Friday, December 20, 2013

Duck Dynasty and the Phil Robertson Dilemma

My facebook feed is one Phil Robertson post after the other, and fact is: my facebook feed says more about me--my particular circle of friends, my interests--than it does about society. (Everyone's facebook feed is unique.)

Many of my facebook friends love Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty (if you don't, I beg your patience just a moment longer), and no surprise. I've lived in the south most of my life, and many of my people are camo-wearing Baptists. The Robertsons are reality stars to whom my people can relate, and many of them are riled up over Phil's suspension.

They're posting about the First Amendment. They're criticizing writer Drew Magary, GQ, and A&E. They're wondering why it seems like people in the LGBT community can say whatever they like without consequence. They're wondering why it seems like Pat Robertson (of The 700 Club) can say whatever he likes without consequence. They're wondering all sorts of things, and I had to walk away because my head hurt. I felt like a bunch of people were yelling in there.

Here's what I think. Again, wherever you stand, I beg your patience. I think--just like every other Christian I've ever met, including myself--Phil is a sloppy servant of Jesus. Jesus has used Phil, anyway, and will likely continue to do so. Phil will be able to reach people whom others can't.

Phil may have just rendered himself useless in terms of reaching unsaved African Americans and unsaved people in the LGBT community. At least, if I were African American or of a non-heterosexual orientation, I can assure you: it would be over between Phil and me.

I can almost hear some of you saying: "But Phil was just speaking to his experience in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana." Okay, but Phil's experience was pret-ty durn limited to have made such a blanket (ignorant) statement about an entire group of people to which he doesn't even belong.

And I can almost hear some of you saying: "But Phil was just speaking out about sin, and a sin is a sin." Okay, but what I know for sure is that--even if a sin is a sin to God--a sin is not a sin in society, or among people. People are comfortable comparing one sin to another (homosexuality and bestiality, for example) so long as they're guilty of neither, but are you personally willing to place yourself in the same category as a baby rapist because you experienced a fleeting moment of jealousy over your sister's new purse? Be fair.

Perhaps you're thinking: "But Phil wasn't comparing. He was just listing sin." Okay, but I can see easily how people in the LGBT community would perceive differently. Can't you?

Regardless of Phil's intentions--and I'm willing, personally, to give him the benefit of the doubt--he was sloppy. He allowed the interview. He said what he said. And you know what? People will and should be held accountable for what they say and how they say it. Phil's neither dead nor in prison. He has a lot of money, a loving family, a huge fan base, and (regardless of his sloppiness) the love of the Lord. Phil's First Amendment rights don't guarantee his permanent reign as a reality star, but you know what? He'll be okay.

And I'll tell you something else: if Phil loves the Lord as much as he says he does, he doesn't want his predicament to detract from your celebration of Jesus's birth. Get Phil off your pedestal and put Jesus up there; He won't let you down. A human will, and every time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

10 Suggestions for a Would-be Blogger

The new year's coming with all its possibilities, and if you're like me, you want to challenge yourself a bit and try something new. If you've ever considered blogging, this list of suggestions is for you, although frankly I have only three years of personal experience (and a very small blog) from which to write. My recommendations:

  • Go for it.
  • Know why you're going for it. I'm not talking about "niche" so much as purpose. For example, my purpose has always been to write things down for my children. Knowing my purpose helps me decide what to blog. It also helps me on those days that I'm discouraged, for whatever reason, with my blogging. On those days, I ask myself: am I still writing things down for my kids? And I am, so there's really no good reason to be discouraged. I'm doing what I set out to do. 
  • You may be shocked to hear this from someone who's studied and taught English, but it's not about the grammar. Grammar's important, yes, but perfect grammar can actually feel stiff and tiresome, and I'll choose an engaging storyteller over a grammarian, any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
  • Write whatever you want, but expect push-back, and be prepared to stand behind your words. The blogosphere, facebook, and the world in general would be better if people would buck up or shut up. You have freedom of speech, and so does everyone else. If the only words you want uttered are your own, find a quiet corner and talk to yourself. Don't enter the conversation, and for goodness' sake, don't start it.
  • Have you ever studied group dynamics? I've actually taught it (although I wasn't necessarily qualified to do so), and it's nearly always awkward to join an existing group, even a Christian one. The Christian blogosphere is fraught with cliques, pow-wows, and "better/holier than thou" attitudes. Try not to let it get to you. You'll make real friends over time, if you want them.
  • Don't compare yourself to anyone else. A wise man (either Dwight Edwards or Theodore Roosevelt) once said that comparison is the thief of joy. In my experience, yes. Every time.
  • Google is your friend. I've learned many things about blogging by using Google.
  • Back up your blog. (Google to learn how. See?) I recommend printing your blog, also, if your content is personal. Your family will treasure those words some day, even if you don't. I use Blog2Print for this.
  • If a large following is important to you, know that it'll probably take a good while and a lot of work to get it. This form of success is about more than the writing only; it's about promotion, reciprocity, and many other things.
  • If you decide to give blogging a try, please let me know so I can cheer you on. I prefer reading small blogs because relationship matters to me, and those with large blogs have only but so much time for it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Bethlehem Walk. And Advent.

Sharon said she'd always wanted to participate in the Bethlehem Walk and asked if we'd go with her. It started, this year, two days after her birthday; it's free; and Cade and I hadn't participated for five years (Jim and the little kids never), so we decided to go for it. The seven of us loaded up in the minivan and headed over as soon as Jim got off work, arriving a good thirty minutes before it started. We got assigned Group #35, nonetheless, and had to wait about 2.5 hours.

Totally worth it.

Incredible how much time and work goes into the Bethlehem Walk, and afterward, we talked about our favorite parts. Charleigh loved the Baby Jesus part, and Clementine the part with the animals "for sale": especially the bunny, she said. All I know is: toward the end, she ran up to me in a panic because she'd lost the shekel with which she'd planned, evidently, to buy a calf after slipping into the town without paying her tax. (Oh, dear.)

I appreciated everything about the Bethlehem Walk, but above all how it brought my last (my only other) Bethlehem-Walk experience back to me. Five years ago, Cade and I participated with Scott and Rachel. That was a much colder night: snowing, in fact, and big, fat lovely flakes. Magical (Is it wrong to use that word in this context?), but Jim had decided against participating because, 200+ pounds ago, he thought it might be a bit much for him. He worried especially about falling on the uneven ground. Cade wasn't yet nine, and I was pregnant with Clementine (2+ months from giving birth to her). Charleigh and Chip were beyond my wildest dreams.

I couldn't help but take a minute to consider, the other night, how the Lord has shown up for me over the past five years. My husband has transformed into an able-bodied man, confident in the legs and feet under him. The young man who was not yet nine is very nearly fourteen, now, and a Black Belt. The daughter with whom I was pregnant is bumping up against five and reading. And I've brought two other children into the world--ages three and one--who spill so much sunshine into my days.

Truth be told, I've already struggled somewhat, this Christmas season. You should see my prayer list: so many of those closest to me on it, and not for piddly crap, either. Huge, scary, yawning issues: life-or-death-type issues, in several cases.

And I may well be the world's worst for fixating on what's wrong. I suspect it's the dark side of my spiritual gift (mercy), but in a heartbeat, I can enter a loved one's pain and despair and have a heck of a time getting out of there. I may be able to acknowledge fully that things are well with my household and me, but I struggle in trusting that wellness, let alone celebrating it. It just feels like something could go wrong at any minute; I mean, look at what's going on with so-and-so, for crying out loud.

But God has been good, so good, to me. And during this season of Advent, I want to express gratitude that I'm not truly waiting for anyone or anything. Jesus has already been born into this world. He's already been born into my heart, too, and--in good and bad times, alike--He reigns there. Within my heart and my home, at least (at last?), this moment is beautiful, and I'm lifting my head, just now, and offering my thanks.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Prayer Meeting of the Blogosphere (18)

Jumping right in, this week:

Heavenly Father, so many people I love are facing serious challenges this holiday season. I come thanking You for placing these people in my life: not because of who I am, but because of who they are. I recognize the heaviness in my spirit as the dark side of a blessing; I wouldn't feel so burdened if I didn't love these people so much. Help me know how to best pray and care for them, Father, and help me to trust that You're working even now on their behalf. Thank You for loving us so much that You sent Your Son Jesus into this broken world, and help us to keep Him (His birth, His death, His resurrection) forefront in our minds, this season. In His name I pray and ask these favors, amen.

Now it's your turn! Would you like to participate in an old-fashioned prayer meeting of the blogosphere? Here are some ideas:

  • You can pray about my prayer request.
  • You can share a prayer request by means of a comment.
  • You can share a prayer request on your personal blog and direct me to your post by means of a comment.
  • You can pray about a participant's prayer request.
  • You can write a prayer about my, your, or someone else's prayer request (in comments hither or yon, on your blog, etc.). If your prayer is somewhere other than this place, please direct me as you can and  will.
  • You can join in praying my or someone else's prayer.
  • You can share an update regarding a prayer request you've made here, in the past. 

Thank you for joining me, Friend. May God bless and keep.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Great Flood of 2013

My head is crammed and crowded with stories bumping against one another, begging to be told, and all I know to do is tell them one at a time, letting go of chronological order and choosing whichever story is rattling hardest at the moment. In this case, the Great Flood of 2013.

My mother-in-law Lorene inspires me for many reasons, not least of which is the devotion of her sons: the sort of devotion one earns over decades of sacrifice and unconditional love. Nothing quite rattles these men like the idea of something's being amiss with Mama, and I guess they'd do about anything to help her out or even just make her smile. Late Thanksgiving night, "anything" involved their buying and installing a new dishwasher.

Just at the start of installation, Jim got slightly too aggressive with a water pipe under the sink, and it busted, hot water spraying into the kitchen like what sprays from a fire hydrant in a cartoon. There was much hooping and hollering and racing to and from Lorene's bedroom closet (in which the hot water heater hadn't been touched or even spotted for many years) and the water main out at the road (which hadn't been messed with, most likely, for a decade or more).

My sister-in-law Jill, our teenagers, and I were very much at a loss as to what to do, but Lorene waded through the lake of her kitchen and started casting bathroom towels into the water. The effect was very much like casting a few Cheerios into a bowl of milk (and a gigantic bowl, at that), but having no better idea, Cade and I (baby on my hip) waded through the kitchen, too, and back the hall, where the water was flirting with the edge of the carpet.

The girls were asleep mere feet behind us, and most all the stuff we'd brought was in those back bedrooms, so Cade and I set about trying to create a barrier of sheets and towels between the linoleum and carpet. I was just asking Jill to call 9-1-1 when the sound of spraying water stopped.

Jim proceeded to use a carpet shampooer to suck up water, Jill emptying the canister into the kitchen sink every few minutes, and (at this point in the story, early on Black Friday) Terry and my older niece Jasmine ran out to K-Mart to buy a Shop-Vac.

Later, after things had slowed down somewhat, I said to Terry: "It was crazy to be standing where Cade and I were standing when the water stopped. It stopped just as it started to flood the carpet."

Terry nodded. "It was wild what happened at the main, too. Jim and I had both tried to turn the valve several times, and it wouldn't budge. And then suddenly, it just gave."

The guys were concerned initially that water had poured down a vent in the kitchen floor, but interestingly, the vent is built up such that the water circumvented it entirely; the shaft was bone dry. Water hadn't flowed into the carpeted living room, either; it had stayed almost precisely on the linoleum of the kitchen and hallway. Lorene pulled up the edge of the carpet in the hall and set a fan there for a few days. Amazing how little the damage considering the quantity of water that poured into that trailer.

Much later, after Jim and Terry had replaced the broken pipe and installed the dishwasher, they discovered that one of the shut-off valves under the kitchen sink was leaking. Yes, their mama agreed, it had been leaking off and on for some time. The guys bought and installed new valves under the sink. They bought, too, a tool to turn the valve on the main.

I wonder what would've happened had there been a serious leak when Lorene was alone and know in my heart that the Great Flood of 2013 was providential in more than one respect.

Jim's Mom and Chip, the Day before the Great Flood

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Rock

While in Tennessee, I called my childhood friend on the phone. "Hey," I said.

"Hey," he said. I told him what I wanted to see, and he reminded me of the whereabouts but said he wasn't sure what, if anything, remained of it. When I conveyed the information to my dad, he said (of my friend): "That's who you need to call to take you in there."

"He can't, Dad," I said. "He's in the hospital. He's been in the hospital for over a month."

"I wish your brother could take you in there," Dad said. (My brother was--is--in Baltimore preparing for another surgery.) Dad sighed. He'd talked me out of taking the girls, already, and knew I wouldn't be dissuaded further.

"We'll drive over that way, but it's not like it used to be," Dad said, and later: "You see that real people live here, now, but I don't want to disappoint you. I'm not opposed to knocking on this man's door and asking for permission."

I nodded. "Ask him exactly where it is, too."

Dad glanced at me. "I know exactly where it is, based upon the sun," he said, "but go on and ask him yourself." And--having learned a long time ago to ask for what I want--I opened the truck door without hesitation. The man stepped out of his house to greet me well before I reached his door. I extended my hand; told him my name and my dad's name; told him what I was after.

"Of course," he said. "You're more than welcome. I'll take you there, myself." So we walked together (the man, Dad, Cade, and I), the man answering my questions on the way and after we'd arrived, too, as Cade and I explored and I photographed. He'd made the area so much better (cleaner and more easily accessible), but the thing was just how I remembered, and the creek below, too, flowing through mountain laurel.

Most everything seems smaller when you're older, but this didn't, and--especially in seeing my young teen there (his face so like mine used to be)--I slid back more than two decades despite a pull in my left knee. When we finished, I thanked the man: told him he'd blessed me, that I'd show the photos to my friend in the hospital, that I'll return soon with my daughters. He was glad for all of it.

My dad--having never seen it before--was glad, too. "I'm glad you pestered me about it," he said. "I'm glad I didn't miss the adventure."

I wish I could say what I feel but haven't words, really: so many things I miss from my days of play in that place: my horse and my friend's horse (both dead and in the ground); my friend's health; my brother's health; so many of our playmates lost to themselves, me, or all of us. And though in good health, myself, I feel threatened because my witnesses (the witnesses to so much of what I hold dear) are in jeopardy.

I feel as though, at any moment, the best parts of who I am might slip away. I'm tired and frightened, beat down and sore. I want to be an emotional rock, and I'm not. I'm just heavy.