On Containing More Than Just Toxic Messes

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(FYI: I recently added a “Books” page above. You might want to check it out…)

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kernkraftwerk_Grafenrheinfeld

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The word containment usually carries a pretty serious connotation in most contexts. It is often used in reference to preventing radioactive release in a nuclear facility or, in a military sense, when speaking of  inhibiting the spread of communism.

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When I was a young mother of four children under the age of five, containment of toxic household debris clutter was a serious issue for me.

It became even more serious when we listed our house for sale. We lived in a really nice area where the market was highly competitive. It was in a pristine Canadian neighborhood, and a place where I happened to be the messy, uncultured American who didn’t pull out my stray dandelions from the yard at four in the morning like my OCD-afflicted, achingly polite neighbors did.

The seriousness of mess containment became even more consequential when I discovered that our real estate agent was a true Communist Clutter Officer. A greedy, cruel individual who insisted that top dollar would only be nabbed by homeowners who bowed to the oppression of knick-knack free rooms and sterile countertops.

My real estate Officer’s brutality instilled fear and dread in me. Because my freedom-loving children daily engaged in uninhibited, quasi-democratic playtime, our home’s interior stood as a testament to the effectiveness of a free market system, complete with overflowing clothing items, toys, and foodstuffs.

Circa 1989. The true definition of futility: Organizing the toybox.

Needless to say, our Officer did not appreciate such a capitalistic approach to filling one’s home.

Every time Mr. Officer called to schedule a showing, I would break out in a sweat. I was as motivated to sell our home as he was, but I was convinced there were potential buyers who could overlook our mess and see the value of the place underneath it.

Mr. Officer did not agree. He was a bonafide drama queen, going ballistic at the mere sight of cracker crumbs ground into the carpet or a few innocent socks plugging the toilet. He would fume about such things, insisting that the familiar smell of dirty diapers in the kitchen would lower our home price by two thousand dollars. I politely disagreed, figuring people would be charmed by the “homeyness” of our place. Mr. Officer said “homeyness” was not a word and substituted it with one I would rather not write here.

Agent Officer really needed to get a grip. I mean, it wasn’t my fault that mannerly Canadians have always practiced the unsanitary custom of taking their shoes off at the door. I figured it was their own collective problem if they didn’t protect their stockinged feet from peanut butter globs on hallway tile. I tried to talk to Officer about this, but he merely responded with an upraised clipboard, signaling the end of that conversation.

His dictatorial approach tempted me to fire him on many occasions, but he was, admittedly, one of the most successful real estate agents in the city and we really needed to get our home sold. So, I put up with his clipboard fixation and his perplexing insistence that I rent a storage unit in which to store my children until the home was safely off the market.

I also got creative with last-minute mess elimination. I simply started assigning the older children the task of throwing anything and everything that wasn’t a fixture or piece of furniture into boxes. I would then shove those boxes into the truck camper that was jacked up outside the garage. The camper was the only place that Mr. Officer didn’t show to buyers.

It really was an effective method. I would sweep my arm across a counter or table and just let everything fall into a box. Sugar bowls, dirty dishes, papers, sharp knives, books–all magically dispensed with in one might swoop. Of course, my technique made for some awful sorting-out later, but at least it shut Mr. Officer’s incessant whining up.

So finally, the Day arrived. The Big Day–the Lucrative Showing Day. The day on which Mr. Officer said our most promising buyers so far would be looking at the house. We agreed on a time and I assured Officer that the house would be completely spic-and-spanned from one end to the other. Or, at least look like it was.

I desperately wanted this to be the last showing. My nerves were frayed from having our messy lives continually disrupted and from constantly lugging the detritus of our daily existence back and forth between the house and the truck camper. I was afraid I was losing my mind, especially on the days when the kids were having far too much wild fun. Those were the days when I secretly priced out storage units.

I thought we were ahead of schedule with our bold swooping process on Lucrative Day when the doorbell rang. It was Mr. Officer with our buyers. He was early–drat!

I cowered as I opened the door to face Mr. Officer and his preapproved-for-a-hefty-mortgage guests. We weren’t ready. Not everything was contained. Even ten more precious minutes would have been enough for me to stow the worst of the clutter.

Worse yet, one of the kids’ boxes had dripped pieces of dirty laundry on its way out to the camper. As I stood facing the polished young couple smiling on my front steps, I tried to keep my gaze up and away from the bra that was right inside the door, sprawled across the entry rug. Keeping my eyes fixed as I greeted the guests, I discreetly hooked the bra with my toe and kicked it behind me. I hoped it would remain out of view long enough for Mr. Officer to usher the guests down to see the lower level of our split level first. Unfortunately, toddler A. picked the bra up, put it across her chest, and started parading gleefully around us as the guests stepped in. Officer gave me a look that could have melted the paint on his Acura. It wouldn’t be the last of such looks I would get that day.

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My Pharisaism made me act like a successful, but dictatorial real estate agent. I made it my life’s ambition to showcase and sell my faith to unbelievers. Thus, I became very annoyed when my freer, uninhibited fellow Christians didn’t keep their lives clean and contained in the ways I believed they should.

I was infected with the same spirit the ancient Pharisees were. Those leaders had worked for centuries to build an exacting and perfect structure of traditions in which to contain their religion. They believed that God lived inside their container and only the Jewish people who carefully adhered to all the regulations could meet Him there.

In a way, the Pharisees determination to create a solid law structure was understandable. Throughout history, the Jewish people had gone through times of rebellion against God and gross idolatry that had resulted in periods of harsh punishment. Several hundred years before Jesus arrived, the seeds of Pharisaism had already been planted by leaders who strove to prevent God’s people from straying so dangerously outside the boundaries of the Law. They felt they had no choice but to set up hedges of traditions to keep their structure ceremonially clean, and to keep the dangerous, unclean pagan stuff out.

However, as I talked about in my last post, the Pharisees lost sight of the fact that God cannot be contained inside anything. Ever. Not even a law structure that they had reinforced and made as impenetrable as a twentieth century nuclear containment building.

There was simply no allowance made for messes on the inside of the Jewish religion. As a result, the Jewish people who wanted a relationship with God had to box up their honest sin clutter and haul it outside whenever the Pharisees came around. The people had to pretend like their lives always looked that clean. It made for a nerve-wracking, manipulative, burdensome faith practice. And it felt to the people like there was no way out. There were stuck in a deep religious rut.

Arriving completely outside of the system, however, Jesus was in a position to pull his worshipers out of their rut. He did it in ways that were so unorthodox to the Pharisees that they absolutely refused to accept him as coming from God.

For one thing, Jesus didn’t just tolerate uncleanness, he faced it, embraced it, loved it, forgave it. That was the point of the Good Samaritan parable. He took a person whom the Pharisees would have viewed as their social enemy–a traitorous, vile, unclean Samaritan–and cast that man as the hero of the story. Jesus illustrated how it would be the outcast, the outsider who would truly love and minister to people in the New Kingdom.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, it was those contained within the scrubbed system–the Jewish religious leaders–who would turn a blind eye to the injured person and walk around his suffering without even a gesture of mercy. The Samaritan, an honest and open sinner, would be the one to sacrifice his time and money to help a needy person.

And so, the only way that I would ever rec0ver from Pharisaism would be to stop adhering to a system of thought that believed it had to be clean and pretty in order to contain God. Like the Apostle Peter when he really thought he was strong enough, righteous enough to always be loyal to God, I would have to face the fact that my heart had hidden weakness and shame lurking just beneath the surface. All it would take is a jolt of unexpected confrontation for it to ploop out, right in the open in front of everyone. And that would actually be a very good thing, because honesty always pays bigger dividends than phoniness ever can.

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In the case of my home marketing efforts, something bad was bound to happen. We couldn’t live in the dishonesty of immaculateness indefinitely and not have something real ploop out eventually. On Lucrative Day, I remember scooping up my lingerie-displaying toddler and racing up to the kitchen while Mr. Officer knowingly ushered the guests downstairs. In a panic, and without an available box within reach, I grabbed anything and everything in sight and stuffed it in the oven. Wincing at the terrible squeaking noise that the oven door had recently developed, I closed it with a mighty shove, thankful that the oven window was dirty enough to hide the google eyes of the stuffed monkey that was peering through it.

I then herded the kids out the back door to wait with me on the patio while the potential buyers inspected every stupid inch of my faux-clean home. They certainly took their sweet time. It seemed like forever that I had to try and amuse the kids with sticks and leaves. (All our outdoor toys were in the front seat of the car.)

Finally, through the open kitchen window, while overhearing Officer Agent regale the benefits of a tiny, er, compact kitchen, I heard a most dreaded sound. It was the awful, terrible screeeech of the oven door. The distinct noise of our grungy mess plooping out for all the world to gaze upon in disgust.

I then listened helplessly to the plinking and rustling of objects hitting the floor and the simultaneous gasps of the observers, followed by ten seconds of complete silence.

My horror was eclipsed with a sudden inner rage. What kind of sick people peer inside an oven when they’re looking at a home for sale? What has this world come to?

I took a moment to gather my wits and then went into the kitchen to try and salvage whatever shred of decency might still be had. I walked in to see the stuffed monkey, a pile of Lego, several dirty socks, various magazines, books, a stray piece of bread, a hairbrush, some plastic cups, a large tennis shoe, and of course, the bra, all spilled out onto the open floor and open door of the oven. It was utterly, excruciatingly embarrassing.

I can’t remember exactly how I tried to verbally mop up the situation. I’ll never, ever forget, though, that those were the people who did buy the house. In spite of Officer Agent’s extreme disapproval. In spite of our goofy mess. In spite of our failed attempt at perfection, the house sold that very day.

Honestly, it was a lucrative day, after all.

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So, now I close today’s post with this thought:  Messes can’t be contained forever, they have to be dealt with.

Has our modern church system, replete with paid clergy and Sunday traditions become dangerously close to the Pharisaical nuclear containment buildings? Have we tried to compress Jesus down to something we can contain within our system?

And if we have, then will we reject Him if He returns outside this system? Will we fail to recognize Him if His methods and politics and love go completely against our theological traditions?

Dare I open this squeaky door?

Dare I even ask such questions?

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The Handy Ambulance/Hearse Approach To Evangelism

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(Woo-hoo! Before I write the post that explains the above title, I wanted to take a moment to announce the publication on my first novel entitled, The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing. The genre is Christian Humor Fiction and it is tentatively scheduled for release by Evergreen Press in four months. This week, I’ll be working on a Books page on this site that will give more information about the story and maybe include some excerpts.)

Now, read on…

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If I wasn’t such a vain person, I would seriously buy this:

It just looks so handy to me–not only to keep hair out of my face while eating, but to prevent the inevitable splashing of sauce on one’s cheeks when eating noodle and pasta dishes. (Does anyone else have issues with that, or is it just me and my exuberant eating style?)

Few things fascinate me more than weird gadgets. I think this interest could be something I inherited from my Grandpa Miles. He spent a good deal of money in his retirement years ordering oddball merchandise out of catalogs and off  TV commercials. I’m not sure if he had too much time on his hands, or if he really did believe in the gizmos’ power to improve his life.

I remember the grabber stick he was sure would be invaluable to my very short Grandma. It was flimsy and had a claw-like end that wasn’t easy to manipulate. Grandma tried it a couple times, but banished it from the kitchen after it prematurely let go of the box of light bulbs she was pulling off a top shelf. (It would later be adopted as a handy weapon of terror in my little brother’s grasp. I still whip around with my fists raised if I hear the word, “pinchy” repeated several times behind my back.)

I also remember sporting several huge, ugly red spots on my nose for days after letting Grandpa convince me that the Vacutex Blackhead Extractor was just the ticket for my pre-teen pore enlargement angst. It didn’t remove the blackheads–it just made them even bigger and highlighted them with blazing red rings. I wanted to die.

My Dad had issues with his father-in-law’s gadgets, as well. He said a person could drown trying to use Grandpa’s special X-ray Fish Spying Goggles, and reported that the Rearview Sight Enhancing Mirror greatly enhanced his chances of driving Grandpa’s car straight into oncoming traffic. Dad said the stupid mirrored visor consisted of a long row of smaller mirrors that stretched across the top of the windshield and made it look like ten cars were coming at him all at once. He kept instinctively flinching, gasping, and ducking while he drove. Said that lethal safety device made him feel like he was back in the Korean War.

Fortunately, my fascination has not induced me to buy many of these types of gadgets. I just like surfing for them out of interest.

It’s the emergency survival things that really catch my eye. I like to imagine what would be the most helpful all-in-one to own if I should ever mindlessly wander into lostness while berry-picking in the mountains.

No need for a daypack crammed with numerous matchbooks, multi-tools, compasses or flashlights if I have this handy-dandy product:

“The SM010A Emergency MP4 Player from Hong Kong’s SATY…can play standard MP3 and MP4 files..and it has a radio…it also has a built in flashlight on it’s top side. It has a pull cord on the left side which allows you to endlessly power it up. 2 minutes of string pulling is enough juice for 1 hour of flashlight usage or 1-2 hours of standby on your cellphone. The Emergency MP4 Player also has a pest and mosquito repellent…an alcohol breathalizer …and poison gas detector.”

www.craziestgadgets.com/2009/01/09/emergency-mp4-player

Wow–I could know on the spot if I was truly lost or just drunk. And, poison gas detector, you say? I say, “Bring it on, terrorists–you can’t make me leave my berry patch that easily!” The only thing this MP4 is missing is a collapsible gas mask that would allow me to keep picking if such an event occurred.

Survival gadgets can generally be thought of as Plan B products. They’re only useful if Plan A doesn’t pan out. That is, if your cruise goes  bad, or your plane wrecks, or you insist on following your GPS, even when it directs you to turn into a snake-infested swamp.

Some products are both Plan A/Plan B types. These can be referred to as “Combinations” or “Conversions.” They are combined units that can convert from one thing to another, depending on the necessity of the moment.

I ran across this mother-of-all combinations the other day:

http://www.northlandpcs.com/professionalcars.htm

An ambulance/hearse combination–how handy is that? Apparently, this 1973 Superior Cadillac was only one in a long, historic line of such combination vehicles that were really used for decades in small towns across the country. Who knew?

The implications are obvious–if Plan A, administering of medical care and transportation to the ER isn’t successful, than everyone is already equipped on the spot to implement Plan B. What a great time and money saver for any strapped municipal budget! Of course, this picture makes me wonder how I would feel if I had a medical emergency and a hearse showed up to transport me…

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So, the whole idea of conversions got me to thinking about another kind of conversion–Christian conversion. Specifically, the following harsh words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (NLT)

Yikers–them is fightin’ words. What exactly was Jesus accusing the Pharisees of here? I think he was basically saying that they would go to great lengths to convert Gentiles to Judaism, but then turn those former pagans into Mini-Mees of the Pharisees’ misguided selves. It was one thing to convert people to Judaism, but quite another to convert them to a twisted Judaism.

It seems that, by Jesus’ time, most of the Pharisees had fallen into a type of grievous idolatry–they were worshiping their own pompous traditions instead of worshiping God. Four hundred years of prophetic silence had taken its toll on the clarity and purpose of  Moses’ Law. It had slowly opened the door for the Jewish leaders to do what comes natural to all humans–make themselves the center of their world. So, being the bookish, creative thinkers that they were, they began to pick the Law apart and reinterpret it so extensively that it became strange, convoluted, and comprised of man’s ideas instead of God’s. These ideas, then, became the traditions that the Pharisees so zealously guarded.

The Pharisees had taken their eyes off God and focused their adoring gaze on their own works. Without intending to, they stopped worshiping the Creator and started worshiping the traditions, something they themselves had created.

It was their own special brand of  idolatry, and in reality, not much different from what they were trying to turn the pagans away from.

The ones they called the “Children of Hell.”

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A scene from Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgement.” The boatman Charon is ferrying the damned into hell. The early Roman church utilized this type of handy, scary art to make sure people got converted and stayed converted.

During one of my deepest Pharisaism disease flare-ups, I remember being particularly zealous to convert people. Fired-up by sermons and Christian radio messages that commanded good Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations,” and “go into all the world and preach the good news,” I determined to get as many people as I could to go to church.

This was obviously not a healthy idea. Like the Pharisees, my thinking had been infiltrated by selfish motives and I didn’t realize that getting people to “go to church” was not necessarily the point of the Great Commission.

In all reality, I wasn’t as interested in introducing people to God as I was to really just wanting them to join my awesome Sunday club. Under the guise of looking out for people’s eternal destinies, I set out to see how many people I could bring to church.

Not only were my motives misguided, so were my methods. I would start out seeing myself as a type of ambulance. I would identify who I thought needed spiritual care and healing and offer to take them to a place like that. More often than not, of course, the person wouldn’t agree that they needed my assistance. That’s when I’d convert my ambulance to a hearse.

They’d need one because I was taught to inform my resistant hearers that they were dying and heading straight for a gruesome, horrible, eternal hell. It was a handy combination technique–pull the magnetized strobe light off the top of the ambulance, close the window curtains from the inside, and voila! my vehicle of loving rescue could instantly become a delivery van for a terrifying death message.

It was a grievous abuse of theology, and, as such, also one of the most grievous symptoms of Pharisaism. But, at times, quite effective. I could certainly scare people into coming to church…

…But not necessarily to the love of God.

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So, like most issues related to Pharisaism, the validity of conversion methods rests solely on motive. Jesus consistently yanked the Pharisees back to the motives behind what their acts, not the acts themselves.

I had to face my diseased motives when I embarked on my recovery. What I found was that the whys and howevers of  my “witnessing” tactics really could be boiled down to one of the worst of the biblical sins–PRIDE. I was convinced that my instituted way of worship was the only right one, and I wanted people to acknowledge that I was right by adopting  that brand of faith practice. Of course, then, when that twisted thinking resulted in a convert, that convert would go on to be just as diseased as me. In effect, I had “turned that person into twice the child of a hearse-driver that I was!”

Thank goodness, I didn’t stay in that mindset forever. Once I began to recover, I learned to develop the daily habit of checking my motives. As long as I stay focused on loving people and letting them know that I’m there for them, I don’t have to drive a hearse anymore.

It really was just an unhandy, unwieldy, gimmicky gadget. Even Grandpa Miles wouldn’t have wanted it.

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I think Grandpa Miles is speaking to me from heaven today. I have a strange and unexpectedly strong urge to buy one of these:

But I promise I won’t…

…maybe.

A Kick in the Seat of Entitlement

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Matt Sullivan/Reuters  http://www.nytimes.com

Money and fame made me believe I was entitled. I was wrong and foolish. – Tiger Woods

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Entitlement is a curious condition. The dictionary definition of entitle is, “to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim.”[1]

In spite of that definition, though, it’s not uncommon for people to feel entitled to things they really haven’t furnished legitimate grounds for. Take seats, for example. Paying $10,000+ for a first class airline seat entitles one to something like this:

                                 Thai Airways –  http://www.businessinsider.com/best-first-class-airlines-2010-12

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Pretty nice, huh?

In contrast, searching out the cheapest deal I could find for my last domestic flight economy seat only entitled me to sit in this section:

                                                                                                                http://www.futuresmag.com/2012/07/05

So, what would happen if I, the purchaser of a cattle stall ticket, saw an empty seat in first class and sat down in that one instead? I’d probably be frowned upon and swiftly sent back to my smelly, cramped misery by a check-listing attendant. I’ve read internet stories about a few passengers who did manage to pull off such a “self upgrade,” but the majority were discovered and treated like shoplifters.

Similar stories abound for premium sports arena seat tickets. The more you pay for your seat ticket, the closer you will be to the action, and the greater superiority you can wield over your nosebleed section compatriots.

You can pay serious money for a view like this:

http://www.charitybuzz.com/catalog_items/266404

Or a whole lot less for the bird’s-eye view:

Al Bello/Getty Images

Either way, first class airline and premium ballpark ticket holders alike feel entitled to their optimum seats by virtue of the high price they pay. Certainly, no one in their position would tolerate seat-stealing from a lowly nosebleeder.

Yet, that’s what Jesus did. He strode right on in in New Testament times and sat himself down in a teaching seat–the place of authority reserved for the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.

In the Pharisees’ eyes, Jesus had no right to take this place. He was one of the unschooled masses, one of the local hicks who hadn’t gone to their Rabbinic schools or spent every waking hour studying and interpreting the Law. He did not have any theology or divinity degrees, so they assumed he was not qualified to speak on spiritual subjects with authority as they viewed it. They were incensed that he would even try.

In Matthew 23:2 Jesus said, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

It was another “letter of the law vs. Spirit of the law” thing. The Pharisees said all the correct words when they taught the law of Moses, but didn’t demonstrate any of God’s compassion or care that the law was originally intended to promote. They didn’t think they needed to engender loyalty from people by simply being nice. They believed their authority seats automatically entitled them to be honored and obeyed regardless of how they treated others. They had worked hard for the glory of the Moses’ seat, after all–being fawned over was simply their due.

So when Jesus garnered more support for his radical teaching than the Pharisees ever did for their conservative doctrines, it infuriated the Pharisees. They saw him as an imposter. A heretic to be silenced. A seat usurper to be bumped back to the cattle stall.

Of course, what they couldn’t know was that Jesus would pay a higher price for their precious authority seats than they could ever afford. And after he paid that price, he would turn around and open his box section for all his hick friends to occupy.

It would change the whole meaning of premium seating.

Jesus wouldn’t just be a seat-stealer, he would be a seat-wrecker.

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I’ve wrecked a few seats in my time. Literally.

Accidentally.

Tragically.

In the same way that my clothes rip inexplicably and liquids mysteriously spill around me, seats have a habit of spontaneously breaking underneath me. I don’t understand why this is so. I’m no bigger than the average mom and I’m not the type to throw myself forcefully into furniture, yet on several notable public occasions chairs have reached the end of their allotted life span at the exact moment I sit in them. It’s horrible.

I’m like Martin Short’s chronically unlucky character, Eugene, in the 1991 movie, Pure Luck. Does anybody else remember that movie? In one scene a psychologist, setting out to prove his observation that Eugene is cursed, purposely breaks a chair that’s among a couple dozen circling a board room table. The psychologist then sets the chair back up, making it appear perfectly fine. He opens the door for Eugene to enter the room and invites him to sit anywhere he’d like. Against the odds, Eugene predictably gravitates toward the broken chair, sits down and ends up deposited on the floor in a heap.

Something like that happened to me once. The odds would have been about one in eighty that I would sit in the singular lecture hall chair that was compromised. Of course, for most people those are pretty good numbers. But, of course again, not for me. The numbers gods seem to delight in picking my number again and again.

I walked into high school study hall that day determined to find an unobtrusive spot in which to finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I went all the way up the steep steps to the top level. It was the farthest away from the mean wrestling coach/room monitor who treated study hall like it was a Supermax receptacle for prison riot instigators. I sat down on one of the chairs that was actually just a plastic seat bolted onto a metal pedestal that was, in turn, bolted into the floor.

Although not quite this fancy, our high school lecture hall was similarly arranged.

Settling in, I leaned back in the seat, noticing that it had just enough give to actually recline a tiny bit. Hmm. I had never before discovered that the lecture hall seats would do that. It felt curiously comfortable. I could even rock a bit. And, because the coach/warden kept the room so quiet, I was able to mentally detach from my surroundings and lose myself completely in the novel.

Unfortunately, my mind wasn’t the only thing that would detach from its moorings that day.

I opened my book to the scary part where Scout and Jem were accosted while walking home in the dark. I became so engrossed in the story that when Jem screamed for Scout to run, I could actually hear her anguished squeals. EEEECH! The sound in my head surprised me. I kept reading and rocking in my delightful chair.

Scout tries to run, but is hindered by her unwieldy ham costume and falls. Again, I really hear her screams–EEEEERRR! I paused at that point, realizing that maybe the sound wasn’t in my head, after all.

I looked around and saw that people were looking in my direction. EEEEEEGH! What the…? Of course, because I tend to be a bit of a slow processor, the truth about the noise didn’t hit my cognition until the seat jerked completely back and hit the floor.

With me still in it.

The ear-piercing noises had been coming from me–from my chair. The one chair out of eighty with a seat that I would later learn had all its bolts loosened by an evil top-row prankster.

It was just so bad. One minute I’m with Scout and Jem on a dark, wooded path and the next I’m laying on my back on a concrete floor staring up at institutional lighting. My feet, now on the table, were the only part of me that showed to everyone in the lower rows. Whispered exclamations erupted from the rest of the class as people tried to ascertain from the shoes who it was that had met with such entertaining tragedy. I stayed on my back for a few crucial moments, cringing more from social pain than from my throbbing head pain. Staring hard into the institutional lights, I prayed that I was actually heading toward them in a tunnel and that I was on my way off the cruel planet where I was destined to be the object of people’s jeering and a constant victim to the whims of gravity. I wanted God to whisk me away.

But He didn’t, and so I slowly got off the floor and satisfied my audience’s burning curiosity.

“It’s Willow! Ha, ha!” and “Willow Carson’s seat broke! Hee, hee…”

People repeated various versions of the story for days. Other, even crueler pranksters, started loosening seat bolts everywhere in a global bid to create a funnier world at the expense of the unfortunate luck-impaired folks among them. It marked an era, and a sad one at that.

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The era of my Pharisaical entitlement reached its high point right before my disease diagnosis. I erroneously believed that if I paid a high enough price, I could get a higher seat in the Kingdom. And my all my bible studies and good deeds were the currency I shelled out for this premium standing.

I was the older son in the Prodigal Son story. I thought my standing as the obedient, hard-working Christian should have entitled me to be celebrated, not the rebellious, pagan younger sibling. The younger son had only paid for a cattle stall ticket, but our generous Father let him come up and steal my seat in the posh first class section. It made my Pharisaism-disease fever rage through my whole spirit, infiltrating not just my church life, but my home life as well.

The only cure for my Pharisaical entitlement would be steady doses of combative truths. When I finally allowed God to plug his IV bag into me, the following truths dripped successively into me, one after the other, almost like steps in a 12-step recovery program. I had to learn that:

-I am not always right about everything, and even some of my Christian beliefs are skewed or wrong.

-Diligent bible study does not guarantee 100% correct interpretation. I am created by God to need others’ views.

-My time is no more important than anyone else’s, even if I think I work harder than others.

-I am not entitled to be served by others. If someone chooses to do so, it is a bonus and I should appreciate it.

-I must respect others’ feelings and opinions if I want them to respect mine.

-I cannot disrespect others by insisting they do everything the way I think it should be done.

-Impatience is not a virtue and only serves to make others despise me secretly.

-The surliness and disrespect I exhibit toward others who work with me can never justify even the best of results.

-The mean words I say in my mind are louder in God’s ears than the sweet things I say with my mouth.

-I am not entitled to be loved. Love is a gift, whether from God or people, and should always be received with humble gratitude.

And finally, possibly the most important truth of all–

The only seat of true entitlement is the driver’s seat. This means that:

a. The driver is entitled to signal, pass, and/or speed whenever they do or do not want to.

b. I must submit to their choice of a parking spot, even if I don’t like its location, and I must execute said submission without sarcastic comments.

c. When I am in the lowlier passenger seat, I must behave like a passenger and give up all my driving rights. I must seal my lips and close my eyes if necessary to humbly accept this inferior position…

…or else get my seat kicked out of the car.

[1] “entitle.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 13 Jul. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/entitle>.

Craving Sweet Praise

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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.

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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(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.

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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.

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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:

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“MUSKRAT LOVE”
 (Willis Alan Ramsey)
As recorded by Captain and Tennille
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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

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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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Circumcision?

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Circumcision? I mean, really now—circumcision?? There are a lot of weird things in the bible, but I’ve always thought that is one of the weirdest. I’m going to be frank here. What was going through God’s mind when He decided to institute that surgical procedure as the way to mark people (ahem, men) as his “chosen” ones? If it had to be a permanent mark, then why not a tattoo? Or, why couldn’t he have created a type of extraneous skin flap on the big toe that could be removed from infant males in a Jewish ceremony? That would definitely have caused less embarrassment milleniums later when preached about in a church service in which one’s mouthy, curious five-year-old raises loud questions concerning explicit hows and whys of said procedure.

But for new Christians in the first century, circumcision didn’t seem to be a particularly delicate subject. It was actually a hotly debated subject. When Jewish people became Christians and began letting go of Old Covenant practices, they wrestled with whether or not this external sign was still necessary. The topic heated up even more as Paul started bringing Gentiles, or pagans, into the fold. They weren’t marked, and I’m sure weren’t eagerly lining up for any later-in-life day surgery, either.

So, to be, or not to be? That was the question. Paul eventually provided the answer to this in several key epistle passages:

“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” Romans 2:28-29 (NLT)

“It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.” Galatians 6:15-16 (NLT)

It’s important to note that the New Covenant enlarged the spiritual definition of “Jew” to include anyone who opens their heart to God and recognizes the divinity of his son, Jesus. That’s it. The children of God would no longer be identified by external signs. There would be no more need for rites, rituals, rules, regulations.

No more prescribed offerings and bloody sacrifices. No more demonizing objects or politics. No more fights over preferences or denominations. No more pride in appearances or in hip Sunday praise bands.

A person’s identity as a follower of God would simply be marked by one’s passionate, internal heart desire to know Him. In the book of Galatians, Paul furthers his point even more graphically:

“I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:11-14 (NLT)

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The introduction of the New Covenant was tricky. Jesus brought it first to the Jewish people as a replacement for the worn-out Old Covenant. Even though Jesus made it clear that the new was a replacement, not an addendum, the Jews kept trying to incorporate it into the old mold anyway.

Jesus warned that trying to fit his New Covenant into the Law House was as useless as trying to put new, unfermented wine into an old container (which wouldn’t expand so would explode when the new wine started fermenting), or using a piece of unshrunk cloth to patch a hole in an old shirt, (which, when washed, would do its inevitable shrinking and thus rip away from the already-shrunk cloth), or putting new groceries into already-used plastic bags (which might save the mom two cents per bag by bringing back her old ones to the store, but would burst open in the parking lot and expel items in all directions, and require said mom to chase down cans of chili from under moving vehicles and retrieve large soda bottles from under tire of pickup truck in which massive snarling dog was stationed protectively at tailgate.)

The Pharisees had always assumed that their law duties were, in effect, keeping the House ready for the Messiah’s occupation when he arrived. But, unfortunately, they had hoarded so many useless rules and undealt-with sin piles, that Jesus said at one point, “…yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.” John 8:37 (NLT)

They were full to the max with other stuff. Old, worn-out stuff. Stuff that they would protect with deadly force.

They were sporting NO VACANCY signs on their hearts and guarding their doors with guns.

My Pharisaism hung the same sign on my heart. Wally, as a Pharisee, insisted that the real Messiah chose to live inside a traditional system. He made me forget that Jesus said the Holy Spirit, under the new system, would choose to take up residence inside people.

I had definitely known that and felt that energy operating inside me at one time. But as the insidious disease slowly took over, I began losing that power. Wally did his best to make sure that I basically forgot my first love. He slowly turned my attention back to the physical side of my faith—namely, duties, rules, appearances, good behavior and good politics—and away from the mystical, poetic, unfathomable, unsearchable, merciful, joyful, and alive Spirit of God.

The fermenting, effervescing, eternal, and organic Being.

The Love part of Jesus that stayed behind when his physical body left the earth.

The Life part of God that can only be contained within living, stretchy, biological tissue…

…which makes up the hearts and brains of real people…

…even silly ones like me.