Thursday, April 5, 2012

Giving It Out

Most of you are familiar with this Christian pop song from a few years back. Although I am not into Christian radio, I am quite fond of Brandon Heath, and this video always makes me cry, no matter how many times I see it. The theme of forgiveness is one with which I am continually struggling.

Let’s begin with the lyrics that end the song, “The thing I find most amazing in amazing grace/ Is the chance to give it out/Maybe that’s what love is all about.” We desperately want to be forgiven, but how desperately do we want to forgive? We are instructed in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Does that sound easy?

It is easy, and then again, it isn’t at all. This is where being transformed by Christ makes all the difference. If I truly comprehend what it means for God, who is perfect to a degree beyond my understanding, to forgive me, a bumbling, selfish, sinning creature, my gratitude will overflow. This gratitude will spill into my heart and mind, increasing my ability to forgive others, who are just like me. We are all in the same boat when it comes to being sinners in this life.

From what I can tell, developing enough gratitude for God’s grace to give it back to others is a lifelong process. Let’s face it: This isn’t going to get any easier. Now that I am in my forties, I see that people are going to continue to inflict me with pain from time to time, and it is not going to hurt any less because I am older and have somehow grown a “thicker skin”. I am just as vulnerable as I ever was, and that probably won’t change and actually, should not change. That is why I need an increasing reliance on God and a growing appreciation of the magnitude of His forgiveness.

People are going to disappoint us. They are going to fail to show up, tell us lies, hurt our feelings, judge us, and talk about us behind our backs. But because I am a new creation in Christ, I will cultivate a desire to forgive others as I have been forgiven. It does not eliminate the hurt that people cause us, but it sets us free from the destructive consequences of unforgiveness in our own hearts. In forgiving others, we let go of the burden of carrying around that bitterness. We release any consequences that we feel the offender deserves. We give the problem to God.

Does this mean that we don’t need to talk things out to restore the relationship? Of course not. Does it mean that we instantly trust a person who has betrayed our trust? No, because trust is something that must be rebuilt, but we can give the offender the opportunity to prove herself trustworthy. Does forgiving someone always mean that the relationship will continue? Sometimes, that isn’t possible. Perhaps the other person does not want to anything to do with you, but you still must forgive. You may even need to forgive someone who is no longer alive. Yes, you might need to do that, because if you cannot, you ignore the grace God has freely given you, and destroy yourself.

As Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I am thankful to God for His transformative grace. Without the change that He effects in our hearts, our lives would become desolate and bitter places indeed, choked with so much unforgiveness that loving others would eventually become impossible.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Loving or Legalistic?

I am going to say something that may upset you. It is a pervasive problem in the homeschool community, and I can no longer ignore it. It applies to all of us. In fact, if this doesn’t strike a chord with you, you may not be paying enough attention to this issue.

Let’s start with the basics: We are obligated to say something when a fellow Christian is committing an actual sin. We know what sins are if we read God’s Word on a regular basis. The Bible is clear that actions such as lying, slander, gossip, adultery, blasphemy, etc. are sins. When we see a Christian brother or sister lapsing into sin, we must point it out. This is the “speaking the truth in love” spoken of in Ephesians 4.

But other things that may bother our personal sensibilities are not sins. You may feel convicted that women should not wear pants. That is fine for you, but the Bible does not say that a woman who wears a pair of Levi’s is committing an offense against God. You may think that dating in any form is wrong, but I also know Christians who are happily married after meeting through dating. You may think that one person’s eyeliner or hairstyle is over the top, but is bold fashion a sin?

Romans 14 addresses this matter directly. 1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

 “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,

‘every knee will bow before me; 

  every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

Please note that Paul is saying that the one who is “weak in faith” is the one who feels obligated to follow “extra” rules. In this case, the person feels that he must be a vegetarian to follow God. Such a person must not be ridiculed by the meat eaters, but should be allowed to follow his or her personal conviction. At the same time, there is no such thing as a “dietary sin”, so a person who feels compelled to follow dietary restrictions should not require others to abide by the same rules.

Paul was using the example of extra dietary rules to illustrate the point that we cannot go around policing the Christian world according to our own extra-Biblical convictions. Homeschoolers are notorious for doing just that to each other. We are people with strong wills and convictions, but Galatians 6:3 says, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” There are many talented, determined people in our midst, but we can get too full of ourselves.

We cannot play the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting fellow Christians of the specific choices that they should make. To do so indicates an overinflated sense of our own importance and a heart that is hardened to the needs of others. If we catch ourselves in the error of imposing legalism on our friends, it is a sign that we need to realign ourselves with God, because we are out of touch with His purposes. God fashioned the body of Christ to be diverse and full of freedom in Him. To choose to impose your legalistic rules is to forget God’s call to love and acceptance of each uniquely created person.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Patching a Broken World, Part 2

Into this fragmented, scattered, cocooning society, enter Facebook. Like any other tool, its use is entirely up to the person controlling it. Facebook has been much criticized for its high profile misuse. There are posts bragging about drinking binges or sexual exploits. There are inappropriate photos that may come back to haunt those with more naïveté than discretion. There is gossip and backbiting. There are all of these things in the rest of the world, too, but they are more visible on Facebook.

There is also much more to see on Facebook. Connections and other beautiful treasures beneath the surface of life can be more readily seen there. I belong to several support groups, based on mutual interests. One group to which I belong brought together homeschooling women who use a certain intellectually challenging Christian curriculum. It turns out that we all have a tremendous amount in common beyond our choice of curriculum for our children. In a closed group on Facebook, 110 women, most of whom do not know each other in person, share their struggles and triumphs. There are many posts about discipline issues, medical problems, and housing situations. There are multiple prayer requests every day. We have found that this Facebook group is the fastest point of connection to a collective pool of love and wisdom that we can find no where else. No one talks about the curriculum that was our original commonality. This a sisterhood of women from all over the world, from Alaska to Africa, of people who would never be able to establish this community of kindred spirits without Facebook.

Facebook also brings those we have lost back into our lives. I have lived all over the world, leaving dear friends along the way like so many breadcrumbs. Even when I was standing still, other people were moving away, so I have lost the ability to see many of my friends in person. While I long for the days when people never travelled more than 10 or 20 miles from their birthplace, that is not our reality. Social networking has enabled connection to the lost beloved: high school friends, college roommates, old cubicle mates, Swedes I used to have coffee with daily, my first and fourth grade teachers, old friends’ Moms, people from our former church, and a Japanese exchange student.

Facebook is both time machine and teleporter. It enables me to cultivate relationships in a way that in person interaction cannot. It has stepped into the gap created by an alienating society. It will never replace in person relationships, and I am not suggesting that it should. But for the way that it creates millions of connections between people and reveals the hidden ones that were already there, I count it as a beautiful example of the common grace that God extends to all parts of the world, and one of the few mercies of this isolating age. It is new, but I can say with the writer of Lamentations 3, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Patching a Broken World, Part 1

What is our world about, interpersonally? What is the nature of our ties to others in the 21st century? Call me a kitchen table sociologist, but these are the questions that keep me spaced out over mugs of coffee some days.

I first became a mother in a very different place. American society in the 1990’s was not discernibly different from the one I knew as a child in the 70’s and 80’s. Telephones were the major means of communication in those days, although you might still receive the occasional card or letter. Maybe you forgot, but we used to spend a lot of time on the telephone, talking to people with whom we had an in-person relationship.

Those in-person relationships were not what they are now, either, but stop right there: This is not an anti-Facebook rant. If you stick around, you will understand. In-person relationships in America started changing a long time before Mark Z thought of creating a social network. By the end of the 90’s, society was looking very different than it had just a few years earlier. People were holing up. According to author Cindy Vine,

The word 'cocooning' was first identified as a trend in the late 80's early 90's by an author called Faith Popcorn, in her book 'The Popcorn Report: The Future of Your Company, Your World, Your Life.' She basically looked at society and saw that people were going out less as they were cocooning in their homes because work was busy, hectic, and the news in the papers and on TV told them that it’s dangerous to be anywhere but safely ensconced in their castle.

The effect of cocooning in my life was dramatic. In the early 90’s, the workplace was akin to a second family. Professionals would hire on with a company and expect to stay there for life. Consequently, relationships between co-workers and their families were taken seriously. When our eldest son was born in 1990, I stayed at home with him while my husband worked at a large engineering firm. Much of our social lives revolved around his workplace. There were parties galore, both at work and on the weekends. A couple of his female co-workers befriended me, and even babysat on occasion. Even the stay-at-home wife of a junior engineer was included in the company social scene.

In 2012, the workplace based social life is as endangered as job security and pension plans. People know that they will be changing jobs several times over the course of their careers, so co-workers and their families are not included in our social lives as often. In addition, the recent lean economic years have driven companies to cut out events that used to be taken for granted as a pleasant part of working life, such as office parties, golf outings, and dinners with clients. The workplace is now just a place to work, and while the occasional friendship may spring up, there is not a social network in the office to support relationships in the same manner. Such relationships only endure on the TV show, The Office.

Workplace alienation is only one symptom of this societal shift away from old-style community. I have used the workplace as an illustration, but the move away from traditional communities can be traced to a general feeling of impermanence. Not only is my job not permanent, but neither is my church, my best friend, or even my spouse. (Yikes, not my spouse. We are dealing with the theoretical.) I may feel at liberty to change churches when it no longer suits my needs. My best friends may very well move across the country.

All of these transitory relationships reflect two opposing forces: The uncontrollable change that is thrust upon us in the modern world, and the power that we have to choose exactly what suits us as individuals. Individual needs begin to take precedence over the needs of the group, partially because there is no longer a group. These forces feed on each other. The more I feel that my social structure is crumbling due to forces outside of my control, the more I pull into my “cocoon”. The more I pull away from society, the more its groups disintegrate. (Continued in next post)

Monday, January 30, 2012

What Is Your Goal, Part 1 (Our Homeschooling Story)

I got into an unlikely conversation with a magazine editor the other day. I wrote to point out my dismay about her magazine’s use of profanity. This curse word was particularly bewildering to find, since the brand-new publication was being marketed to a pre-existing email list consisting primarily of homeschoolers. When I pointed this out, the editor defensively shot back, “Homeschoolers are a much more diverse group than they used to be.” Oh, really? I didn’t have time to explain to her that I am that diverse, secular homeschooler that is apparently her target audience. Or, at least, I was.

I started out as a secular homeschooler with very different goals than I have now. As the parent of three gifted children, I started homeschooling as The Crazy Experiment. I was at the end of my rope. The ADHD child had already tried public school, and ended up miserable, so I wasn’t going that route again. The six-year-old had arrived at a private school for gifted children, where the teachers had decided to skip her out of the first grade and into the second grade in the first week of school. The four-year-old could read and do simple math, but was not anywhere near ready for the seat work that the gifted school assigned, complete with a first grade math workbook and handwriting sheets. (He was very bright, but he was still a normal four-year-old developmentally, for crying out loud.) It’s outrageous to think about now, I know, but I was desperate, and hoped that throwing money at the problem of my children’s education would solve things.

With a nearly 30,000 dollar yearly tuition bill for the three nerdlets, we needed to be thrilled with the results, and we weren’t. Everyone at this school was well-intentioned, and I appreciate all that they did and tried to do for our family, but it wasn’t the place for us. Which brought me around to The Crazy Experiment.

My husband thought that I had a screw loose. Actually, I probably did. It takes some seriously divergent, and yes, kind of insane thinking for someone like me, with a 3.8 college GPA and an abiding love of school, to even think about taking one’s children out of school entirely. I read, researched, and prayed. Yes, I prayed. I was a marginal, distracted Christian at the time, and I prayed any time that the chips were down. When I prayed, among the things that I requested was the ability to educate these unique children so as to help them to reach their intellectual potential. In this view of education, I was merely the parent, not a qualified gifted educator. I could mess them up, but good, if I wasn’t careful. It was sobering and scary to contemplate.

So, after I read about 20 books on the subject of “how to”, we started homeschooling. I made up elaborate lesson plans and kept meticulous records for my skeptical husband to peruse each day. We needed community, so I joined a list-serve or two (remember those?) for people homeschooling gifted children. I even found a local group for other people trying The Crazy Experiment, which, miraculously, formed on the exact same week in January that I began. The people in my group agreed with me wholeheartedly: Above all, we do not want to be like those religious fanatics who homeschool their kids.

No, we did not, because while we went to church, and called ourselves Christians, we were not fanatics. We even taught Sunday School, for goodness sake, but we were not the type of weirdos who homeschool by reading the Bible for several hours a day. We were going to educate our children. They weren’t going to grow up to be obsessed with religion. These were my wrongheaded assumptions about Christian homeschoolers, formed before I even met the first one.

Be careful what you say. God may have other plans for you. Our goals for homeschooling changed because God changed us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pulchritudinous Proselytizing

Sorry for the big words up there, but I had to get your attention. “Pulchritudinous proselytizing”, as I am using it, just means “beautiful spreading of the good news”. “Pulchritudinous” is simply a Latin-derived word (from pulchritudo) meaning, “beautiful”. But has anyone ever called you “pulchritudinous”? My Dad tried this on me once when I was a child, as did the English teacher Mr. Cyr last season on the NBC series Parenthood. In both cases, the recipient of the obscure compliment was not flattered, and in her lack of understanding, felt insulted. Big words can confuse people, and some people consider it great sport to do so. Consider, now, the word “proselytize”.

Proselytize, according to Merriam-Webster, means, “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith”. It is derived from the Greek language prefix προσ- (toward) and the verb ἔρχομαι (to come) in the form of προσήλυτος (a new comer). So, the origin of the word has more to do with approaching a “newcomer”, which sounds nice and welcoming. In Christianity, the original implication of “proselytizing” was positive, but somehow, its meaning has become tainted with negativity. In common American English usage, the word now means, roughly, “to obnoxiously thump one’s Bible at people who would rather be left alone”. It is a fancy word that educated people use to disparage those who speak of their faith, especially if those people are Christians.

Isn’t this the context in which we first heard the word? It is a large missile lobbed at the foot soldiers of the gospel. As a child, adults told me not to “proselytize”. I had no idea what that meant at first, but it was a scary enough word that I immediately knew that it was something I wanted to avoid, if I wanted to be taken seriously by educated, polite people. Oh, and I did. There was an understanding that of course we would go to church, but what happened there was our private business, and we certainly didn’t need to tell anyone about it, if indeed we believed it. And there were plenty of reasons to wonder if these adults actually did believe. 

Now, as a maturing Christian of a certain age, I know better. I know that had these nominal Christian adults of my youth cracked open that thick black book gathering dust on the shelf, they would have found that Romans 10 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'” 

We are unequivocally commanded to “bring the good news”. Yes, Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28, which-surprise, hello, and good morning- is to proselytize. How can people have any idea what it means to know Jesus as your Savior unless you tell them? And even if they think that they know, do they really know? They may know what the Bible says, but do they also see how that looks in the life of a follower of Jesus?

Often, I think that I should have more non-Christian friends, because I can get too comfortable in my coterie and neglect the rest of the world.  I have a long way to go as a proselytizer, a good news bringer, a welcomer of newcomers to the faith. I need to have more beautiful feet.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why This Blog Was Dead, Part 1

Scroll down in this blog. The last post I have here was written sometime in August 2010. I have not posted on this blog for nearly eighteen months. There is a reason. Pretty soon, you are going to know that this isn’t that kind of homeschooling blog. So many of you are sweet, chipper, and upbeat. I can be those things, and they are good qualities in a blogger, but this is the place where I will be real. If you don’t mind that, you are in the right place.

My life hit some roadblocks in the intervening time. I don’t want to go into the details right now, but it did not involve any immorality or substance abuse. No one died, got into an accident, or became seriously ill. All three of my children are doing well, praise God, and so is my husband, our parents, and all of our relatives. I am still married, and after 22 years, that’s pretty amazing. We don’t have any significant money problems, our cars are running, and our house is still the comfy old shoe of a 1960’s colonial that it has always been in the 19 years that we have owned it.
In short, we have much to be thankful for. Yet, in the midst of apparent prosperity and blessings, it is devastating when dreams die or have to be put on hold. This is especially true when you know that your dream’s fulfillment would please God. When you have prayed about it for years, and it’s a desire that you know that you were created to do, it’s not easy to give up and say, “OK, God. I don’t know what you are doing. I don’t know why you have lead me here only to leave me at the side of the proverbial road, alone, without a clue how to find my way back.

So you get up in the morning, determined not to blame God, and move forward, though I am human, and the temptation is great. I want to believe the gooey nonsense that the TV preachers are serving up. I’d love to have “my best life now” by saying the right prayers, “naming it and claiming”, or just believing enough. But the truth is, despite what a few charlatans may have lead you to believe, following Jesus isn’t like that. 

The Bible actually said that our lives will get harder if we follow Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It won’t be a walk in the park, unless you can imagine a park occupied by angry protesters. People will stand in your way. The rest of the world will not understand your priorities. Don’t pretend that people will think that you are a nice, reasonable Christian, because if you are really following hard after Jesus, you are going to look like Him. You are going to look like a crackpot. And you have only to look at what happened to Jesus to know how the world likes to handle His type. Why are you expecting something else?