Archive for August, 2011

Irene, Oatmeal, and Leviticus 19

Allow me to take a moment and pray for the East Coast folk upon whom Hurricane Irene is about to land.

God, it looks like there’s a doozy of a storm headed for the American East Coast. Lots of people live there. I’m sure some of them know You, and some of them don’t, but know You or not, they are all Your’s. Protect their lives and health, please. Look out for their hearts. Turn this potential disaster into something good, and strengthen the faith of Your people. Show us all how good You truly are. Amen.

Moving on to oatmeal, I found out this morning oatmeal cooked with raisins, cinnamon, and a little orange zest tastes ridiculously good. I added maybe half a teaspoon of honey to mine as well. It almost didn’t taste like oatmeal, but I suppose that’s one of the really fun things about morning servings of oatmeal. It seems to appreciate the company of flavor and does its best to support it. Give it a try!

Earlier this week, I was snooping the Old Testament laws, looking for information about the treatment of death. I was curious how God and His prophets told the Hebrews to treat death, dead bodies, and mourning. I also managed to get completely derailed, because there is all kinds of interesting stuff buried in OT law. The part I want to chat about today can be found in Leviticus 19. If you have a few minutes, take a look at the whole chapter. It’s well worth the look.

When I think about law, I, probably helplessly and without conscious thought, associate it with judgment. The law’s there, somebody breaks it, and – shazam! – they get judged. The law and judgment – or perhaps more accurately, punishment – are two sides of the same coin. One without the another renders both ineffective. Of the two, I undoubtedly pay more heed to judgment or punishment. Those effects are more immediate and personally drastic, I suppose. Some laws I’ll obey because I think they’re good and wise and benefit both myself and society. Others, I’ll obey because I don’t like being punished. I’m not always wise enough to see the value in those other laws and must therefore be ruled by some fear.

One value of law which I often fail to consider is protection. Laws aren’t (shouldn’t) be there just to beat the crap out of you. They should also be protecting you and others – protecting those who are vulnerable – from cruelty, injustice, and force. Let me pull in a couple of specific verses from Leviticus 19.

14(R) You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall(S) fear your God: I am the LORD.

32(AN) “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall(AO) fear your God: I am the LORD.

Don’t curse the deaf. Don’t trip the blind. Honor and respect the elderly. These were part of the laws given to the Israelites by God, and I find it fascinating. I have a younger sister with Downs syndrome. I’ve spent most of my adult life working to care for people who are often elderly. My job requires annual training on abuse and neglect. Would you like to take a guess on the identities of a couple of populations that are particularly vulnerable to abuse? If you’re guessing the handicapped and the elderly, you’d be right. They tend to be people without a lot of personal power.  For instance, they may be cognitively impaired, so they can’t outsmart a predator. Physically, they’re often weak, so they can’t defend themselves, etc., etc. They also are often not assigned much value by the other people around them, probably because they usually require care instead of giving it, and this also makes them vulnerable. Their personal weakness makes them fair game to some folks, and their positional weakness in society means they can’t always count on others to help defend them from those predators.

Apparently, God’s not cool with that human trend toward callousness and lack of respect for those weaker than others, because here He is telling the Israelite nation that, basically, the handicapped and elderly are people, too. He’s insisting that they be treated like people, and He set up laws to establish that. I don’t think He likes bullies very much, and I think He loves people a lot.

Know what else in Leviticus 19? Here’s the last bit of verse 18:

you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Funny, isn’t it, how you just never get away from love?

Quick Comment

I’ve got another post I’m working on, but this week has been much busier than I expected. Turns out there are finally veggies to harvest. Broccoli, blueberries, blackberries, and beans (what’s with all the B’s?) have all made their appearance this week. I haven’t necessarily been up to my eyeballs in them myself, but Mom and Rach have, so I’ve played a lot of backup. On my family’s blog, I wrote a fun post about dinner tonight. It’s kind of  a sample of what I’ve been doing this week, so if you like, check it out!


What Do You Do?

Last Friday, Shelah came down for a quick visit. We did some fun stuff (putting that puzzle together was hilarious, mostly because of the conversation), including taking some sort of personality/career test. I think Shelah called it the CVI. She was introduced to it through her job. She sells Cutco and works as an office manager up in their Vancouver, WA location, and apparently, they like to use this CVI stuff to get an idea about their employees strengths and weaknesses. That’s smart thinking, I think. The whole concept was hardly new to Shelah, which is why she brought it home with her. She’s been subjected to my fascination for personality typing for years. We talked about that a little bit, and it was a lot of fun.

It did make me think, though. I do that. One thing leads to another, which leads to another, and to another, and next thing you know, personality profiling has led me all the way to the book of James. I suppose they don’t seem terribly connected, but I got there thinking about my personality and character. I am a people watcher. It can be entertaining and educational and a whole host of nice words that begin with “e.” Generally, I am an observer. I think that’s even one of the types in the Enneagram. That tendency to observe (to watch carefully, to come to realize or know, to take notice) has in many ways been a strength. I see things about myself, others, and my environment that are informative, interesting, and produce insight. It’s been great as an amateur photographer. I’ve learned so much about how to take better photos simply by looking carefully around me and at the work I’ve already produced.

However, like any strength, habits of observation can also be a weakness. I can get stuck, so busy watching and looking and seeing that I forget to apply, to live, to do, and that’s how I got to the book of James.

If you want to get hit over the head a few times, I recommend James. It’s a short book, a mere five chapters that take up not quite three pages in my pocket-sized ESV version, in which James bluntly and uncompromisingly lays out principles of Christian living. He covers favoritism, the need for us to master what we say, living faith out, godly wisdom, the necessity of patience, and let’s not forget his advice about trials. According to him, we’re to “count it all joy” (James 1:2a). He’s obviously a crazy man, yet I find what he says to be convicting and compelling, particularly in this case what he says about a life lived in faith.

To observe from a safe distance is, according to James, inadequate for faith. It’s not enough to, as he put it in the first chapter, be a “hearer.” He says this:

22But be(AN) doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25But the one who looks into the perfect law,(AO) the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,(AP) he will be blessed in his doing. (NIV)

To be only a hearer is to be self deceived. Ouch, huh? In the second chapter, he goes on to say this:

 14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith(S) but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith(V) apart from your works, and I will show you my faith(W) by my works.

26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (NIV)

See what I mean about uncompromising? He tells us that not only are we lying to ourselves if we think hearing the word is enough, but that also the faith of which we are so proud and in which we trust is dead if not given life in our actions. It has to show up in what we do. Or beliefs must inform our deeds in order for it to be any good. Honestly, that’s been quite a challenge for me, to be a doer, to get out of my comfort zone, stop simply watching, and start acting.

Thinking about it this week made me ask myself what is it I’m doing now to live out a life of faith. It’s not easy still, and I’ve had years of practice now. I guess it’s not ever supposed to be really easy. It’s meant to continue the process of growth, and life is good at providing opportunities. Hearing about the debt which the American government has accrued has been frightening to me. I can’t see how it can possibly end well for us, and that fear makes me want to clamp down and figure out some way to protect myself. But that’s not what I’m called to do. I’m not called to hide under a bushel basket and bury that talent until my master returns. I still have to live, and what I should be doing is releasing the fear, trusting God with the future of me and mine, and continue to reach out. I’m still called to help the orphans and the widows, to spend my money and my energy and my time to help those around me. I’m still called to serve, something which my job and my family happen to provide me with many opportunities to do. I should still be loving the people around me, to allow Christ to reach through me to them and at the same time reach inside me and continue the process of perfecting.

It also made me wonder what you do. When fear, as Aragorn put it in “The Return of the King,” “would take the heart of” you, what do you do to keep your heart and faith alive? What inspires you? Gives you hope? Drives you back to your knees? What do you do?

The Way I Am

Trying to get a post written has been a little bit frustrating in the last week and a half. I don’t know what my problem is. I’ve made multiple attempts and been universally dissatisfied with them! Ah, well – that’s how goes sometimes. Since it is, and since I’m running out of time this week (yes, I know it’s only Thursday, but I have these things called plans tomorrow and Saturday), here goes yet another attempt. This one is going up, I just know it. In fact, this one might be a little bit different than what I’ve put up here so far, because I think I’m going to write about something that gets under my skin. I’m going to rant a little, mildly, I hope.

Something I’ve been thinking about recently, for no particular reason, is how irritating and frustrating I find statements like, “That’s just the way I am.” Generally, it bugs me when people say that to other people. I don’t like it when somebody tells me that. I don’t like it when somebody tells another person that. What I hear is not only “That’s just the way I am.” I’m also hearing, “Deal with it, because I’m not changing.” My reaction to that idea is something like an loud internal buzzer that you might hear on a game show after somebody gave the wrong answer. BBZZZZZZZZTTT!! “Nope,” I think. “Bad plan, man. Welcome to the museum, ‘cuz that’s where dinosaurs and OTHER FOSSILS (fossil – once living matter now turned to stone) hang out.” I really do not like being told, “That’s just the way I am.”

Why would that be, I wonder? I suspect much of it has to do with my own need to change, to become a new person, a new creation. Some of that is due to my Christianity. We’re supposed to be new creations, full of new life, to be overcomers, to be growing and fruitful and pretty much leaving all that old crap that tied us down behind. Throw that sin off, right? It entangles us so easily. Besides the religious motivation, I’ve had to deal with the baggage of being abused as a child. One of the more pernicious and personally horrifying aspects of that wasn’t how much I was hurt, but how much I hurt others because I was hurt, broken, and ignorant. Abuse doesn’t cause a person problems simply because they were hurt and mistreated, as awful as that is. It also causes people problems because it replaces good things (experiences, lessons, relationships, etc.) with bad things, and dealing with the consequences of all those misshapen opportunities is painful and difficult. Unchecked, those consequences can rule a person for the rest of their lives, long after the abuser has gone. I had to change, to learn new things, to become somebody new, and one thing I learned along the way is that abuse isn’t Life’s only bad teacher. There are plenty of others out there, too. Nobody is perfect, and everybody has room to improve. Perhaps it’s understandable why I’m horrified by somebody who refuses change or even to evaluate themselves for the possibility that they may need to change.

But that’s not the total of my objection, I’m afraid. As I mentioned earlier, I also hear “deal with it” sometimes in a “that’s the way I am” statement. Ever had a conflict with somebody end when they trotted out that statement? I have. It’s an unpleasant experience. Sometimes, honestly, whatever it is is not a negotiable thing for them. It’s the way they see it, it’s how they are, and at times like that, it’s best to (and I’m generally okay with) agree to disagree. As long as folks can be civil about it and understand that a new boundary has been erected in the relationship, it’s all good. However, sometimes it’s not like that at all. Sometimes, it’s an excuse or a demand or an ultimatum. Somebody thinks they can do whatever the heck they want, and you can just suck it up and deal with it, or else. Lame, lame, lame.

And I’ve yet another objection. Once in a while, somebody says that because they’re really stuck, and even though they want something different, they believe that they cannot change. What a heartbreaker that is. It’s a lie, a great, huge, ogre-ish lie. If God can create this whole world out of the void, He can change you. If He can take a single man and turn him into a people that flourishes today, He can change you. If He can raise dead folks and make ’em living, I’m pretty sure He can help you. The lame walk. The blind see. Lepers are healed.

Come, friend, and be changed.