Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ruth and the Idolators

The book of Ruth, beginning, end, and middle, is wrapped up in Naomi's search for a man for security. She's like an Old Testament Yenta: "Even the worst husband--God forbid!--is better than no husband--God forbid!" She hopes her daughters-in-law will find security with new husbands; she takes it on herself to help Ruth hunt one down; and she finally relaxes in the last scene with a baby grandson in her arms who will take the place of the husband and sons she has lost.

Partly it may be Naomi's personal obsession; partly it may be a sign of a culture in which women had to depend on men for security. More than that, though, I think it is a sign of a culture in which people had to depend on other people. Surely an old and feeble man would have been just as desparate to have someone young and strong to bring home the mutton. Their world was a personal one; there was no Social Security or Society for the Aged and Infirm. If there wasn't a someone to go to, there was no somewhere to go.

By the same token, their idols were personal ones. They worshipped gods with bad habits and shrewish wives. Their gods might have been lacking in looks, hygiene, and basic morality, but they were never lacking in personality.

I think we tend to have the opposite problem, which obscures our favorite form of idolatry. Sermons do preach against idolizing money or pleasure, but I think what we most like to idolize is systems. Systems are where we turn for security. Systems are what care for us when we need help. Systems are what we ask to fix things when things go wrong. Even the One True God sometimes has a little too much personality to suit our tastes, and we prefer to fit Him into one of our systems.

This is where a lot of things in modern Christianity go bad. We start looking for the System that will solve our financial problems, find us the perfect spouse, raise our children, grow our church, win the lost, care for the poor, or what have you. We want to know what the right steps are to follow, and if we just follow those steps, we would prefer a money-back guarantee on the results.

Lots of time the original idea wasn't a bad one--every step of it can be shown from Scripture!--but it's the nature of our age to turn it into a System. And from there it's an easy step for us to expect it to provide us with peace, joy, love and holiness. We still say those things come from God, but really we would be quite astonished and a little offended to find God working outside our beloved System.

The ancient Israelites wanted gods with bodies; we want gods with checklists. Just as much for us as for them, God is something far greater than we can conceive.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

James James Morrison Morrison

"Disobedience" is D1's favorite poem from When We Were Very Young, whether for its irresistible rhythm, its intrepid three-year-old hero, or its depiction of the evils awaiting parents who disobey their children. ("You must never go down to the end of the town without consulting me.") The last concerns me. We are still sorting out just who is in charge of this house--she is, temperamentally, undoubtedly more qualified, but I still have seniority and experience enough to trump her.

My mother reputedly once accused my eldest sister, when she was very small, of sitting up at night and plotting out new naughty things to do. I used to smirk at the naivete reflected in this tale--by the time the rest of us came along I'm sure she had realized that no premeditation was required. But now I understand how she felt. It was the cry of desparation of a chaotic mind trying desperately to create order, confronted with a very organized mind still, by age and position, allied on the side of chaos.

Give D1 enough skills to run things with minimal supervision and an increase in seniority and she will be an invaluable asset. In the meantime, we are having some interesting moments. Putting a little more structure in the day has helped.

Professionally, I decline and fall, though as a mother I am lapsing into poetry.* I'm reading books on the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages, and it's all intriguing. We are also listening to some Gregorian chant, which D2 especially likes, and I found some picture books on early saints, some of which I've read to D1. I always feel sorry for D1 and D2 at being stuck being the oldest, and not getting the trickle-down of Interesting Things the older children are learning. D2 likes to "build castles" with his Duplos now, so I must be succeeding somewhat at my scheme to make it up to them without turning into some sort of Baby Genius fiend.

*There's an obscure literary allusion. Anyone know what it's from?

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Mom Clothes Catalogue

Rose's post of fashion tips reminds me of my long-standing fantasy of a catalog of clothes that would be suitable for mothers of small children.

Everything would be machine wash and dry on any setting and would not wrinkle just because it happened to sit in the laundry basket for three days. (Unless it was supposed to look wrinkled, in which case it would still be wrinkled the right way.)

All the fabric would be the sort that doesn't look noticeably different when wet or coated with snot. Some fabric is like that now. Unfortunately it's impossible to test this for yourself in a store, so you ordinarily just have to hope you luck out.

The necklines, although varied, would all be tested so that a twenty-five pound toddler could hang from them without revealing anything. Skirts and slacks would all be perfectly comfortable and appropriate even sitting cross-legged on the floor, and would not slide down when tugged on.

They would all be easy to nurse in, and would be able to adapt to at least a fifteen-pound weight gain or loss without fitting strangely.

MOST IMPORTANT POINT OF ALL: Nobody else would be able to tell they were "mom clothes."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

End of the Road

Vacation is over, VBS is over. DOB returned last night from a five-day business trip, which we all survived. The insane part of the summer has drawn to a close, much to our relief. Now if we could just catch up on sleep. And thanks to other people, who take pictures, here are some:

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ducks & Bunnies

We've been doing quite a bit of yard saling lately. The adorable matching bunnies were DOB's idea, while I was looking for winter clothes. (We put initials on the tags to tell them apart; of course, they never bother to look before hauling off the nearest bunny.) Even Amy Dacyzyn (Tightwad Gazette) says it's good to make sure kids get something fun from a yard sale so they will always associate yard sales with good times.

We didn't get the skateboard that was D2's size. The next morning, he was standing up on his bike.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Tomato Report

I am at war with squirrels. Not the Canadian variety. Just the local ones.

For the past week and a half, I have been eagerly watching the first of the ripening tomatoes. A few were nearly ready to pick. But when I thought I could restrain myself no longer and went out to pick them, all but one (the least ripe) had vanished.

I know who the culprit was, too, for earlier in the day I had startled one of the scamps in the backyard. He fled over the neighbor's tumbledown (but freshly painted) shed, tossing back a half-eaten carcass over his shoulder, whether as a taunt or merely an oversight I don't know. I still can't believe I left all the other tomatoes just sitting on the vine, but I still had not realized how dearly squirrels love tomatoes. (Where I grew up, tomatoes are generally an indoor plant.)

Unfortunately, I don't think I have the skills or materials to construct a squirrel-proof shelter for the tomatoes. Squirrels are wily things. So I shall have to resort to the other solution, picking the tomatoes as soon as they start to turn color and letting them ripen on the windowsill.

Alas for vine-ripened tomatoes. And alas for my kitchen windowsill, which is pitched down toward the sink, as if in a perverse desire to knock things off all by itself.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Role of Women and the Glory of God

I've been intrigued by some discussions over at the True Womanhood blog lately, and various ideas have sprouted in my mind and, like my tomatoes, overgrown into rather different areas than intended, refusing to confine themselves to comments on any one post. This is why I have my own blog. What I have to say is meant in the spirit, not of a rebuke, but just a different angle to remember.

I very much value Christian women being free to think and speak and not arbitrarily confined to unscriptural gender roles. I do not appreciate rigid dress codes. I do not tell my daughter she can't like trucks or math or climbing trees. I have never been known to play dumb merely to salve the egos of less-intelligent men. And I do think there is a place for pointing out where such things are done or promoted wrongfully.

At the same time, it may well be that what is wrong for someone else to do, is not wrong for us to receive. That is a large part of what the love and humility of the Christian life is about. It may be bad for someone else to obsess over hemlines; it may be quite good for me to put on a longer skirt so we can both focus on Christ instead of wardrobes. It may be wrong for a church to prevent women from contributing to a discussion; it may be right for me to learn that God can work even when my mouth is shut. It may be wrong for a man to think a woman can't correct him; it may be good for me to learn a little humility, myself. If God could use the martyrdom of Christians to His glory, He can surely use some minor inconveniences.

Many discussions about women's roles focus on the danger that women might be thwarted in using their God-given gifts. That is a valid concern. But I don't think it is anywhere close to God's primary concern. God values all work done in His name and for His glory, but He commends by name the work that requires no gifts: giving a cup of cold water, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick. Looking for a place to use my God-given talents lives uncomfortably close, in my heart at least, to looking for ways to glorify myself.

Rigid gender roles may have repressed women in the past or even now; but not nearly so much, I would think, as life itself represses everyone. We will never know how many great poets died illiterate, or how many brilliant business managers spent their lives making mud bricks. If we find ourselves thwarted in our dreams and gifts, whether by life circumstances or false customs, we can hardly think ourselves unusual.

Nor, do I think, should we consider ourselves without hope. God has not made us for this world, but for another one. There--and only there--we can all serve Him fully, with our whole selves, with everything He has given us.

In the meantime, we lay all the things we have and want and are and can do before Him, ready to take up or lay down as He orders. He may be more interested in what we can learn by not using our gifts than in what we could accomplish by using them. Or He may ask us to do something we had so long given up we are afraid to touch it again. Either way, the slogan of the cross is not "Be all that you can be," but, "Come, follow Me."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I have blogged little lately, less from a lack of things to blog about, as from too many. I cannot make up my mind which to blog about, and thus, like the old sailor, I do nothing but bask. (Which reminds me that I have been reading When We Were Very Young selectively to the ducklings, and they adore it. They demand "Cwis'pher Wobin poems" at every read-aloud time.)

So perhaps if I deal with some topics briefly, I will get my gumption up to tackle a few others at more length later on. Or forget them entirely.

Life Together: This book, by Dietrch Bonhoeffer, has long been on my List of Books it Would No Doubt Be Noble To Read, but a friend's intention to read it finally spurred me to actually read it. I was quite surprised; I had thought it would be a book about life in the church, but it is really much more about family (or religious community) life.

I tend to benefit most in family life from books that are not particularly about family life, or that are written to very different times and circumstances. If I read a modern mother of many young children say that of course you must do thus and so, and I don't, I tend to either feel guilty, or waste far too much mental energy arguing with her in my head. But if a seminarian from another place and time posits three chapters of Scripture read aloud before breakfast I can laugh at picturing him being dumped into our stinky-diaper and howling-tummy bedlam and then go on to think about how I can weave more Scripture into our everyday life, even at breakfast. (A prayer and a song from the Bible are working very nicely.)

Another intriguing idea from him (and there were many more) is that the test of true Christian community is whether you can confess your faults to each other. Now he cautions against confession as a religious work in itself, and I have seen the ugliness that happens when we are proud of the confessions we can come up with and scrape the recesses of our souls to have a testimony like everyone else's. But real community comes when we can honestly tell someone else the things we are truly, deeply, ashamed of. It only works and gives freedom and joy in fellowship when it's unpleasant. With all the craving for "authenticity" nowadays, one seldom sees this path mentioned, but I think he's quite right.

Vacation Bible School: We are VBS wimps, showing up only to do the opening and then departing (much to D1's disappointment), but that is really all we are good for this year. We are portraying farmers, who last night discovered a considerable treasure in the field we were planning on buying. Is it only me, or does that parable strike you as rather shady business dealings?

I needed a bucket of dirt to hide the treasure in, but it needed to be lighter than a bucket of dirt. I finally struck upon painting an old chex mix tub with leftover house paint, then filling it with styrofoam, including a styrofoam circle that would form a false bottom for the dirt. The ducklings gleefully helped me paint the bucket. I finally realized the secret to them not getting paint on their clothes is to take their clothes off--old T-shirts of DOB's provide ample coverage for decency's sake, and then the paint only bleeds through onto their skin, from which it will no doubt wear off eventually.

Tonight is the parable of the sower and the seeds. I am faking a withered plant from the stony ground. I feel slightly guilty about this. If only I had thought to plant a seed on stony ground a few weeks ago!

Ducklings: They seemed to grow up a lot while we were on vacation, even though we were there watching them. D2 talks (and talks, and talks) very well now. His new favorite sentence model is "I like . . . " (from a book about trains) and he is happy to inform us about all the things he likes. He is also happy to repeat absolutely anything anybody says. They are both obsessed with playing with dishes and cooking food. I sometimes worry that this indicates they are either underfed or insufficiently stimulated in their imagination, but mostly I hope it bodes well for help in the kitchen. We are working on doing more formal chores now, and D1 is getting fairly good at clearing the table.

Monday, July 16, 2007

This Letter is Too Hard

D1 and I were sitting over her new phonics page, I drawing pictures of things that start with "T" and she interjecting the following comments, after I had written the big T in the middle of the page.

"Can you draw me a little T?"

"Can you draw me a medium T?"

"Can you draw me a Goldilocks T?"

Saturday, July 14, 2007

One Week, One Year

Today is one week since we arrived home, bleary-eyed, from vacation, and one year since we moved, shaky-legged, into this house. On my list of favorite things to do, not moving ranks very high.

A year ago tomorrow was one of the most unremittently miserable days of my life. Everything was misplaced in the wrong box, everybody was cranky, and DOB was passed out cold from consuming too many soy-containing snack foods during the move. We were, nonetheless, deeply grateful for the folks from a nearby church who had come over after their VBS program had ended to finish moving in all our furniture.

This year, we're gearing up to do the opening for VBS there ourselves. (It's just hard to say no to a church like that.) We still have a lot of boxes that need to find a better home, but I've just come up with a new scheme for reorganizing them and I might even have the energy to make it happen. For the first time ever, I've kept up on the housework every single day this week.

It's been nice to get a little taste of what normal feels like. For however long it lasts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Can Hold My Head Up Again

Because Birdy nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award. Not that I've been posting enough to make anyone think, but still, one dreams.

Here are the rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

This has been going around for awhile, and all of the high-traffic blogs that make me think also make other people think, and so they've already been nominated. That gives me the chance to post the names of five blogs featuring fellow mothers of small children who still come up with intelligent things to say. Occasionally. Or even often.

Keeping Up

Thoughts & Adventures

Love & Blunder

Not Alone

Focht Tales

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What We Learned On Our Summer Vacation

D2: If you're very small and very cute and you can utter polysyllabic names of juicy summer fruits with an endearing smile, people will continue feeding you said fruits indefinitely.

However, Mama believes that man does not live by strawberries and watermelon alone. So eat your eggs, too.

Walruses are way cool.

D1: I have the best cousin in the world. (Oh, and her brothers are nice, too.)

Rock-climbing is a great hobby.

QOC: It's a good idea to know what your husband thinks was your first date just in case you're ever playing games at an engagement party. (This is where courtship makes it so difficult. Define "date" first. Or maybe this is just where being a lawyer makes things difficult.)

It is fun to visit the zoo with other people. We do not want a zoo pass of our own until more members of the family are self-propelling.

DOB: Find out how to remove the emergency brake on a loaned vehicle before the ferry starts loading.

It really is possible to relax for more than three hours straight. At least if you have a western to read.

Monday, July 09, 2007

I didn't know this was possible

The library tells me I have too many holds. I guess I will have to wait on The Well of Lost Plots. And the remaining three dozen books I wanted to reserve.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Jiggety Jog

We had no blizzards, or even the stomach flu. Some of us did get colds, but that could hardly have been avoided.

A road trip is enough to make me wonder if perhaps children should not be potty-trained before seven. A plane trip is enough to convince me.

I'm sure it saved us a lot of money to leave our air conditioning off. I'm sure it will cool down again sometime. Meanwhile I must come up with a dinner menu that requires no ingredients or cooking. And not eating out. We did that on the way back from the airport and have had our fill for another year.

If you pack fewer clothes, you will do more laundry. Toddlers playing on the beach and the farm and eating in less-constrained locations than usual will not be able to wear the same outfit multiple times. Neither will their parents.

We saw nearly everyone we planned on seeing. We had a fabulous time pretty much everywhere. We will be coherent again in a few weeks.