:

Leaving Grandma’s house after Thanksgiving, 1993. Eerily similar to the National Lampoon “Vacation” movie–there’s a deer carcass strapped to the top of our old Ford Taurus station wagon.

.

…or maybe just because I get tired of cutting it up every year:

And to think this poor Bambi was cavorting freely just hours earlier.

.

Eating game brought in from one’s backyard instead of from the grocery store is just a normal part of life for those of us who live in this section of the country. However you may feel about the topic of hunting, you can’t deny the health benefits of a purely organic, super lean, hormone-free, and pink slime-free protein source.

Venison usually takes up the majority of our freezer space, but we’ve had moose and bear meat on occasion. The moose can be a bit tough, and the bear, well…it isn’t my favorite.

My problem is that I am a lifetime carb lover. Not just any carbs will do either, but the simplest, easiest, least complex variety that is locally available. And this is a handy attitude for someone like me who believes in environmental responsibility. I wouldn’t want to be accused of contributing to the over-consumption of resources involved in trucking in exotic complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, buckwheat, bulgur, and oat bran.

I believe strongly in the  utilization of local sources of nutrition as much as possible. I mean, think about it–every convenience store and grocery store within a mere few miles of any community has all the Hostess pies and Ding Dongs a person could ever want. That’s pretty local, if you ask me. And who would want anything else, anyway?

(On top of that, the side benefit of constipation does even more to reduce environmental waste. Think of  how much less toilet paper and clean flushing water is needed by those who have consumed very little dietary fiber over their lifetimes. And this can even lead to increased spirituality due to extra meditation time in the bathroom…)

But, back to what I was saying:

If Michelle Obama were to have me fill in the new nutrition guide, “My Plate” slots with my preferred selections from each food group, I’d put Skittles’ in the fruit section, Twinkies in the grains spot, Peeps in the protein part and candy corn in the vegetables space. Top it off with dairy-ish Coffeemate creamer in the coffee and I’d say a well-rounded meal was accomplished. Mmm.

.

But, if I really must eat a substantial piece of meat, like a bear steak, say, here’s the type I prefer:

http://www.barnorama.com/giant-gummy-bear/

Yes, I do bear an insatiable sweet tooth. (Huh! This pun was not originally intended, but I’m delighted that it just now happened, like a lucky accident.)

Just as I come from a long line of hunters on my dad’s side of the family, I come from a long line of sugar-eaters on my mom’s side of the family. My Great-grandpa Merz was one of the most outstanding. This tough German farmer lived to be 92, even though he daily consumed full-fat dairy products and all the puddings and baked goods that his obliging wife could come up with in order to use all their cream and butter. Yet, Great-grandpa was as healthy as a horse. He mowed his own lawn and even patched his own roof at ninety years old.

He also ate sugar right out of the sugar bowl.

In fact, family legend has it that one day, after first breakfasting on doughnuts and then consuming multiple spoonsful of sugar straight from the china bowl, he got up to answer the phone and passed out. Crashed right onto the floor with a thud. Unbelievably though, even with a blood glucose level high enough to distill into an alternative fuel source, he came to, got up, and went back out to work. A little dazed maybe, but none the worse for wear.

My mom inherited a little of that sweet gene. She reports that her mom kept a drawer stocked full of candy bars in the house and that she was allowed to eat one anytime she wanted.

Genetics, then, probably explains why I used to climb onto the table when I was little and eat sugar out of the sugar bowl when my mom left the room. I don’t recall that I’ve ever passed out from such an event, but in later years, I have gotten a bit wound up on occasion after consuming mounds of cookie dough and ended up crashing on the couch afterward for a very spontaneous nap.

Needless to say, my unhealthy craving for sweets is not something I can take responsibility for. I’m a victim of maternal genetics. I am a child of my mother and I love to eat the sweet things she does.

**********

The Pharisees were victims of paternal genetics. In John 8:44 Jesus tells the Pharisees, “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.”

And, among the many things the Pharisees inherited from their father’s side was an unhealthy, insatiable craving for praise. They coveted recognition, honor and frosted kudos. In Matthew 23: 6-7 Jesus described their behavior this way:

“…they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.'” (NLT)

The Pharisees didn’t just love to be praised for their supposed superiority, they acted like it was a limited resource. Like there was only so much to go around and if people happened to give some of that precious admiration to Jesus, they were wasting it. Like people’s praise was a box of $120 a pound Godiva chocolates and Jesus and his followers were a bunch of silly boy scouts to whom some dolt accidentally gave those chocolates for their s’mores at a Camporee cookout.

The Pharisees resented it when Jesus received respect and they didn’t. They worked tirelessly, sacrificially, to uphold the Law and their traditions, so to them it was a scandalous mistake for people to lavish honor on Jesus for easily performing a few miracles here and there. Every time someone gave Jesus praise, the Pharisees felt like something had been taken from them.

Something they thought they were entitled to.

Something sweet and delicious that they thought should be theirs and theirs alone.

Something they craved more than Life itself.

**********

My Pharisaism disease made me crave respect, too. I really thought that those closest to me should acknowledge and honor all my efforts to be godly. I wanted, needed the sugary words and affirmations that fueled my sacrificial works.

I would later learn that underneath my sick craving was a virulent insecurity. It was a deep-down feeling of unworthiness that I thought I could remedy on my own by simply securing approval from my peers. Having my gifts and efforts lauded brought a quick fix, in the same way that a big piece of fresh peach pie with real whipped cream can instantly satisfy any sweet craving. But, the satisfaction never lasted. I always ended up needing more.

For Pharisaical Christians, then, church can be a busy, aromatic gourmet bakery. It can provide insecure people with a place in which they can do all kinds of sacrificial deeds and share all kinds of wonderful talents and be rewarded with a steady supply of fabulous appreciation and back pats. The hardest working and most talented are seen as the most godly.

But a steady diet of pastries is not healthy. And what starts out innocently enough, when misused, can become dangerous.

Kind of like what can happen in a hospital. Even though hospitals are where we go for healing, they can also be breeding grounds for deadly staph germs. The overuse of antibiotics is thought to be responsible for these hospital staph outbreaks. Patients go into the hospital to get treated for their original ailment, but wind up coming out with a whole new problem–a deadly infection.

And so a church can sometimes become a breeding ground for insecurity. People go there for fellowship, teaching, and healing for sin wounds, but certain susceptible ones can come out infected with a raging Pharisaical sweet tooth. The over-rewarding of performance can result in something even deadlier than apathy–a raging case of Pharisaical praise entitlement.

**********

So, what happens when I can’t have my candy? I might gasp and whine and start shaking uncontrollably, but I won’t die. In fact, it’s good for me.

And, what happened when Paul’s Pharisaical honor was taken from him? He gasped and shook and lost his eyesight temporarily, but he didn’t die. He became stronger. Way stronger.

Now, what might happen if a church were to give up some or all of the things it’s most known for–amazing music, spectacular preaching, or creative children’s ministries? What if God asked a church to institute some sort of fast from the sweet glory that their programs bring? Would anybody die?

The problem with the last scenario is that some people would contend that death could occur. I’ve actually heard a church person worry that if they refrained from their lovely Sunday morning music for any period of time, certain prospective converts might not come and could end up unsaved because of it. Wow! Talk about self-importance–that was the worst case of sweet teeth I’ve ever encountered!

In order to recover from Pharisaism, I had to learn that church services, music and preaching do not save people. They may be nice and might even promote a great time of worship, but still can never be responsible for a soul’s salvation. We are not to be in the business of making God entertaining or trendy, we are just to gather together and worship together and let the Spirit do His thing in the midst of us. As weak humans, we can easily fall prey to the addictive nature of too much applause candy.

And the best test of whether or not we really are indulging in too much of anything is to try and do without it for awhile.

Would you feel deprived if your church had to put away their instruments and mics for one Sunday and sing a cappella?

Would your congregation feel like they had missed out on God if they were only allowed to sing and pray together one Sunday–without any preaching at all?

What would happen if there were no bulletins and the order of service was purposely mixed up?

Maybe some people would like it. Some might feel a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit settle over when egos are no longer stroked and addictions are not sated. Some might even realize that their relationship with God is not as dependent on church stuff as they thought it was.

And others, Pharisees like the former me, wouldn’t like it at all.

Their faces would fall,

and they’d snivel and bawl,

as they curled up in a ball,

and went into withdrawal…

Okay, stop me now–this rhyming is out of control.

I think I need to go get a spoon and a jar of marshmallow creme to make it all go away. We’ll talk more about this next time.

After my crash and follow-up nap, that is.

Heaven in a jar.

Proving That I’m Better Than Her by Letting Her Think She’s Better Than Me

.

Pride and  Proud are common enough words. Most of us have them stored in our vocabularies and use them in our speaking and writing on occasion. They’re words we don’t make a big deal about in the same way we don’t make a big deal about other noun/adjective siblings such as joy and happy or anger and mad. They’re utilitarian words, not fancy ones like, well, utilitarian. In most secular applications pride/proud connote positive things–pride in one’s work, proud of one’s children, country, etc.

In Christian applications, however, pride is usually a bad thing. Christians are taught that it was pride that caused Satan’s fall and pride that brought on Nebuchadnezzar’s mental fry-out. He was an Old Testament king that was so bloated by pride he could only be cured of it by undergoing a humiliation treatment from God. Daniel 4:33 says Nebuchadnezzar was “…driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws…” (NLT)

Wow, now that’s a serious comeuppance. Resorting to eating grass (is it even humanly digestible in its raw form?) and having one’s fingernails grow into talons (“Ouch! Man, I did it again–gotta stop tryin’ to rub my itchy eyes. Stupid grass pollen allergies…”) are bizarre consequences, indeed.

At least the grass and dew and bird claw parts are. I must say that hair as long as eagles’ feathers intrigues me a little. Hmm. Anything that would stimulate more lustrous hair growth on my thinning scalp might not be such a bad thing. (True story–I actually searched the Target aisles last week for a brown Sharpie marker. I won’t explain this any further. I’m sure there are a few other middle-aged brunette readers out there who can identify with the reasoning behind such a search.)

This is getting me to thinking. I’m wondering if there’s something special in grass that promoted ol’ Nebbie’s hair growth. I just Googled, “nutrient composition of grass” but have mostly come up with bovine information.

Cows and bison…wait a minute–now here’s a fascinating article title, “Time to Chew the Cud: Dentist Invents Dentures For Cows.”

Dentures for cows? Who knew? This is fascinating!

Apparently, grass-grazing tends to wear down bovine teeth, especially in areas with sandy soil. The book of Daniel doesn’t say that Nebuchadnezzar’s teeth suffered from his foray into grazing. Maybe human teeth are more durable. Of course, we don’t burp up wads of undigested food and rechew it all a second time like cows do. That would double the amount of chewing we do for every trip to the salad bar, but health regulations require greens to be washed thoroughly, so even if the lettuce was grown in sandy soil…

Ergh, I’m doing it again. I’ll write another pointless post if I don’t stick to my topic.

Focus, focus…The disease of Pharisaism, then, is characterized not just by the symptoms of spiritual blindness and religious externalism, but also by a vexing, noxious, debilitating form of PRIDE. This strain of pride, which I think is better named “superiority,” is so virulent that it can’t be addressed in just one post. So, like the above mentioned symptoms, I’ll be writing about it for a while.

I hardly know where to start, however. The Pharisees’ attitude of superiority is smeared all over the New Testament. It’s a huge topic for a silly blogger like me to tackle. I’ll try, though, if for no other reason than to aid my own recovery from Pharisaism.

Simply put, the Pharisees thought they were better than the average Jew. Not just better, but holier. And that would be their downfall.

**********

As a Pharisasim sufferer, I, too, exuded noxious superiority. It wasn’t so much that I thought I was better than other people, it’s that I thought I could be.

It would take a lot of comeuppances from God before I would finally learn my lesson, though.

And that lesson is this:

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Phil 2:3-4 (NLT)

I can remember a time when my hackles raised immediately upon reading that verse. My holy defenses kicked in, big time.

I had no problem understanding that I should kindly elevate the poor, the indigent, the down-and-outers in my mind to a loved-just-like-me status.

I’ve had this book for over fifteen years. It’s quite helpful. Especially for all you husbands out there.

Or that I should righteously acknowledge that certain pagans in my community really do know more than I do about some political issues.

And maybe on a good day I could even agree with my husband’s suggestion that I wasn’t communicating effectively with our son, even though I’m the one who listens to all the Christian radio experts and orders all the relationship repair manuals and reads them and highlights them and leaves them out for him to read but he never does. (Ahem.)

But an actual all-out universal application of  “thinking of others as better than myself” could not possibly include the people who think they are better than me. 

Speaking from the comfort of his easy chair in my heart cave, Wally, my inner Pharisee, did his best to keep me riled up about that point. “Of course God doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to think that those who think they’re better than you are actually better than you. Thinking they’re better than you makes them less better than you, so then you are better than them. There’s no way around it.”

So, by letting that snobby lady at the _____office think she’s better than me (even though she’s obviously not) actually makes me the better person. In the Philippians two sense, no less. Wow.

That thought smoothed my hackles. For a little while, anyway. At least until the day when someone who thought they were better than me was proven right. Publicly, for-all-the-world-to-see righter, better, than me.

CAUTION: FALLING SNOBS

That painful story, though, is a little too involved for this tight space. I’ll save it for another day. It was yet another one of my real-life fulfillments of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (NLT)

Let’s just say that I learned the hard way that sometimes plopping oneself down at the base of another’s pedestal is truly the best seat in the house. It’s a lot easier to just rest right there than to try climbing up that high, anyway. But do stay alert. You don’t want to get hit by a falling ego.

.

**********

.

Phew. Now that I’ve stopped trying to be better than everybody else, I’m free to just be me.

Photo by Beth Butters

Hair That Big Should Be Charged For Its Own Seat on the Plane

.

(Photo by Bruce Dayton- http://www.wildlifeofnorthamerica.info)

I am the poster child for Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” Yet, even though I have fallen over and over again throughout my life, I still get all proud and superior about certain things. I’m not a fast learner.

Like the day when I was walking out of a store and I snickered at a woman’s totally outdated hairdo. But, really now, in my own defense I must say that even Mr. Spock himself would have snickered had he seen what I did. It wasn’t logical. It might have made sense in 1988, but it had no place in the 21st century.

Remember this?

It was bad. The massive, hot-rollered, teased, then rounded-over concoction stood high and stiff at attention. It resembled two overweight muskrats perching on the lady’s head like they were driving her–like she was a Hertz rental they were using for the day. The ‘do was big enough to have its own parking space and encased in enough hairspray to warrant a sign saying, “No Smoking withing 25 feet.”

The problem was, I didn’t just snicker. I thought mean thoughts about it to myself–the type that are no different from spoken words because I would have spoken them if only someone had been with me to share my hilarious and clever observations.

Or this?

I said to myself that the hair lady must drive a panel van to accommodate the height of her hair. Snicker. I said I bet she was hiding things in it. Snort. I said if she had a concealed weapons permit she could carry a gun up there. Giggle. I said she must be stupid to think she looked okay like that. Guffaw. I couldn’t believe how funny I was.

And so, I invited the inevitable. The Just and Right Judgment from God that I always trigger when I cross a certain line. I set in motion the Matthew Seven law that is as reliable as the law of gravity, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

But why can’t God give me a break once in awhile? Huh? I mean, people heckle people all the time. Mine wasn’t even said out loud for pity’s sake! Certainly not everyone gets zapped with biblical judgment everytime they deserve it. What is grace for, anyway?

Of course, on that particular occasion I had violated two bible warnings at the same time, so I suppose God had no choice. The event happened to occur on one of the rare days that I was feeling good about my own hair, so my Proverbs 16:18 pride converged with my Matthew 7:1 judgment and, well, let’s just say that what happened next wasn’t pretty.

**********

Before I go on, I need to explain that I have hair issues. I’ve had them all my life.

Me, 6 months and Heather, 2 1/2. Note Heather’s prolific curls.

From the time I was a baby, I played second fiddle to my older sister’s thick and curly tresses. People would comment on Heather’s gorgeous hair and then tell my mom that the “little boy is cute, too.” They were referring to bald me. Mom started sticking a daisy thing on top of my head to indicate my gender, but even then, an older gentleman in the store thought I was a boy–in a dress, no less. (Me, not the man.)

God gave me a face with large features, but a scalp with puny hair. I’ve fought its fine, limp, and staticky nature all my life. I’ve experimented with every product imaginable to add the volume that I think will balance out my facial features, but nothing’s every really looked right to me. (I know I’m sounding quite self-focused and shallow at the moment, but it’s my hair’s fault. Leave me alone about this.)

Maybe my over-the-top judgment of the muskrat lady that day stemmed from hair envy. I say that because for a short period in the 80’s I did find a hairstyle that I actually felt okay about. It was a big style that I could cement with a then-socially-acceptable amount of hairspray and feel like I was right up there with the magazine ladies.

Of course, as fashion trends are wont to do, big hair went the way of big leg warmers. By the late ’90’s I had no choice but to go straight. And flat. Sans a passe’ perm, my lazy hair no longer had the oomph to complement my facial features. So it remains to this day.

Deep down, I know that seeing Muskrat Suzie thumb her nose at such an important fashion rule made me mad. Appearing so confident in her outdatedness, she made me secretly wish I could get away with big hair again. But, alas, I’m too conformist to ever do such a thing. Instead, I did what closet bullies do–I made fun of her behind her back in order to feel better about myself.

And that’s when my judgment happened. Unbelievably, just as I passed by the lady, an apocalyptic wind gust swooped over me and lifted my hair straight up from my head. It was like something right out of the Old Testament where Satan asks God for permission to torment hapless Job. Only this was a freaky dust devil that God let attack me right there and then.

Naturally, Muskrat Suzie’s shellacked hairdo weathered the microstorm unscathed. But I was forced to dive for cover into my car. I slammed the door, then yelped as a horrific shot of pain erupted on the side of my head.

I had shut my blowing hair in the car door.

My hair was barely shoulder length, but it was long enough for a good-sized section to flap on the outside of the window and pull on my scalp with unrelenting ferocity. With my head and the left side of my body pinned to the inside of the window, I blindly fished around for the door handle with my right hand and hit the door lock button in the process. Fumbling with an unresponsive lock mechanism, I panicked. All I needed to do was open the stupid door to free my hair, but something was preventing that simple action. My squealing and twisting only made things worse and the hair-pulling pain was almost unbearable.

In a fleeting moment of desperation, I remembered the scissors attachment on the multi-tool in my purse. I started to grope for it, but then reached over to try the door handle one more time. This time, it opened.

Phew. To this day, I still feel relieved that I didn’t have to follow through with the cutting option. I probably would have been stuck for some time with teasing and spraying sections of my hair to round over the chopped area of my scalp until that part grew back. It probably would have looked like some sort of woodland rodent had taken up riding on my head for several weeks. I shiver at the thought.

After freeing my hair, I looked up to see two people in the car in front of me laughing and pointing. Apparently, they had front row seats to the entire spectacle and seemed to think laughing at me was much more fun than offering to help me. I slumped down in my seat, dismayed at how their deep guffaws made their shoulders shake. Some truly serious heckling was happening behind their car windows.

I felt stupid.

But that feeling was appropriate, because stupidity is where a superior attitude always takes its owners.

**********

Oh great–it looks like my silly story has taken up all of today’s blogging space. My intent was to recount this incident as an intro to my next Pharisaism topic, “Superiority.” I guess I’ll just have to save that for later this week. Remembering that hair tragedy has churned up a lot of post-traumatic stress and I think I need to go lie down now.

However, I do think I’ll share one last thing with my readers. This might be a bit cruel, but I can’t resist. For all the 45-60 year-olds out there I’ll leave you with the following sticky and annoying lyrics:

.

“MUSKRAT LOVE”
 (Willis Alan Ramsey)
As recorded by Captain and Tennille
.
Muskrat, Muskrat, candlelight,
Doin’ the town and doin’ it right in the evenin,
It’s pretty pleasin.’
Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug at a Muskrat Land
And they shimmy, Sam is so skinny.

And they whirl and they twirl and they tango,
Singin’ and jinglin’ a jangle,
Float like the heavens above,
Looks like Muskrat Love.

Nibblin’ on bacon,
Chewin’ on cheese,
Sam says to Suzie
Honey, would you please be my Mrs.?
Suzie says, yes, with her kisses.
Now, he’s ticklin’ her fancy,
Rubbin’ her toes,
Muzzle to muzzle
Now anything goes as they wriggle,
Sue starts to giggle.

And they whirled and they twirled and they tango,
Singin’ and jinglin’ a jangle,
Floatin’ like the heavens above,
Looks like muskrat love.

Captain and Tennille, c. 1976

Me on my 13th birthday, 1977. One of my attempts at a Toni Tennille haircut.

The Shy Groom Who Married Six People…All At Once

.

Shopping for a Father’s Day card for my dad is easy. I am blessed to have been raised by a loving, stable, often goofy father who was always there for us. So, no matter how mushy or silly the card selection might be, I can usually find something suitable in quite short order.

Shopping for a Father’s Day card for my husband, Mike, is never easy, though. I can’t ever find a card that even comes close to expressing the gratitude I feel toward the man who stepped in to help me raise my herd of fatherless children back in 1993. I have yet to find a card that says, “Thank you for marrying all six of us at once,” or “Thank you for showing so much grace when being barfed on.” A card just can’t say it for me.

Maybe I’ll try a blog post this year.

**********

Here’s how it all started:

The unsuspecting hero/groom on his wedding day, July 3, 1993. The poor guy did not know what he was getting himself into.

.

The ceremony is underway. Mike and Willow exchange rings.

.

The rest of the bridal party awaits their turn.

.

The wedding group receives a pastoral prayer. Heaven knows this marriage is going to need it!

.

Having married far too young, I, predictably, ended up divorced at age twenty-seven. It wasn’t a cut-and-dried sort of thing, though, considering that I had already birthed five kids. I had no choice but to flee my chaotic and abusive marriage in Calgary, Alberta and move myself and the children back to my hometown in the mountains of Montana.

I had left Montana in 1982 as a hopeful, innocent young bride, but returned as a defeated, jaded still-young mom in 1991.

It wasn’t too long after my return that I met shy Mike Feller at church and snared him into friendship with loud me. Mike, being an achingly nice guy, didn’t just acquiesce to friendship with me, but to my children as well. And that would prove to be his undoing. His Waterloo.

Simply taking the time to learn my kids’ names and show genuine interest in them would ultimately change his life and theirs forever. He impressed us and captured our hearts.

I was thirsty for a man with integrity…

…and my kids were hungry for a father.

**********

Marrying the right man the second time around still didn’t guarantee relational harmony. Things were difficult for us from the beginning. The kids and I brought a lot of baggage with us and Mike brought a lot of expectations. We ended up clashing more than either of us had counted on. Those first years were just plain hard.

In the middle of all the difficulty, though, came times of fun and blessing. Little Gabriel showed up like a tube of super glue in 1994 and cemented us all together with his shared DNA.

Our expanded family, 1994. Not sure if my dazed expression stems from exhaustion or from purple pantyhose regret.

Time and blogging space do not allow for me to recount all the ups and downs we went through in those early years. Suffice it to say that Mike walked bravely into fatherhood like a soldier marching into the battle zone. It wasn’t easy, and marriage did not prove to be the bliss that he had hoped for, but he was determined to do the right thing. And so he did.

In his own deliberate, logical way, and with no previous experience, the former loner/bachelor had to put away thoughts of quiet romantic dinners with his bride and endured messy spaghetti suppers replete with spilling and yelling. Forced to squeeze every penny until it bled, he could no longer enjoy real cheese on his nachos, but a deceptive white sauce with yellow food coloring that his wife told the kids was “cheese-type sauce.”

He had to dump his entire life savings and every paycheck into the bottomless pit of others’ needs.

He had to share his new wife, every hour of every day with five, and then six, other people. Like a deli customer, he had to take a number and just wait his turn.

Mike Feller was like a sleek yacht who took on a cargo load of anvils and could no longer glide unhindered over the ocean. His sudden shipload of responsibility slowed him to the pace of a dinghy with a trolling motor, yet he knew God still expected him to traverse the vast unknown. (I won’t apologize for this dramatic sentence–it’s warranted here.) The task was overwhelming…but again, Mike did it.

**********

The coming years brought with them every kind of good and bad family time imaginable.  Mike did his best to teach the kids how to work hard and be good citizens. Like any good dad, some of his methods were great and others not so. He’s the first to admit that he made marital and child rearing mistakes. Yet, he persevered and taught the children the fine arts of  hunting, fishing, backpacking, camping, tool usage, and motor rebuilding. (The girls, too!) We gardened, canned, cut firewood, and sliced up our own game carcasses on the kitchen counter.

Nick’s first deer. I made the photo black and white for the more squeamish readers.

The butcher’s hair is neatly combed for this important job. One’s never too young to wield sharp knives in our kitchen.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

What can I say? As the ultimate do-it-yourselfer, Mike constructed sidewalks, foundations, and house additions. He did autobody work and painted our cars, built kitchen cabinets completely from scratch and planted fruit trees. All this and so, so, much more.

Mike fixed our broken cars with noisy tools…

…and our broken water lines with a noisy backhoe.

He also built gingerbread houses…

and original birthday cakes!

The good times were full of church activities, band and choir concerts, visits with grandparents, and Junior Miss pageants. The bad times were darkened with teenage rebellion and substance abuse, adolescent psychiatric ward stays, calls from police officers, runaways, and emergency room visits.

As if that wasn’t enough, Mike had to put up with me. I wasn’t a stellar wife much of the time, and he often had to stand in the face of my permissiveness to do the right thing–the hard thing–with the teenagers.

Yet, from the very beginning of our relationship, because Mike believed that God had asked this of him, he stayed.

He stayed because of the kids.

He stayed because he grew to love those kids with all of his heart.

Mike’s faith might have been naive in the beginning, but it was real. Real enough to stand through trials and real enough to make my kids his own.

He was not stepdad.

He’s DAD.   

.

Happy Father’s Day and thank you, Mike. I love you.

Father of Bride Irina in 2007

Father to Groom Nick in 2008

First grandbaby, Charlotte in 2009

Assisting with Zach’s icy baptism in 2010

At Alison and husband Lorin’s place in 2008. Mike is peeking just above my mom’s head.

With daughter Annika in 2008

.

(There are just so many more pictures to post and stories to tell, but those will have to wait for another time…)

.

.

Pasting Cliche’ Bandaids Over Mortal Wounds

.

cli·ché

noun    1. A trite, stereotyped expression, a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.[1]

Dan Merchant as Bumper Sticker Man in his 2008 documentary, “Lord Save Us From Your Followers.” I highly recommend this film–it is especially helpful for recovering Pharisees.

One of the biggest life changes I experienced when I began breaking free from Pharisasim was a dramatic switch in my worldview. I suddenly saw that a lot of the churchy things I had been spouting off were nothing more than meaningless cliches’. I was addicted to speaking irrelevant Christianese–a hybrid language comprised of cheesy slogans, bumper sticker sentiments, out-of-context bible verses, and exclusive club jargon.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

By thinking that proclaiming these things was a wise “witnessing tool,” I became a fool. It was actually just another manifestation of the symptom of externalism. It kept me in a constant instructional mindset–a state where, because I assumed that I was the one with the correct viewpoint, people would pause and consider my silly one-liners. It made me like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9 who, seeing himself as the pinnacle of awesomeness, looked down on everybody else.

My Christianese was basically the equivalent of that Pharisee’s prayer.

**********

I said the following lines so many times in so many ways that they began to sound as fresh and new as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” or “Row, Row, Row Your boat:”

-Everything  happens for a reason

-God is in control

-It isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship

-There’s a God-shaped hole in your heart

-Hate the sin, but love the sinner.

What in the world made me think these trite phrases could make a difference in someone’s life??

**********

I’ve even learned that I have to be careful with how, or when, or even if I should tell someone God loves them. I mean, think about it–what if a person with Mormon convictions announced to you that “Joseph Smith loves you?” Is that all it would take to get you to consider becoming a Mormon?

.

**********

.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if  my Christianese just resulted in mere stupidity or even silliness. It was the fact that speaking or displaying those slogans was downright disrespectful.  I ignored my unbelieving friends’ intelligence, adulthood and God-given freedom to hold their own opinions. I treated them like children.

Worse yet, I failed to see how horribly injured by sin we all are. Thinking that sin is just comprised of naughty external acts that I would never commit, I figured it was my job to slap my cliche bandaids on others’ obvious scrapes. Wally, my inner Pharisee, did his best to keep me from understanding how deep-rooted human sin nature is–mine and everybody else’s–and caused me to not take others’ hurt souls seriously.

I disrespected people by preaching at them. I devalued them and my faith by misusing phrases that didn’t even mean what I thought they did. I used bandaids for internal bleeding.

Fellow blogger A. Dumois (www.adumois.wordpress.com) in his post, “The Image of God at Wal Mart,” makes an astute diagnosis of our situation:

“…As I walk around the shopping mall or big box discount store, I see people who are spiritually dead.  I see the Image of God parading through the store encrusted by sin and I am heartbroken.  I see broken bodies, dehydrated spirits, damaged people lost to the possibilities of a renewed life with God…”

Mr. Dumois shows respect for the pain of our human condition. But he doesn’t tell us to wear another loud T-shirt, or plaster another sticker on our bumper, or set up another letter board outside our church building. He says instead,

“I see this and I pray silently, ‘Oh Lord, won’t you come and restore the glory of your Image in all people.  How long, Oh Lord, how long will you wait?’  And I wish I could do more.  I understand that each person I see should be, must be, treated with dignity and respect as God’s image-bearer no matter how defaced the Image has become, but also that every one of those people needs Christ.”

I agree, but want to take it even further by adding that “every one of those people” includes me.

**********

I have a feeling the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have been too eager to slap a bumper sticker on the back of his donkey. In 1 Corinthians 5:12, he says, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.”

And Peter said it like this: “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household.”

His household.

The members of His home.

The ones inside the church.

The one inside the church.

…Me.

.


[1] Dictionary.com, LLC. Copyright © 2012.

Atrophying Under the Law Cast

.

When I was a kid, my little, white-haired grandmother broke her ankle and got stuck wearing a cast that went all the way up to her hip. I remember how weird it was to see my normally-active grandma confined to a wheelchair. I also remember that, for me, the wheelchair was a novelty, and so I begged this patient woman to let me careen her around the house. She bravely endured many whiplashing moments as I accidentally banged her into things like her olive green Naugahyde loveseat and the metal legs of the freestanding mint green bathroom sink.

Her patient endurance was really confirmed back then, though, when my strong, bull-in-a-china-shop dad picked her right up and hoisted her up onto the front porch steps as she struggled to climb them with her crutches. Thinking he was doing her a favor, Dad actually broke one of her ribs in the process. Poor Grandma.

With a son-in-law and grandkids like us, she certainly didn’t need enemies.

Little Grandma Lula, doing what she did best – loving us.

.

But I’m digressing. I’m actually trying to write a post devoted to the idea of casts. I was thinking this week about a lot about them. I was also thinking a lot about the Old Testament Law, and then the two thoughts tracks converged:

**********

A cast is a good thing as long as it’s temporary. It holds broken bones and/or tissues in place so they can heal and return to normal functioning. But, anyone who’s had to wear a cast for a significant amount of time knows that immobilization of muscles causes weakness, and encapsulation of skin areas causes itchy stinkiness. Both are correctable conditions, but inconvenient, nonetheless.

Here’s what the kidshealth.org website says to expect when one gets one’s cast removed from one’s previously broken limb:

“The muscles of your limb will likely appear smaller and weaker (what doctors call “atrophied”) because you haven’t been using them. This is normal, too, but it will take a little longer for your muscles to get back to their original state than your skin. You’ll need to take it easy and limit your activities during this time.”[1]

I ran across this funny cast story a while back:

“My brother and I used to play outside and look for roly-poly bugs—you know those little bugs that roll into a ball once you touch them?  This upset us, though, because we could never see them crawl.  My dad told us they liked dark, covered places and that’s where they would crawl around.  One time, my brother broke his arm and we thought it would be fun to create a habitat for the roly-polies under his cast—a perfect dark, covered environment.  This experiment went pretty well until the bugs kept crawling out of his cast once we were already inside and ‘washed up’ for dinner.  This would not do, because my mom would have freaked to know we were putting bugs down his newly broken arm.  So, to make them stay, we made the habitat more inviting.  This involved shoving dirt, leaves, other dead bugs, and anything else we could find into his cast.  As you can imagine, the cast really started to smell. After many, many repeated showers, my mom brought him to the doctor to get it cut off.  You can imagine their surprise (and anger) when they discovered our clever habitat.”[2]

And I thought discovering a full-size grocery cart hidden in my daughter’s closet was bad! At least it didn’t stink. I sympathize with the above mom. These are the type of surprises that induce premature graying and anger control issues in the best of us.

Hmm. Maybe that’s why I remember Grandma’s hair as always being white and why she displayed some funny habits…

But to get back to my original point–it does appear that the sooner a cast can be removed, the better.

**********

When Jesus walked onto the scene in ancient Judea, he was like a doctor wielding a cast saw. He came to remove the external brace, the Law, that God applied to humanity in order to immobilize the fractures caused by sin. (I know, I know–sometimes I carry it a little too far with my contrived word pictures and metaphors, but humor me please. I’m going somewhere with this…)

This Old Testament Law had kept things reined in until full healing could take place. It was bulky, limiting, and rigid, but it got the job done.

By the time Jesus arrived, however, it had been in place for so long that its followers’ motivation muscles were atrophied. They had completely lost the ability to follow God and serve people out of love. They just passively sat inside the Law, letting it do the thinking for them and became spiritually weak under it.

In addition to that, the Pharisees (thinking they could create an ideal habitat in which their buggy interpretations could thrive) had shoved a boatload of garbage in underneath it. The whole thing had ripened until it smelled.

Jesus brought power to heal people from the inside, and everyone who accepted this could rid themselves of the stinky Law exoskeleton. Then, by strengthening their atrophied motives with love exercises, they could stand upright before God, free from the legal burden under which the Pharisees kept them encased.

They were free to scratch their itches, to breathe, to air out…to run again.

They were free to connect with their loving Father.

**********

That’s what getting free of Pharisaical externals has done for me. I’m learning that I’ve been healed from my sin and don’t need to keep wearing a cast of dos and don’ts anymore. I can operate in the realm of what is healthy and safe–physically, emotionally, and spiritually–instead of only doing things because religion says so.

It’s taken me some time, though, to rebuild the strength of  my love for God and others. By performing good works only because it made me look like a Christian on the outside, my true heart motivation had become flaccid from disuse.

Jesus addressed this same problem with the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 where he said, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.'”

He was saying that he wanted the Pharisees’ sacrifices, or offerings, to be motivated by hearts of true devotion to him, not just robotic duty. He might have been referring to the fact that they burned their sin offerings without feeling any true remorse for sin. He wanted them to own their sinfulness, not just go through the prescribed sacrificial motions. Coming to him with a humble heart would indicate that they truly wanted to please Him and that would have been an act of love, aka mercy.

Or maybe Jesus had their actual benevolence offerings in mind–their almsgiving, the money they gave to the poor. This, too, had become a compulsory act, and not one springing from true hearts of compassion (mercy) for the impoverished. God wants us to give to others because we truly feel sorry for them, not because we’re guilted into it, or because it looks impressive on our tax returns.

Whatever the case, Jesus taught that God wants people to be motivated from the inside to love , and not be constrained by religious works on the outside to merely uphold the appearance of being loving.

It was silly to keep everyone encased in the Law when it was no longer necessary.

At least it would become unnecessary to the ones whose motives had healed. Those were the ones who fulfilled the Spirit of the Law and gave their offerings freely, without coercion, from hearts of compassion.

**********

Grandma’s ankle eventually healed and Dad eventually resolved his guilt over harming his innocent mother-in-law in a brutal act of benevolence.

I’m healing, too. My Pharisaical cast has been sawed off and I’m strengthening my motives with some of the physical therapy love exercises as instructed in the bible. Here’s the one I’m working on right now:

“You are doing right if you obey this law from the highest authority: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’…Talk and act as people who are going to be judged by laws that bring freedom. No mercy will be shown to those who show no mercy to others. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13 (GW)

.