17 March 2008

Blessed are the Barren

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson published "Blessed are the Barren" in Christianity Today last December, and I have had the article open in a tab almost ever since. I have read the first paragraph countless times, remembered that the essay was eight pages long, and switched to another tab with the good intent of reading the entire essay when I had time. But then I would forget. Today, I remembered and had the time. So today I can hardly believe I waited this long to read it.

Wilson takes a her sweet time lamenting barrenness, which will rightly make those of us who have borne babies want to weep. And she writes with a tender harshness about the reality of adoption, really calling the Church to love it with tears, knowing that it always also means grief, or else. Finally, she concludes:

"And so the barren, and the adopted, and the adoptive, live in the middle of an apocalyptic blessing. It is an uneasy way to live before the end has come. There is always something of a reproach in it, to ourselves and to others. It constantly asks us whether we believe in the resurrection of the dead."

So please make the time and read this essay; don't open it in a tab and wait three months like I did. And live the apocalypse of adoption.

Tiger Roars

I'm disappointed that this story didn't mention how I creamed Tiger last week in the last match of the Tiger Challenge on his Wii golf game. Now we all know.

If only he'd had a sock


10 March 2008

Women in Christianity and Islam

Weekend before last, I served as co-leader of a discussion on "Women in Christianity and Islam" for a Christian-Muslim Relations program organized by the Christian Leadership Center at Centenary. What glorious fun. And it left me with much to think about regarding biblical womanhood, the grace of God through Jesus Christ, compassionate ministry, and real faithfulness. Maybe some other things too. But in an effort to at least post some bits about this, here are some lessons I learned from the experience:

1) Lesson: putting a face to those who don't love Jesus as the Redeemer is a blessed thing indeed. It was a true blessing for me personally to meet and dialogue with the Muslim convert who served as the other co-leader for our session (let's call her Asna). She is a learned woman and I look forward to developing a friendship with her.

2) Lesson: regarding womanhood and faith, I have more in common with Muslims than with most Christians. That is, as a complementarian Christian (one who believes that men and women are co-equal in creation and redemption but distinct in role), I have way more in common with Asna and Muslims like her at least regarding the roles of men and women than I do with egalitarian American Christians. Asna seemed intrigued to learn that the idea of gender distinction is in the Christian Bible too, and that at least I would say that the Biblical ethic is adamant that no sex or type of person has inherent second-class status to anyone else, that we are all equally depraved and then also, in Christ, equally redeemed.

3) Lesson: the issue of women and faith might serve as an entry point for interfaith ministry. My presentation just hinted at the distinctions between complementarian and egalitarian views in Christianity, and Asna's just hinted at the issues relevant to women and Islam. Both of us had lots more we could have said, and our "audience" engaged interestingly; I am hopeful that we might see more discussion on precisely this topic in the future.

For example, Asna was rather intrigued to hear that the Bible does talk about head coverings for women, that the idea of veiling as such is not completely foreign to the Christian Bible. She wants a copy of the notes I made for my talk so that she can check out the New Testament scriptures I noted; she is eager to share these with so-called Christians who stop her in Wal-Mart and think she's nuts for wearing full burkha. I chuckled at the idea of a veiled Muslim woman challenging the biblical illiteracy of so-called Christians in the grocery check-out line.

4) Lesson: genuine understanding is an important entry point for interfaith ministry. The whole program, though it featured interfaith prayer and a panel discussion where Muslims and Christians called one another brother, was no kumbayah session of inarticulate pluralistic doctrine. Now, to be sure, many of those present (though the crowd was very small in general) definitely thought that, but that was not the overt theme of things. Rather, the overt theme seemed to be respect for theological distinctions even if they are not reconcilable; the general call was one of peaceful dialogue, which I dare say we should all welcome.

5) Lesson: be a person of your book. The last imam to speak in the panel discussion called all of us there to be people of our books, earnestly living out what righteousness we read there. He repeated it often, the importance of our books. At our church, we take this for granted, that Christians determine to live in faithfulness to God's revelation in His Word, and maybe we forget that it's not an altogether common belief among so-called Christians in general.

In "our book" we Christians will hear the call to humble but urgent ministry, to radical acts of love, to passionate and thoughtful relationship . . . all through serious attention to the supremacy of Jesus over all things. But most of the "Christians" in attendance that day wouldn't have agreed with that last part. At my lunch table, two women actually dismissed the idea of original sin as not in the Bible at all "unless you read Genesis literally" but as a mere fiction of the Catholic church. I was so baffled that I could not compose a reply. Later, they were surprised to hear that I actually believed Jesus is the only way, truth, and life, and that no one comes to the Father but by Him. I'm still confused as to how someone could call herself a Christian and not believe that.

But the point here is that I think we may find in our local Muslim community people who are willing to dialogue about what God has actually said; the larger Christian community locally may not, ironically, be as interested in that. Oh the urgency of speaking compassionate truth to those around us who claim to be Christians as well!

6) Lesson: hanging around people who sincerely believe they must work hard to earn God's reward will sure highlight the preciousness of God's powerful grace through Jesus. The experience of being with these earnest Muslims made me recall with awe at so many points that Jesus died to make so many of the things they desire available to sinners like me completely and freely. He has set us free from bondage to sin! His Holy Spirit empowers us to walk in righteousness! I cannot begin to describe, then, the renewed joy in my own heart: our Jesus is indeed unique, precious, exalted, and good.

Perhaps more on observations from that day and beyond later. But for now, I have an assignment from one of my students to write a 10- to 15-line poem in trimeter. I have two lines:

Cheap bread and pickled fish:
a side dish, not a meal.

Now for eight more and something for them to say. . . .

09 March 2008

Broken legs, broken bulbs

Today, I visited Grandma without Noel, which means decreased joy (for her) but increased usefulness (for me). I arrived and was almost immediately put to work. Here's how it went:

Grandma: Jackie went to Wal-Marks for me this morning to get a bulb for my outside, you know I burn it all night ever night. Those heavy curtains in my room, they're just light enough to let the light in, so that's like a nightlight for me in the night. Been out three days, so I been pulling that floor lamp there into the kitchen and burning it all night, but it's not right. Your Daddy told me keep this package when he replaced the light last, five years ago or so, one of these new fancy bulbs, so I kept the package. Five-year warranty, he said. Now it burned out. But Jackie said they didn't have the same one: had one 13 watts, but not 15 watts like this one. And she didn't even ask if they were gone get some like this soon.

Me: Well.

Grandma: I use that light, now. Kids walk cross my backyard. Your Daddy tied up those gates tight with wire so the men have to get back there to read the meters have to jump over. They could open it but they don't want to. But I need that light, now. Jackie even went to Radio Shack but didn't find anything.

Me: Well, I bet they'll have it at Home Depot right up here. Let me go for you. I'll be back in 15 minutes.

Grandma: No, Jenny, you'll break your leg.

Me: Break my what? I don't think so.

Grandma: Now I just don't know what I'd do if you went up there for me and broke your leg. I'd never forgive myself is something happened to you and Noel.

Me: Noel's not even with me!

Grandma: Still, now, you've got to be careful.

Me: Okay, I'll be careful. I'm going, okay? [This is, in case anyone reading can't guess, an incredibly shortened version of this conversation: it was more like a programming loop.]

Grandma: Call me if you don't find the right one.

Me: Okay.

10 minutes later, I'm in Home Depot and find something similar but not the same, so I call:

Me: Hey.

Grandma: Hey.

Me: So there's a bulb here that I think is just right, but it's not exactly like the package. It uses 14 watts instead of 15 [of course, this is better, but that's beside the point] but it is like a 60 watt bulb, just like the one you have. It's not made by GE, but it's cheaper: Jackie said the GE one at Wal-Mart was $15 but this is only $5 [not necessarily a good thing to Grandma]. But they're otherwise the same.

Grandma: Just come back and let's call Wal-Mart to see if they're getting any in.

Me: I think this will be good, really. It's what I would buy if I needed a bulb.

Grandma: Okay. [Again, I'm truncating the loop for the sake of time here.]

Back at Grandma's . . .

Me: Let's put this bulb in, okay?

Grandma: Well, let's wait.

Me: I know this is important to you. Let me put the bulb in. Where are some scissors to cut the package?

Grandma: Those scissors won't cut that.

Me: Why not?

Grandma: I can't get them to cut anything.

Me: I'll try them. [They immediately and easily cut through the plastic.] Okay, let's put it up. Where's the step ladder? And the keys to the back door?

Grandma: I'll come out and hold the ladder.

Me: I think you should stay inside. Every time you come out here, you fall.

Grandma: I think I know when I'm going to fall.

Me: Whatever.

Grandma: Leave that bulb in here. If you drop it, it will take me forever to clean it up.

Me: I'm not going to drop it. I'm putting it in this chair here. It's fine. [I set up the step ladder underneath the light fixture on the back porch.]

Grandma: I'm going to hold onto the ladder for you.

Me: I don't actually think that's a great idea.

Grandma: Why not?

Me: Well, with all respect, your tremors kind of make the ladder a little shaky.

Grandma: I'll hold on with my good hand.

Me: Okay.

Climbing up, I realize this might not be so easy: the glass parts of this cubed light fixture don't come out by sliding, so the only way to replace the bulb is to take the entire fixture down. That means unscrewing the two flat-head screws and lowering the contraption carefully. But we finally get it down, bugs and all.

Grandma: Let me take that inside and clean it while you replace the bulb.

Me: No, I don't think you should touch this; you'll cut yourself.

Grandma: Jenny, I think I know what I can handle!

Me: Seriously, now, it's heavy and kind of sharp. You'll snag yourself with that paper-thin skin at every turn here.

Grandma: Well, you bring it in now and let's wash it.

Me: I'll just get a wet rag. [I go in for moist paper towels, come out and clean out the bugs and such that have collected in the fixture.]

Grandma: I didn't want to use paper towels. That's my last roll. Besides, that's not good enough. I clean that every time I take it down.

Me: Every five years?

Grandma: I keep a clean house, now.

Me: But this is an outside light. It goes outside, where the bugs are.

Grandma: Your Daddy cleaned that real well last time he changed the bulb. And that's how I always do it.

Me: Okay, let's take it inside. [I rinse it in the sink and it does look nicely clean afterwards.]

Grandma: I'll get a rag so we can really clean it out and dry it.

Me: But it's fine!

Grandma: Now this is the way your Daddy did it.

Me: But Daddy is obsessive-compulsive about stuff like this. That's not the way it has to be done.

Grandma: Well, I'm obsessive too. This is how we're going to do it.

Me: Okay. [So I take the rag and dry it. Grandma notices a few bits remaining in the crevices but I finally convince her it's just fine for an outside light. We take it back to replace it and I realize a problem: I've only got two hands, and I have to use one to hold the fixture in place while I use the other to position the screws and screw them in with the screwdriver. Hmm. I need a third hand. Long story short, I figure it out and the fixture is back. Yea!]

Grandma: Thank you, Jenny. Now let me pay you. [I groan but accept, with apology for having been disrespectful about the cleaning. She just chuckles; I think she actually appreciated the challenge.]

A few other issues later--namely, discussion of her taxes, search for Jerry's phone number, watering the plants with 4 gallons of water, and fixing the folding doors between her kitchen and living room--I'm off. Later, she calls me:

Me: Hello?

Grandma: uh, hello.

Me: Hey.


Me: Grandma?

Grandma: Oh, Jenny, hi.

Me: Hey. You okay?

Grandma: Well, yeah, except I'm sitting over here in the dark.

Me: What? Why are you in the dark?

Grandma: Well, that light out there is so dirty I can't see anything.

Me: Grandma, I told you I think it's fine! Now you seriously can't see?

Grandma: Oh, I'm just kidding. [She laughs.] Now did you get home without a broken leg?