Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Leave Her Alone"

Today's Gospel lesson

The other day I happened to visit the blog of a certain Reformed-tradition Evangelical author and professor -- it was one of those links-you-stumble-on-while-looking-for-something-else -- who regularly opens his page up to contributing bloggers. Reading through some of the guest-blogger posts, I noticed that whenever a woman was guest blogger, the reader responses became more critical, more patronizing, more preachy; lots of imperious mansplaining going on. (Sidebar: For an interesting discussion of this phenomenon, read Tony Jones' recent blog query "Where Are the Women?", the response of some women, and the response of Jones and other men to those responses.)

"Leave her alone," I found myself thinking as I read through post after post by nitpicking, tall-stick-afflicted know-it-alls dogpiling on one female guest blogger.

Even though this was all going on in a religious milieu different from my own, I felt a certain kinship with this woman. Like most of us, I suspect, I've been at the receiving end of nonconstructive criticism, scorn or outright bullying for being who I am, for saying what I think, for expressing how I feel -- sometimes as a perceived personal attack, sometimes as a perceived attack on a group to which I belong. (This essay, for instance, makes me feel that I'm not young enough, heterosexual enough or fertile enough to be part of this pastor's vision of the Reign of God. What I hear in this "missional" message is, "So die already.")

"Leave her alone." "Leave them alone." Sometimes I'd love to hear those phrases resounding from heaven.

But, thinking about this week's Gospel lesson, I wonder about the times when I'm the one needing a calling-out by Jesus for disparaging other people's expressions of faith.

This past month our church has been collecting surveys from parishoners. They ask what's been working for people and what hasn't in terms of worship, education and so on. FT and I completed our surveys after a particularly unfocused Sunday that just seemed to highlight things about our parish life that tend to drive both of us crazy, and so we expressed some of those frustrations in some detail. It felt very brave and liberating at the time. But in retrospect -- what if some line item we've chalked up to carelessness or incompetence is actually just the act of someone who, like Mary, is simply "doing what she can," however inexplicably or imperfectly, for the love of God? Even with the understanding that we were being asked to be candid and specific, were all of our critical observations valid, or were some of them simply projections of our own psychological stuff? I mean, I can be OCD; I'm someone who notices typos and crooked pictures hanging on walls and flat notes. If there are enough of those things going on, I get anxious and wanting to get busy "fixing" so the world is returned to my idea of wholeness. At what point is does that element of my personality cross the line from being a useful quality in a community setting to being a destructive force? How do I know?

But nowhere in this story do we hear Jesus telling either Mary or Judas, "Leave me alone." And maybe there's a lesson in that, whether we're the beleaguered recipients of others' negative judgments or the highhanded judges ourselves. That gives me hope.

Sunday Dinner: Latin Spice Roast Chicken

Sunday dinner (or what some of you would call supper) is a big deal at our house; it's a kind of holy Sunday afternoon project for us that allows us to take care of one another in a fun, creative way. (And  it's even more creative these days, with FT on a soft-foods diet while her reconstructed jaw joint mends.)

Here is what we had for dinner today: Latin Spice Roast Chicken, using a plump, beautiful bird from Graham's Organics in Weidman. We paired it with FT's Spanish rice. The chicken was wonderful without involving a lot of fuss; it was second-helping good, in fact. The chicken rub's smoked paprika has a flavor reminiscent of chipotle without the heat intensity, and the lime adds some citrus zing. If you're like me you might be skeptical of the hot oven, but this is the second time in the past month that we've roasted chicken start to finish in a 400-degree oven, and both times the resulting bird was appealingly golden on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. (Sorry, Mom-who-always-roasted-meat-at-350.)

If you follow the link, head farther down the rabbit hole and visit the original recipe that inspired this one, for an orange-enhanced version. I might also use both lime orange next time -- there will be a next time -- or I might play around with more Spanish-inspired flavors.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bored by the Bible

FT and I had lunch the other day with someone who does children's ministry in our congregation. While  telling us about some of the things she was doing with the younger members of our church she confessed that she was finding it difficult to keep the youngsters interested in Bible stories. You see, she's a masterful storyteller who can make up tall tales on the fly; and the kids, frankly, get much more engaged in her own highly imaginative stories than in the Scriptural stories the tall tales are intended to lead into.

I have to admit that, many if most days, I'm with the kids here. Sometimes, to me, the Bible is pretty boring. Sometimes boring on the level of slogging through the Gilgamesh saga, one of my recent Great Books projects and one of the most neuron-numbingly incoherent and dull stories I've ever encountered; sometimes boring on the level of, say, sitting in a church council meeting where some concrete thinker has spent the last 20 minutes parsing an obscure line in the church constitution that may or may not really have anything to do with buying a part from Home Depot to fix the broken furnace, and while sitting there wearing your meeting game face you're actually thinking (unless you've already dozed off), "Who the hell cares what it says in the footnote to line 10 of subarticle D?"

Leviticus...Numbers...I and II Chronicles...great swaths of the New Testament epistles...Revelation...for me they're kind of like the Gilgamesh bromance and/or the Council Meeting From Hell.

Yes, it's true: It is sometimes very difficult for me to engage with Scripture, especially the non-narrative texts, in a lively way. I can fake it by reading commentaries and contextual aids, looking for new insights there, or by reading sermons and essays describing what other people in my religious milieu have gotten out of their own Bible reading; but just reading it to read it-- not so much. 

I'm sure some of my readers will find this distressing or appalling. But in the spirit of Lent, even in the context of my very minimal observance of Lent this year (which is pretty much, "Oh -- I'm observing that now it's Lent), confession is good for the soul. 

The last time I was really geeked about Scripture was when I was in training for lay ministry and got to study and discuss it  in an academic way with professors who knew what they were talking about and who were able to convincingly articulate the idea that the whole of any given text, and of the canon of Scripture as a whole, was greater than the sum of its parts. But that mojo is hard to keep going outside a particular kind of supported atmosphere.

It makes me wonder how other non-fundamentalist Christians -- people who don't have an oracular, magick-book approach to reading the Bible, but who read and study it in different ways as part of an ongoing spiritual discipline -- power through the drearier parts. What keeps you reading? Have you ever consigned a particular book or part of a book to the land of  "been there, done that, ain't readin' it no more"? What are some pluses of tackling the entirety of Scripture -- good, bad, ugly, boring? I'm genuinely interested in how others deal with this dilemma...or if it even is a dilemma.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Wired Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five questions have to do with our relationship to technology: 

1. What types of technologies, like cell phones, computers, tvs, etc., do you routinely use? How frequently?
At our house we have two televisions, one in the living room and one in the bedroom (contrary to common wisdom, we sometimes find it helpful, after a tiring day, to unwind watching TV in bed, with no negative afteraffects); we each have a smartphone, the last-generation Samsung Galaxies that we generally love; we each have a laptop computer; and we each have a Kindle -- I have a tablet-like Kindle Fire that does pretty much anything, and Fellow Traveler just got a used Kindle from her upgrading sister that we need to add to our account. So we're pretty wired around here. We are usually within arm's reach of a phone or a laptop, and I do a lot of bedtime reading with my Kindle. Oh...and we have a seriously underused iPod somewhere on premises (I think in the family technology drawer under our DVR -- wait; there's another thing). I don't really enjoy "portable" music when I'm walking around; it feels like I'm missing out on important voices and sounds around me, especially when I'm walking outside. 

2. What social media and/or games do you like to play? How often? On which device do you occupy yourself? Which method of social media do you prefer?

I am not really big on online games. I do enjoy playing Scrabble with FT and assorted others (even though I tend to play for words, not for points -- it's just a thing); I went through a Words With Friends phase last year during our Florida sojourn but got pretty burned out on that; every so often I play Word Drop 2 or mah-jongg. If I play, it's usually on the laptop; I have such fumble-fingers, it's hard for me to play especially timed games on my phone. As far as social media -- for me it's Facebook (far too much Facebook, frankly). I don't have enough Deep Thoughts to tweet, and other social media outlets either seem too kiddish or too much like work.

3. Do you separate online activities between home and work? Or is it all the same everywhere?

Well, since I don't have a "real" job at the moment, it's all the same. 

4. Do you have a smart (or I-) phone?

Oh, yes. At times our phones are smarter than we are. FT and I especially rely on our phones for directions, since we're both directionally challenged. We have named our GPS app Priscilla, and she has gotten us safely through LA and Chicago -- no small thing. Again, because of my clumsy fingerwork, I don't do an awful lot with my apps, but I do like my weather app, my Yelp app, my compass app and my emergency flashlight app. And I recently discovered Evernote for my laptop, and downloaded the Android version onto my phone for tasks like finding grocery lists. I'm open to suggestions, though, for good apps.

5. What do you wish you had--or do not have--in relation to these devices?

I can't think of a single other piece of technology I need, other than bionic fingers.

Bonus: What is the difference between your attitude towards these means of technology and a generation older or younger than you?

Around here I think it's less of a generational difference than a difference of place. I am shocked by the lack of technological literacy in the area where we live. Part of it has to do with lack of access, both because of low incomes and because of lack of reliable high-speed Internet in some neighborhoods. But perhaps a bigger barrier to use is a sort of localized cultural aversion to technology. I was shocked, for instance, a couple of years ago, to hear an otherwise savvy young woman in our congregation state that, "My husband is the one who uses the computer. I'm afraid of them." We hear variations on that theme all the time around here from 20-somethings on up; although I think the era of smartphones is eroding that sort of Luddite refusal to engage with information technology.

And now...this exercise has reminded me that I don't know where my Kindle is. Gotta go!

Friday, March 01, 2013

A Neat and Trim Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five question, in honor of the United States' sequestration dilemma and almost inevitable government spending cuts, asks participants what in their lives could also use a good pruning.

Hmmm....lemmee see...

1. My hair. This seems to be a common theme among many RevGals/Pals. In our household we're about two weeks late for our regular haircuts; Fellow Traveler has had to delay hers because of her jaw surgery -- until recently the scalp on the right side of her head was just too tender -- and as for me...well, I've just been too busy. So my perky bob has, over the last month-and-a-half, turned into kind of a retro Moe-of-the-Three-Stooges mop. I have very thick hair, too, so this sad state of affairs makes me reflexively run my hands through my hair all day long, something that drives my partner and me both crazy. It's just too much hair. It's coming off next week though, finally.

2. My Facebook time. You know, I always intend to pop on for a few minutes just to see what people are doing; and then before I know it I've watched several cute baby animal videos, exercised my righteous indignation over various current events, played a few rounds of Scrabble and Word Drop, given advice/encouragement/random know. Facebook is the online version of a black hole, sucking us and our precious time on earth into its bottomless vortex. I could probably do with less Facebook...although these days it's the primary means for me to keep in touch with most of you.

3. My weight. Thanks to my genes and my love of food, this is a challenge that I suspect I'll have to struggle with for the rest of my life. Now that FT is on a limited, soft-foods-only diet that has made her shed pounds too fast, I feel extra pressure to lose weight too -- not only for health reasons but because we wear the same size clothing, and life is just a whole lot easier with an interchangeable wardrobe. Maybe if I made myself eat the pureed pork chops and pasta I make for FT, I'd lose my appetite.

4. Reading the Comments section below any news article on the Internet. I really need to wear a rubber band on my wrist and snap it smartly whenever I am tempted to read the deep thoughts of vox populi  regarding news stories. It's not a good way to inculcate confidence in the goodness and intelligence of the human race.

5. Sleep. Most people, I know, do not get enough sleep. And I've gone through insomniac jags where I wasn't getting enough sleep. These days, though, instead of luxuriating in my nightly eight hours, it always feels like too much the next morning; leaves me draggy. I'd like to shave off about an hour, and wake up at 6:00 am. That's the time that has always felt right to me, that seems to optimize my day.

I hope that your personal "pruning" is all voluntary and beneficial!