Friday, January 30, 2009

Church and state

Separate? Not separate? I am uneducated but curious about the subject lately.

John and I debate the role of Christian values in politics and government - he thinks more and more that those values might not have as much a place in government as they have in the past 30 years or so. I see his point, but wonder back, if they are my values, then shouldn't I want to spread them?

Another friend talks about America's Christian roots, that we are a Christian nation. That too, is a thought that I explore - finding some interesting two-sided insight here at I read about Anne Hutchinson, co-founder of Rhode Island, who fled Puritan religious intolerance. Religious freedom, not just Christianity, seems to be a theme of our country's history.

A couple of days ago, I read this quote, written by an Iranian-American writer, Hooman Majd (in The Ayatollah Begs to Differ), son of a diplomat and cousin to the former Iranian president Khatami.
"It strikes me often while I am in Iran that were Christian evangelicals to take a tour of Iran today, they might find it the model for an ideal society they seek in America. Replace Allah with God, Mohammad with Jesus, keep the same public and private notions of chastity, sin, salvation and God's will, and a Christian Republic is born."

In Iran, it is one sect of Islam that rules (Shia). Their stands on the death penalty, modesty, interpretation of the Koran, etc. rule the land, for better or for worse. Puritans fled religious intolerance, yet they slipped into it themselves. What if Puritan Protestantism had become the law of our land? Would it look more like Iran here than we realize?

I see that Christian foundations have given our country strength of character. But I take pause as I consider that Christian-izing our government and policies might have some serious negative effects, not so unlike those we readily condemn in the Middle East. People in Jesus' day hoped that he would come and overthrow the brutal Romans. Instead, he did nothing of the sort, interacting with the government mainly just to pay his taxes. It's confusing!

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inventory control

On a tri-annual (yes, that's every three years) trip to the movies with some friends this weekend, I heard a quote that is sticking with me. Considering I am NOT a movie quote type of person, I think it must be a good one.

"Knowing what you've got, knowing what you need, knowing what you don't - that's inventory control." the husband, Revolutionary Road

Maybe that's a good description of how to live a simple life. I've got a lot of good going on at home - husband, kids, house, food, car - more than I need, even, and not too many reasons to go looking for more. Besides improving on those cheap shirts and weak decorating. Hehe.
By the way, the movie was interesting, but pretty depressing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The simple life

Paris Hilton had to find a friend, put on sunglasses, and drive for thousands of miles to find "The Simple Life." (Never watched the show, just saw a LOT of commercials a few years back.)

As for me, it's a little simpler: I just go home. I dig through thousands of pictures to find ONE hardly glamorous shot of me in sunglasses, and it happens to be me up in a tree. The walls of my house are all but bare, even after two years. I freely substitute bacon for proscuitto and romaine for arugula. My wardrobe consists of $6 solid color shirts from Target, not only because they are cheap but because they simply match everything! My house is just over 1000 square feet, and my one car is compact. Which is good, because even with so few feet to clean, I only manage to clean either one about every three months. I could go on...

I like to think that I have made my life simple like this on purpose.  No doubt, there is a bit of that at work. 

But then again, maybe it's just that I'm fairly lazy and a little bit poor*. Those both go a long ways to revealing my priorities I guess!

Are you lazy and poor (or just "living simply") too?!  Prove it!

* Poor being defined loosely as less than 185% of American poverty level, and richer than about 5.8 billion people in the world.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I guess familiar is over-rated.

A few months ago, I read an article about a study on strong marriages (can’t find it now). One of the main keys to a good marriage turned out to be spontaneity – new hobbies, new restaurants, new memories together. We tend to think that re-visiting our old haunts, or enjoying the familiar TV shows on a familiar couch with a familiar person is the pinnacle of relationship building. But apparently, if you aren’t adding anything new, it’s no longer relationship building.

Over Christmas break, I was reminded again of the value of spontaneity in a message at church. The topic was the story of the sower and the seed – the first seeds that he threw out didn’t grow, because they landed on a hardened footpath. A footpath is a place we travel often, a familiar place. The moral? Growth is stopped by familiarity. Familiarity is when I hear without responding, act without thinking, say without doing.

What am I familiar with? The same evening routine with my dear husband. The same version of church that I see every week. The same treadmill at the gym. The same make-believe with the kids. The same issues my sister is always wanting to debate. Being with the familiar is safe and predictable. But sometimes it gets really boring or even irritating.

Busting the boredom and petty irritations is basically growing – as a wife, a God-believer, a fitness junkie, a mother, a sister.

If the way to grow is to move on from what is familiar, then here is how I’m trying to get my butt in gear and introduce spontaneity …

  • Skip “House Hunters” and watch “Destroyed in Seconds” (blowing stuff up?!) per John’s request, and then find a new restaurant for his birthday. Last year we took ballroom dancing together. That was a spontaneous riot.
  • Do ridiculous cardio circuits at the gym where I jump around instead of just jogging. This has the added benefit of entertaining other gym-goers.
  • Pull out an old bridesmaid dress for princess dress up time with the girls. Do something I’ve never done before with them – sledding last Tuesday!
  • Visit a different church, read a different translation of the Bible. Read a book about Muslims.
  • Surprise one of my extended family members with an unexpected phone call, gift, or something. Don’t hold your breath guys. Remember, it has to be unexpected.

In the story of the sower and seed, when the seeds fell on good soil (unfamiliar dirt!), they grew up to 90x more than what was planted. A little spontaneity goes a long way – so give it a try with me!

In celebration of our new president (a day late)

I'm looking forward with curiosity and hope to see what our new president will accomplish. But no reflections on the inspiring speeches and elegant balls of yesterday...

The biggest local changes that I've seen coming in with the Obama presidency are in my girls! Abby goes around humming the "Barack Obama" song she learned at school, and then the girls argue over who gets to be Sasha and who gets to be Malia in their make-believe games. (Somehow my dominant two-year-old Rachel has won the right to be Malia, even though Abby protests that Malia is the big sister.)

In celebration of the new president, here is Abby singing about everything she learns at kindergarten - voting (on Nov. 14th?!), the White House, his wife Michelle, and of course, Malia and Sasha. Probably won't make it on American Idol any time soon, but I love her just the same.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

5 random thoughts

Wish I had some cute, catchy title, but, alas... It's been an interesting week here, including 2 extra days tacked onto our 3 day weekend when we set record low temps (Thursday was a low of -14F and a HIGH of -1F. Youch!). Anyhow, here are a few things I've been thinking about this week, in no particular order.

1. Blueberries. It is finally summer in Chile! Hooray! And how do I know, and why do I care? Blueberries on sale for 90 cents a container and grapes for $1.28. We are eating like kings, queens, and princesses in the middle of winter. Speaking of princess, even I played dress up this week - old church dresses and little girls can be a lot of fun!
2. Snow is good. In spite of the wretched cold that prevented us from getting outside, I am grateful this week that it snowed (covering ugly brown everything) the day before the cold snap hit. And there was just enough time to get the roads cleared ahead of the deep freeze. So we can still drive safely!
3. Flickering, worn out faith. Thinking about faith is hard on the brain sometimes. What on earth am I supposed to think, say, do? How do I live my faith when I feel confused? I found encouragement this week as I read these things though - "Jesus said, 'Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest... Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.'" Mt. 11:28-30 And when I feel horribly useless, like the person with the dimmest faith and usefulness for Jesus, I read - "He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle." Mt. 12:20 Wherever YOU are at in your spiritual journey, I hope that gives you heart as it does to me that even a flicker is worth a lot.
4. Forget the bathing suit. Need inspiration for your New Year's health plan? Or just January blues? Found in one of my favorite magazines, Cooking Light, I found words that describe what keeps me excited about exercise. "The most successful exercisers fall into the kinesthetic category. We've found a primary motivator for those who exercise regularly is that they feel better, because it's something they can perceive readily and from which they derive immediate reinforcement." Never mind worrying about summer, be active for that pick-me-up today!
5. Iran. Finally, interesting reading by my bed this week (month?!) - "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" by Hooman Majd - kind of a modern history of Iran. I learned that Iran is almost completely Shia Islam (as opposed to Sunni). They are the more liberal branch, Sunni is the more literalist. (I'm reminded that Christianity isn't the only religion with fairly deep philosophical variety.) Shiites believe that their 12th Imam will return at Armageddon someday, with none other than Jesus Christ at his side. And the wearing of chadors (burqas) has come and gone over the years. Around the 30s, it was not allowed. Wearing it was rebellion. During the Islamic Revolution in the 70s, many women were actually glad to wear them again after years of being forbidden to exercise their right to modesty. Interesting perspective!

And so I will spend the rest of my day: eating blueberries, shivering, not too despairing about the flickering candle of my faith, happy from working out this morning, and learning about the axis of evil.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fading to gray...

In my teens, faith in God seemed obvious. Maybe a combination of youth and fundamental, literal Bible teachings at church made it seem that way. “God’s will” was something that could be fairly easily found, a black and white issue that you either followed or you didn’t.

A few years of college later, the lines started to gray. I met many other Christians who went to churches that met very differently from my own. And yet they were seeking God and seeking to serve Him too.

Yet a few more years have passed now, and the black and white of youth is no longer there. Is it just a matter of having grown up, having believed the wrong blacks and whites, or something else?

I read what Jesus says, and the words both about love and conflict seem beyond understanding. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, being the most important thing after loving God. Do I see Christians known for that? And then today, “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth. I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father… If you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine.” (Mat. 10:34-37)

I go to a fairly “contemporary” church. The Bible is God’s truth, and yet there is some room for it to be taken as more than literal – leading to a dynamic church where women have some leadership roles, we work on the environment, we sing songs other than 1800’s-era hymns.

Then there is a good friend of mine, one who lives like Jesus would, I think. She shares her time, her art, her money all the time with the people in her neighborhood, her city, her world, yet she’s taking a break from organized church for a while. Seeking God outside of church? Others seek God in the “emergent church” – maybe the most contemporary type of church out there. Still others are drawn back to churches that are much more “orthodox”.

Finding different (if not quite opposing) well-informed perspectives on education, the environment, politics, history seems relatively easy. Finding those same perspectives on faith in God is really challenging me. Black and white perspectives are easy in a sense - they allow me to know if I'm right or wrong. On faith issues - my values, my purpose, my after-life - it is almost as if our lives depend on being "right". As I read about faith issues, the perspectives seem to be especially biased, charged, and so sometimes confusing. There is so much that I don’t know, don’t understand – but that I want to!

Where, in between the black, gray and white, would Jesus be walking, and taking me with him?

"Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse."—African proverb

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why vacation is not good for blogging...

I used to go, go, go. Just ask my stepmom Leslie, who knew me only as the college student who'd blaze in the door for 4 straight weeks of college break and go to the beach, hang out with friends, toilet paper the town , etc. etc.

Since marrying a laid-back guy and having two kids that have a lot more energy than me, I've learned to slooooow way down on vacations instead. When I go "home" now, Leslie watches in amazement as I do, well, almost nothing. The transformation is amazing, and will probably add more than a few years on to my life.

On vacation, I forget about teaching, projects around the house, friends at home, Christmas cards/presents/decorations, blogging, email, the gym, you name it. I sit and watch my kids (and husband) playing and absorb their preciousness. I read a few fun books. I hike a lot. I sleep in. I stay up past 10 PM (just barely). And it's lovely, really. I pulled it off for almost three entire weeks this year.

The only drawback: it's tough to start back up again! It takes me a few weeks, more complaining than necessary about back-to-work stress, more loads of laundry than I can keep track of. I relish the priorities that I rediscover each vacation, and have trouble fitting them in with priorities back at home. Writing/blogging has slipped way to the bottom of my "to do list" for a while now. But I'll be back, when life speeds back up again, I forget how to do almost nothing, and I suddenly have time to blog again!

Belated Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and go Gators to all of you!

Why I love Abby, my 5-year-old.: In that last picture, you see how I have passed on my great fashion sense to her - besides the stylin' pony tail, she's left the house (I let her) wearing Dora pajamas, long white princess gloves and carrying a sequined purse. If only I was so self-assured!