Atrophying Under the Law Cast

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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My Death Grip on My Church Blanket

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What’s the deal with security blankets, anyway? Having raised six children, I feel like I should have a good answer as to why babies need to suck their thumbs and clutch and stroke smelly fabrics, but I don’t.

I turn instead to the ultimate purveyor of all truth, Wikipedia. Under the heading, Comfort Object, Wiki tells me that, “In human childhood development, the term transitional object is normally used. It is something, usually a physical object, which takes the place of the mother-child bond. Common examples include dolls, teddy bears, or blankets.”

A whole lot of comfort goin’ on – Irina and Zach in 1991

Of course, not having the luxury of Wiki, or even Google as a young mother meant that I pretty much didn’t know anything. I just guessed my way through the child-rearing process. In fact, the absence of search engines in the 80’s meant that everyone guessed. Of course, all that guessing led to some very bossy, know-it-all older women, and some very wacky conclusions.

Irina the Comfortee becomes Mommy the Comforter to precious Charlotte in 2009. (Bun-bun the bunny is, sadly, much rattier and stinkier now. He’s been through a lot.)

I remember being warned that allowing my child to use a security blanket would constrain him to develop a smoking habit by age ten, and/or lead to gum and liver disease, and/or predispose said child to involvement in the occult. These dire predictions scared me, but taking away the blanket scared me even more. I mean, I really, really needed to sleep once every few days and a child without a security blanket usually fussed and fumed all night l0ng. So, being the conflict-avoider that I am, I simply taught my kids the healthy practice of undercover bwankie-sucking around certain control freaks, er older female mentors.

That strategy kept everyone happy, pacifiying both the women and my kids, and allowing me some snatches of sleep. That is, at least in between times when “bwankie” or “boppie” or “soover” got lost. Those were the nights I was up at 3:00 AM with a flashlight, madly rifling through the car, sifting through the sandbox with a sippy cup, or emptying every stupid drawer in the house while my future smoking, diseased warlock wailed in his crib.

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As was the case with most of the Pharisees’ rules, their fear of outside contamination had not always been misguided. God gave the Law, under the Old Covenant, to the Jews back in the time of Moses to keep their personal practices safe and healthy, and to keep out the heathen immorality that constantly threatened their way of life. But anything, even something good, can sustain a lot of damage and twisting in fifteen hundred years. By Jesus’ time the Law contained nothing of its original power and glory. Through centuries of misuse, it was so picked apart it was thin and threadbare and ineffective and ridiculous. It could no longer carry out its intended purpose.

Yet, the Pharisees clung to it in the same way my son, Nick, did with his bwankie when he was little. That blanket started out as a gorgeous white crib blanket with a satin edge. But by the time he was a toddler, he became so reliant on it he took it absolutely everywhere with him. Inside the house and outside the house, to the playground, through the garden, dragged behind his tricycle, in the car, through the mall, onto the floors of nasty public restrooms, and even getting it caught in the reel of his first fishing pole.

By the time Nick was ready for kindergarten, bwankie was reduced to a handful of sad and stinky lint. Still, he fussed at the prospect of letting it go. He finally did, though, as he matured and gained a sense of security from inside himself. He learned to feel secure without having to cling to something on the outside of him. When the purpose of the transitional object had been fulfilled, he could toss it aside. He became free.

So it was with the Pharisees and their reliance on externals to keep them secure in their connection with God. When Jesus came and said it was time to bury the decrepit Law, the Pharisees put up a huge fuss. Yet, the Jewish religion had matured to a point where it should have been ready for the internal, spiritual guiding principles of the New Covenant. And it was.

The Pharisees just didn’t want to let it go.

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You don’t need to be afraid of the things you were afraid of when you were five.” – From the 2012 movie, “The King’s Speech”

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As a Pharisaism sufferer, I, too, became completely reliant on externals to define me as a Christian. Oh, I could certainly talk big about a personal, heart-based relationship with Jesus like any good American Evangelical, but I wouldn’t even consider giving up some of the practices that “glorified God.” I only felt like a true Christian when I was clutching my adherence to church membership, clean living, tithing, fasting, and church work. I couldn’t imagine that a person could be a truly committed Christian without these things. I frowned on people who claimed to love God, but had no compunction to perform properly. Their freedom disquieted me.

A big part of my healing would involve finally letting the transitional process happen. Because of the spiritual nature of my disease, it wouldn’t be dealt with on a physical level–meaning, I didn’t necessarily have to give up any of my practices–but I would have to change my motive for doing those things.

I would have to stop thinking that doing Christian things made me a Christian. I would learn that it was fearful insecurity, not God, that drove me to prove my “holiness.”

I would learn to listen more to others’ input and not try so hard to show off my supposed wisdom and bible knowledge. I would put away some of my haughty patriotism and right-wing political correctness and actually show respect to my liberal friends. I would stop thinking that, if executed correctly, a church service could save someone’s soul. I would learn to feel the presence of God at home instead of thinking I would find Him in some “anointed” speaker or gospel concert.

Especially, I would stop being so darn impressed with myself, my fellow Christians and my brand of theology. I could finally admit that we’re all a little silly sometimes. And that’s okay.

For me, true healing from Pharisaism meant making the transition from relying on church to relying on relationships to define my faith. I needed to release my grip on religious externals and boldly walk forward in the knowledge that I love God and He loves me, whether people can see it or not.

Even when I stay home on a Sunday morning.

Even when I don’t bring a highlighted, underlined, and marked-up impressive bible to a study group with me.

Even when I listen to public radio.

Or even when I enjoy the company of people who aren’t convicted about the same things I am.

…Because after all, I want to be strong like Jesus

                                             …and less like an insecure Pharisee.

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A Partial View of Raw Egg Skating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zach's curls then

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messy.

Very, very messy.

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

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