Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confessions

I know that one main complaint about blogs is that the authors use them to simply wallow in self-fascination. This post will do exactly that. For I lead a very sheltered life. I don't have any babies or puppies to blog about. Just ME!

Here follow my confessions:
  • I love saying the word lovely because I think it makes me sound British.
  • If I see someone I know coming towards me down the hall at work, I'll turn and take an alternate route to my destination. I'm an introvert. People scare me. Even people I like.
  • When the fitness lady at work shows up in the cafeteria at the same time I do, I hang out looking indecisive. Once she has gone, I go straight for the greasy slice of pepperoni pizza I always intended to buy.
  • My chick on the side said she got one on the way. (Oh wait, that was Usher's confession.)
  • My front tooth is bruised so that it's darker than all the rest. It can't be corrected with whitening. I fear that when people look at me, they see this.
  • All of these things. (My self-fascination knows no bounds.)
  • When I was 8, I was sitting next to my friend, Erica, at Girl Scouts. I said to her, "Your hair is big," as she had an afro with a prodigious circumference. She shot back, "Your nose is big." I have hated my nose ever since.
  • Mike and I sometimes sit on the couch and watch videos of kittens online.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Living With the 'Rents

Recently, the media has been covering the trend of adult children moving back in with the folks. Although recent census data shows that the trend isn't as marked as some make it out to be, it is often touted as an example not only of the economy but of how the younger generation is irresponsible and reluctant to grow up.

You can see the trend in pop culture, such as "boy lit" by Nick Hornby (About a Boy) that portrays men with a Peter Pan attitude or movies like Failure to Launch.

There are certainly lazy and immature people in our country, but I think those who live with their parents have gotten a bad rap that betrays our overly individualistic and materialistic society.

The trend of moving out of your parents' home once reaching 18-21 became possible last century with our rising economy. We became affluent enough to afford individual housing. This wasn't always the case and still isn't the case in much of the world. The vast majority of my 20- to 30-something coworkers around the world from Nicaragua to Bangladesh live with their parents. Not because they are immature or irresponsible but because they can't afford to live on their own, and no one would expect them to.

In America, we have a focus on ambition and success. Which can be a good thing. But it can also lead to a "You have to make it on your own" mentality. To be valued and respected, you must be financially viable all on your own. No help from on anyone else. That would be weakness. Those who aren't able to immediately launch into the American dream of a well-paying career have failed. If you can't make it on your own in America, you are considered a failure and an embarrassment.

This highly independent and success-focused mentality is not from the Bible. The Bible does say that we should not be lazy. But it does not reflect the individualistic approach to life that we embrace. The plethora of "one another" verses in the New Testament show that we are to live in relationship, helping one another - not as independent islands.

How much of our indignation toward people living with their parents is fueled not by their laziness but by our concepts of success and weakness? How much do we reinforce our overly individualistic, isolated lifestyles when we sneer at those who need help from others?

Our live-alone lifestyle not only hurts the younger generation. The older generation no longer has the assurance of a family home that they can continue to live in when they are not able to work. Thus you have people at retirement age still worrying and working away to support their lifestyle of living alone or the anticipation of moving to assisted living.

I am not a paragon of social living. I am the most independent person I know, so I speak to myself. I know that if I ever had to, my parents would welcome me back into their home, because they love me and would want to help me. That is incredibly liberating and comforting in uncertain financial times. It reaffirms that what is most important is not being successful and wealthy, but having loving relationships who support and help one another.

P.S. Mom and Dad, you can move in my basement when your backs give out. ;)

Deserve

One of the most over and misused words in the English language is deserve.

The abuse begins with the relatively innocuous yet ubiquitous use of deserve in marketing: "You've worked hard all day, you deserve that piece of chocolate."

To some degree, this can be laid at the feet of lazy copy writing. People who write marketing pieces often go for the easy, mindless pitch that affirms ourselves.

The less innocuous uses are statements sometimes touted by non-profits such as, "No child deserves to die from cancer."

Most people would read this sentence and find nothing wrong with it. Of course children shouldn't die from cancer! But there is a big difference between "shouldn't" and "don't deserve to."

The idea of what we deserve is a metaphysical one. It depends on the idea that there is some kind of natural or universal order that ensures us of or entitles us to certain things. Deserve depends on an outside authority.

Sometimes the government determines what we deserve, such as punishments for crimes. But when it comes to what we positively deserve, what in the universe can guide this? If you are an atheist then you can perhaps lean on a natural order of the universe that we must infer from. But the problem with this is that it largely leaves the task of defining what we deserve up to faulty and biased humans, who often won't agree. And many atheists wouldn't even support the idea that we deserve anything, because there is no metaphysical authority to back your claim.

On the other hand, if you are a Christian, then you would naturally look to God to determine what we do or do not deserve. Unfortunately for us, the Bible is not full of discussion of all the good things we deserve as humans. It does talk about people deserving punishment when they do wrong, although God does not treat us as we deserve. As my favorite passage in all the Bible reads, "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103)

Despite the fact that God's love for us is great, the Bible does not outline all the things we deserve when we have been good little boys and girls. It does outline all the wonderful ways God can bless us when we follow him and love him, but not as something we deserve.

The truth is that when we, or marketers for that matter, say that we deserve something, our claim is largely based on our feelings. It isn't based on any authoritative source or universal truth. It's based on how we feel. I worked 50 hours this week, so I feel like I deserve a break. Perhaps.

But back to statements such as "no child deserves to die of cancer." Really? It's horrible if a child dies of cancer, but is this some unalienable right that humans have? Does any human have a right not to die? No, we all die. Can we control how we die? No. Can we control when we die? No. If an old man dies of cancer do we say, "He had a right not to die of cancer?" No. We know that people die. Sometimes they die from cancer. It's horrible. But no power on earth or off of earth has deemed it a human right not to die from it, regardless of age.

We might say that bites the big one. That God must be a horrible God if he allows children to die from cancer. But that still doesn't give us the power to define the universe and our just desserts.

Our claims of what we deserve start with a little piece of chocolate, but lead us to make emotional decisions, rather than logically or morally sound decisions. For example, in the matter of stem cell research, people will be moved by the fact that little Jessica doesn't "deserve" to die of cancer, rather than making their decision based on whether or not destroying an embryo for scientific research is morally right or wrong or neutral.

In the matter of our marriages, our concept of what we deserve can lead to a victimization mindset and lead us to make bad choices. "I deserve someone who treats me this way." "I deserve someone who makes me feel this way." "I deserve someone who looks this way."

In the matter of our finances or personal habits, it can lead us to make bad decisions. "I work hard all day, just as hard as the Joneses, I deserve to buy this nicer car." (That you can't afford.) Or "I work hard all day, I deserve to drink that beer." (And another and another.)

Marketers feed our sense of self-justification, as it is already so strong to begin with. But often when we listen to these little lies of what we deserve, it leads us to make big mistakes morally, financially, and emotionally. So what can we substitute for this all-pervasive attitude in American society?

Rather than focusing on ourselves and what we deserve, focus on God's grace to us and becoming more like him. Christ wasn't worried about what he deserved. He was focused on serving, not because people deserved it, but because he loved them.

"Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:5-8)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Buena Vista Day 3

Today we had a lazy morning. Mike took me to Bongo Billy's for breakfast where I got a gooey cinnamon roll for breakfast. Then we drove up to the Twin Peaks and Twin Lakes where we took a quick walk.


Then we drove further up to the road for a walk down Lake Creek. On the way, we saw fresh mountain lion tracks. You could see where his long tail swished through the snow. This creek has such dramatic views.

Driving back to Buena Vista, we were on the lookout for Rocky Mountain sheep. It's the height of the mating season. Can you see any on this hillside?

We spotted a huge herd. About 40, including 6 rams with huge horns. They were so well disguised that you could barely see them. Even in this photo, I could only identify 35 of the 40, circled below. Luckily, Mike's mom brought her binoculars.

Here's a bit closer up, which you may be able to see better if you click on them.


Then we headed down for shopping in Salida and dinner at Amica's, my favorite pizza restaurant in all of Colorado.

Buena Vista Day 2

On our second day in Buena Vista...

We woke to this view from our bedroom:
We hiked the Chalk Cliffs in front of Mount Princeton.
We drove to St. Elmo ghost town.
We saw the beautiful Cascade Falls.
We soaked in Cottonwood Creek Hot Springs. (There will be no pictures of this, as we forgot our swimsuits and I wore the swimsuit of a much more endowed woman and Mike wore his boxers.)

We ate dinner at Laughing Ladies in Salida, delicous buffalo tri-tip, and accidentally stumbled upon the town's Christmas parade.
We watched Tangled in Salida. Very fun.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

This Thanksgiving is a little different than past years. Instead of being with a big group of family at home, we decided to go on a mini-vacation to the mountains, Buena Vista, with Mike's parents. We're staying in a new development in town, made to look like cute old homes. Here's the view from our porch. About a block up is Main Street.

And here is our cute little two bedroom home that we rented. Directly behind it is the Arkansas River.

It's decorated modern but cozy inside, with a lot of bright tiles as accents. My favorite is the staircase. Do you think I can convince Mike to do this in our home?

Before Thanksgiving dinner, we went for a walk up the Arkansas River. It was so cold and we weren't dressed warm enough, so we had to turn back fairly quickly.

And here we are before our Thanksgiving feast.

Now we're all warm and happy, spending the night watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, reading George W's biography and talking about church.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Date With the Family

As Thanksgiving draws near, we prepare for the all-important meal we will share with our families. If you need some tips on dinner with the family, please watch this 50's educational video, with commentary from MST3K.



"The women feel they owe it to the men to look attractive..." "Pleasant unemotional conversation helps digestion..." Ah, such a cauldron of cultural gems.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Walking in a Straight Line

Or, "Cheesy Sermon Illustrations from NPR."

This morning, I listened to a story on NPR about some interesting scientific research: Humans cannot walk in a straight line. The researchers placed participants in a field and asked them to walk in a straight line for an extended period of time. They did walk in a straight line for the first 20 steps or so, but soon they began walking in circles.

Photo Credit: Jan Souman/Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

The blue lines above represent how people walk when given no outside indicators of their path, such as the sun. The yellow line is the path one participant walked when he had the sun to follow. According to the study, unless people have an outside focal point, such as a mountain or the sun, people will invariably walk in circles. They don't know that they are - they think they are walking straight.

I bet you see where my cheesy sermon illustration is going.

Recently, I've been reading a book on how to be a fantastic wife. I just finished it last night, so I'm pretty much perfect now. Reading through it, I'm reminded of times in the past when I was a Class-A Jerk-Face to Mike. At the time, I thought my actions or words were justified, and I was blameless. But in retrospect, I look back and can see what a winding path I took.

I can't help but wonder in what areas I'm currently being Bratty Ammy, straying off the path. Despite having completed that book, I don't think I've actually reached perfection. But it can often seem to me like my path is straight - I'm doing good, being a sweetheart. Until something external ups and bites me in the butt to remind me that my character still has a long way to go.

Without something external to me to point me in the right direction, I will usually think I'm a pretty swell gal. It's only when I look outside myself do I see where I am walking in circles, off the path. When I read the Bible, I get that gut feeling of, "Oh no, I'm being a big brat," and it helps me see where the right path is. Or when I read books or talk to others, God will use their words to gently nudge me in the right direction.

Luckily, it is not hopeless. I am not in the wilderness with no guide and only my own broken internal compass. God uses his Word to guide us, restore us, and bring us ultimately closer to him.

"Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path." Psalm 119:105

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path." Galatians 6:1

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Hate Gardening and Other Sundry Items

I don't like gardening or yard work. It seems utterly vain to attempt to tame nature when it does not want to be tamed. But, foolishly, this summer Mike and I invested our time and money into planting several fruit trees. I know not to plant flowers or other tasty tempties for the deer, but I had no idea fruit trees were so vulnerable. All summer, in fact, the little baby trees had no leaves, as the deer ate all their tender baby leaves. This didn't bother me though; leaves can grow back.

But we woke up on Friday to find that one young buck had taken the tree destruction one step further. While sharpening his antlers on the tree (we're guessing, based on the gouge marks on the trunk), he snapped our crabapple right in half. Stinker. This morning we also woke up to find branches broken off our baby cherry tree. The monsters! Is nothing sacred?

Now I know that you're itching to comment and give me advice on chicken wire and how to garden and how I'll really learn to love it. But don't. I don't like it, and I don't want to. I just want to pout.

In other news, I took Mike on a forced march up to the summit of Mount Blodgett today. I woke and weighed myself (as I do daily) and found I have officially left the safe zone - the five pound buffer I try to live within. I've been singing, "ride into the danger zone" all day in my head. Having unlimited access to free gelato does have its down sides. So I've decided I need to begin being more active again.

Mount Blodgett is the mountain that sits just behind our house. If you perch on the top step of our staircase and peer out of the skylight, you can just see the top of it. We've long wanted to hike tp the summit, and finally did today.
Look at that blue Colorado sky. Have you ever seen such a sky? The hike was very steep - 2,500 feet elevation gain in less than 2 miles. The trail was also trecherous, as most of it was straight up gravel or scree. I wouldn't take out-of-towners on this hike. But the view at the top was beautiful.
You could see quite far in each direction - all of the Black Forest, the Wet Mountains, the Hogback, etc.
But it was such a steep descent that it kills the knees, and I don't believe I'll ever do it again.

In other news, we saw Harry Potter and it was great. And in even otherer news, Liz you officially win the book contest since no one else entered. :) I'll have the Vans bring it to you in Sterling on Sunday. You'll also get the bonus prize of a marriage book that you'll enjoy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Are Your Kids Old Enough?

As a second nod to the nerdly opening of Harry Potter, I really enjoyed this video regarding Star Wars. Are your kids old enough to learn about Star Wars?



And something else to consider...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harry and Arty and a Free Book

Tonight is the opening night of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I'm excited. Even though I know I will be disappointed, as I was with the last movie. (How could they have cut Dumbledore's funeral?) I am not dressing up as Hermione this time and waiting in line four hours. (Though my coworker is. The waiting part, not the Hermione part.)

Mike says that he is not a nerd based solely on the fact that he does not wait in line for hours for Harry Potter, Star Wars, or LOTR movies. I say this is insufficient evidence and simply makes him an impatient nerd. Here's a fun video to celebrate HP opening night.




And, on a similar note, I thought I'd copy my many friends who blog book reviews by reviewing Artesmis Fowl, the first five books of which series I just finished.

I picked up the Artemis Fowl series to read on my plane trips to China and Rwanda. Very fun. They are adolescent fiction, about a boy genius from Ireland who discovers that the fairy world actually exists. What's not to love? I love boy geniuses (married one). I love Ireland (I pretend to be from there). And I love the fanciful.

The writing is good. His ideas are original. And being your basic fantasy adventure books, they tax the brain very little. It's hard to find books that don't tax your brain that also happen to be written well.

The Fowl world is peopled with fairies, trolls, dwarves, and demons, in the tradition of Irish mythology. So if you don't like that, then don't read them. But I like it. It is a good addition to the great vein of fantasy literature of which (this English major never thought she'd say) I'd like to see more.

Free Book!

Lastly, I have a book to give away. It's a desperate attempt for comments. My father-in-law recently gave me a copy of Loving God With All Your Mind by Elizabeth George, as he thought it's the kind of book I'd like. It is. Which is why I already own it. Which is why I'm giving away a copy. If you'd like it, leave a comment and I'll pick names from a hat on Monday the 22nd.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Go to the Hospital, If

My coworker Rick just got back from a trip to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh where he visited Compassion's program that helps pregnant women and new mothers. He took a picture of this sign, which helps women know when to go to the hospital.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Make sure to go to the doctor if you have a tummy ache in the morning, in the day, and at night.

Make sure to go to the doctor if you feel feverish or chilled.

And last but not least. Make sure to go to the hospital if an arm reaches out from inside of you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our New Room

Last year, we had quite the opulent family vacation in Kauai. This year, we did hard manual labor for six days straight. You win some, you lose some. But at least we have something to show for all our hard work. We began the transformation on our bedroom. Here is what it used to look like.

We scraped off our popcorn ceilings, added new ceiling texture, painted the ceilings, replaced all our baseboard and door trim, replaced and/or painted our doors, painted the walls, and installed crown molding. It took a lot of work. So what used to look like this:

Now looks like this:
(That's Mike wiping up paint from the carpet.) Notice the flat ceilings, the white trim, the new doors, and the crown molding. I wanted fancier trim on the doors, so Mike used short crown molding on top of the doors instead of trim. That, combined with the blue gives it a Corinthian feel.
I spent the majority of my time re-doing the French doors. It took about 2 1/2 days. So what looked like this:
Now looks like this:
I wanted the French doors to look grand, so we made our own "crosshead" to go on the top, by attaching a flat piece of wood, topped by wider crown molding. I love it.
Macy's was having a great Veteran's Day sale, so we got our new bedding - a duvet cover and a bunch of pillows.
These pillows were ridiculously expensive (some were $75 each!), but we got a serious sale. I also got this sea-glass looking starfish jar, which is my attempt to make this room beachy and not just blue. We are eager to buy our new furniture and keep decorating!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Misuse of the Proverbs 31 Woman, Part Two

To Work or Not to Work

There are so many issues these days that have pitted woman against woman. Natural birth or hospital birth. Homeschooling or public school. Stay-at-home mom or working mom. Any of these topics could have otherwise prim Christian ladies suddenly dripping venom. It's because we're defensive. We're a little insecure about whether or not what we're doing is valuable and OK. I can feel like I'm not valued as highly in churches because I'm not a stay-at-home mommy. Stay-at-home moms can feel like what they do isn't valued by society in general. So we're all a little on edge.

Many, if not most, of my good friends are stay-at-home mothers, and I think they are wonderful. I am not questioning whether or not that is a good choice. What I do question is the argument that has sometimes been put forth that the Proverbs 31 woman is a scriptural mandate that woman should not work, but should be at home with her children. I think this is a misinterpretation of the passage.

First of all, we are dealing with two very different cultural realities. The current norm in some sets of American culture is for women, once they have had children, to quit their outside jobs in offices or schools or wherever and stay at home to raise children. They typically live with their nuclear family: one husband, a couple of kids, but no aunts, uncles, grandparents or servants.

The reality and culture at the time the Proverbs were written was quite different. The woman in this passage is even more different, as she is at most a queen and at least the head of a large and wealthy estate. Her concept of "home" is not a 2,000 square foot building in a suburb of a city. It is an estate comprised of many buildings, quarters, stables, and peopled with children, grandparents, extended relatives, and servants of many kinds.

It wouldn't have occurred to her to consider whether she should work "inside" or "outside" of the home, as that was not how life was delineated then. Her estate was her home, and she would often have been working "outside" of her family's quarters. Her work at home wouldn't have been feeding the babies breakfast, cleaning up after breakfast, doing the laundry, doing some grocery shopping, then cooking dinner for when her husband arrives. There's nothing wrong with those tasks, but that is simply not most likely what her life looked like.

She seems to have served as estate manager, and her tasks included managing servants, ensuring the food was ordered and all were fed, sewing (and most likely leading a team of sewers, based on her income), trading her wares at market, managing estate income, buying real estate, deciding how to use the land, and hiring workers to plant the land. This daunting list has lead some to believe she either is not an actual woman, but a composite (as who could possibly do that much?) or that she has a vast household of servants helping her to fulfill these tasks. Whether she worked "inside" or "outside" of the home is a moot point. She certainly worked hard.

In the culture at that time (and throughout much history and many cultures), the babies and children would have been under the care of a nanny or governess or whatever you would like to call her. The P31 woman would not have been a stay-at-home mom in the sense in which we conceive of it, as she most likely had others helping to care for the children as she took care of all of these other responsibilities.

She also wouldn't fit our modern conception of a stay-at-home mom, as she earned a serious income through selling or trading the garments her estate made. Modern translations have verse 11 as, "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value." (NIV) This translation has really lost something to the older more literal translations as it focuses us on the abstract value the wife brings. To some degree, I think we focus on the softer, more abstract value a wife brings (she's cuddly and pretty) as they are more palatable.

The more literal translation focuses on the material value she brings: "The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil." (KJV) Literally, the husband (perhaps the king) does not need to go out for spoil - i.e. engaging in tribal warfare to get booty - because his wife is financially providing for the family. Some Bible commentators theorize that he need not go out for spoil because she is thrifty and doesn't waste money. This is perhaps implicit it the passage, through what we can deduce of her character, but it is not explicit.

What is explicit is that she is earning money. And not just a few bucks here and there from selling a sweater or two on Etsy. She makes enough money to buy a field and plant a vineyard "with the fruit of her hands." I don't know how much land went for then, but in today's terms, it would take a whole lot of sweaters to buy and plant a vineyard. The husband does not have to go out for spoils because while he is "at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land" (presumably engaging in political affairs), she is earning an income.

Many modern men would shrink from this viable lady, finding such a formidable earner intimidating. Luckily, her husband doesn't find her intimidating and mannish, but as worth far more than rubies.

Dorothy L. Sayers has pointed out that it is no wonder that modern women desire to work outside of the home, as the modern home has shrunk:

"Let us accept the idea that women should stick to their own jobs - the jobs they did so well in the good old days before they started talking about votes and women's rights. Let us return to the Middle Ages and ask what we should get then in return for certain political and educational privileges which we should have to abandon.

It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry and - which would not please Lady Astor, perhaps - the whole of the nation's brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling, and bottling industry, all the bacon-curing. And (since in those days a man was often absent from home for months together on war or business) a very large share in the management of landed estates. Here are the women's jobs - and what has become of them? They are all being handled by men. It is all very well to say that woman's place is the home - but modern civilisation has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry to be directed and organised by men at the head of large factories. ...

The fact remains that the home contains much less of interesting activity than it used to contain. ... It is perfectly idiotic to take away women's traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones. Every woman is a human being - one cannot repeat that too often - and a human being must have occupation."

At the time in history that Proverbs 31 was written, there were certainly conceptions about what was the proper sphere for women and what was the proper sphere for men (such as domestic businesses vs. political and military business). But these lines aren't consistent with where we draw our lines today as the basic structure of society has changed. Some would like to present Proverbs 31 as the outline of "proper" business for women, as did Bible commentator Matthew Henry:

"She applies herself to the business that is proper for her. It is not in a scholar’s business, or statesman’s business, or husbandman’s business, that she employs herself, but in women’s business: She seeks wool and flax." (Emphasis his.)

Notice that Henry sees this passage as an example of business proper for a woman only so far as what was in line with culturally accepted traditions of women's work: buying sewing materials. The same deduction is not made regarding verse 17, buying and planting land. And he goes so far as to say that this passage supports that scholarly work is not woman's work, though this is clearly not in the text. This commentator's addition to what the Bible is saying is obvious to us now, as it is not our current culture to think education is only the man's sphere. But in what ways are we adding to or deleting from Scripture what is comfortable based on our own current culture?

Regardless of how much some may want it, the Bible does not give us a list of occupations proper for a female. Many of our conceptions of what is proper are based on culture, not on the Bible. Our income level, the technology available to us, and our cultures vastly change what is seen as the proper sphere for a woman.

None of my above arguments support which lifestyle is better, "working" or not "working" (working in quotation marks, as we know that stay-at-home moms work very hard). But what they do show is that using the Proverbs 31 woman to support that the modern American conception of the stay-at-home mom is the only way for a woman to live her life does not stand up to scrutiny.

What are we to do when Scripture doesn't give us a exact list of how to order our day-to-day life? Seek God. Know his principles through his Word. Pray hard. Honor him. Not culture, not tradition, and not the expectations of others. Live in such a way as to give God glory, according to his Scripture.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Misuse of the Proverbs 31 Woman

I have something to confess. Although I'm supposed to revere the Proverbs 31 Woman as the paragon of my sex, I've always felt a bit disgruntled toward her. Not because of her for her own sake. But for how she has been used, and I would say misused, over the years to prove whatever the current cultural norm of femininity is.

There are many misuses I can think of, but I'll start with one: Cooking. P31 has long been used as proof that cooking is women's work.

Perhaps it will sound absurd to some to still be prattling on about this in 2010, but prattle I do. In many places where I travel this is still the uncontested Truth and in many American homes as well. Once on a weekend vacation with a group of people, I questioned why the men went out and hiked during the day while the women stayed home and cooked for the hungry men's return. Why, P31, of course, was the reply. She has mapped out what is proper for a woman:

"10 A wife of noble character who can find? ...
13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard."

So, based on verse 15, many have reasoned that it is a woman's responsibility to cook. Is this passage strong enough support to make such a claim? Some say the passage is the writer's praise of his wife. Others say it isn't based on an actual woman, but is a poem for what a woman of noble character would look like.

In either case, the passage is not a Ten Commandments for women. It does not say: "A woman must be the one who buys the sewing materials. A woman must be the one to provide food for her family and servants. A woman must be the one to make all real estate decisions. A woman must be the one to hire agricultural laborers."

When you hear the first two, perhaps you prickle a little bit and say, "Yes, but it does imply it." If so, then why have we not extended the same logic to the second two examples? The wife of noble character considers a field and buys it. She has money at her disposal (money she has made working, as the context of the entire passage makes clear), and she makes choices about what real estate to buy. She then takes charge of the land and plants a vineyard. Based on the rest of the passage, we know she is also involved in trade and managing a large estate and staff, so she is not the one planting herself, but is employing field hands. (Similarly, she is most likely not the one doing the actual cooking to provide food for her servant girls, but managing someone else to ensure everyone on the estate is fed.)

Why do we naturally embrace the first examples of "women's work" and offhandedly reject the second? Why do we so freely use this passage to support the idea that women should provide food but ignore the logical addition that women should also be the ones to buy real estate and hire argicultural laborers? Aren't these also "women's work" according to the passage? If we cannot apply the logic in one case, then why do we pass it off as indisputable in the other?

Often, it's good to look for the original intent of what was written in order to determine the purpose of the passage. Jesus repeatedly looked to the heart/purpose of a passage in helping others to understand it. Regardless of whether it was written by a husband admiring his actual wife or as an example of what a noble woman should be like, the overall gist is clear: This is a hard-working woman. She is not lazy or idle, but industrious and productive.

People will often pair Proverbs 31 with 1 Timothy 5:8 to say, "See, men should work, women should stay home and cook." 1 Tim goes like this: "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." The context of this verse is actually saying that a widow's own household, "children and grandchildren," ought to provide for her, rather than having the church provide for her. (The original intent was not to say that stay-at-home dads are worse than pagans, as modern preachers would have it.)

The original intent of this pasasge is to say, "Hey, if you have a widow in your family who has no way of providing for herself, take care of her! Don't knock on the church's door and say it's their responsibility - take personal responsibility." In other words, don't be cheap and lazy - men or women.

Titus 2:3-5 is the third in the trifecta used to support the Men-Work-Women-Cook paradigm, which states, "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." So, this does clearly state that women should be "busy at home." The next verse states, "Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled."

Is the purpose of this passage to state (as many would have it), "Women should stay in the home, and not go out to work"? To my eyes, the focus seems to be, not on a specific line of work suitable for women, but on character: Be reverent. Don't be a lush. Be self-controlled. Be busy. The desired trait in a woman (or a man for that matter) is that she be busy, productive, industritous, and self-controlled. It's clear from many passages that laziness is wrong in either sex. Was the purpose to say, "women, stay at home" or "women, don't be lazy"? From the context it's clear that the problem wasn't women trying to work, but women having poor character - drinking and gossiping. So of course Paul said to be busy at home, because that is where the woman's world was at the time.

But it is always easier for humans to remember the letter of the law, rather than the heart of it. Thus, you find in modern times households where both male and female work. (This could be easy to question in our country where we could conceivably live on one income, but is much less easy to question in countries where the woman's income is necessary to have more than one meal for the children in a day. And the latter outnumber the former significantly.) So, you have two people working hard all day. And then they both come home and the man sits on the couch while the woman puts in another 4 hours of work cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. It's women's work. The man couldn't possibly do it. Or, worse yet, in some cultures you have the women working all day and night while the men play cards and drink and don't work at all.

People get so stuck on the "women's work" thing that we miss the wider purpose: It is wrong to be lazy, whether you are a man or a woman. Sometimes, men are allowed to be lazy because of legalism. They don't do any work around the home because it's "women's work," even when they don't have any work outside the home. This gets me really angry, as it is the life of many of my coworkers worldwide. The point of all these verses is not, "Women should cook. Men should work." The point is, each of us should strive to be hard-working and self-controlled in the situation in which you are put. If that is in the home, then by all means, work hard! Clean, cook, and wash. If it is outside the home, then be similarly disciplined and productive. God isn't concerned with your adherence to the right rituals and proper practices; God cares about your character, your heart.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wisdom Is

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3:13-17, ESV

We are going through 1 Corinthians 12 at church and small group, so we have been considering the spiritual gifts. If we have displayed any at different times, Mike and I have probably displayed the gift of wisdom. But it's easy for our types to become prideful and arrogant. So reading James 3 today, I thought it was an excellent checklist to see if I'm full of selfish ambition (my own widsom) or full of godly wisdom.

  • If we are wise, we won't just have words, we will have works - actions - that show goodness.
  • Wisdom is meek - it doesn't hit others over the head or bully them. (Some popular talk radio and TV hosts come to mind.)
  • Wisdom does not boast. The wise person isn't out to prove they're wise.
  • Wisdom is pure, and won't have any hint or stain of anything impure.
  • It is peaceable. One translation says it is not contentious - something I can often be. It isn't out for a fight or to prove it is right.
  • It is gentle. It gently takes someone by the hand and guides them toward wisdom. It doesn't attack and drag the other person to their way of thinking.
  • Wisdom is open to reason. I've always missed this one before, reading in NIV, which translates this as "considerate." NASB has it as "reasonable," and Young's Literal has it as "easily entreated." I love this one. Wisdom isn't obdurate. It doesn't plug its ears and say, "La, la, la, I'm not listening. I'm right; you're wrong." It is open to listen to the reasoning of others.
  • Wisdom is full of mercy. It isn't coldly focused on facts, but is full of concern and compassion for the person.
  • Wisdom is full of good fruits. A wise life will not just spout off intelligent sound bytes, but will live a life of goodness, and will bring forth good, not contention.
  • Wisdom is impartial. Another translation has it "unwavering." Wisdom, though open to reason, doesn't change its tune because someone important has the opposite view. It isn't persuaded by worldly things.
  • Wisdom is sincere, or "without hypocrisy," as NASB translates it. Wisdom doesn't say one thing to someone else, then go in the other room and do the opposite. Wisdom isn't a game in which we display our smarts. It is a sincere reflection of how we live our lives.
"And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3:18, ESV

When we are wise, we will sow righteousness in the world, but we will do it as peacemakers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Staycation in Goo

Conversation overheard at work on Friday:
Coworker 1: So what all are you going to do in your bedroom this week?
Me: Well, we're going to paint and change the trim. I really hope we'll have enough time to finish it all.
Coworker 2: Well you're just painting...
Coworker 1: Mike and Amber don't "just" do anything. They're probably going to be teaching themselves how to use a lathe to cut their own trim.

With those prophetic words, we started our week off to redo our bedroom. And, fittingly, I was cruising through a design blog looking for ideas when I saw a post about removing popcorn ceiling. Our popcorn ceilings have never bothered me. I don't even notice them. But Mike has a deep loathing for them. On the other hand, I have a deep love for crown molding, as I have a deep love for anything ostentatious. Alas, one cannot install crown molding over popcorn ceilings, because the edges are uneven.

So we decided to not "just" paint the walls, replace the doors, take out the trim, and replace the trim, but also remove the popcorn ceilings and install crown molding. Whew. As it turns out, taking out popcorn ceilings isn't very hard. Just incredibly messy.

We first took out every last thing in the room, removed all the trim and the light switch covers. Then we covered the floors with plastic and taped over the outlets. We didn't cover the walls because we're going to wash the walls and paint them.

Then we just sprayed the ceiling down with water, waited a few minutes, then scraped it off. It was very satisfying. But a huge mess. Wet goo was everywhere. Mike has it plastered to his scalp. I had it in unmentionable places. It's about the consistency of the putty you use on papier mache. It was also fun to use as snowballs, since there's no real snow to throw at Mike.
Here is Mike in his ski googles scraping away. Next, Mike used drywall mesh to sand the entire ceiling. Then he primed it. Then he applied texture. Meanwhile, I was taping and preparing our doors for painting. Now our arms are so tired, I'm not sure how we'll do everything this week.

Thx and the Death of Common Courtesy

Situation: You have just spent an acculumated 75 hours on a last-minute project at work that has caused a lot of unforeseen work for you and others. You've been working over lunch to get everything done. You even worked one Saturday. You've been stressed at night and not sleeping well, thinking about this task. Finally one day you finish it. You're so excited and proud to present your new child to the world. You spend several minutes typing up an email to inform the people who asked for your help about the project's completion. You hit send. You take a deep breath.

Response: Feeling good, you sit back and wait for a response. Maybe you'll eat lunch today. Several minutes later, you get an email from the person who asked for your help.

"Thx.

Sent from my iPhone"

You don't hear from them again until the next time they need something.

What has happened to the state of our communication? When we are so busy we can only type three letters instead of five? When our iPhones are allowing people to devolve into machines who can only communicate in monosyllables, rather than engage in meaningful conversation?

I don't expect love letters in response to a job well done, although one time someone did sing "You are the wind beneath my wings" to me over email, which makes them my best friend. Some people say that it's OK to send one line telegraphic messages, reasoning, "We're all so busy, just get to the point and move on so we can all do our jobs!"

But, really? Is a message like, "Thank you so much, I really appreciate your help" going to somehow bog me down in unproductivity because it took me 3 extra seconds to read that sentence? Is this really the biggest problem we have facing American productivity? Have you ever heard of people quitting because they just can't get any work done because people are so darn polite?

Or, more likely, have you ever heard someone say they feel underappreciated at work? Like no one notices the work they do or recognizes how hard they are working? Have you ever heard of someone leaving a position because of it? I have. Which problem is our biggest problem in the workorce - long, flowery emails that are slowing us down or demoralized people who slog through their work, wishing for some common courtesy? My experience is the latter.

On Halloween night, I heard parents repeatedly calling out to their kids, "Don't forget to say thank you!" Some kids would snatch the candy and run, shouting back over their shoulders, "Thanks," but most would look you in the eye and sheepishly say, "Thank you." If a 6-year-old dressed as Buzz Lightyear can comphrehend common courtesy, why are full-grown adults suddenly so inept at it?

So even though we're busy and even though it's hard to type on those tiny phone keyboards, please, use your common sense and practice common courtesy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Goat Hair and Sheep Teeth

A post I stole from a coworker, a picture of beauty based on Song of Solomon. Perhaps had I grown up with this on the cover of magazines, I wouldn't have been so worried that my thighs were too big!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Furniture for Nephilim

Mike and I are conspiring on what to do to our master bedroom. I've decided to take next week off as vacation to paint it. Doesn't that sound fun? I'm going to crank the heat up past 66; maybe all the way up to 70. Then I'll play Beach Boys, eat margarita sorbet, and paint our room in my swimsuit. A suitable substitute for vacation.

But we're having problems. We're trying to inch our toes into the scary world of blue, the color which we've decided to paint our room. I've always disliked, nay, disdained blue. Primarily becuause it was my sister Tara's favorite color. I had to rebel and differentiate myself somehow. I've always thought blue was for normal people, a group I did not fit in. I've decided to be brave and go blue, though I am having repeat blue panic attacks.

Now our problem is the new furniture we're looking at. They don't make furniture for normal people anymore. The furniture is all clearly made for McMansions and Nephilim. The dresser alone is 5 feet tall. That's only 6 inches shorter than Mike and I. Can't you just picture us with our fingers curled over the edges of our dresser, on our toes, peeking over the lip to see what sits on top of the giant's dresser? How will I choose my underwear in the morning if I can't even see in the drawer?

The furniture is also clearly made for bigger homes. Each item of furniture is about 30% wider than the reasonable 1970s furniture in our room now. In order to feel at home with my furniture, I'm going to have to gain 30% more weight. The night stands and bed and dresser are going to have to be pressed up against one another like hot, sweaty people at a night club who paid way too much to get in.

~Confused, blue, and sweaty in Colorado.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fall at Aspen Hill

It's fall here at Aspen Hill, our pretentious name for our pretentious home. We are enjoying watching our aspens change, sipping on fresh pressed cider, and munching on chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. The end.

(I'm considering participating in NaBloPoMo, which entails blogging every day for a month, so this counts as a post. :) )

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Open Letter to Worship Pastors

There has been something puzzling me for several years now. I'm writing this open letter to worship pastors so that the two I know who read this blog can respond for their kind. I usually leave worship pastors alone, because they must be the most attacked breed on the planet, aside from George W. Bush and lawyers. So here is the question:

Why do you have to sing so high?

I don't know why it is, but every worship leader I come across sings in a key unattainable by both men and women. The men alternately try to sing along with the leader and switch to an octave lower - going from Bee Gees to Barry White. While us women alternate between Sarah Brightman and deep-throated frog. Rather than focusing on worship, we are nervously trying to figure out which octave we can sing in in this particular verse, bridge, or chorus without embarassing ourselves with our neighbors. Or we just start mouthing it.

What gives? Are the type of men drawn to lead worship all tenors? Is it those skinny jeans you all insist on wearing? Or are you all enslaved by the key in which Matt Redmond writes in?

Recently, I overheard an elderly English lady talking to a worship pastor. She asked (read in an elderly English lady's voice): "I notice that the ladies sing quite breathy. You see, the songs are quite high. Can we sing any lower songs?"

I don't actually remember his reply, so busy was I giggling. Thus the need for this letter. Because of the highness of our songs, women only sing harmony in many church bands. It's already hard enough to "remain silent in church" without being relegated to harmony or deep-throated frog.

So what do you say, pastors? Why can't we bring it down?