Monthly Archives: November 2008

Fig Leaf Armor!

img_1005“I got three words for you,” said our Pastor last Sunday, “Fig Leaf Armor.” I will explain.

The subject of the sermon was community. The need for community is inherent in our humanity, but perhaps not in the way you think. Our society upholds an image of strength in being alone. For example, Clint Eastwood doesn’t need anyone. He works alone. If we feel we need other people, then it must be due to weakness, so long as we believe the goal is a murderous gun slinger. But of course, this is not our model. We are created in the image of the Triune God, and as such, we are created in the image of someone who, is in and of himself, a community. We need community because that is how we were built. This is different from weakness. Quite the opposite, actually. People are weaker when they are alone, for the fellowship has potential to bolster the individuals to be stronger than they could have ever been on their own. I have witnessed this personally many times.

To drive this point home, Pastor Peter had us turn to Genesis. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked, they sewed together fig leaves as coverings. The sin in this act, according to Peter, was that the fig leaves put up a barrier to what he called Authentic Community. In such a community, strength and trust is fostered through mutual vulnerability and faith. By seeing fault in their nakedness, Adam and Eve sought to cover it up instead of reconcile with each other over their imperfection. They refused to be vulnerable and honest with each other. It was the first of an infinite series of actions that placed barriers between people. Today, people can do all sorts of things to decrease their ability to engage in true fellowship. We came up with a bunch of examples at small group:

  • When people ask you ‘How are ya?’ they do not expect you to answer truthfully
  • When someone responds to ‘How are ya?’ he never tells the truth
  • We use humor as a defense mechanism
  • We see vulnerability as a sign of weakness
  • We are more engaged with our material objects than we are with our emotions
  • We go to a therapist instead of to our friends
  • Friendship somehow no longer means to hold each other accountable
  • We see Independence as a strength
  • We confuse Individuality with Individualism; saying it is all about the individual has obvious negative consequences in decreasing the collective power of a fellowship
  • We strive to be normal, whatever that means
  • We use our talents, money and status to prove our worth to the world

The list goes on.

In preparation for this discussion, our small group leader cut out pieces of paper in the shape of fig leaves and stapled them together. There was a hat and everything. I tried on a suit. Let’s just say I looked, um, awesome. There were photos taken, and I will put them up if I get a hold of them.

Yes, the idea may have been ever so slightly on the cheesy side, but wearing this paper made me think of how extremely flimsy such clothing really is. It was a pathetic attempt at protecting oneself from feeling vulnerable. The pathetic quality was only emphasized as we discussed how God wants us to clothe ourselves. Colossians 3 tells us:

“as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Love should be our garment, our outward appearance. This is the complete opposite of a barrier; it is a bridge, drawing people closer to each other. I particularly like how love is something you ‘put on,’ as if it were a T-shirt. But what a T-shirt. This garment can bind people together in ‘perfect unity.’ How marvelous that must be! Not just unity, but PERFECT unity! If we wore love, we’d have the potential to achieve something PERFECT.

But we are also told to guard our hearts and minds. Perfect unity might be a nice ideal, but it is a rare person who has not experienced hurt in their relationships, and our past pain is most assuredly a block to future unity. But it is important to remember that it is not from each other that we need guarding, but from the evil that infects the world. Bind people together in love while putting on the armor of God to protect ourselves from the flaming arrows of the evil one, as it says in Ephesians 6:

“11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

I love this passage. Though man was originally created dignified, nakedness and all, God overcomes our shame and reminds us of our inherent dignity today through equipping and clothing us with precisely the right defensive and offensive tools to stand firm against evil. Note here too that one of the weapons we are given against evil is to keep on praying for all of the saints. I take this to mean that we must remember we are not alone, and as we recognize we are part of a body with all of the saints, we can generate power through our unity. Thus, the need for community and the necessity to combat evil come hand in hand. Community is the attribute of the strong, not the retreat of the weak.

Toss the Fig Leaf armor. Love is much more flattering.

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An unorthodox model for Evangelism

Last Sunday our pastor spoke on Acts 2. We should not stress out about Evangelism, said Pastor Peter. “Our desire should be to seek all that God has in store for us.” When we grasp even a smidgeon of God’s greatness and beauty, and then add that smidgeon to the active work of the Spirit, we will burst at the seams with praise. Peter used the example of when we see a great movie or eat a great meal. “Oh man, dude, you gotta try this!” we say to all of our friends. “This movie totally rocked! You need to see it!” Peter says that if we can get this excited about a movie, we should at least match that in our praise of God Almighty.

I was pondering this concept later that Sunday evening when all of a sudden Josh’s roommate burst through the door with an enormous grin stretched across her face. She was dressed in a bright red peacoat with her brown curls hanging gracefully down on her shoulders. She had clearly carefully adorned herself to match the latest fashion. She obviously was begging to be asked about her evening. “Well, you look happy,” Josh said.” “OH MY GOD!” shouted the roommate. “So I was having dinner at this restaurant downtown when I turn around and I saw, oh my God you will never believe it, when I saw the ridiculously hot guy from CSI. He was even hotter in person! And when I told my friend she was like, ‘no way, that is not him,’ then I was like, ‘you don’t even watch CSI, whatever, it is totally him.’ Then just as we were saying this we see this other couple going up to him and asking, ‘Excuse me, are you on CSI,’ and we heard him say, ‘yes, I am,’ and then right after that my friend was like, ‘Excuse me sir, this girl’ pointing to me, ‘is your biggest fan,’ and I was like, oh my God you totally didn’t just do that,’ but then we ended up having a drink with him and as he left he said, ‘it was lovely to meet you girls,’ and I nearly died. Maybe I will bump into him some other point and then if he remembers me I will know that it was fate. Oh my God he was so hot.” I don’t think she took a breath during the entire monologue.

I have seen boy-crazy girls give such oratories before, but this was pretty impressive. Her enthusiasm stunned me. I realized that if she can be filled with such glee over some pretty boy from the TV how much more I should enthusiastically tell people about the God I love so dearly, and who so dearly loves me. And what could be more beautiful than the very bastion of beauty Himself?

There is a lesson to be learned from Boy Craziness, I think. An ironic and far-reaching point, yes, but nonetheless an interesting metaphor. Be open to the Spirit’s work, and when He moves you, sing out loud with all of your might about the beauty of the Lord.

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Screwtape

“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters has finally graced the stage in Jeffrey Fiske’s adaptation of the beloved satire. Still around by popular demand, Max Mclean terrifies audiences in Chicago just as he has done in New York and D.C. Mclean portrays Screwtape, a very experienced Devil working in the bureaucracy that is Hell. Screwtape writes a series of letters to his nephew, Wormwood, who has just started out in the Temptation business and asks advice of his experienced uncle as to best sway his new human client to the “right” side. Mclean, who delivers almost the entire play in monologue form as he dictates his letters to his secretary, delivers his hellish lines with penetrating authority, taking great care not to overlook the small sins in favor of the big ones, because after all, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Reviewing this play is a bit difficult for me as I am thoroughly biased. The Screwtape Letters is one of my favorite books, and so seeing it portrayed in the flesh is fascinating. Though I greatly enjoyed the play, I must admit that it was different than I expected. As the picture to the left shows, the Screwtape of the play is lavishly dressed and extremely comfortable. Given that Screwtape is an Undersecretary of the Temptation offices, I always pictured him inundated in paperwork, miserable and expecting to be so. The very idea that Screwtape would appear comfortable in Hell seems not only contradictory to his character but practically impossible. Screwtape says that the enemy (God) created all of the pleasures. Hell, despite its great efforts, has failed to produce one. Thus, if pleasures come from God, and Hell strives to do everything opposite from how it is done in Heaven, then Screwtape is masochistic by nature. As he is separated from God, he necessarily must refuse all truly good and enjoyable things.

In addition to this, Mclean portrays Screwtape as actually harboring affection for his nephew. This cannot be so. Despite the fact that Screwtape signs all but the last of his letters, “Your Affectionate Uncle, Screwtape,” given Screwtape’s aversion to love he could not possibly feel real affection. His closing greetings, therefore, must be facetious. Lewis warns us in his preamble that it must be remembered that Screwtape is a liar, and not even statements supporting his side can be considered true. A more likely reason for his signature is that Screwtape seeks to mask the fact that he is using his nephew to further his own career. He is only, after all, merely the Undersecretary, not the president or chairmen or director, etc. Though this might be just my take on the character, I was always of the opinion that Screwtape eternally fights an inferiority complex. Surely he has something to gain for himself. Not to mention, he is entirely willing to eat his nephew in the event of Wormwood’s failure. Affection is not quite the right word, to say the least.

I supposed I always thought of Screwtape more as a John Malcovich character: sly, dark, repulsive but strangely attractive, and constantly giving you the feeling that he harbors hidden motives.

I saw on Wikipedia just now that rights to the book were purchased by Walden Media in 2006 in hopes of adapting it into a film. People should really contact me when they do these things. J

 

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Oh yea, you’re a total ringer for this cartoon character…

belleI watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when I want to regress to age six. It brings back feelings of a simpler time. You see, the character of Belle proved extremely influential in my formative years. I identified with her because not only did her hair color match mine (which usually is the first source of attraction between a little girl and her corresponding Disney character or American Girl Doll), but she was no damsel. Belle is strong, smart, well-read, and she doesn’t settle for mediocrity in a lifestyle. She can see past the superficialities of others, and look deeper into the characters of those who would otherwise turn you away. She is a way better heroine than, say, Ariel. Ariel is a ditz. She sells her soul for a three-day chance at making out with some dude she saw once. What kind of roll-model is that??

Anyway, last night I was in the mood to watch Beauty and the Beast. As it was loading, Josh turns to me and says, “You should be Belle.” I figured he meant that I should be Belle for Halloween next year. But he meant as a job. He immediately searches Google for How To Become A Disney World Princess Performer. It was a joke until we saw that there are auditions in Florida next week. Plane tickets? $200.

They must hold these auditions fairly frequently. I don’t think I necessarily need to go next week. But what a story that would make! Imagine being in a room with a bunch of Princess Look-alikes. <<shudder>> It would probably be an extremely girly affair. I wonder, how many of those women are real actresses looking for real jobs? How many of them will be like me, a girl who slightly resembles a Disney character who decided to fly down to Florida for kicks and a tan? I’d totally hit up Typhoon Lagoon if I did this. Mmmm yeah.

I wonder too if it is a compliment to be compared to a cartoon character. I remember there was a guy in my college class who looked like Francis the Lady Bug from A Bug’s Life. Seriously. He had a small, round head with jet-black hair smattered across his forehead and beady, black eyes fringed with long eyelashes. It took me a while to place him, but I did it. If he ever wore a red coat with black spots it would seal the deal. But I don’t think that is a compliment.

On the flip side to this, I wonder if it is presumptuous of me to think I do like Belle. It is not exactly humble to say you look like the person named for her beauty. Then again, I think it is pretty harmless to notice that I have brown eyes and hair, which is really the only thing I have going in this comparison.

What would it be like working for Disney? It seems like working for The Man. If ever there as a ginormous, overbearing corporation, Disney would be it. And working at a theme park…ick. Hugging a bunch of sniffling kids every day and talking to everyone in a sickeningly sweet voice and wearing pounds of makeup and a big gown in the Florida heat…maybe this is just one of those jobs that would be cool for two weeks at most, like a taxi bike driver.

This is going to take some thought. I welcome your comments.

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Audacity of Victory

And so it’s been done. Obama’s Grant Park party felt like the triumphal end of an epic film, especially with the soundtracks borrowed from movies like Apollo 13 and The Patriot. I can see how easy it was to get carried away with the emotion—all of it was ingeniously concocted to evoke emotion.

The entire campaign was a brilliant manipulation of emotion. Its organization dazzled. Millions of people were moved; this cannot be denied. The Obama Campaign orchestrated a fantastic show, pushing on every emotional button from religion to race to “change,” whatever he means by that.

Yes, I found the event contrived. But I can let that slide. As my father would say, it doesn’t correspond with my sensibilities. Though my political hopes were bruised, I understand the rules of the game. America spoke, and I thank God that they are at liberty to do so. Sure, the Obama campaign made the audacious move to plan a party for millions of people weeks ahead of his actual victory, a party complete with flags, signs, video, singers, and a crying Oprah. This doesn’t really bother me too much. I found the showiness of the event more funny than offensive. I feel once Obama gets to office that “change” will come much more slowly than people expect, and I am sure that many people will be upset that “change” doesn’t actually mean that Obama will pay off mortgages or provide free beer on Fridays. The president is, after all, only one of three branches of a limited government, and though he may be one of the most powerful men in the world for a time, realistically it is fortunate that he cannot effect too much change too quickly. In other words, Conservatives need not cry too hard.

Yes, last night was goofy. It lacked humility, but no one’s perfect. I can let most of it pass. Most of it, all but for one, blisteringly, brash prayer.

At the beginning of the night’s celebration, the loudspeakers announced that Bishop so-and-so would give a prayer. Ooh! A prayer, how lovely! What a nice gesture for so many people, I thought. The black gent with the white collar hobbled up to the podium. “Please bow your heads in prayer,” he bellowed, in the deep, round tones of the average Gospel preacher. So far, so good. Good, until, that is, he says in the name of Jesus Christ how thankful he is that God has sent such a righteous man to lead America out of its time of turmoil. He praised our Lord for this Godsend, in such messianic language as only can only be found in Revelations. He thanked God for the great victory, as if the victory had been over the Devil instead of merely John McCain. It was clear from the prayer that this bishop believed that Obama would rule by divine mandate like kings of old.

Like I said before, the goofiness of the rest of the event can slide. But this prayer is blatantly offensive, politics aside. I am a Christian. I refuse to take such blasphemy lightly, especially when it comes from the leader of the church. How dare he claim, in the precious name of Jesus no less, that Obama is the “righteous” choice of God Himself! Even if it were God’s will that Obama should become president for whatever reason, no one can really know God’s full purpose or His reasons for it! Not only this, but it diminishes God’s authority to assume you do know! How dare this bishop describe Obama with adjectives that belong to Christ and Christ alone! How dare Obama and his entire campaign promote this fantastic notion that he in fact could claim any kind of divine preference! And how dare they implicitly vilify John McCain, who so graciously, not five minutes prior, conceded the election! If Obama is portrayed as a kind of deliverer, it must then mean that McCain was some kind of Antichrist. Talk about Audacity.

To suggest that God makes political choices in the same way that normal citizens do is to demean God and neglect his omnipotence. If McCain won, do you really, honestly, think that God’s Will would not be done? God can make good out of any situation! His kingdom and authority reigns over all of the earthly nations with power far greater than we ever thought of or imagined! And yes, this goes for America too! God may bless Americans in a zillion ways, but it will never change the fact that He is above, and not subject to, the politics of our government! It is just flat out wrong to claim God’s favor, whether Democrat or Republican. Like God would even fit into such categories in any case!

It would have been one thing to have thanked God for a peaceful victory, to thank Him that because America is democratic we can have changes in power without bloodshed and strife. Thank God that each American citizen, regardless of race, gender, or social status each can speak their minds freely and vote for the candidates they find most capable for office. Thank God that He has, most certainly, blessed America in a zillion ways. Pray to God that Obama will be endowed with wisdom, patience, a listening ear, humility, knowledge of justice and the judgment to make healthy decisions on behalf of a nation. Pray to God that the ideological differences among Americans may be argued in healthy debates that end in wise compromises. Pray that Americans will see themselves as unified, not because Obama says so, but because Obama will ACT and set a bipartisan example.

This kind of prayer would be fine. More than that, it should be the prayer we should all be praying. But this is not what we got last night. What we heard affirmed the absurd idea that Obama is the deliverer sent from God on high to solve all of our problems and bring us to the promise land. What we heard diminished God’s power and authority. What we heard grotesquely misused the name of Jesus, and dirtied His reputation for the sake of political ambition.

 

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Yeah, Halloween is kind of a big deal.

Josh and I did these the other night. They were a big hit with the Trick-or-treaters.

There was one little girl in particular dressed as Mrs. Addams from the Addams Family, decked out with a long black wig with white highlights and eyeliner. She was walking up the steps when all of a sudden she saw the pumpkins, stopped, threw back her head and giggled unabashedly. I was thrilled.

I grew up in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Yes, that’s right. The real one. Halloween is a huge deal where I live. The Cemetery holds special events. There are scary stories read by candlelight at the Old Dutch Church. The Haunted Hayride is, well, legendary.

In addition to this, my mom always made a huge deal out of Halloween. Our costumes were rarely, if ever, store-bought. We always carved pumpkins in the images of the politicians or movie stars of the year. I believe my sister carved one this year of the Joker from Dark Knight, and wrote “Why so Serious?” at the bottom. She did that because I told her we had the presidents-elect covered. Meg went as a Cereal Killer (with bloodied boxes of cereal attached to her person, which threateningly brandishes a spoon). I went as a Flamenco Dancer, with an entire outfit I bought while studying abroad in Spain. We don’t joke about this holiday.

I remember the years when we used to rig up our door with tricks. The first one was a giant spider that swung out from the stairway straight through the door and above the heads of treat-seeking kiddos. The next one was a witch that flew down on a broom attached to a zipline. With that one, we played the witch’s theme from the Wizard of Oz. That was the best one, I think. We also once attached a leaf blower to a garment bag and when it inflated, the Phantom of the Opera rose up out of a large flower pot. We cued the music and everything. Another year, when Arnold Swarzenegger became the Governator, we carved his face into a pumpkin and then stuck a speaker behind it. Then my mom did AHNold impressions into a microphone and talked to the kids. Ah, memories.

You should see us in the Fourth of July.

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