Monday, September 2, 2013

My Labor Day Reflection

 Usually, my thoughts about Labor Day consist of deciding which beach to go to and what food to pack.  The past few weeks, however, I’ve been running into an inordinate number of things bringing up justice.  Among the cute cat and kid videos, memes, and game requests on Facebook have been thought provoking, well written/produced articles/videos.  At the beginning of summer, a friend was talking about Haggai—one of the tiny minor prophet books of the Hebrew scriptures.  And since I couldn’t remember where exactly it was, let alone its content, I figured I should read it.  So I’ve been reading through the minor prophets for a month or two. 

In the minor prophets, the Lord repeatedly works to get Israel’s attention.  They had turned from God, and He was warning them of the consequences.  A lot of that turning away was idolatry and worshiping other gods.  But just as much focus is placed on injustice.  As the people increasingly turned away from God, they increasing took advantage of the vulnerable members of their society—the poor, widows, orphans, foreigners (aka sojourners).  [Side note, interestingly, that list is everyone who did not own land, the inheritance of the people of Israel.]

Malachi, which is literally “my messenger”, is a short book with simple rhetorical structure.  God calls the people out on something outrageous, the people indignantly ask what He means with such an accusation, and God cuts to the heart with specific examples.  With respect to Labor Day, here’s the passage that arrested my attention.

You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts."
--Malachi 2:17 - 3:5

This isn’t a general blanket calling on the carpet.  Those addressed are those who seek the Lord (“And the Lord whom you seek”)—which includes me.  I don’t watch or listen to the news much.  All the suffering is depressing.  I feel ignorant and impotent in the face of national and global problems.  I end up wondering where the God of Justice is.  Sometimes, I go as far as writing a blog post.  However, words should create.  God created through speaking.  Words devoid of action, devoid of creation, are wearisome—which is the accusation at the beginning of this passage.  The accusation at the end is that the audience—those seeking God, but with wearisome words—do not actually fear God.  How is that so?  Well, I cannot fear and honor God while I am (explicitly or complicity) oppressing the vulnerable.  True religion, we are reminded four hundred years after Malachi, is to visit widows and orphans in their distress—not to visit distress upon widows and orphans. 

I do not own or make the policies of multinational companies that exploit workers here and in Third World countries.  But I am complicit in their exploitation when I shop at their stores and buy their products.  I live in a society with representative government, but I have not made my thoughts and values known to my representatives. 

But, so that I don’t just have wearisome words, what am I actually going to do?  Well, I love chocolate.  I mean, it is a food group and part of a balanced diet.  I was surprised to learn that a whole lot of chocolate is produced using child slavery.  (Thanks to Rachel Held Evans exploration of justice in "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" for bringing Stop Chocolate Slavery to my attention.) My first action will be to further educate myself about this and to permanently change what chocolate I will buy.  Is my chocolate habit so great that changing my buying habits will have world changing impact?  No.  But it’s that feeling of impotence that has kept me from taking any action—that keeps most of us from taking any action.  I am not responsible before God for things that are out of my power, but I am responsible for things that I can do, no matter how small. 

If you need help thinking that what you can have an impact, take forty-five minutes and watch this documentary, "Old Radicals".

photo credit: karen horton via photopin cc

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Recovering What Was Stolen

I want to tell you about my freakin' awesome Monday night!  “What happened?” you ask?   The short answer is that I went to a Mumford and Sons concert.  And my car was stolen. 

Let me back up and explain.

For several months, up until, well, halfway through Monday (Memorial Day), I had been stressed out, crabby, not particularly thankful, and approaching burnout.  Picture an antagonistic Eeyore.  I didn’t like being around me.  Then Tuesday I was joyful, excited, thankful, expectant even.  I felt like I was the real me again--that everything that had buried me before was pealed off.

A word on my concert going history.  I’ve been to a handful of concerts, most in small venues seating two or three hundred.  The largest seated a thousand, tops.  Also, I don’t like loud noise, nor do I like crowds.  The one concert that I’ve walked out of was actually a worship concert about ten years ago.  I walked out because I nearly had a panic attack during it.  This was due to the combination of 1. being squashed in the lobby with a crowd that would make a fire marshal cringe while waiting for the doors to open, and 2. the music was so loud your heart beat in time and I had forgotten ear plugs. 

About two months or so ago, a good friend asked me if I’d like to go to this concert.  She is a huge Mumford and Sons fan, and knew that I like their music.  She also insisted on paying for my ticket.  I was going to say yes before that, but free concert for a great band—heck yes!  As the concert approached, I learned bits and pieces about what the concert going experience would be like.  First, it would be large.  It was at the Rose Garden in Portland.  This is where the NBA Trail Blazers play.  It can seat twenty thousand people.

Later my friend asked, “Do you mind general admission tickets?  Because that’s what I bought.”

“You’re paying, so I’m not going to be choosy about my seating!” I jovially replied.

“Well, it’s not a seat.  It’s standing on the floor.  We can be as close to the stage as possible that way,” she replied, her eyes gleaming with excitement. 

“Oh.  Well, ok.”  Pause.  “Just curious, how much personal space do you have there?” my inexperienced concert going self asked.

“Less than none.  It’s like a huge four hour long hug.” 

“Ah.”  Longer pause.  “And we’ll be directly in front of the speakers.  I mean literally standing mere feet from them, right?”

“More like directly under them.  But basically yes.  And we’ll be able to hear all the amps on the stage.”

“Ah.  I’m going to need better ear plugs.”

As the day of the concert approached, my nervousness about crowds and loud noises crept up and jumped my excitement about hearing a great band.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to go in and stay for all of it.  I wasn’t even quite sure that I wanted to try, since the possibility that I would have a panic attacks was rather unnerving.  But I did go, since, in no particular order,

1. My friend bought my ticket and I wanted to honor her by receiving the gift well.

2. It’s Mumford and Sons, and they’re pretty freakin’ awesome.

3. I’m stubborn.

4. I’ve been trying to actively confront fear.

I am very very glad that I made the decision, in spite of fear, to push through and go to the concert.  That decision made room for the opportunity of my experience at the concert.  My decision to try—even with an exit strategy in place—gave God something to work with.  

So what did God do and how did He do it?  Well, there had been several months of groundwork confronting fear, praying, and being prayed for, which had prepared they way for the catalyst that was the concert.  Put another way, the roller coaster had been climbing that first hill, and the concert was the moment of cresting the hill and plunging into the adventure.  It’s hard to put the experience, event, and emotions into words.  While I went in afraid that I might leave because of a panic attack, not only did I stay for the entire concert, but I had an amazingly fun time!  I went in browbeaten by fear and left jumping and stomping on fear’s ugly face.  Here are two highlights.

The lyrics that Mumford and Sons write are thoughtful and often draw from Christian imagery and themes.  One of the songs they played was, “Awake My Soul”.  Hearing 20,000 people at a rock concert singing the chorus “Awake my soul. For you were made to meet your maker,” is quite something! Singing with gusto and dancing as the space allowed, I prayed for all the people who hadn’t met their Maker there that night, that as they spoke those words over themselves, their souls would awake and they would see, and would meet the One who made them and loves them.  It was really something interceding for an arena full of people!

Mumford and Sons closed the concert with the song, “The Cave.”  If you’re not familiar with the song, you should watch the video or read the lyrics here.  No really, go ahead and watch it.

The song talks about walking away from fear, holding on to hope, and walking in boldness and trust.  Which is exactly what I’ve been resolving to do and what God’s been pushing me towards.  It also happens to be my favorite Mumford and Sons song.

For the duration of the concert I was three “rows” back (i.e. standing behind two people).  My friend was two rows back.  When “The Cave” started, she pulled me forward and swapped places with me.  I had doubted that being six inches closer to the stage made much difference, but it does!  Her literal invitation forward was also a symbolic spiritual invitation forward.  I sang and danced and declared and proclaimed and worshiped!  It was one of the most intense and joyful and triumphant God times—right in the midst of a rock concert.  It is difficult to explain, but it was awesome!  I went in almost expecting the crippling anxiety of a panic attack, and instead found:  boldness, joy, trust, rest.  I hadn’t realized the extent to which fear had stolen these from me.  Where I least expected it, in the midst of a throng of people, at a deafeningly loud concert, God recovered what was stolen. 

As we left the concert all hyped up from the energy of it, I was also bouncing off the proverbial walls from excitement and joy, jumping and skipping as we walked back to my car.  We had found street parking to avoid the exorbitant cost of the parking garage, and just before we rounded the last corner to where my car was, I thought, “My car’s not going to be there.”  This thought surprised me.  It wasn’t a pessimistic thought, it was just matter of fact.  And ten feet later, sure enough, empty parking spot.  Falcor, my highly coveted teal green ’94 Ford Escort wagon was nowhere to be seen. 

In that instant I had a choice.  I could freak out because my car was stolen.  Or, I could trust.  Interesting, seeing as how I had just made this huge declaration of trust, not more than twenty minutes ago!  So I knelt down and committed to trust God with my car and my transportation needs.  I realize this sounds crazy.  Honestly I do.  I mean, my car was stolen.  How could I possibly be calm?  And eight hours earlier I would have been anything but calm and trusting.  Had my car been stolen that morning instead of that night, I would have had a cow freaking out, worrying about how I’d get to work, how I’d replace it—my worst case scenario brain would have been in overdrive.  But my roller coaster had crested the hill, and I deliberately chose not to go backwards.  Fear had been broken.  I would not let it back in.  So I trusted. 

(Side note.  Before this sounds like a works mentality, where the responsibility is on me to make things happen, let me say this.  What I did was choose.  God provided the grace and momentum.  I chose to get on the roller coaster.  God powered it up the hill and off through the adventure of the ride.)

Now, I’ve left out a lot of cool pieces of the story (since this is a blog post and not a book!).  There’s what should have been in my car when it was stolen, but by “chance” wasn’t in my car that day.  There’s the faith building adventure of safely—and completely without incident—traveling home across town without a car after midnight!  And then there’s how so many friends offered rides, baked cookies, lent me their truck for the week and insisted that I stay for dinner when I picked it up.  :o)  My car was stolen on Monday, but I am the most content, peaceful, joyful, and grateful I’ve been in many months!

My main emotional reaction specifically to the car is that I am mostly indignant that the enemy of our souls would try something as petty as stealing my car to try to distract and get me to live in fear again. I made the conscious decision to separate the experience of the concert from my car being stolen.  Because I could remember the night for what I experienced during the concert or I could let it be tainted and spoiled by the theft of my car.  But I chose to recover what was stolen—joy, boldness, trust, rest. 

Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again
  --“The Cave”  Mumford and Sons

**as of Satuday morning (6/1) Falcor is still missing.  I will update when he is found.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes

Just a heads up:  this post really lives up to the blog name, "theological ramblings."  No grand revelation today.  Just some (admittedly one sided) questions.

So, there's this phrase kicked around the Christian circles I've been in--"going round the mountain."  It's a loose reference to when the Israelites were in the wilderness after God freed them from Egypt.  They could have entered the promised land in a few short months, but they failed the test, didn't trust God, and ended up wandering in the desert, going around the mountain, for 40 years, until that untrusting generation died.  When the phrase is used in Christianese it means something like not learning a lesson, therefore having to travel a long journey again, only to face the same lesson/test again.  But generally it takes more time the second (or third or fourth) go round, and is more painful.  The phrase also implies wasting or squandering time or opportunity. 

I'm a really good student.  That's in large part because I'm a great test taker.  Academically, I love tests.  When I worked in pest control, the company was trying to move into treating roses, which required an endorsement that almost no one had.  So they said anyone who passed the test and got that endorsement on their license would get a $500 bonus.  You want to pay me to pass a test?  That's freakin' awesome!  I was one of the first to get that endorsement.  (And I've been looking for the job that would pay me to take tests ever since.  Let me know if you hear of something like that, ok?)

But (there's always a big but in the way, isn't there?) that's just academic tests.  When it comes to life tests, I get petrified and paralyzed.  Terrified that I'm going to screw it up, and end up going around that mountain again.  The pressure mounts when some other bible verses start kicking around my head.  Like "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).  And Mark 9:19, where after the transfiguration, Jesus says to his disciples who can't heal a mute possessed boy, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?"  When faced with a situation that requires action, and that situation looks similar to some other situation I've been in before, I'm frozen.  I don't want to get it wrong, fail, waste time.  When I'm stuck not knowing what to do, I realize I don't have faith in any of the options I have.  I get more stuck.  If I'm clueless about what to do, how can anything I do please God?  I don't want to miss out on achieving all that could be achieved.  It's a vicious cycle.  Much like thrashing about in quicksand, and only getting sucked deeper down. 

There's a passage in the book, The Shack, that comes back to me from time to time.  The character Mackenzie is talking with God, aka Papa.  (If you haven't read this book, you should.)

"Why do you love someone who is such a screw-up?  After all the things I've felt in my  heart toward you and all the accusations I made, why would you even bother to keep trying to get through to me?"

"Because that is what love does," answered Papa.  "Remember, Mackenzie, I don't wonder what you will do or what choices you will make.  I already know.  Let's say, for example, I am trying to teach you how not to hide inside of lies, hypothetically of course," she said with a wink. "And let's say that I know it will take you forty-seven situations and events before you will actually hear me--that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change.  So when you don't hear me the first time, I'm not frustrated or disappointed, I'm thrilled.  Only forty-six more times to go.  And that first time will be a building block to construct a bridge of healing that one day--that today--you will walk across."  (pg 186-187)

While that's a really cool story, and potentially very freeing, it's fiction.  Now, fiction is a great conveyor of truth!  But, not everything in fiction is truth.  I'm a big big fan of orthodoxy and orthopraxy (right belief and right action).  So I'm cautious in wholeheartedly embracing the idea of this quote.  But the thought occurred, what if God views "going 'round the mountain" not as failure, but as a step closer? 

Tuesday, I was walking and thinking, and it seemed like God asked me a few questions.  One was, "Do you trust Me?" with a certain situation implied.  To which I sheepishly, but honestly, replied, "No."  He asked a couple other questions, and I answered those, too, sheepishly, but honestly.  Then I said, "And I know these aren't the right answers."  It seemed that God replied, with some passion, "I don't want right answers.  I want your heart." 

Here is where the pithy closing line of the blog comes, where it closes things nicely, or hooks you with a cool twist on a thought, and you come back for more.  But I don't have a pithy closing line for this one.  I just have a desire to go hiking this weekend and see if God might want to elaborate. 

photo credit: bretvogel via photopin cc

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tilting at Windmills

The desire rises.
Lapping against the bulwarks
—structures designed to buy time—
until it finds the cracks. 
Trickling, pouring, flooding, it picks me up and throws me.
To resist is to drown.

The desire—for travel, distance, to put miles between me and all this.
To hear a different water lapping, crashing.
To look up at points of light, long looked to for navigation.
To ponder and solve the cosmic questions, problems of grandeur.
To forever leave the mundane behind.

Longing for grand adventure and challenges,
whilst drowning in the common.

Would that I could see the windmills afresh,
and tilt once more!

But, alas, (and woe to us!) this world crushes
grinds like wheat the idealistic,
discards like chaff the naively noble,
until they, too, gnash their teeth
and use their weeping tears to oil the machinery that crushes their fellows. 

 **The "tilting at windmills" reference is from Don Quixote.

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

Friday, May 3, 2013


Happy International Tuba Day! 

First, yes, it's really a holiday.  The first Friday of May is the day internationally set aside to celebrate and honor the most majestic of instruments, the Tuba!  See--here's the official International Tuba Day webpage.

How amazing is the Tuba?  Well, feast your ears and eyes on Chuck Daellenbach playing, "Flight of the Tuba Bee."

What's the range of a Tuba?  About ten yards if you have a good arm!
Actually, as with any brass instrument, it's theoretically possible to hit any note.  But the range of a seasoned Tuba player could be four octaves.  

Do Tuba's use major or minor scales?   
Neither, they use the Richter scale.  

Tuba's can use any scale as well as any key.  Certain keys are preferred by certain types of Tubas.  The BBb tuba prefers flat keys.  But there are C Tubas and F Tubas, and more!  Tubas can have anywhere from three to five valves. 

What's the difference between a Tuba and a Sousaphone?   
You hug the Tuba and the Sousaphone hugs you!

The Sousaphone plays the same as a Tuba.  It is just configured for more portability.  Sousaphones come in mostly fiberglass models and in all brass models.

Tubas are very lovable and enjoy being hugged!
A brass Sousaphone giving a hug. photo credit: Peter E. Lee via photopin cc

What's better than a Tuba?  A three-ba!
Actually, nothing is better than a Tuba.  It is impossible to find something better than perfection.

Now go out there, enjoy some Tuba music, and hug a Tuba player! 

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Foul was my last post.  Just an update:  I haven’t been in a foul mood all this time. 

Fear is a terrible motivator.
But fear is an incredible immobilator. 

Last August I resolved to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, reexamine my decisions or convictions as they came up.  If I discovered that my decisions or actions were based out of fear, I would have to confront that.  It may be that I would come to the same decisions or convictions, but it must not be because of fear. 

As it turns out, fear is like an invasive species—really pervasive, hidden, and difficult to root out.

It’s time to weed.

Hey, it's almost May the Fourth.
 photo credit: Jim Bauer via photopin cc