Careful People, Beware!


“The Battle of Bunker Hill” by Howard Pyle


If you’re a careful rule-abider, few things are more frustrating than being one-upped by a careless rule-breaker.

The British soldiers battling in the American Revolution certainly felt that pain. After being carefully trained to fight according to formal European rules of engagement, they met up with informal, untrained American colonists who thumbed their noses at the rules and instead utilized Indian-style guerrilla warfare tactics.

“King’s Mountain 1780” by Don Troiani

The British generals dug in, thinking their rigorous adherence to the centuries-old battle system would eventually force the patriot rebels to surrender and thus prove British superiority. They insisted on marching in formal lines, right out into open fields, clothed in brilliant scarlet coats. This system worked when the enemy fought by the same rules, but the Americans didn’t pay attention to the rules. They looked only to the intent of the battle–to secure freedom from an oppressive government.

The British deemed the Americans as uncivilized and ignorant. And, indeed, in many ways the Americans were. But in the heat of battle, that patriot boorishness would ultimately prove quite effective.

So effective, in fact, that future armies would begin to adopt more of these techniques.

The British should have taken their eyes off the details of proper fighting technique and looked at the bigger picture instead. They just couldn’t do it, though. It wasn’t in their blood. (Which, by the way, would end up spilled all over the New World real estate.)


Let’s face it–some people are naturally careful and detail-oriented, and some are not. I definitely fall into the not category. I’ve tried really, really hard to be careful, but my mind wanders off on rabbit trails constantly and I inevitably stop paying attention to whatever my hands are doing at that moment and something bad happens. It’s a very good thing that I’m not a neurosurgeon.

It’s also completely to the credit of God’s protection that each of my six kids has made it out alive.

Even on the rare occasions that I succeed in staying focused, I’ll inevitably find that it was only because I overlooked something else.

Like the time when, while carefully putting together a nice outfit for church, I borrowed a pair of shoes from my mother. It was for a service in which I would be the piano accompanist for a music special. I was delighted when my visiting mom happened to bring along a pair of shoes that matched my skirt even more perfectly than any of my own did. Mom hadn’t planned on wearing them that morning and let me borrow them with the cautionary reminder that my feet are slightly bigger than hers. She also voiced her concern over my habit of shunning pantyhose in the summer and wearing them over bare feet. She said something about my feet sticking uncomfortably to the insides–a warning to which I merely rolled my eyes before going on to carefully ensure that the shoes’ color and style worked with my outfit. They were perfect.


I went to church happily with my family that morning, feeling quite fashionable for once. Sure, I had to keep my toes curled up inside the short shoes, and there wasn’t even a hint of arch support inside the ballerina-type flats, but that was a small price to pay for cuteness. My high arches could easily survive an hour without support.

Everything was going swimmingly until I had to walk up to the piano at the front of the church. The congregation had fallen completely silent as I made my way from the back of the sanctuary–the place where one sits when one is married to an introvert.

My journey forward into the hushed stillness devolved into a traumatic odyssey as I realized, too late, that bare, sweaty arches will create suction against flat cuteness.

Loud suction.

Suction that sounds exactly like flatulence with every step.

Unbelievably, I was suddenly walking on whoopee cushion shoes that weren’t so cute after all.

“…These nice fluffy and fuzzy black slippers come equipped with a built in whoopee cushion that lets you…”

I might as well have ordered them out of one of those elderly people’s gadget catalogs.

I hesitated after the first reverberating perrfftt, but then kept going, knowing that saying something like, “Oh, dear–it’s the shoes!” would probably just make me look truly guilty. It was so awful. I tried to pull my feet out of the shoes a little bit, but of course, Mom was right. My clammy bare feet were glued fast to the shoes’ lining. The whole doomed walk was punctuated with noises that made me sound like someone who was either very rude or very ill.

Except for a few coughs and snickers, the polite congregation remained silent as, red-faced, I pootzed my mortified self up to the piano bench and plunked out the opening bars to the hymn, “From Every Stormy Wind That Blows.”

(Okay, maybe isn’t wasn’t that hymn. But it should have been.)

And so, as in the case of 18th century British generals and first century Pharisees, I would have been much better off being less careful about appearances and more practical regarding results.


In New Testament times, the Pharisees were the ultimate, cautious rule-abiders. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 23 when he said,

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.”(NLT)

The Pharisees were like the British generals. Their stubborn focus on propriety, appearance and tradition kept them from seeing the bigger picture. They had lost sight of the law’s intent–the promotion of justice, mercy, and faith for the Jewish people–and instead used it as a vehicle to showcase their own piety. They made great shows of giving exact tenths of every bit of their income to their religious cause, but neglected to quietly use the same resources to relieve the common people’s burdens.

So many unnecessary Redcoat deaths resulted from the British generals’ refusal to part with tradition. And so many Jewish children of God were denied lives of spiritual freedom because of a similar obstinance on the part of the Pharisees.

Jesus, the revolutionary, was the leader of the Old Covenant overthrow. He taught his followers unorthodox tactics that stymied the Pharisees. They were blindsided by his careless habit of violating their traditions and embracing those who were judged as unclean pagans. He had the gall to uphold the Spirit of the law while ignoring their absurdly detailed tithings and fastings and Sabbath-keepings.

Jesus fought smart and he taught his followers to do the same. Like the British Redcoats, the Pharisees’ formalities made them easy targets for Satan’s attacks. Craving recognition, they put themselves right out in the open, almost begging to be penetrated and infiltrated by poisoned pride and hypocrisy darts.

In contrast, Jesus avoided hype and theatrics. He wasn’t careful about crafting an appearance, but focused instead on interior, practical heart matters. He taught his disciples how to steer clear from the temptations of celebrity by staying on the fringes of society. It was safer there.


So, in a weird way, maybe it’s safer to be careless with some things. Part of my healing from Pharisaism would involve throwing caution to the winds and adopting a less formal attitude regarding church stuff. I would have to open my mind, realizing that I just might be part of a new era. A time in church history when our culture and our faith are both required to take the next step toward preparing for Jesus’ return.

Maybe that preparation will look entirely different than anything our churches have ever formally taught us.

Maybe it’s okay that churches are changing–even closing (?)–especially if church growth will no longer be measured in numbers.

Maybe we’ll be part of a revolution.

And maybe, just like when Jesus came the first time, the clinging-to-tradition Pharisees among us will be the last to recognize His face.


Please help me, Lord to worry less about methods and more about hearts. Mine and others–I don’t want to miss seeing you in any of us. Keep me vigilant, ever watching for you, wherever I am…

…even from my front porch.


A Lovely Award I Don’t Have to Risk Throwing Up in Public to Receive


I received a lovely surprise the other day. I want to emphasize lovely because many of the surprises I’ve been subjected to in my life have not been lovely.

Like the black mold we found behind the kitchen sink when Mike pulled out the old cabinets:


(Bleccch! Maybe this isn’t such a great picture for the start of a post. Hope you’ll keep reading…)

Fortunately, the surprise I’m referring to now is not of that variety.

Instead, this one was a message from fellow blogger, Megan, at . Megan has graciously nominated me for the “One Lovely Blog Award.” What an honor! I’m humbly excited to pass the fun along.

There are five guidelines for accepting this award:

  1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Paste the award image on your blog, anywhere.
  3. Tell them seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award.
  5. Contact the bloggers that you have chosen to let them know that they have been nominated.

Seven facts about me? Hmm…Maybe it’s best to just list the first things that come to mind and see what happens:

1. I hadn’t met another Willow until I was in my thirties, and she was actually a goat. A shaggy, smelly, cantankerous creature who stared at me like I didn’t have a right to our name.

2. I like to put coffee instead of milk on my Cocoa Puffs.

3. I once dove fully clothed into a river to pursue a fish that had jumped out of the net I was holding up to show it off. I caught it back with my bare hands.

4. Besides writing, my other favorite hobby is huckleberry-picking in the mountains that surround our home.

5. I birthed the first four of my six kids in four years, 1983-1987.

6. I once traveled 500 miles in an old, monolithic Chevy Suburban with a full-size mattress bungeed to the car roof.

7. I’ve reached middle age without, even once, meeting someone who has ordered liver and onions in a restaurant.


I have really appreciated the writing and insights of the following bloggers, so would like to nominate them for the One Lovely Blog Award:

Janelle –

Caleb –

Jim –

A. Dumois –

Debbie  Rea –

Tilly Bud –

Melanie –

Christine –

Heather –

The Author –

One thing that is especially nice about receiving an award through the convenience of cyberspace is that I don’t have to go to some potentially risky affair in order to receive it. I don’t have worry about making my way in unstable shoes to a podium, or be captured with my mouth wide open or one eye closed in celebratory photographs. I can simply acknowledge the kindness of my fellow blogger and accept this award through the safety of my computer monitor. Thank you, Megan.


Those of you who have read any of my previous blogs know why I am uneasy in public situations. I’ve just had too many things go wrong in front of people. My unlucky moments and blunders are rarely discreet, private humiliations. They’ve tended to be of the more overt, ghastly variety.

And that is exactly why I have always had a soft spot for former president, George Bush Sr.–George H.W. Bush, that is.

It has nothing to do with politics. It’s about the fact that Mr. Bush Sr. handled a ghastly public faux pas with so much light-heartedness that he will always be a role model for me. He faced an international dinner disaster with enough grace to make me and all the other spontaneous public bleeders and vomiters of this world quite proud.

Case in point:

A fuzzy shot from video footage of First Lady Barbara Bush covering her husband’s vomiting mouth with a napkin at a state dinner in Tokyo. What a supportive wife!


A 1992 New York Times  article reported the following incident that occurred while then-president George H.W. Bush was seated at a state dinner in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa:

At 7:20 P.M., Mr. Bush entered the dining hall for a four-course dinner… He was to exchange toasts with Mr. Miyazawa, a ritual at all such dinners, a little over an hour later. Instead, as Japanese television footage vividly showed, Mr. Bush, who already looked tired, became suddenly and dramatically ill.

He threw up on his shirt and suit jacket, rolled backward in his chair and tilted toward Mr. Miyazawa, who sat with Mrs. Bush to his left, and appeared about to collapse when a Secret Service agent vaulted atop the dinner table and a second eased him to the floor…The President’s host, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, cradled his head for some minutes until Mr. Bush was strong enough to get up on his own.

…Mr. Bush was on the floor for some time, while a worried Mr. Miyazawa and Mrs. Bush hovered over him and aides removed his jacket. An official said an uncomfortable silence descended over the room until Mrs. Bush, convinced that her husband was not seriously ill, offered reassurances. (My note–You gotta love this. Mrs. Bush has apparently been through such things before.)

After the incident, Mr. Bush walked from Miyazawa’s official residence under his own power, but looking haggard and wan, and wearing a green overcoat provided by a Secret Service agent to cover regurgitated food on his clothes.

Over a bedlam of clamoring reporters and Japanese security police who physically restrained them, he was heard to say: “I feel good.”

Today, Mrs. Bush’s press secretary, Ana Perez, told reporters that the First Lady heard the President joke as he lay on the floor.

“He said to the Prime Minister, ‘Why don’t you roll me under the table and I’ll sleep it off while you finish the dinner,'” she said.[1]

Wow! Talk about grace under fire. Again, you just gotta love it.

I also read that it was later reported the Japanese coined a phrase, bushu-suru, meaning “embarrassing public vomiting” or, literally, “to do a Bush.”


For some of us, this is a set up for potential public disaster.

The only tie-in to Pharisaism that I’ll make in this post is simply to say that the Matthew 23:6 account of Pharisees’ “loving the place of honor at banquets” is one of the only Pharisaism symptoms that I can honestly say I didn’t exhibit in the entire time I suffered from that nasty religious disease.

Much less intimidating. Attendees can wear wine-colored clothing and are served a drier, spill-proof entree.

That was a good thing, because my avoidance of banquets has probably saved more than one important person from getting a staining substance spilled on them, or, heaven forbid, having me throw up on them and them having to cradle my head in their lap while security people vaulted over our table. And Mike probably wouldn’t relish the idea of coming to my rescue with a face-covering napkin, either.

Of course, all of this is written under the premise that I could be invited as the honored guest at a banquet, which, to date, hasn’t happened anyway. Thank goodness.


I think the Pharisees must have been the more organized types. The type that can get a little big-headed about their unstained, unripped clothing  and pristine reputations. The type of people that were simply more mindful, more careful than people like me.

The type who own closetfuls of white, cream, and ecru-colored expensive suits and wear them with confidence to local cherry harvest food and beverage festivals.

There’s more to be said about Pharisaical carefulness, so in my next post I’ll take a closer look at it. For now, I’m just happily accepting my award while sitting in the comfort of my stained bathrobe and eating my delicious coffee-mushed Cocoa Puffs.

Thank you again, my fellow lovely blogger, Megan.



[1] Wines, Michael. “Bush Collapses at State Dinner With the Japanese.”

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.


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:

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.


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-

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:


 (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.

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 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)