None of us comes fully equipped.

I posted some not very kind things about a certain Evangelical Christian woman blogger and author on my Facebook yesterday.  I was heated, I was very upset, and I was extraordinarily offended, but I said some things that were not at all my finest hour, and then this was posted today, a quote from Carl Sagan, who still has so much to say to us:

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and I realized that, even beyond being the Christian that I claim to be (and mostly fail at), being a thinking person requires understanding that we’re not all going to get there at the same time.  And as much as I should understand that Christians will never be heard if we are not kind, so is true for thinkers and scientists.  I can yell at the top of my lungs about proof and numbers that support my point, and I do have a LOT of evidence, but if I am also not compassionate, if I don’t stop to think about the language that I use, maybe I’m no better than people who don’t have the same evidence I do. So, “let us temper our criticism with kindness.”  In fact, let ME temper my own criticism with kindness, and let me especially love my neighbor who thinks dinosaurs lived with cave people and whose rhetoric defies all peer-reviewed evidence and logic.

Delusions of Grandeur, or Why I Like Ordinary

Another episode of “I am THAT Mom…”

Does every mom think they will magically become a lover of holidays when they have a child?  I felt sure that there was some switch in me that would flip, that would make me LOVE Christmas songs and Christmas candy and buying Christmas gifts and giving Christmas gifts, for that matter.

No such luck.  I am a super failure at all holidays – not just Christmas, but ALL of them.  I’ve had three full holiday cycles with my kid, and I can safely say that the everyday mundane craziness that lives in my house doesn’t need the holidays.

What I know is, everyday is about joy and love for us.  We don’t need epic busyness, long lines, and super saver deals.  What we need is each other.  We celebrate all the small victories, the potty-training, song-singing, spontaneous affection that happens when no one is looking, especially Santa and Elf-on-the-Shelf.

These last few days before Christmas have the two of us constantly in kleenex and taking meds for our awesome Christmas colds, and still we’re laughing at the ordinary.  And if the birth of Jesus teaches us anything, it’s that the ordinary shouldn’t be discounted.  It’s in an ordinary stable, in an ordinary manger, in the MOST ordinary town in Judea, where a young girl gave her fiance’ and the world a most extraordinary gift.

 

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If God has everything, where are God’s hands?

The National UCC puts out a Daily Devotional each day, a short meditation about something relevant or interesting. Some days are better than others, and I forgive that, because it’s only a few writers who provide a thought for 365 days a year. Today, December 16, it was written by Martin Copenhaver, who had some things to say about a paperweight he made for his parents as child, and they loved it because it was made by him, and by extension, God doesn’t need our gifts, but delights in our worship and love when we give it freely. You can read the whole thing here: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/what-can-you-give-to-the-god.html.

Seriously, Martin? The Bible seems to be explicit about what God wants from us. Micah 6:8 is a pretty good Christmas List: do justice, love kindness or mercy, walk humbly with God. God probably doesn’t need or want our homemade paperweights, but standing up for the little guy, helping at and donating to our favorite charities, fighting for what is right, loving our neighbor in tangible ways, those are the gifts that God gladly receives. As a parent, those things that I love most are the times my kid is independent and strong or picks a bug off the sidewalk to move it to the grass where it’s safer.  I delight in her growing up and becoming her own person.

Maybe when you were a child, God gladly would delight in your crappy paperweight of simple worship and devotion, but when you are an adult, that paperweight isn’t really so cute.  When you’re a grown-up, it’s time to have a grown up faith.  When you’re a grown up, you can acknowledge God with your hands and your work, you can “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words (St. Francis of Assisi).”  When you are an adult, God demands more of you.

God’s only hands in this world are our hands. God’s delight doesn’t seem to be in our simple devotion, but in the re-gifting of what we have been given, or in using those gifts for greater purpose. My talented atheist friends show me that it probably doesn’t matter to God where our gifts come from, or that God is acknowledged, but only that we share those gifts with the world.

Dear Advent: You are easy to love.

It doesn’t get much better in the church than Advent. We know all the songs, we’ve heard all the stories. It’s familiar and comfortable. There’s nothing new during this time of year. Advent in the church is like getting to wear your spiritual jammies for four weeks. We get to snuggle down into the Book of Luke like a fleece blanket and pray to the Baby Jesus, like Will Farrell’s character in Talladega Nights.

During this time of year, we get to forget all the really uncomfortable things about Jesus.  We ignore that during his ministry he relied on the kindness and hospitality of strangers on a daily basis, that he challenged authority and often put his friends between a rock and a hard place and himself between them and the law.  We forget that he showed everyone that no matter Jew or Gentile we are all worthy of the love of God, that we don’t have to do anything to earn it, but that we shouldn’t take it for granted.    We have duties to each other and to the wider community where we live, more than just writing a check from our comfortable pew.  We aren’t supposed to live comfortable lives, and neither are our churches.  We are – all of us – called to reach out in faith, even during Advent, even while we’re sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas Carols and giving gifts, even when the snow is waist-high.  Even when we want to curl up in the pew in our favorite Jesus fuzzy slippers, there’s more work to be done.

Baptism Day is WAY better than a birthday

I shock people with this confession: I hardly remember a thing about the day my Peanut was born. I took the drugs they gave me, and they were glorious, and then I slept through most of a fourteen-hour labor and then I gave birth to the most beautiful bald raisin-child I have ever seen in my life. Mostly I remember asking my mom why she was holding my hand and not taking pictures afterward and then throwing up – not my finest moment, but I blame it on the drugs; I have always been a lightweight.

I do remember almost every moment of the day of Peanut’s Baptism. I remember thinking how at home and welcome the Cooks and St. Luke’s made us feel.    I remember thinking how lucky she was to have three Godparents who take that title so seriously.  None of them are related to us by blood or birth but all of them had come to my life, and by extension hers, through the church in which we had found a home. And still nothing beats being surrounded by a church full of Episcopalians at a Baptism. I am pretty sure no matter how small the congregation and no matter how big the Sanctuary, the building must physically swell to hold all the grace and love it holds on those days.

At a Baptism in the Episcopal Church, the Parents and Godparents are asked to do two things: Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life? and Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ? I might say that the latter would fill me with fear, and maybe it should (because seriously, the FULL STATURE of Christ??), except that her Godparents are phenomenal people and Christians and Episcopalians, and if she grows up to have the faith and flaws and love of God and other people of any or all of them, I will count that in my column of mom wins.

On that day, when my Peanut took her first Communion and we all said the Eucharist prayers and we renewed our Baptismal Vows, she became officially part of the wider family of Christians and the smaller rag-tag family of Episcopalians and, I like to think, specifically, Kansas Episcopalians (adopted). And I will always tell her about that day. Not only because I actually remember it, but because that was the day a church full of Episcopalians, some she knew and many she didn’t, prayed for and loved her in a very big way.  And isn’t that the point?  That God did not give us these little people to raise all on our own?  Even on the days when I fail miserably at being a mom, I know she is loved by the church where and in which she was baptized, by her Godparents, wherever they are in the world, and by this extended family by which we both have been so very blessed.  On the thirteenth of November  every year, I will tell my daughter her Baptism story, and I will remember that she has a community of people who not only love her but promised to help her out with that whole faith thing.

When a Peanut turns into a person

This is my adorable child.

This is posed, but still cute, right?

She knows she’s adorable.  She’s well aware that she is hilarious most of the time.  She knows exactly what I mean when I start counting, but she still ignores me about half the time.  She is so much a tiny adult.  She holds regular sized pencils correctly, picks up cheerios one at a time, sits with her right leg crossed over the left at the ankle.  She is not a baby, anymore.

And I know all the precious moments we spend together really do make a difference.  The language that I use  and the way I speak to her affect her at a very basic level.  So, I know a stern soft voice is better than a loud voice, and the way I pat her gently to get her going in the right direction is better than shoving.  I see the way she gets our cat to move exactly the same way – a few soft pats and “Go, go, Roxy.”  She likes to line things up single file – including but not limited to her many different kinds of blocks and every shampoo and soap bottle in our bathroom.  She’s starting to dress herself, and actually gets her shoes on the right feet slightly more than 50% of the time. She reaches for things on higher shelves and she climbs on things to reach even higher shelves.  She likes to open and close drawers and cabinets.  She already loves the feeling of accomplishing even the smallest tasks on her own, and she would rather not have any help from me, thank you very much.

I seem to remember this time when she wanted my help, when she snuggled for more than 30 seconds, when she wasn’t a perpetual motion device for an hour before bed.  I do love this stage she’s in, all her energy and curiosity, and every new skill.  But I live for Peanut’s bedtime in a way I never could have imagined.   I also never could have imagined that nearly two years after her birth, I still live for every smile and giggle, I still want to cry when she cries (though I am much better at pretending to be tough), and I am still beyond stumped as to why my heart doesn’t literally explode in my chest with all the love I feel.

Missing the point…

I will not be asking or even encouraging Peanut to memorize Bible verses. I think it’s like finding the funniest part of Sartre’s No Exit and calling it a comedy. It misses the point. The Bible is a BODY of LITERATURE, written by many different people, or if we’re honest, men, over thousands of years. Much of it was oral tradition for several generations before being written down. Much of it would be science fiction and fantasy at best if we didn’t call it “Holy.” It is our canon, our Christian Story, our Jewish heritage, and it IS special, but we don’t have to worship it as an idol.

The current Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church is fond of saying that science and religion are two different ways of knowing that can and do coexist rather nicely for her.  She was first an oceanographer – a scientist – before her time as a priest and then bishop.  She says science gives up the nuts and bolts of life and religion and faith give us the WHY.  You can hear two minutes of Katherine talking about science and religion HERE.  She also says that you can answer questions with one or the other, but using both gives you greater depth.

As I’m researching options for educating Peanut, I’m running into “young earth” “science,”  which is just theology wrapped in a pretty, science-y cover. I don’t understand the need for God to have made each living thing separately.  If I’m a Christian, and I am, I think a God who put a nifty mechanism in place to make that happen is a lot more creative and worthy of worship.

I don’t want a God who runs my life – who I turn to for finding my car keys, avoiding traffic, or punishing people who aren’t like me.  I want a God who treats me more like a college student – I can call home once a week or twice a month and bring my dirty laundry home when it overflows.  To depend on God as if God did not give me my own two legs, two arms, and a (sometimes really clever) brain is not an option to me.

I often think about what I should tell Peanut about things – spiritual things like sin, and everyday things like why chocolate is not a food group in our house (though we don’t judge folks for whom it is!). I like to think that what she thinks will matter more than my current opinion on the subject and that I will ask her what she thinks about sin and what she thinks of our life, and whatever she tells me, I hope I remind her that at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean we’re right or better, and her job as a Christian is to care about people and love them more than she thinks they deserve.  A long time ago, I asked a pastor-friend about how she knows what she’s doing is right, and she said her measurement was the ever widening circle of God’s love – from Jesus to his family and the disciples, to other Jews and then Gentiles and eventually to us.  That is a benchmark – THAT is the point, the one I hope we never miss.