Of Blogs and Bibles

January 16, 2008

Today I had a grumpy morning with the children. They were just being children – fussing about how much cinnamon and sugar goes on toast, clothing options, etc.

Sometimes we’re all, children and adult, just contrary. Well. To a degree. I guess none of us adults has thrown a complete crying, screaming fit because we couldn’t wear a striped shirt. Then again, probably very few adults have their wardrobe choices curtailed by an unimaginative dress code, either.

But I wasn’t feeling resilient this morning. I hadn’t had my tea. I just wanted to wake up and have normal conversations with everyone. No “discussions.” So, after a few minutes of testy discussions, I took my tea and went to my google reader to see what the blogs were up to. I was so happy, because my favorite blogger had a new post, and she hasn’t been posting much lately. I read it. It was nice. I read a few other posts here and there. Then, my google reader was empty.

I closed the browser and sighed. I said to my blank screen, “can’t you satisfy me?” I actually laughed out loud after I said that. I realized I was using blogs to distract me from how I was feeling. I knew I needed input from somewhere. I intuitively knew that I wanted some satisfaction from words. But I was looking to the wrong words. My little daisy Bible was sitting on the desk next to my monitor. I picked it up and read this week’s lectionary readings.

The Gospel reading is from the first chapter of John. John the Baptist says (v.29), “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Right there I was hooked again. The Bible for me is like a dynamic, strange, endlessly fascinating, illuminating conversation with the most interesting person I’ve ever known. Today, when I read that, my mind went immediately to that oft-repeated phrase – that Jesus somehow takes away sins. I find that thought so interesting and so strange. What does it mean exactly? I know the traditional, orthodox answer, which I hold as a gift from the past. But how can I deepen that understanding, know what it means for real, for me, for my friends? He takes away sin in general? From me? Where does he take it? How? And, what then? And why a Lamb, a reference to sacrifice and dependence, first? He’s a shepherd, too, right?

And then I read the Old Testament reading, which was from Isaiah 49. In verse 4, Isaiah has the Messiah say, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Isn’t that outrageous? The Bible is incredible. It is full of this kind of despair and “FORGET IT!” kind of sentiment. When combined with an equally outrageous trust in God, it is a potent mix.

When I read the Bible, I know I will never be done plunging all of its mysteries. There will always be more for me to see, to learn and be amazed and baffled by in it. Already I feel pulled to spend more time researching and praying over those passages.

No one can rock it like God. No one has so much to say to me that is so encouraging, bizarre and wise. That is His job, to be loving and mysterious. The Bible kicks ass.

That said, let me affirm that I love reading good blogs. They can be a great blessing. Sometimes the rawest, most honest thing I “hear” all day is from a blogger – like this one from Melissa in Ohio. Sometimes the silliness of my fellow Christians just gives me a great laugh.

But nobody rocks it like God. Love you, God.


Fall colors – even in SoCal

November 25, 2007

The other day, my step-daughter, my husband and I went for a walk and collected some (non-native) leaves for decorating.

Martha they are not, but I still like them.

Here’s mine:

Fall leaves decoration

And here’s Bee’s:

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In spite of the vagaries of SoCal weather (more fires already!), creation down here can be beautiful.

My step-daughter, who had a fabulous time on the second half of the walk, was whining about having to walk uphill at the beginning. Her dad and I told her she could either keep going or we could go home. That was the first time she ever said, “You’re a mean mom!” to me. She apologized (after paternal prompting) and was holding my hand and chatting about why leaves turn red three minutes later. Even though I knew something like this would (will) happen, it was still hard to hear.


Dry, dry SoCal is burning

October 23, 2007

When I wrote this past weekend about how dry California is, I forgot to mention that this year it is drier than ever, since we’ve been experiencing a drought.

Now, huge swaths of the state are burning, and I feel so sad and helpless as I hear the news of fires growing because of the Santa Ana winds. I know that some fires are a natural part of this kind of ecosystem’s self-regulation, but this is craziness.

I know that prayer does something, even if it can’t physically stop the fires, so that’s what I’ll be doing today – praying for the winds to calm, for the safety of the firefighters, and for people whose homes and communities are threatened by fire. God be with all of you.


The changing of the mind

October 21, 2007

When I first moved to Southern California, in 1999, it was because I had to choose between Los Angeles and New York City. I couldn’t fathom living somewhere where most shadows you see are cast by buildings. I couldn’t hack it as a New Yorker*, I knew that.

Los Angeles seemed like the strangest kind of city when I first moved here. I didn’t get it, and I liked that. I lived on four continents before I settled in L.A.: Europe, Africa, North and South America. I was used to places that I didn’t understand, places that it took some time to get to know. L.A. is so not predictable if you are newcomer. I loved that. And the food ROCKED.

However. I had an attitude problem about the local “nature” when I got here. I grew up in the most beautiful (to me!) corner of the world: Western Washington state. It is, as everyone knows, rainy and wet, and therefore green, green, green. There are wild corners where you can be alone with a mountain or a river or a hundred acres of trees. If I could be anywhere, I would be there. Uh, where hikes don’t look like this:

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Los Angeles County just looked thirsty. No. Not just thirsty. Parched! Dried out, scrubby trees! Nature at its most desperate! I went on hikes and I nearly wept. They were not like the hiking at home or in the African rainforest. I was not rejeuvenated by the beauty and the awesomeness of God’s creation. I was dusty and hot and could ALWAYS see buildings! After a few of these hikes, I quit. I figured I would hike and get my creation fix when I was home in the summer and at Christmas. I wrote Southern California off in the flora and fauna department. Ugly. That was all I had to say about it. Well. Ugly and DRY.

In 1999, I went out the Claremont School of Theology to meet with a professor there who had agreed to meet me because the awesome Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann (love you Rabbi Patricia! Please move to L.A.!) had set up the connection for me. While I was there, several people pointed out Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens and told me it was “beautiful” and that I should visit it. I took one look at the scrubby, brown entrance and wrote it off. Please. Spare me. The pain. Of more. Ugly Souhern California “nature.” I drove back to the westside and forgot all about it. Fast forward eight years, and I’m driving back with my husband and step-daughter.

And look what was there:

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Beauty! (Albeit dry beauty.)

Sometimes it takes a long time for a person to change her mind. Especially if that person is stubborn. I was amazed when I found out the word in the Bible that gets translated “repentance” has within it the idea of “changing the mind” in Greek. Because changing your thinking can be hard! So can admitting you were wrong about something, if you don’t know about the freedom of truth, but that’s another story. For a long time, I thought people who believed in God were freaks, full stop. I wrote the whole thing off. I got my mind changed on that one (I take no credit for it, for real, it was all God). And now I can see that SoCal nature has beautiful parts to it.

And oddly enough, while I was visiting the not-ugly (if dry) Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, would you believe that God brought something to my mind that I needed to repent about regarding my husband’s ex-wife? He’s a funny guy, God. Very into the big metaphor, I guess.

*Even though NY rocks. Love you, New York! Miss you! Come visit anytime!


It’s raining on the island. . .creation rocks

September 28, 2007

I’m up on the island visiting my family, and it is pouring rain. I LOVE the rain. My parents even thought about changing my name to “Rainey” when I was a little girl. Living in Southern California, I don’t get much love on the rain front.

Sometimes I look around this place, out at the ocean and the mountains and the sky and the trees, and just feel so stupid lucky to have been born and raised in this corner of the world. I am aware that California is part of creation, and that it has its own beauty (which I am coming to see more and more), but being here really makes my heart sing. What an awesome mind God has to create such an amazingly georgeous place. Maybe “mind” isn’t quite the right word, but you know what I mean. To dream up a whole earth, let alone a whole universe. . .well. . .I’m just saying. It puts the good kind of “fear of God” in my soul. Creation rocks.

I went to my five-year old neice’s soccer game, which was in a glen of beautiful old fir trees. Five-year old soccer is pretty absurdist, but is was great to breathe island air and see her have fun.

Today I’m not worried if I run into old friends and acquaintances on the island and they ask me, “So, what are YOU doing?” There have been times in the recent past where I was totally embarassed by my lack of gainful official ministry employment. Today, I feel like I can tell people that I’m just waiting to see what God’s gonna do with me. . .and yeah! That IS my whole life plan! Look around at this here creation, after all. God’s gotta have SOME kinda plan.


I love you, Wheat Thins, but I hate you too

September 26, 2007

Life is made up of lots and lots of little decisions and a few big ones, right?

One of my “big” decisions was trying to take care of the planet, the planet that I now think of as “creation.” I can’t pinpoint when I made this decision. Environmental consciousness was always part of my life. I grew up in a home where my parents actually made their own granola. It doesn’t get any more granola than that, people. My parents were active recyclers in the seventies. I imagine this is like folks who had parents who were church-going, Jesus-loving Christians. You don’t really know when you got to know God, you just know Him. But I digress. Sort of.

Taking care of the planet had its grandiose moments in my life.

Exhibit A:

My life’s ambition when I was 24 and in the Peace Corps, serving as an Environmental Education volunteer, was to work for be in charge of the United Nations Environmental Programme. Embarassing, but true. I wanted to save the world from itself. I was convinced I could do so. I even had a tattoo of the earth on my back. (Still there, yes.)

Fast forward to today, and I am slightly more realistic about what I can accomplish. I do all the obvious things: I try to consume less, generally speaking; I recycle, we don’t use hardly any paper products in our home; we use only home-made and natural cleaners; I usually use my awesome pink metal coffee cup for beverages on the go; I remember to bring my canvas-esque bags to the grocery store so I don’t use more plastic bags. Etc.

There are also lots of things I do that are still rotten. I still drive, a lot. I need to do so for my job, but it still sucks. I eat meat. A lot of meat. I still occasionally buy plastic water bottles, even though I am plauged with guilt when I do. I am a ditz, and leave lights on willy-nilly. I don’t buy anything in bulk. We send the children to school with those dreadful little individually-wrapped bags of baby carrots. Etc.

And I eat Wheat Thins. Wheat Thins, you are so delicious. I love you with goat cheese. I love you with dry salami. I love you straight out of the box. I like you dipped in Alouette. Oh, Wheat Thins. You are so tasty.

But Wheat Thins, you are made with high fructose corn syrup (and corn syrup). Making high fructose corn syrup is bad for creation and also not so good for eating.* And Wheat Thins, I just bought you in a special TWO POUND EIGHT OUNCE box. This may have been my moment of clarity, Wheat Thins, where I can finally admit I have a problem.

I think this might be my last hurrah with you, Wheat Thins. After consuming more than two pounds of you, I think I might be able to say goodbye. There is nothing as tasty as you, really, there isn’t. But I don’t think you can change who you are, my high fructose corn syrupy friend.

We had a lot of good times, Wheat Thins. I will always think of you with fondness.

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*If you need convincing on this, read “The Omnivore’s Dilemna” by Michael Pollan.