20 November 2008

What have we become?

I am saddened by my generation - a generation that pays lip-service to a God who is little more than a label for them to wear proudly on their chests - when it's convenient. I look around at the Youth Group culture I grew up in and see little evidence of lives changed. I find it difficult to differentiate among the muck and mire that crowds around me where the secular world ends and the "Christian" begins. I have been blessed by a great number of friends who have represented to me what it means to live a life void of self and completely devoted to Christ. Yet, at the same time, I look around myself at others I grew up with, attended church with - in various settings, and yet, seem to have completely melted into their surroundings - indistinguishable from the world.

It makes me sad and slightly disgusted to see those who "grew up in the church" proudly displaying photos of a night out on the town - including bar visits, a few shots, and a little bit of lewd dancing thrown in for "fun." I might be able to understand these actions if they were maybe justified with the excuse of "blending in" to "reach" non-Christian friends - we can't separate ourselves "too much", right? If we want to reach others - this is the only way. After all - our friends won't be our friends if we act too Christian -right? But even if this lame excuse were pulled out of the back pocket for some, the majority I've taken note of are outings such as these shared exclusively among a group of "Christian" friends.

See, I grew up in a "Christian" culture where the cool "Christian" thing to do was not be too "religious." Which is absolutely fine when you're distinguishing between a "religion" and a "relationship", but when you're attempting to determine which direction your actions need to take - working out your faith with fear and trembling should not be taken off the list. We should not have to blend in with the culture around us in order to be considered "cool" at church. Since when is it considered lame, boring or nerdy to actually go to church to worship God? To take your walk with Christ seriously? In the youth groups I grew up in, those who did such "radical" things were the ones who found themselves sitting alone. Youth Group was for hanging out with friends and church camp was for meeting cute members of the opposite sex and getting their phone numbers so you could have something to brag about when you got back to the youth group and a little something exciting to look forward to, at least through September. It's a little sad, isn't it?

If someone struggling through life finds the same types of attitudes at church that they find in school or the workplace - what's the point? They can be shunned just as easily there - they don't need to get up early on Sunday morning for that.

It is these same youth group members who are now growing up - going to college and doing the same things they've always done - in essence, the same thing everyone else is doing. They refer to each other, sisters in Christ, as "ho," "whore," or worse. They tease each other, making crude references to sex - which is cool as long as everyone knows you're not actually having any. If that makes you uncomfortable than you're just a little too prudish. Roll with the times, won't you?

How are we supposed to be Christ to others when they see no difference in us at all? When the non-Christian next to you at the bar sees nothing to distinguish between you and he besides that silly label (if you're even wearing it tonight - or have you hidden it? Just for now? No need to announce Who we're supposed to represent, right? Don't want to scare anyone off, now do we?). If your only source of a good time is at the bottom of the bottle or in sliding against the guy next to you on the dance floor - then that's the best anyone else has to hope for, too, right?

I do not say any of this from a soapbox or false, lofty, ivory tower. I am not perfect - I do not always proudly flash my label, either. And, yet, even without the Christian name tag - even if you are not shouting from the rooftops that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life - your life should shout it anyway - through actions - those speak louder than words, anyway, right?

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: . . . to keep oneself unstained by the world." - James 1:27

13 November 2008

Keep the change!

As we near (or, according to the consumer world, are in) the holiday season, more and more charities are using this time of year to tap into the generous spirit the season evokes. I have no problem with those who solicit donations for charitable causes and I do, readily and regularly, give to a few of these organizations. Sadly, however, I do not have the funds to give to everyone who clutters my mailbox - which brings me to my point.

I do not enjoy the letters in the mail with which the sender encloses a nickel or a dime with the premise that "this coin could save a child's life". Then why did they send it to me! They might as well have kept it and saved that child's life, rather than send it all the way to me, costing someone, somewhere the gas money it takes to deliver this precious letter (for we all know that charities pay no postage, which means someone, somewhere, is picking up that slack - a concept which I understand, but don't think the charities should take for granted) and then, should I choose to send it back, costing me 42 cents in order to give them back their own dime. Does this make sense to anyone? I, obviously, understand that the idea is that, while sending back the dime, the generous giver will, rather, include it in a larger, grander donation, thus bringing back more than was sent out. However, if I'm going to donate $10 to a charity, I'll donate $10, whether or not they sent me a dime. If this were true of all those who donate - think about all the dimes wasted. Millions of letters sent out, hundreds of thousands of dollars frittered away!

The same, by the way, is true of those mailing labels. Yes, I enjoy the fact that I do not have to invest in purchasing my own mailing labels, but how much, in the end does this cost the organization? And does it really increase the donations by that much? I, personally, don't recall having given extra money just because a particular request included mailing labels (okay, maybe once, but those were REALLY good labels!).

I think these organizations should save their money, write a simple letter detailing what they stand for and for what they intend to use the money and leave it up to our generous hearts (and, above all things, God) to meet their needs. Leave the gimmicks out of it.

12 November 2008

My heart condemns me

If you may recall, I had previously chosen to give up watching television, both on the real box and on the internet because it served no purpose other than to draw my attention from God. Yesterday I was convicted.

As I had earlier mentioned, my weakest TV moments are when feeding Micaiah. Generally I sit with nothing to do but hold daughter in my arms and wait for her to finish. Well, yesterday she finished and promptly fell asleep in my arms. So sweet! I love those moments, holding her close, her face resting on my chest. But, in the end, I kind of want some way to occupy myself while she slumbers. Enter temptation.

My favorite site for TV watching is CWTV - the website of The CW (formerly The WB). It earns points for its excellent player and the mindlessness of its shows. My only two weaknesses there being America's Next Top Model (please don't judge me) and Privileged - I lean away from the trashy teenage melodramas - thank you very much. I had decided that there should definitely be no further Top Model in my future because, as we've discussed, this only perpetuates my assumption that it is my right to judge others - most assuredly not true. However, as I sat there yesterday, daughter in arms, I rationalized to myself (we're so good at that, aren't we) - Privileged is not that bad of a show - yes, there was one episode I was somewhat disappointed in, but other than that, it's quality, mindless, girly fun.

So I gave in.

I revved up cwtv.com and headed to "Full Episodes", only to discover that my new laptop had not yet been initiated into this guilty pleasure and, therefore, had no player installed. - "This is your chance, Angela, turn away." - so I installed it. I pressed play on my episode and it started to play sound with no visual - "Just forget about it and find something else to do." - so I refreshed the page. Then windows and firefox clashed and created an error, thus forcing me to shut down firefox and reopen with the option to "Restore previous session" or not. - "Don't restore it. 'But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.' (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is your way out!" - Click on "Restore previous session". Press play again. It's working! Yay! Switch to full screen, wherein the sticky note widget I have installed, with Philippians 4:8 ("Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.") set to permanently be on top of all screens stares glaringly at me, covering part of the show - "What does that verse say? Why did you install it? Was it not for moments of temptation like this?" - Move sticky note so I can see the show better. Watch the first five minutes, then a break for one commercial before show resumes and the visual has stopped working again - "Don't you get it?! Give up!" - Click "Refresh". Watch rest of show. Seriously.

What's worse is that after the show, baby girl was still asleep and I was then tempted to sink into Top Model - at which point God grabbed me by the hair and woke me up via a screaming child who had awakened for no reason whatsoever and would not be easily consoled. Only then did I finally walk away from the laptop.

The thing is, during all of this, I thought to myself (rationalized to myself) how ridiculous all of this was. If anyone else knew how much I was toiling and sweating over the idea of watching a stupid, mindless TV show that anyone else would turn on without one single qualm, they would laugh at me. Others are out there fighting bitterly against temptations such as adultery, pornography, gambling - and I'm beating myself up over TV. Come on! And that's the argument I used to let it all go and give in.

The thing is, it doesn't matter how "little" of a deal a particular TV show is. It may not be a "bad" show - but is it pure? Is it edifying? Does it draw me closer to God? It does not matter what struggles others are having or how easily the family next door is turning on their television set - they are not my standard. God is my standard. And He has called me to give this up. If it is so tiny and insignificant, like I say - then I shouldn't have a problem leaving it behind . . . right?

"Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God" - 1 John 3:21

09 November 2008

Of marshroutes and armpits

One day, I’m going to write a book. Or, rather, I’m going to finish writing my book. It has taken me quite a long time to find my voice in writing and, now, to figure out exactly what needs to be said and how best to say it. The clearest way, I’m sure, to discover these answers, would be to actually sit down and get to it. Hey, I’m workin’ on it! In the meantime, I wanted to share a story with you that may someday make it into this book, which will somehow, in some way, cover my semester spent in Russia and the lessons learned there. Before I can share one story, however, I must first explain to you the idea of the Russian marshroute.

The marshroute is the primary source of public transportation in Nizhni Novgorod, the third largest city in Russia. There they do not own the grand fortune of their big brother and sister (Moscow and St. Petersburg) to lay claim to an intricate, underground metro system. Rather, they have only to rely on the scattered, hectic marshroute system.

The marshroute is a bus. A tiny bus, really, that fits somewhat into the size range of what some churches call a “People Mover”; others may refer to these sized vehicles as party buses; almost no person from the United States would ever picture this moving object as the primary source of public transportation, as the only common type of bus we know this length is typically referred to as the “short bus” and is generally used as more of an insult than a regular vehicle in which to travel.

Everyone in Russia rides the short bus.

The important thing to note, however, is that although the Russian bus is much smaller in size than the typical commuter bus in the United States, the number of passengers does not decrease proportionately, or at all – in fact I’m sure the Russian marshroute regularly carries about twice (or five times, whatever) the amount of human cargo as the typical city buses of our culture. In short, what I’ve heard to be the carrying capacity of a New York subway after a New Year’s celebration in Times Square is the typical load of one city marshroute. There is no such thing as a full bus. Ever.

Your face could be shoved into the armpit of the friendly, stone-faced Russian man next to you (who is, of course, pretending he is on an island paradise somewhere, without your face shoved in his armpit), held solidly in place by the carefully-skilled meat-packing that is surrounding you, with no handlebar or seat in sight (with really nothing, of course, in sight, but the fur of this large man’s coat) and the marshroute will still be finding passengers who will shove onto the step, expertly maneuvering their bodies around and behind the closing accordion door, when you didn’t even realize there was a cubic inch of airspace left on this speeding cattle car.

The most amazing part of all of this is that the dance of the marshroute riders occurs without a single word. No eye contact will be made between you and the girl breathing in your face (also sharing the space beneath the burly man’s armpit). No cute small talk. No awkward jokes. No arguing. No unnecessary shoving or complaining. It’s just the way of the marshroute.

Payment is done on somewhat of an honor system. The driver can, for the most part, tell who has boarded and, thus, needs to pay. The new passenger dutifully passes forward their seven kopecks. Every fellow-commuter along the way, when tapped on the shoulder, maneuvers a hand to take the money and pass it along to the next person until it reaches the driver or the assistant. Should change be due, the coins are then passed back to the original paying customer and all is well. No one fears that someone along the way will pocket his money and claim there was no payment. It’s just not the way it’s done.

Eventually, yes, the marshroute does empty out some, as it travels to the further reaches of its route and it begins to pick up less than it drops off. As the man carrying his bag (for all Russians carry a bag – plastic, most likely, whether it came from Disneyland, a department store they visited once, or purchased in the market, it is what they carry everything in, from files to books to groceries – for they all know the grocery store will not provide its own bags – why should they? You always have yours), with the distinct fin of a raw fish sticking out of its handles, steps off and you finally take his vacant seat, you breathe a sigh of relief that, for this moment before your own stop, does not carry the pungent odor of armpit.

08 November 2008

Stop growing, Little One!

I was going to write a post filled with bitterness and extreme anger, all aimed directly at Snapfish's photo printing service. But rather than fill my blog with the toxic wastefulness of my disdain, I decided to let it go. If, however, you are ever considering using them, heed my warning: if anything should go wrong with your order they will not take responsibility for it and their customer service won't care. Just be warned. That is all.

Moving on.

I finally got to the task today that I've been meaning to do for the past two weeks: Re-organizing Baby Girl's clothing selection. When expecting, we were extremely blessed to freely be given quite the selection of baby clothing from various family and friends. We are infinitely grateful and, thus, have not had to purchase any clothing for her whatsoever (I will admit, I finally used some gift money to make a trip to the baby section of Old Navy yesterday because, let's face it, buying baby clothes IS fun and I really wanted the privilege of picking out some of her clothes on my own . . . but I digress). Before she was born, I took all of these wonderful gifts and hand-me-downs, dutifully washed them and then organized them as best I could. Not knowing babies or their sizes too well, I did happen to notice that the tags were not to be trusted. 0-3 months, 3-6 months, 6-9 months - it's all entirely relative. I began to notice which company's CEO's had very FAT babies, and which ones must have had anorexic babies based on what they considered to be a normal 0-3 month old child - the differences were vast.

Therefore, I tried to eye it as far as my organization went and I gathered her 0-3 month (what I figured to be, anyway) clothing in one drawer, 3-6 month in another, and everything higher than that in boxes, labeled with Post-Its at the top of her closet (I really enjoy organizing - you wouldn't tell it by looking at my house - my theory is that I love to organize so much that I lose the organization quickly so as to sooner be able to re-organize - makes sense, huh?) So, anyway, I've noticed, now that Little Bit is growing out of some the clothes she's been wearing for the past two months (don't bring that up or I'll cry), she may be able to move up to some of the other pieces that have been set aside. Thus, I pulled out the 3-6 month drawer and quickly discovered something - I made a grave error in my organization. Not knowing babies, I judged sizes based on width, not height. Whoops.

Now I have discovered a VAST world of body-suits, footie pjs, and pants that baby girl probably should have been wearing earlier and some more that she is just now able to fit into, spilling over two drawers full - considering the size of baby clothes, that's a significant amount. And, considering the rapidity of her growth, I'm afraid she's going to grow out of some of these new discoveries before she gets the chance to wear them.

Now begins the clothing marathon - where I will be excited to see she has spit up all over her outfit again - all the quicker to get through some of these outfits so she can wear them at least once before she grows another inch by next week!

04 November 2008

God is in control!

In light of today's events, I would like to point out a passage mentioned in Beth Moore's study of Daniel:

"Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him And to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: . . . 'For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me.' " (Isaiah 45:1,4-5, emphasis added). I find this passage interesting because in it God declares that it is He who has put Cyrus in control and though Cyrus neither acknowledges nor fears God, God uses Cyrus for His own purposes.

 God can use any ruler, any person, anywhere, to accomplish His purposes.

So, yes, go vote. God can use our votes to put those in power He so chooses. At the same time, if the one we vote for is not chosen by the masses, God can still use the one who comes into office - whether we think they are a genuine, God-fearing, Bible-studying kind of guy or not.

God is ALWAYS in control! Do not fear! He knows our present, He knows our past, but most importantly, He knows our future. Trust Him with it.

"Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding." - Daniel 2:19-21

03 November 2008

I Choose Him

I confess: I waste time, a LOT. And my biggest enabler is the television - or rather TV shows - whether these be on the five stations we get through or antenna, or via the internet, I consume it - binge on it.

Okay, that may be a bit extreme. The truth is, I used to be that obsessive about television, especially while I was pregnant and didn't feel like moving. Watching TV was about the one thing I could do which required no movement whatsoever beyond the slight muscular reflex of pushing the volume button on the remote. I have, indeed, cut back a lot, but I was still finding this to be my go-to, time-"filling", brainless activity. When I fed Micaiah, I was watching TV. When I folded clothes, watching TV. Grading papers, watching TV. Cleaning the house, watching TV. See the trend? Most of the time I wasn't even paying attention to it. It was background noise. Something for me to listen to while I got something else done. Problem was: as a result, that something else got done a whole lot slower than necessary and time was wasting.

I was under the mistaken belief that time was the only issue at hand suffering from my addiction. Thus, when I made the decision two weeks ago to cut myself off, I faced temptation and came very near to compromising - telling myself that watching something while feeding Baby Girl wouldn't be that big of a deal, would it? After all, I'm just sitting here. I have nothing else to do. There's not much else I can do. So why not? Even though I was skeptical of the necessity to do so, I withstood temptation.

Then I realized, only yesterday, on top of the issue of time, my mind was being filled with junk. I found myself humming commercial jingles for "my local Check into Cash" and 1-800-SAFE-AUTO and agonizing over what would happen next on Heroes and whining about how ridiculous the Survivors were for voting off what's-her-name and gasping at how unbelievably horrible the photos were that the judges of Top Model thought were breath-taking. My mind was over-run with useless information and judgmental thoughts about anything and everything I was taking in - whether I was paying attention or not. When I watch reality TV, in particular, I find I assign myself to the task of judge. And when I feel free judging those I don't know but who choose to play out their lives on television, is it that hard to believe that this judgmental nature seeps its way into my real life?

So, I have quit. Cold-turkey. I'm done. Thing is: when you take something out of your life that has sucked up so much time in the past, you find yourself with a whole lot of free time and nothing with which to fill it. How do I replace my bad habit with a good one? The route I have taken most often is either reading or listening to music. Most recently I have begun to listen to the radio via the internet, allowing me to still be productive around the house, still have my background noise, and yet not be tethered to something I have to watch and at the same time allowing my mind to be filled with the uplifting sounds of praise music and the works of my favorite Christian artists. So, now instead of obnoxious, yet catchy jingles, I find myself humming the likes of Jars of Clay or Tree63. Slightly better, if I might say so.

"If everybody's worshiping something, I choose You" - Point of Grace

01 November 2008

Let's Pretend

I wanted to share with you the inspiration for my previous post, about our on-line selves representing more accurately who we feel we are. I had intended to include this story in the post yesterday, but the blog somewhat got away from me and by the time I realized my point, it sounded much better without the example, so I left it out. But I still want to share it, because, to me, it's an interesting story.

As I confessed, I was, long ago, addicted to IMing. Once upon a snow day my freshman year of high school, I found myself with a free, unobstructed day for pursuing my hobby. While browsing profiles on MSN Messenger, I came across a boy from my area around my age (I will admit, sadly, that the opposite sex was my preferred specimen for on-line chatting - in fact, I formed quite a friendship with a boy named Duncan from England who had a penchant for staying up late to chat - but this is way off-topic - see how my blogs just get away from me?). Anyway, I started chatting the lad up (the one from my area), only to discover he went to my high school! Not only that, he was a freshman as well and turned out to be none other than the star of the freshman hockey team - a big deal to most freshman, but I wasn't a fan of hockey at the time and definitely thought this guy to be somewhat of an idiot - before that day anyway.

Before I go on, I must explain the dynamics of my high school. It was not quite the caricatured ensemble of stereotyical cliques found in most teen angst films. Yes we had jocks and, yes, most of them were cool. Yes, we had nerds - but contrary to popular belief, the nerds were not the smart kids. Or, not completely. We definitely had a smart-nerd group (ie, quiz bowl), I have a close friend in that group who is proud to be so, thus I'm insulting no one by establishing that. But then we had the group of the REALLY awkward, socially inept who were neither smart (at least not abnormally so) nor athletic. And then there were the Honors kids - the smart kids who weren't in the cool crowd, necessarily, but didn't really care to be, either. And we definitely weren't in the socially awkward group, either. Each of these groups (plus a smattering of others) happily coexisted next to each other, one not really bothering the other (the popular kids didn't even bother with the unpopular, not even to bully them - they didn't care), and sometimes offering the free-floaters who easily transitioned from one group to the next - popular and smart and a jock . . . you know who I mean.

So, anyway, back to the story. This guy I found on-line was definitely a member of the athletic crowd: popular, cool, with a head as big as a hot air balloon (and just as empty) - or so I believed. And as I said, I was smart, quiet, stayed out of the way of others and was glad to do so. Then one day we met on-line and talked for about two hours about all sorts of things - we watched the Ricki Lake show simultaneously and made fun of the melodrama unfolding on the talk show stage. This hockey jock thought I was funny and interesting, and I, surprisingly, found out he was, too, and he had depth - go figure.

My life not being Pretty in Pink, this alternate universe did not last long. In fact, when we saw each other in school the next day, it was back to life as usual. We stuck to our crowds, didn't acknowledge the other person in the halls - never spoke of the day again - never spoke at all again. And, yet, I will always remember that day when I discovered that even though I may think I'm so different, better than someone else - my prejudices are most likely so inaccurate that the person I'm judging is actually just like me when one whittles away all the stigmas, applied categories and social facades. Interesting.

I must also note that I was first attracted to my husband through his blog - by reading the inner-workings of his mind I found a man I could love. I'm not sure I would have ever seen this side of him prior to marriage had I not run across his on-line journal. And although we lived on the same campus together, the majority of our relationship unfolded on the internet. That's what makes this social networking era of the internet age so fascinating - the stripping down of our outer selves - the ones we work so hard and so long to build up - leaves us feeling much more free and open - and yet when we leave our seat in front of the computer screen, we feel the need to zip ourselves back up and continue to pretend. Fascinating. Just fascinating.