The Bruise

It’s become a rather awkward topic of conversation of late – the sort-of square-shaped slightly smaller than a playing card-sized purple bruise on my right arm just about half-way between my wrist and elbow. It’s not helped by the fact that I have quite a few smaller bruises on the rest of that arm. Human nature being what it is likes to jump to the worst possible conclusion. Everyone who sees it thinks it’s the result of abuse – and since abuse victims are the first to deny that they’ve been abused then saying that it isn’t only more firmly convinces them that’s the case. Should I cover up or conceal the bruise, the people who already know it’s there would think that I had something to hide, perhaps abuse. So I have little choice but to let people see it, to let people ask about it and let people assume the worst because that’s the only way to prove that’s not the cause and the character of my loved ones is impeccable.

It doesn’t help that I’m extremely pale and bruise easily as it is. Awhile ago, I realized that I had a mysterious series of bruises. I eventually figured out that sitting cross-legged while wearing shoes was the cause – something having to do with the combination of my own weight pressing down into the edges of my shoes. As for the bruise on my arm – my guess is that the likely suspect is that my dog has figured out that if he sits on his human then she can’t get up or go anywhere and he can always be sure of where his human is at all times. He’s a seventy pound gentle giant and putting some or all of that weight on my arm would be enough to cause it.

Of course, the other point of consideration is despite so much suspicion of abuse, it all falls under the category of “not my business” and that’s the limit of what people will do in the face of their suspicions – ignore them. I know that nobody wants to be the bad guy, the tattle-tale – but it’s still pretty sad that those who actually endure abuse can pretty much expect that you’ll ignore the evidence of your eyes and your gut instinct just in case you’re wrong. People don’t like to think about the unpleasant reality that they’re right and that their silence just makes it that much easier for the abuse to keep on happen to someone else they know.

I’d much rather that abuse was taken more seriously, that people would take a risk and report it and investigate it so that people who need help but won’t ask for it can get it. Everyone deserves better than to mark it under “not my business” and go on with their lives. What’s so wrong with being wrong, anyway? Wouldn’t it just prove that one’s associates are honorable? Isn’t that better to be right and silent? Given time, my bruise will heal – but my faith in humanity has a more serious wound.

Voluntold

While reading comments, I noticed one of a young mother who was frustrated that nobody seemed to want to step up and watch her children during church services no matter how much she begged and pleaded for help. My first thought was an incredibly unhelpful statement which I decided not to post. I have my reasons for not doing childcare. I suspect some people think they’re too old, too tired, and don’t have the energy or strength to chase around the under five crowd. Some realize that they really aren’t that great with kids and only like their own or their own grand kids, figuring they’ve done their time and deserve to retire from the business. To be honest, when something isn’t your cup of tea, it sucks to be stuck doing it without any real choices or acceptance of the thing that you really are good at.

It was a typical Sunday, almost exactly like the ones before it and the ones that followed after it, with ever so slightly discernible changes in the songs that were song or the theme of the message being preached as the most notable. The pastor’s wife stood up and announced that a volunteer was needed to watch the children, which consisted of her three sons and no other children. During the meet’n’greet, the woman in front of me turned around and said: “You should teach the children!” How she arrived at that conclusion was something of mystery. I hadn’t interacted with the children the whole time I was at that church. They didn’t know my name and I didn’t know theirs. I hadn’t shown any interest in children or mentioned children at all. In fact, the only way she could have come to that conclusion that I was a suitable teacher was if she believed that young women are innately experts at childcare. After all, I was both young and a woman. I matched the criteria completely.

My previous church pretty much believed the same thing – that young women ought to plug-into church ministry by serving in the nursery indefinitely. Once on the rotation, there was this unspoken expectation that they would continue to serve. There were two exits – one was having a child of their own and the other was quitting the church in some form or another. To remain in a church and quit doing childcare was to be constantly guilt-tripped about being selfish, hating children, and hating our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was almost a constant imposition based on the belief that all young women ought to take care of young children. There never seemed to be a viable alternatives.

Not watching kids was turning my back on whatever was meant by biblical womanhood. It was as if I was the pot declaring to the potter: “You can’t use me like that! I won’t let you.” There was never a moment to consider what my gifts and skills and talents pointed to another reality of something else that I made for, because having been young and female, then I could only be a nursery worker because the Bible says so. These days, when I ask about what the Bible teaches about Biblical womanhood, there’s a lot of quiet, beating around the bush that ultimately says that my role is that of wife and/or mother, preferably both. It says I can be/do anything so long as I’m submitted under the authority of my husband (preferably, if I had to I could be submitted to my father as long as I remained single but ideally I’d eventually get married). It says I’m defined by my relationships – somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother and that I’m never a somebody in and of myself. Related to the video – it bothers me that I refer to these people just that same way – somebody’s mother, the pastor’s wife, the elderly woman who sat in the row ahead of me next to her husband. I couldn’t tell you what their names were. Their names are less important than their role and it shouldn’t be that way.

These days, I’ve learned not to rely on the church. They can’t see what’s in front of them. While they would have me serve in the nursery, they ignore my increasing skills with foreign languages, my increasing knowledge of church history as well as ancient cultures, the finer points of theology, and my interests in other things. Obviously, I can’t be trusted to teach other women and children because I might corrupt them into questioning what the church is telling them to believe about their role in the church. These things would make me a great candidate as a potential teacher – if I were a guy. But I’m not. So obviously, the only thing I can do, and should do, in order to serve God is to watch children indefinitely because God never made women with another plan in mind of how they could best serve the church. Except for maybe as a missionary, but the idea that women can’t teach white men because they would deceive them and yet can teach foreign men suggests sexism and racism is alive and well. But hey, what do I know?

Doom! Disaster!

My father had been perusing one of the news sites, unaware that they now feature stories that are commercials for products. He found once such story, reading about a man who had successfully predicted calamity. He went to it’s main site and turned on the video. It featured a smooth voice talking in a calm tone. As the voice spoke, captions appeared on the page. There was also the occasional graph to illustrate the numbers. The story was that the man was an average person who had a few contacts in positions of power. He narrowly avoided disaster and then got into the business of scouring the newspaper stories for information. Eventually he was able to discern a pattern and start the largest newspaper you’ve never heard of for reliable proof of treachery, financial doom, and other really bad things you should pay attention to and be prepared to face in the near future. He talked about one such occasion when the government was on the brink of disaster, the politicians all called their wives to tell them to withdraw everything they could from ATMs just in case the banks shut down before their last-minute negotiations failed. Everything turned out just fine in the end though. But a governor from one of the states heard the warning that disaster was about to come. He shared this story with everyone he considered a close friend so all of them decided to go to the bank and withdraw what they could – just in case the banks closed and/or ran out of money.

Last night, ‘A Wonderful Life’ was on, and there’s a similar scene where everyone runs to the bank in a panic to withdraw everything, playing into the hands of the the guy that owns the other bank who is willing to pay ‘fifty cents on the dollar’ to tide people over as long as it takes for everything to return to normal. I couldn’t help but wonder if the guy was doing just that – setting off a panic trying to get people to buy into his product to save them from disaster that others won’t be able to see coming because they don’t read his newspaper, ultimately causing the very panic that he warned others would happen. Bailey had to explain that their money wasn’t actually in the bank, but tied up in building each others’ houses to make things better for everyone.

I always thought that was a better picture of how Christians ought to help each other, not as if we were a bank where we could expect to deposit $30 and later on withdraw $30 exactly, getting out what we get into it, but being investors in each others’ lives. Thing is, we have to avoid the voices that tell us that the best way to avoid disaster is to withdraw from others and put ourselves first. I’m reminded of a rather sad poem where a group of people are stranded together on a freezing winter night and each of them have a stick that could have fueled the fire that would have kept them warm, but because all of them figured that nobody else would use their sticks, they didn’t either and the fire went out and so they all perished.

What really dooms us is when we decide that we can depend upon nobody but ourselves. When we don’t trust people, when we don’t invest in the welfare of others, when we don’t care about the consequences our actions will have on others. When we do that, we will have little choice but to start the very disasters that we see coming down the road. Why, the only way to avert them is to fuel the fire that will save us, putting our resources to help others so that in turn others will be able to help us when we cannot help ourselves. That is how we avert disaster.

Am I needed?

Remember always that people want to feel needed. They want to help out and be a part of what you are doing. When you satisfy this desire in people, you receive their admiration, loyalty, respect and cooperation.
Other people can be a powerful source of ideas, of motivation, of business contacts – if you encourage their participation. Most people are only too willing to help. Most people are genuinely flattered when you ask for their opinion or their expertise.
On the other hand, you must not take advantage of people. Asking someone for their help out of laziness on your part will not win you any points. People are willing to help you only if they see you are putting forth your own best effort. No one will want to help you if you don’t help yourself. However, if you’re striving toward excellence every day, people will jump all over themselves to be a part of what you are doing.
And always show sincere appreciation. People will want to help you only if they feel you are truly grateful.
It’s very, very difficult to accomplish anything alone. And it is quite unnecessary as well. There are plenty of people willing to help you if you will only ask.
– From: http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/leadership_reflections/making_people_feel_needed

In most of my churches, the services are simple, show up, start with the first item on the list, end with the last item on the list and then you’re free to go. There’s really not a lot of ways that you be helpful because somebody else already has. Somebody else decided what music to use. Somebody else put together the PowerPoint presentation. Somebody else already set up the tables and chairs. Somebody else prepared the coffee and brought in the donuts. There really isn’t a lot to do but to show up, listen, and leave.

But every now then there’s an opportunity, a teacher or facilitator is needed to help guide a class. You’re finally needed – to turn on the DVD player, to read a few paragraphs of the study materials, and to moderate any discussion from the participants. Sometimes that kind of being needed seems more like being needed as a ‘warm body’ to fulfill a specific list of tasks – something anyone can do. Your own ideas and contributions, and by extension, you specifically aren’t needed.

People need to be needed, but people also need the freedom to serve freely, drawing off of their own ideas and contributions and expertise in order to find satisfaction. That’s something that a lot of churches are missing. You see, there are a lot of people out there who are disqualified from serving to fulfill the church’s particular needs. Kitchens and nurseries are their domain, but that’s their limit. What chaos would break in the church if just anyone could do just anything! Why, women might even become preachers in droves! What could be worse than that?

When I look around my church, I see that some of the millennials are teachers, choir members, and sound & computer technicians, and are always on the look-out for something to do. But my church is unusually well-represented with six of us. I think that the rest of us often can’t find anything to do. Either we’re not allowed or somebody else doesn’t need help. We don’t feel needed. Then when Christian leaders say things like “… as dross is being removed from silver, the church is being refined …” millennials get the message that they’re ‘dross’ and there’s no place for the impurity they represent in perfectly pure churches that don’t need them.

Ten years ago, the movie Robots had this slogan: “See a need, fill a need.” There’s a whole generation (or two or three) who are happy to do that – but the church doesn’t need them, so they volunteer everywhere else. Perhaps it’s a good thing, there’s no limits on who can do what in the real world, they need all hands on deck.

Of Freedom and France

1-field-of-flowers-wallpaper-3

One morning I had forgotten to eat breakfast before heading off to school, fortunately I knew that the cafeteria would always have something delicious available for breakfast.
“I’d like to have some french toast, sausages, and orange juice, please.” I requested.
The cafeteria lady, who was known for being kind, was a woman in her mid-sixties with grey hair in a short perm under a black hairnet, wearing glasses with a thick black rim and also a striped sweater in the school’s colors of red, black, and white, and some black slacks shook her head. “I’m sorry, we’re all out of french toast; but we do have freedom toast. Same thing.”
“What gives?” I asked.
“Some politician was upset that French government decided not to stick with us in the war that he changed all the menus so now we have freedom toast, freedom fries, and freedom mustard.” She answered.
“What do the French have to say all about this?” I asked.
“That they have more important things to worry about than what we call our potatoes. That’s the thing about freedom, if we truly value it, then we have to accept it when others use their freedom to do whats right for their people even if it’s not what we want them to do. Otherwise it wouldn’t really be freedom if we could just tell them what to do and how to live.” She replied.
“In that case, may I have some French-Freedom Toast so that I may have the best of both worlds?” I asked.
“Certainly.” She said, taking a red tray and putting a serving of french toast, sausage, and a container of orange juice in it’s compartments and handed it to me.
“Thanks! Have a nice day!” I said and then headed for my usual table to enjoy my meal. I had never before considered that freedom doesn’t always mean that we’re always on the same boat going in the same  direction. Sometimes you have to go in another direction and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re abandoning your friends. Eventually the whole thing blew over and everyone forgot that they were supposed to replace French with Freedom.

There is, I think, a link between freedom and France that’s easy to over-look for those of us on the other side of the world. It’s part of our history that the French gave us the Liberty statue and with it – this poem has reminded us of one of our chief virtues:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are a land of freedom because the French people helped us in the Revolutionary War, they recognized us as a sovereign nation and provided us with arms and were our first ally. Benjamin Franklin himself served as our ambassador to France. In short, without the French, we wouldn’t have had the freedom that we know and love today. We’re like two old friends who constantly get each other into trouble just to rescue each other out of it again. I hope that remains to be the case, come what may.

I’d like to think that we’re worthy students of France’s benevolence, and can do something remarkable; keep our doors open to those who are tempest-tost out of the Middle East and giving them the freedom and security that we have so thoroughly enjoyed. Let’s not give into fear, hatred, and mistrust. We can do so much better than that – and if we value what liberty truly means, then we must give everyone a chance to do what they will with it. I have a feeling that there are remarkable people who need only the chance to prove that they’re good people like we are – but we have to give them that chance for a better life, like France did for us a long time ago.

Good Help is Hard to Find

I was thinking about how the Bible says that all American Christians have the right to bear arms at all times and how many believers like to say, “Were it not for our guns, we’d be speaking a foreign language under a dictatorship. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”

I was thinking about how the Bible says that all American Christians must marry young and have as many children as possible and how some believers like to say, “Children are an arrow-like blessing that can be shot at the heart of the enemy through which America’s blessings from God will be secured for faithful generations to come.”

I think in both cases there’s an element of fear. What would become of Christian America if our faith in God alone came first in everything? What does it say about your faith if you credit guns for your security more than God? What does it say about your faith if you believe God, but just in case opt to have as many children as possible to increase the odds that at least one of them will become influential in society.

Sure, we like God, He’s great; but there are other things and beliefs that we like better. We trust them slightly more. After all, it seems that God sometimes needs our help so that we can take credit for how our actions paved the way for God to come through for us. Perhaps there’s an element of fear – that if we really did put away all of our guns that for some reason or another God might not come through for us. After all, the Israelites were his chosen people and he permitted them to be exiled and persecuted. There’s no telling what he might allow to come to pass to those of us who aren’t among the chosen people without having some guns around just in case.

We’re predisposed to liking numbers anyway; ‘there’s safety in numbers’ ‘numbers don’t win a battle, but they surely do help’ ‘some is good, but more is better’. That’s the thinking we inherited from an ancient world where death was a constant companion. Where young and old died with such startling regularity that it was really easy for a family name to disappear from history for a lack of numbers. That might be why ancient men had so many wives (and concubines), to increase the chance that at least some of their sons would live long enough to get rich enough to take care of them in their old age. It would have been seen as foolish for one man to have one wife with only one child or just a few children. It would have to be the ultimate test of faith to trust God without helping him in any way to do that which He has promised.

That’s why so many describe a spiritual poverty here in the states – with so many people never needing to rely on God, their spiritual lives are somewhat lessened compared with their third world brothers and sisters who depend upon God for absolutely everything. With so many people who know and understand how the world works, there’s no need to believe that everything comes from God or is ordered by God as those who do not know about such things tend to believe. When we have God’s back, it’s difficult to believe that he has ours. When we say ‘God helps those who help themselves’ what we’re really saying is that we’re not sure that God will help us when we aren’t in a position to help Him help us. Faith is just something that’s hard to come by these days.