Tuesday, December 31, 2013

sermon from sunday: john 1:1-16

Lord, I pray that you will focus our minds and hearts on the great gift you have given us in your Son Jesus. I pray you will help us to receive this gift and carry it out into the world. Amen.

John 1:1
In the beginning
John the evangelist means for you to hear
in the very first line of his gospel
the first line of Genesis.
In the beginning,
We are not next to the manger,
there are no shepherds here,
no Herod,
no wiseman,
no star.
We are beginning before everything came into existence,
when there was only God hovering over the face of the deep.
In the beginning there was only God.
And God spoke.
This is where John begins,
that primordial ancient first moment.
But so much has transpired since then.
We have hundreds of pages of history recounting the destruction of that original creation.
Now, at this moment,
In the beginning,
John wants you to be both at that first moment
but also thousands of years later at this second moment.
This is a new creation.
Watch how John builds just in this first verse 
In the beginning--creation
Was the Word--tuck this aside for a moment
The Word was with God--the Greek is more nicely rendered
'face to face' with God
looking at him,
like two people look at each other when they are talking,
two people who care for one another,
not eyes drifting up and around and away,
that would be me when I'm talking to my kids--
shh, I'm on Facebook.
No, God and the Word are Face to Face.
They have communion with one another.
They understand each other.
This means they are distinct from one another.
Then the final note in the line,
The Word was God.
The Word was there in the beginning.
The Word is distinct from and intimate, face to face, with God.
The Word was God.
So what is the Word?
John is uses a Greek word, Logos.
The Greeks,
you might remember,
had a pantheon of gods,
a dizzying array of interesting deities to appease.
Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo.
Each god had something they did for humanity.
They were distant,
living in the clouds of mount Olympus
but they interfered and meddled in the affairs of man.
They were not the embodiment of all that is good and pure and true.
They were glorious, but they looked and acted awfully human.
As the Greeks went along some of them noticed,
Heraclitus for example,
that in spite of the capriciousness of their gods,
there was an internal order to the physical universe.
There must be an omnipresent stabilizing influence or force that holds everything together.
Not a personal or knowable god,
but a force inherent within many of the attributes we find within God.
Heraclitus called this force the Logos.
John takes this word
and uses it as a capstone for his own Hebrew knowledge of God.
God, John knows perfectly well,
is not just an impersonal rational force.
God is a Being who has not a body like men,
he cannot be seen because he is so holy.
He is in himself the definition of all that is good,
true, holy, beautiful, right and just.
And, moreover,
he is a covenant making God.
He relates personally to his creation.
Part of this relating is self revelation.
God reveals himself to his people primarily through language.
He spoke in creation and all things came into being.
He spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden.
He spoke to Noah and Abraham and Moses 
and Isaiah and Daniel and a whole lot of other people.
With words.
That were then written down.
Moses, for instance,
hearing words from God,
took an pen and wrote them in books.
These words were understandable.
It was possible to hear the law,
understand it
and then try to do it.
When you failed,
it would be clear that you had so failed
and clear what you needed to do about it.
God was not a capricious malleable manipulable impersonal force.
No, his words formed the world and the character of Israel.
God communicated through language that he wanted Israel to know and follow him.
To be face to face with him.
But Israel treated God like a capricious force whom they did not know.
They treated him like a stranger whose language they didn't understand.
Now consider the ordinary first century Jewish person
sitting in church next to the ordinary first century Greek person.
You're all stuffed in together in some catacomb,
the Romans are raging over the face of the whole earth,
you've been invited by a friend,
some guy gets up to read the gospel.
He holds it up and announces that it's God's Word,
and he unrolls it and says,
'In the beginning was the Word, Logos,
and the Word was face to face with God,
and the Word was God.'
Both of you together
Jew and Greek,
have your sandals shocked off of you.
The Logos, the rational force that holds the universe together,
is with God,
so distinct from him,
but also is God.
The Greek is shocked that the Logos is a relatable divine figure,
the Jew is shocked because it sounds like there's two gods when he knows there's only one.
The man reading the gospel continues to read, verse 2
"He was in the beginning with God."
So the Logos, the Word, is a he.
He was always there,
distinct from God,
because you can't be with someone if you are him.
Not an emanating avatar spirit force
but a person, a being.
Just as a little aside
it isn't any accident that our post post modern worldview
makes it hard for us to accept
The Word of God.
Both the book and the Person.
The attack on language,
the undermining of the ability of people to believe that they can know what words means,
that it doesn't matter what a person intends to say
it matters what you the hearer hear,
you can pour any meaning you want into any word because language is in itself incomprehensible.
This undermining of language is so subtle.
We can’t really know what the Bible means,
you might have heard someone say,
you interpret it one way,
I interpret it another.
It’s such a huge lie.
God designed you to understand words
with the ultimate plan that you would know and understand The Word.
So the Word was there in the beginning.
Not his beginning, our beginning.
Verse three, All things were made through him.
Not by him.
All things were made by the Father through the Son.
The verb, were made, indicates a one time thing--
this is the initial moment of creation.
The Father created through the Son, the Word.
Then John flips it around to the negative,
And not anything was made that has been made.
Has been made is perfect tense,
it indicates the going on of things.
This is what Paul has in mind in Colossians 1:17 when he says,
"and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
The Word is the Rational Logical Person,
not force,
whose power and will hold all things together.
The continuance of the created order is through the Word.
As you carry on with your everyday life
God is holding all things together through the Word.
As you go to work,
pay the bills,
scrape snow off the car,
waste a few hours on the internet because someone is wrong,
scramble to do something important you forgot,
muscling your way through each day,
so often a prisoner, a captive to your own mind,
your own world,
your own 'reality'
your very existence is in the palm of God's hand.
Or rather, in his mouth, his Word.
That you continue to draw breath is because he is exerting his power so that you will.
Do you ever worry that when you cry out to God in prayer
your voice is lost in the empty abyss of chaos and disorder?
I read after Mother Teresa died
that she had gone much of her adult life without feeling the presence of God.
But she didn't let that feeling inhibit her knowledge that God was there and true.
Without him, the Word, was not anything made that has been made.
Verse 4 And in him was Life.
It doesn't say,
In Him was death,
even though I always assume that to be the case,
assuming that God is out to get me.
No, in him was Life.
In creation God designed Adam and Eve to live forever.
Not a circle of life that includes death.
No, an unbroken line of life from your conception to all eternity.
Death is a shattering of God's creation.
The Word is Life.
That is why, when death was meted out on the one who is Life,
not only was the whole cosmos shaken,
death itself was shattered.
And his Life was the Light of men.
John loves all his words to have two or three meanings.
I think he means every kind of light here.
Real physical Light.
It was the first thing created.
And when all the lights go out, the Word will be the only light.
But John also means spiritual light.
His life was the light of men.
His life brings light to our spiritual darkness.
The light shines [present tense] in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
The darkness has not destroyed the light.
It is not hard to feel sometimes like the darkness is awfully overcoming.
I've been reading Job over and over again accidentally all month--it's a long story--
and the darkness of his suffering is so immense.
He cannot heal himself.
He cannot get his children back.
He cannot get away from his grief.
He is helpless.
It feels like a great black cloud that can't ever lift.
Until God breaks in at the end of the book.
The darkness, however huge, however black, cannot overcome the light.
The cross, the moment of the greatest most profound darkness
could not prevail against the light.
The Light of the Word that lives in you through the Holy Spirit
cannot be overcome by your own darkness.
Sometimes we try to put out the light,
or we shove it in a corner.
But there's no wick that will eventually end,
no oil that will run dry.
You can't flick a switch.
You cannot destroy it.
Better not to try,
however painful it's illumination is.
I wish we had several weeks to spend on John the Baptist in verses 6-8
but there’s just one point I want to draw out.
Matthew 11 records John's disciples coming to Jesus to find out if he, Jesus, is the Messiah.
Jesus says this about John, verse 7 "what did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? Vs 9 a prophet? Yes, and more than a prophet....
Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist."
In other words, John the Baptist is the greatest person ever to have lived.
Not Job, not the guy down the street, not you, no, John the Baptist.
And how well does the best person ever to live measure up to the Word?
Look over at verse 27. John the Baptist says of himself "I am not worthy even to untie his, Jesus’, sandals."
The lowest of the low, a slave or a servant would be the one to untie everybody's sandals.
But here, the greatest and best person ever John writes, verse 8 is Not The Light.
Verse 9 the True Light, the Word
This light was coming into the world.
Now watch the word World.
He was in the World--I think he means the physical created material world.
And the World was made through him--it belongs to him. He owns it.
But the World--now it narrows down to mean People--did not know him.
Not intellectually know.
No, Know like Adam knew Eve.
The world wouldn't be with him, face to face.
Then it narrows some more.
He came to his own people,
people he had made and revealed himself to,
had spoken with by the words of his mouth,
and his own people would not receive him.
They treated him like a stranger whose language they didn't understand.
I ran across a website last week set up by homeschooled children
who hated being homeschooled.
And hated their parents.
Boy, if you want to keep me up at night
tell me stories of children being irreparably estranged from their parents.
That's what we did to the light that came into the world.
We should have known him because he made us and spoke to us.
We did recognize him
but we chose to treat him like his language is incomprehensible.
This is so tragic.
But, verse 12, to all who did receive him
To be allowed to receive the light after having once rejected it.
To believe on his name. And not just the name.
The name encompasses the whole person.
To believe on his name is to believe in him.
To trust him, to accept him, to be face to face with him.
To those who are willing to receive him,
not like a stranger, or a guest,
but like your parents on Christmas Day, with joy and relief.
To those who believe in him he gives them the right
We're talking legal right, like in a court of law,
but the word indicates also something like authority.
He gives them the Authority to become children of God.
Not children born of blood, the old creation way, 
Nor of the will of the flesh--not by anything you can achieve or decide to do on your own
Nor of the will of man--nobody else can do it for you
But of God. God gives the right.
Verse 14
The Word became flesh.
God, the Word, became human.
The word flesh is just as it sounds, physical.
He didn't just look like a person.
He became a real person,
and his name was Jesus.
And he dwelt among us.
He pitched his tent.
Just like in the wilderness of Sinai when Bezalel and Oholiab
fashioned the Ark and the Tent
and then God,
in his glory descended
in the tent sitting on the wings of the cherubim overshadowing the ark.
The Word tabernacled in a body
walked around,
ate dinner in the evenings,
spoke words.
And we have seen, says John, his glory,
the glory as of the only son--the unique, the single, the only--son of the father.
The people of Israel saw the glory of God in the cloud that led them through the Red Sea.
They saw the glory of God covering the mountain.
When Solomon consecrated the temple the glory of God filled it.
On the mount of transfiguration Jesus unveiled his glory for the inner circle of disciples.
But I think John means even more than that.
The glory of God, the Word was fully present in the flesh of Jesus.
When you saw Jesus walking around you saw the glory of God.
Vs 15 is important but it will have to be for another year.
Vs 16 From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.
The incarnation of the Son, the Word, the taking on of a body, was enough.
It was the fullest most complete revelation of God.
You take all the ocean of words that is the revelation of God in this book,
God's perfect revelation of himself,
that none of his words come back empty or void,
and you pour all these words into The Word,
into Jesus the Son
and nothing is lacking.
It is full.
There is a full complete revelation in Jesus for you to know to him, God, face to face.
You look at him, the Light,
and you receive more grace than you can ever ask for or imagine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

{phfr:pushing back the panic edition}

Every year I resolve to do more ahead of time and not freak out in these Last Days before Christmas. It's like the sun coming up. I make the resolution with monotonous regularity and then every year chuck it out in a wail of hysterical panic involving tears and recriminations against God, myself, Matt and reality. And then the next day I discover it's not so bad, carry on in a more measured way and then commit the same freak out on Christmas Eve. It is, as everyone knows, The Reason For The Season.
Some day, when I'm old and lonely and have a clean house and too much time on my hands (does that ever happen?) I want to live in this house with this tree and this beautiful Christmas Star and the snow coming down, exactly the way they've done it here. It's felicitous, serendipitous, beautiful, lovely. It almost makes me want to take the dog outside for a walk sometimes so I can see it. But not enough to actually go into the cold. Fortunately I took this picture so I can just look at it and mourn the loss past when it used to be warm enough to walk the dog (last week) and anticipate a glorious future of being able to do it again (maybe the weekend because it's getting up to 50 and all the snow is going to melt.)
Because of the basement flooding the day before Thanksgiving, a moment Matt keeps describing as "a real blessing", his words, not mine, we had to throw tons and tons of stuff away and we managed to move all the toys up into the school room and the children's bedrooms, which started off a long domino effect of cleaning out the bedrooms and throwing almost everything away there also. And then, because it was so clean and uncluttered I turned my guilty gaze once more upon these hideous flowers I fitfully and distractedly painted on the girls wall last Good Friday after having a root canal.
As I painted I realized what a horrific thing I was doing but I couldn't stop and couldn't go back. Many of you who have visited me know that I don't normally do this. My living room is pretty well put together, I don't have perfectly foul taste, I'm not terrible at all I put my hands to. What Happened?
No one knows. Well, maybe God does. It's the result of sin in the world and in my life. But God is gracious and merciful and so last Satruday I tore apart a pile of old calendars and affixed them to the wall, covering the great offense.
And then I plunked some stuff on the boys wall so it looks less like a mental institution.
Someday this year we'll repaint the girls room totally. I hope. Maybe. May God give us a spare minute and a good color of paint.
All these bins used to be filled with toys. Can you imagine? Wet toys. And now they're empty everything is washed and either put away or given away. What else is there to do but climb up into the bin?
"Get out!" I shouted as I snapped pictures.
And then, "No No! Don't get in!" as I snapped some more.
"Agh!! That's so dangerous!" I cried, snapping away.
"Ok! Now don't stand up!"
I had Elphine haul them out. And then I told them to never do that again. Ever. Ever. Ever. 
Nonnie (my mom) is flying home to Kenya on Sunday. 
As I was writing in wonderment my long post about what a calm and reasonable advent we've been having and how orderly and clean everything is it dawned on me that I owe it all to my mother. Not least for deciding to have me in the first place, but also for coming back to America for baby after baby and then for having to have new teeth and then for working so hard even while she's been in pain and woe. I will say. I am a bad person and I've enjoyed very much how cute and funny she is without front teeth. But apart from all the hard work keeping this place going along smoothly, we've had a really good time. I'm going to miss her and so will all the kids for different reasons. May we all gather in a lot of money and go visit her and my dad in Kenya sometime soon.
Until, have a Happy Christmas if I don't get back here before then!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

blessed art thou

Now that Marigold is four she is doing and saying so many things that four year old children do--like obsessing over death and using language to express herself. So now in Sunday School (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) instead of wandering around breaking things and rolling on the floor and whining and making me wish she was still in the nursery, she is breathless and engaged and often flapping her arms with excitement. All the lessons are hitting her little soul like a tuning fork and she can't stop talking or pause for breath or contain herself. Indeed, she doesn't speak here at home all that much, but in the atrium my whole hour is taken up with saying things like, " Please be quiet Marigold, it's my turn to talk. Shh. Let's be still for a minute and listen to Jesus." And so on and so forth. 

Last week we did the Annunciation, this week the Visitation. First off, as we gathered in a circle, Marigold was shouting and flapping, "Where is the Angel? Where is the Angel? "
"There is no Angel this week," I said.
"Mary is in the forest. Where is the Angel?" shouted Marigold.
"She's not in the forest," I said. 
I told the story, lit the candle, read the story, used the material, asked the wondering questions.
I wonder how Elizabeth felt when she heard the sound of Mary's greeting?
I wonder how Mary felt when she heard Elizabeth's beautiful words?
I wonder how Elizabeth's baby knew and recognized Mary's baby?
General silence.
"I don't know," said one of the boys.
"Have either of you boys ever been around a new tiny baby before?" I said, trying to get the boys to care. 
"Oh yeah," said one of them, "I have a baby brother."
"What do babies do?"
"They cry and stuff" he said.
"Do they know and recognize you when they are tiny like that?" I asked.
"My brother knew me."
"Did he know you before he was born?"
"Nah," he said.
"I wonder how John knew Jesus?" I asked again.
Bored Silence.
"Maybe somebody told him," said the other little boy.
"That's a very good thought," I said and then broke all the rules. "I'll tell you who told him, The Holy Spirit told him."
General silence interrupted by Marigold flapping and breathing heavily and muttering about Jesus and the Angel and Mary and the Cross.
Then she shouted, "Jesus came forth from Mary!"
I fell back in astonishment, "that's very true. Would anybody like to pray?"
Marigold launched right in. "Thank you for the candles and Jesus dying on the cross and thank you for Baby Ermintrude who is a baby who cries. I'm not a baby who cries. Thank you that I'm not a baby like that baby over there," she continued," that baby who cries."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

7 quick takes: various festivities, jumbled week, tra la la

Romulus, just now as he was being hurried along by his father to men's bible study, justifying his choice of shoes...
Matt: You shouldn't wear cleats over to the church. It's not good for the cleats or the floor.
Romulus: Well, it's the only way I can really hurt anyone even though I'm not going to.
Matt: You shouldn't wear them to church.
Romulus: Well, I was planning just to wear them just this time.
My mother took it into her mind to make cookies with the children.
I know! Crazy! 
I was totally amazed. She made several kinds of dough and kept the children organized so that they worked in shifts and came out each with a large bag of cookies. It was calm and orderly and a good time was has by all. Extraordinary.
It won't happen again until she comes back. But now none of the children will be able to complain that they didn't make Christmas cookies as a child.
And last week she presided over the making of Ugali and Da.
You can't really see the Da in the back. Da is basically dried hibiscus flower that you can make into a  beautiful  Christmas drink or dole into little cups for communion in Africa. Ugali is corn meal mush molded into a ball and eaten with sauce. Maybe sometime I'll do a whole post. I sat and finished if off myself and drank the remaining Da out of everyone's cups when the philistine children had all left it and run off to play. The whole moment was one of true nostalgia for me because, again weirdly and uncharacteristically, I sat down to play the piano while the Da was wafting over the house and as I pushed my sore thumb into a horrible hard key I was transported back to the moment at age of 13 or 14 when I sat down to play a piano recital mere moments after having my hand beat apart by a cat. So painful. So long ago. Same feeling in the thumb.
While the children were quietly and calmly cutting out cookies in turn the remaining ones made little femo nativity figures. They did a whole scene which I have yet to bake, and they will probably give it as a present which will be wonderful.
Such a strange advent this has been. Children making things. Cookies baked. The house decluttered and cleaned. Everything sorted through and two cars worth of stuff taken out of the house. For real. All gone. Stuff I kept thinking I'd get rid of but never got around to. All my shopping, such as it is, is done.
We've even had time and energy to do a little advent devotional some evenings.
We read the actual bible, have an interesting discussion about it. Sing a song. We have even prayed. I'm not kidding you. One night, everyone took a turn praying. I can tell that you don't believe me, nor should you, but I took the picture to prove it.
And this last Monday, as a way of grieving over the loss of our Magic of Christmas Prelit Snap Together in Thirty Seconds No Crying Children Tree, we went to lowes and shelled out money for a real fat beautiful tree that has to be watered and everything. We decorated it and watched part one of the Hog Father.
Of course, in my heart, I wish we lived in a Tasha Tudor world where we wander out into the woods and cut a tree and decorate it on Chriatmas Eve. Or rather, watch a paid staff decorate a tree. Indeed, I expected to "decorate" on Christmas Eve because I expected to be busy, out of control, running like mad, freaking out in my usual Advent way.
Decorating at the end of Advent is what happens to people like me who can't get their lives together and who are trying to do too. many. things.
Christmas decorating is the cake topper on the cake of a life lived in insanity and woe.
Wanting to fulfill everyone else's hopes and dreams. Not awknowledging that you have any yourself. Believing wrongly that you are a selfless life giving mother who only worries about what every else wants. Not admitting to yourself that you have some kind of hope and desire yourself that you can't fulfill because you haven't figured out what it is. So then it is impossible to make anyone else's dreams come true because you yourself are a muddle.
For me, when we were standing around in the freezing cold at Lowes I realized as I rummaged around in a bin of evergreen all wound together that what I really really really wanted was to hang evergreen right here. That's what I wanted.
It's what I want every year but I never think it can actually happen.
Of course, it truly doesn't matter what I want. The whole point of Advent, in my mind, is that we have time to come up against reality. The whole world is rushing around saying one very clear thing about what is important and what matters--namely, fulfilling and adoring me, sometimes even through the giving of gifts to other people so that they will like me as much as I like myself. It's The Reason for the Season and I can fully get on board with it. Me me me. I am totally in the 'Spirit of Christms' all year long. Meanwhile, God is also saying something clear about what is important and matters. He does desire for me to be fulfilled and loved and he was willing to do whatever it took for that to happen. He laid aside everything to come be with me. But the only way for him to love me and for me to love myself is for him to pry my dead lifeless ego out of my clenched fists, prying one hurting finger apart at a time so that I can let go and he can take away. And when the hand is finally open and all the unmet and ridiculous expectations are lying in a heap on the floor, he can step into that empty space himself. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the old year, the reckoning

I've been all wrapped up in the apocalypse lately what with being in the last days of reading the bible this time. Job, Isaiah, Revelation. All at the same time. It doesn't help that I'm usually very tired, trying to wake up, sometimes falling back asleep and dreaming something profound and strange, pulled back awake somehow, wondering what I just missed, trying to read it again. The words wind themselves together in catastrophe and woe--we're all going to die!!--with occasional sweet morsels--but I have come to save you. It's a comforting place to be as the rest of the world starts looking back at the  year and judging what has been good and what has been bad. Who were the winners and and losers? Who is the person of the year? What movie was absolutely the best? Who arrived out on top of the political scramble? Everyone evaluates and writes and makes a pronouncement. Meanwhile, God has already kept his own council. The people who think they've won by December 31 are possibly going to be deeply surprised and unhappy when they look at their maker and find out he didn't think it was all that good.
John writes, "And the kings of the earth, 
who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, 
will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 
They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.

The line 'lived in luxury' hurt my head rather as I was waiting for the sun to turn the black night at least to gray. We're probably going to get snow, eventually, sometime. A judgment on all my ungodliness. But I'm sitting here in a bed made up with elcheepo Egyptian Cotten, warmed by a dog who has no purpose other than to accompany and heat my every sitting place, adored by a husband who places a tray with a teapot and only one of three cups lest I tantrum about setting my delicate lips to a china too thick, or a shape that doesn't fit well in the hand, about to put my feet into fuzzy slippers and shuffle across a floor that is the color and kind I felt I required, then to turn on the lights of a vast green fir tree whose scent has transformed the foul decay of the basement wafting up through the vents to be as though we actually live in heaven. Or, to put it another way. I am in so much luxury. I am so comfortable. 

I can just see myself, clad in the latest of the day, my eyelids and lips painted with the season's color, my graspy fingers clinging to my crystal vase of carefully arranged evergreen and berries, standing afar off, 
"weeping and mourning aloud,

'Alas, alas, for the great city 
that was clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.

I am inclined, like Job, to always be explaining to God how it is good and right and fair that so much wealth should properly belong to me. To justify myself and my "suffering" in his eyes. But justification is wrong, and so also is guilt, if it's the wrong kind. God gives us good and beautiful and lovely things. If we wait for him, in his own time, he gives us goodness and beauty and kindness and humility and sometimes a goose at Christmas. I just never want to wait for it. I never want it to be a free gift from him. I'd like to deserve it so that there's no reasonable way he can take it all away at his good will and pleasure. So I wind myself up into a froth of guilt (I have so much! I don't deserve any of it!) and self justification (My life  is such a trial! I must treat myself in order to make it through the day! I'll just have this extra cupcake because I deserve it!). The fact is, at the end, it is all going to go up in a ball of fire. The intentions and state of every heart will be visible and plain. The extent to which I made my own way and grabbed my own stuff and walked all over the feelings of others is going to be clear to me the way it is already clear to God. It behooves me to hold it all with an open hand now so that my weeping is consolable later. The Lord gives and The Lord takes away. He's giving and giving and I'm so blessed. Even if he doesn't take away until I breathe my last, he will give more than I can possibly imagine when the smoke of the fire is cleared away and everyone is fresh and clean and new again. 

There's the snow, now, covering all the brown and gray, hiding the ugliness for a while. What a blessing.

Friday, December 06, 2013

st. nicholas and other matters

As I lie here, nursing a foul headache and a throbbing thumb, I can hear Elphine squishing the packages in her shoes by the front door. She has been up since 4:30, blast her. Indeed, she nearly caught me fussing over the shoes. I heard someone rumbling round upstairs (her) and shoved my bag of candy into a bookshelf and went back to bed and a minute and a half later I heard her crinkling the paper. I thought she was a baby come down to eat the chocolate and got up to yell and found her there, worshipfully kneeling before all that The Lord has done for her.

I managed to snap a picture on my way out, but it wasn't the arrangement I really long for. 
Last night they all wrote notes and discussed the existence of St. Nicholas and his relationship to Santa.
"There is no relationship," I said. "Santa is some kind of fairy or elf and St. Nicholas is a bishop."
"Is he too old to come?" Gladys wanted to know.
"Maybe he died and God lets him out of heaven to come here once a year," postulated Romulus.
"Go to bed," I said, "or nothing good will come to you."
You can see the light in her eye here--Elphine. She looks determined and, if you don't mind me saying, slightly crazed.
Anyway, back to the headache and the throbbing thumb.
The headache is from waking up at 3:30 to do the shoes because of none of the children going to sleep right away and so not being able to do it at a reasonable time like 11pm.
The thumb is from trying to beat my way into a can of tomato whilest cooking for Shepherd's Bowl.
Here I am trying to be tell enough for the pot and the stove, adjusting the flame from atop my ridiculous stool.
The soup
compared to the ghastly flesh colored satanic brew of last time turned out pretty well. Onion, garlic, carrot, green pepper, broccoli, cabbage, chickpea, lentil, ground beef, tomato, peas and curry powder are a better way to go than revolting ground turkey, kale and potato. God had mercy on me. The soup was delicious. Not delicious like any of the soup that Matt makes, but hearty and edible.
And so we come to the end of a long week. 
What with the basement slowly being emptied out, and that moment in every Homeschool Person's Life when you have to clean out the school room or you will die, and the beginning of Advent, 
[All the Prayer Cards required for three levels of Cstechesis--all the old ones mended and freshened and new ones made.]
and the sudden pressing need to eat lots and lots of salad as a way of recovering from all the pie and turkey and bread and pie.
Today I think we're going to make ugali and sauce in the afternoon and in the evening Matt is speaking at Intervarsity on the relationship between the old and new covenants. And tomorrow more basement. And a birthday party. Thus and so is December. You think you're going to sit around drinking eggnog and decorating cookies but really you hurtle through the month from one event to another eating other people's cookies and telling yourself you'll get back on your diet tomorrow. Oh...and I need to aquire unto myself a donkey costume for the pageant.
Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

happy new year

I have a mountain of work to climb up over this week. 
Have to deal with the fact that the house is full of stuff brought up from the flooded basement and we can't walk without tripping and crying. That means filling bags and bags of stuff to give and throw away. 
Have to put the children in the way of cleaning their rooms lest they go in one night to sleep and are unable to escape in the morning from being covered in too much stuff.
Have to do a solid week of school because it's the end of my second quarter and the government will be expecting to hear from me by Friday about our progress and achievements. 
Have to cook for Shepherd's Bowl. 
Would like very much to do a number of other things too numerous even to remember.
So, it's possible that blogging will be extremely light this week. Who knows. Maybe I'll end up with more time than I imagine. 
In the meantime hope you all are celebrating a holy and joyful Advent. I guess this one is going to be about me becoming more holy. 
Ta Ta!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

and then the ice

I lay awake from midnight to three am listening to the ice fall out of the sky. It thunked down, bouncing and pinging. I'm sure if I was up in a fancy ski lodge with a cup of fortified cocoa and an elegant pair of woolen socks I would have thought it was pristine and mesmerizing.
Lying awake half the night listening to it and fretting about all the work you're going to have to do tired--when the weak winter sun finally drags is sorry self up to the cloud line, not to shine but to make all the darkness gray with dawn--is not so romantic.
The sunroom floor is covered in snow suits half dry and now very cold. Somehow they all have to be put away and some pies made and the table extended. There's a bunch of other stuff too but listing it will just make me more fretful.
The children won't probably want to go out today even though they did have fun yesterday. At first. But then Elphine ticked everybody off by trying to control the snowball fight. She worked herself into an angry froth and then spread it around to everyone else.
I'm pretty sure I do the same thing all the time but I'm a little more subtle about it. I make everyone bend to my will, usually in the matter of cleaning up on Saturdays before Sundays, and give everyone a bad time. It's very likely I will fall into the same pit today. "We have to get ready for Thanksgiving!" I'll bark and snarl and whine. "You know, the one day of the year when we have to be thankful! Now clean up so I can feel thankful!" 
I might not say it exactly like that. Maybe I'll be self controlled and loving all day like a good mother would. You know, all those other good mothers out there. All those ones on the internet. The same internet that is both flinging itself into fits of encouraging, nay, commanding me to tap into that deep well of thankfulness that should abide in some part of every human soul, but is also, the internet that is, advertising to me so that I will be dissatisfied with everything I have. Which is it, oh internet world? Shall I buy or throw away? Shall I be satisfied or fuss? Shall I eat carbs or eschew them?
Neither, I think. Don't think I'm going to take my cue from the interwebs today. St. John told me just now One, that perfect love casts out fear and Two, that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world, and I think we can safely lump The Internet into the category of The World. It is only the alien love of Jesus, the perfecting, life giving love of God that can bring about any gratitude from any place-- that place being not the jumbled sinful well of my own heart but from his own self. But don't worry, tomorrow I'll probably still post the 365 things I'm most thankful for. It's a useful exercise. Maybe, as a working out my way toward the perfect life giving mind of Christ, I will even include the snow. But don't even mention the ice. That is never making it onto the list.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


We get to have a new furnace today so that will be nice. As for the scene outside the window, I can't think of anything less nice, except maybe chunks of ice barreling down from the sky. Getting the children to consider putting on a sweater and a pair of socks the last few days has been well nigh impossible. They just stand and look at me blankly when I suggest it, and when I command it because we are going outside (you fool!) they whine that they can't find a sweater or socks. And they say the word 'socks' like it is some foreign item they have only read about in the dictionary. And yet they complain of the cold. And complain when I won't let them out because it is cold and they don't have on a coat or socks. It's like being stuck in one of those loops where you say something and then the other person says something unhelpful and so you repeat what you said and then they just repeat what they said and you go on this way for five or so minutes and then by mutual frustration you drift away from each other. Except with children there is no where to go. "Can't they go play in the parking lot?" My mother wished whistfully yesterday. But they can't because it's so cold. And it's only November.

Friday, November 22, 2013

seven spiritual quick takes

Plowing through Job in the last remaining days of my bible reading plan. Job crosswayed with Isaiah and John. So Job lost everything yesterday and Jesus was crucified. And today Job was struck from his head to his foot and Jesus rose. And in Isaiah the Phonecians are a mess. Really disturbed, again, how it is God who draws Satan's attention to Job. I can see why Jesus would tell us to ask God not to lead us into temptation. It sure looks like that's what's going on with Satan in Job 1.

 On the other hand, the depth of Job's grief is really wonderful. We are too quick, I think, to jump to 'oh, I'm fine. There's no problem. I'll be fine.' I am so guilty of this with myself and of orienting my children that way. I'm always happy for them to tell me that they're fine immediately when something terrible happens to them, like being struck with a block by another child. Occasionally lying in sackcloth and woe on the ground and admitting that things are not ok would not be a bad idea.

I'm pretty sure that if Job were around today no one would be prepared to deal with his grief and he would be encouraged to take something and go to counseling to manage his problems. It doesn't feel like to me that the human person is allowed, in this culture, to properly account for great suffering and black evil. Certainly Job saw his problem as God's problem and turned his grief toward God, not towards a solution of feeling better. He was physically and materially destroyed but he recognized all the troubles as spiritual, as being in God's hands to deal with. 

I keep running across Christians--on the internet so not personally, I'm just reading what they're writing--who are really sad, unhappy, and not desirous of dying on the hill of upholding biblical marriage in the face of a whole world who wants 'marriage equality'. The trouble is, we Christians weren't super desirous of dying on the divorce hill, we let that hill melt underneath us and went on living. We didn't die on the abortion hill, however many of us would have been willing to die on that hill. So now the hill is marriage equality and while many don't want to die on this hill, many have finally been willing to. None of these hills are what anyone would pick. But eventually the hill will just be owning a bible, as we saw in North Korea this week. Will Christians be willing to die for just owning a bible, never mind if they open and read it? 

Speaking of suffering, the heating contraption in this house, I believe it's called a furnace however ridiculous that appallation is at this very moment, what with the ice cold air blowing all over everywhere, is malfunctioning. When I'm cold I feel in my flesh that God has rejected me and is getting ready to cast me into Sheol, gray hairs and all. I just can't stop being angry when I'm cold. And when people who enjoy the cold, who come in on a brisk Sunday morning into the church kitchen to rejoice over the biting wind and sloshing wet snow, it's hard for me to understand how Jesus can be Lord of us both.

Matt is preaching on the Widow's Mite on Sunday. Vaguely under the impression that he will be preaching against her. Good times, good times.

Me, I'm getting ready for Advent. Advent candles, prophecy cards, maybe even that Jesse Tree I sarcsstically considered earlier in the week. I do love Advent, almost in proportion to how much I loathingly tolerate Christmas. Not that I dislike the Incarnation. I think that part is swell. It's all the tinsel and the wrapping paper that stresses me out. And it is all about me. Me me me. See, I can get into the Christmas Spirit.

Seven may be a perfect number, but it's too much for me this morning. I have to get up and make the children do school. How many times shall I make the children do school, O My Father, seven times? Woe is me, not seven times but seventy seven times. 
Everything gets jumbled in the morning.

Have a great weekend and go check out Jen!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

{phfr}:blogging when i should be doing something else edition

Look how beautiful my house at home in Africa is right now! Miss it lots. Specially as apparently the temperature is going to fall into the 20s here over the weekend.
[picture by Miranda Jemphrey]
I hope most, if not all, of the many rooms The Lord is preparing for me look like all the rooms in this house. The cool floors, the thatch, the water jars, though not the snakes and termites and scorpions. 
We indulged in a lovely dinner with the vestry and the bishop at a pillar of a local restaurant on Saturday. Here is His Grace having a properly good time.
Why is it that when I consider the word {happy}--a word which, in my soul, I don't really approve of, a word which is rarely applied to me, a word misused and ruined by this culture, what is happiness anyway? Here for a moment and then gone suddenly in a breath--it usually has to do with food. Well...never mind Usually. Always.
This morning I made pancakes but fell short on the subject of milk and was forced into Sour Cream and Apple Cider.
If you are able, I commend you to throw out all your milk if you are setting about to make pancakes. Walk the narrow and luscious way of Apple Cider and Sour Cream. Yea, even I tasted one of these golden orbs (self satisfied delight for finally working that into an actual sentence) though did not eat a whole stack. For, though my soul draws nigh unto the Apple Cider Sour Cream Pancake, yet in my flesh I shall hate myself a whole lot for eating one. Forced myself to eat a bacon soaked egg instead.
Alouicious is turning out to be sarcastic and funny, and to have pretty good timing. Without humor, where would we be? Super depressed all the time that's where.
The garden is dead and dying.
I haven't been out to cut anything back or plant bulbs or anything. Can't face it. It's too cold already.
Also, my desk is a tragic wreck. So wrecked don't even know where or when to begin to cope with it or clean it or pitch it all in the rubbish heap or consign it to the fire that never dies and the worm that goes on forever. Pity, because there's actually a lot of work I'm supposed to do buried in its depth. Praying for God to do something supernatural, or for death.
Probably I'll still be here tomorrow, doing seven quick takes or something.