Sometimes It’s Best To Say Nothing

There is no point in running a blog if you’re not going to use it. It has been over two years since my last post.

It’s not that there is a shortage of potential topics; blog fodder is abundant. I am learning that the first reaction to an event is not always the best vantage point from which to write. Things are not always as they seem, and she who blogs too soon may have to back up and go another direction. Once the words are in the blogosphere, they cannot be taken back. Better to say nothing and look like a fool, than to speak (or type) and remove all doubt. False accusations and rushes to judgment are ubiquitous.

I read several other blogs on a regular basis. Most are related to theology, since that is one of my passions. I have learned a lot by doing that. For the most part, it has made me think about what I want my blog to be. More importantly, I know what I do not want it to be.

I have only two descendants at this time. If there should be more, I would like for them to know the real me. I believe that if you want to really know someone, it’s best to read what they write. I have handwritten journals stashed away that may be interesting reading for future great-great grandchildren, if I am blessed to have any. Who knows where technology will lead? Maybe by then, these hypothetical descendants may be able to retrieve my entire life online. As the saying goes, I did most of my stupid stuff before the internet.

Of course it’s no fun to just bark in your own yard. As I get a little more focused on using my blog regularly, it would be fun to interact with others. For now, though, I’m just thinking with a keyboard.

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Odds And Ends Are Sometimes All There Are.

It’s been awhile since my last blog post. It’s a good thing I’m not really serious about this yet; surely if I had as many followers as Hollywood celebrities do, they would have given up on me before now. 

I have a friend who refers to her teenaged son’s lack of direction as “bobbing.” The first time I heard her use the analogy, I caught on that this was something she is deeply concerned about. I had to silently acknowledge that I go through periods of living my life this way. I wanted to tell her it could be worse; he could be drowning. I was afraid she would think I was trying to be glib so I kept silent. In his case, he is undecided about his plans for the future and seems to lean toward trouble a little too easily. At least I’m too old to have that problem. I suppose I should be concerned about myself, but I am not. Should I be concerned that I am not concerned? This could become a real conundrum.   

My computer at home finally gave up the ghost, and that was where I did most of my writing. I am unable to decide whether to get it fixed again, or to shop for something new.  The old dinosaur takes up far more space than a new one would. There are so many newer, more compact products to choose from, and I am at a standstill. At present I am using my smart phone for personal surfing, but not liking it. I’ve grown accustomed to listening to audio files that cannot be played on a phone, and I also did a lot of research and reading online. What to do, what to do, what to do?

I have three dogs and two cats. One of the dogs, a basset hound, was recently diagnosed with valley fever, an ailment common in the southwest among creatures that breathe. It’s a fungal infection that can settle in just about any part of the body, caused by inhaling the spores that live in our dirt. Typically the lungs are affected, but not so in her case. It went to her bones and joints.  After a little less than a month of treatment, she seems like a whole new dog, with all the vim and vigor of a pup. Treatment might be needed for several months yet, but I’m relieved to see her responding so quickly.  Here I thought she was just lethargic and limping because she is a middle-aged basset and this is a natural thing for a hound that is, effectively, bred to be a dwarf. I am grateful for veterinarians who know what’s what. 

It seems that the older I get, the more aware I become of all the ugliness in the world.  News headlines today shout the depravity of humanity, yet some folks still hold onto the hope that we can get better. College coaches caught in child sex abuse scandals, reports of cruelty to children, reports of cruelty to animals, reports of young people committing suicide in larger numbers than ever, natural disasters the world over and pictures of violence and death are ever before us. Who can deliver us from these bodies of death?

In all this randomness, where is the continuity? 

One of the things I wish I had more time for is song writing. At times my head is full of ideas; at others I can’t string three words together. Recently I composed a short little ditty that I can’t seem to get out of my head. It’s a little on the melancholy side, with a simple melody line and understated piano accompaniment. 

All is quiet and still tonight, but I can’t sleep – it’ll soon be light.

Finding You I just keep still. Jesus, help me know Your will.

People fail, and I do too; but I can put my trust in You.

Jesus, let Your kingdom come and let Your will on earth be done.

I take comfort in the music of Fernando Ortega, in Bible study and in the company of friends and family. They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, and I wait for His guidance and direction. I know that in time things will change.

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More Changes In Life’s Seasons

Sometimes circumstances arise that are outside of our control, driven by events that happen in other peoples’ lives. To an extent, the past eight years of my life have revolved around my granddaughter. She came into the world when my daughter was only seventeen. Although my daughter and the baby’s father talked about marriage, and tried to work toward that, they were both just too young and unable to rise to the challenges. Ultimately, the paternal grandparents became the baby’s guardians, and adopted her when she was three years old. Her dad eventually married and has two other children, and her mother now lives in New Mexico. In spite of these difficulties, the extended family has been blessed by this bright, personable and talented little girl. She seems to have inherited my love for music, and has a pretty good ear even at eight years old. She has a compassionate heart toward others and loves Jesus.

Both of the paternal grandparents were employed in the construction industry, and when the economic slump hit Arizona they both lost very good jobs. As months turned into years and it began to look like economic recovery was not coming any time soon, they decided to move to Missouri to be near family and return to a simpler lifestyle. Because of all the details involved in getting out of a house that is now worth about half what they paid for it, and making arrangements to find a new home in Missouri, it’s been a long process for them. My stress over this whole thing is minimal compared to theirs.

Knowing that this precious little girl was going to be moving away from me has been difficult. For the past eight months or so I’ve been sitting with her during violin lessons and dreaming of a day when we can play together. She frequently spent weekends with our side of the family. We took a few trips to Carlsbad to visit her mother. This summer has found me lethargic and dreading the inevitable.

However, God in His infinite mercy timed their leaving Phoenix with my attendance at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. He has reminded me that He is with me, that He will see me through this time. He arranged it so they would leave while I was surrounded by my brothers and sisters in Christ at NQC, inundated with great music and completely removed from this sad turn of events. My mother, her sister and my first cousin were also with me all that week, which was another blessing. We visited family in Indiana before going to Louisville, and I experienced a homecoming feeling that put ideas in my mind about the future. Perhaps forty-three years in the desert is long enough?

I don’t often get to see wide rivers, green trees and grass. It was a blessing to be surrounded by the landscape, with just a hint of the leaves changing color. Again I am reminded of the changing seasons in life, and the richness of God’s love and grace. As this next season in life approaches, I seek His guidance and depend more than ever on His presence in my life.

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Light In An Age Of Darkness

Once my pastor preached a sermon themed on Proverbs 23:7.  It really stuck with me because at the time I was beginning to understand the significance of philosophy in forming a person’s world view. The idea was also conveyed that what people say is not always what they really think, but in context the verse conveys the thought that people most often say something nice that hides evil thoughts, rather than saying evil things that cover sincerity. Reading the entire chapter in several different translations tends to broaden the perspective, even cautioning the reader to keep riches in their proper perspective and avoid overindulgent behavior, particularly alcohol. Good advice.

Maybe it’s because there are so many billions of people in the world, or maybe it’s just because technology brings us in touch with each other while keeping our identities concealed. I find myself thinking I would like to be without instant access to the world.

I am trying to discipline myself to ignore user comments on news web sites that allow anyone with a computer to post. I prefer moderated forums where trolls and unsupervised children are screened out, and the visitors have something intelligent to say. I feel as though I am looking into a dark tunnel when I read comments on, for example, CNN. This is particularly true when CNN posts articles related to anything Christian. Skeptics and non-believers jump on like mud on a Swiffer mop. I am considering staying off their site altogether; there is very little news on it anyway and that makes it a distraction. The Arizona Republic is another that I’m thinking of abandoning. I may go back to taking the print version of the paper. It may be a day late, but I can read all the stories without having to hunt, point, click and scroll.

Is it anonymity that makes people say these things? If it is true that your character is defined by who you are when no one is watching, I’m guessing that a lot of people are in big trouble. I used to think it might be worthwhile to dialogue with people in some of these situations, but I’ve changed my mind. The analogy of a sewer comes to mind; that some willingly jump in is appalling, but if they don’t want to come out they are more likely to pull you in if you reach out a hand.

If I put videos on youtube, I would disable the comments. It’s as if people are seeking a venue where they can be at their worst without anyone knowing. As in Proverbs 23, we are sitting at the virtual table and at least a few among us are openly crude, yet we don’t know who they really are. For all our modern technology and supposed advanced knowledge, we are still the same people Solomon wrote about in Proverbs 23, and the advice he gives us is still good.

We really do have choices. When I became a Christian it dawned on me early that I should be the same person alone at home that I am on the piano bench at church. Experience has convinced me that failure to strive for this goal allows many to privately engage in behaviors that are inappropriate for one who professes to know Christ, and to continue to nurture these demons. I have proposed this theory in discussion with friends. Some are convinced that we are puppets in God’s hands and that our effort in overcoming sin is worthless. But if God would help me in my struggle, why would He not help others in theirs?

 

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When Debates Become Fruitless.

Not long after I became a Christian, I heard about the Jesus Seminar. At first I was completely taken aback; then I realized through studying that there is a wide spectrum of opinion in the field of Bible scholarship, and there was no good reason to abandon my faith in a supernatural Creator and His Son, our Savior. At that point I became an amateur scholar; “amateur” meaning that I am not in a position to learn Greek and Hebrew at this stage in my life, so I must rely on the work of those who are skilled in these languages. Even if I started learning the original Biblical languages now, I would probably not live long enough to become an expert myself. I have collected more books than I have shelf space for, and spend far too much time reading theology blogs. I may have reached that place known as “information overload.”

We live in an age where numerous English translations of the Bible are available to us. Other than a few translations that were developed with a particular agenda (the New World Translation used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses comes to mind), any given passage read from any genuine translation will have the same meaning to most English speakers. The newer editions of the New International Version have become controversial because of their alleged “gender-neutral” language revisions, but the objections tend to sound like emotional reactions rather than reasoned, studied positions. Not having studied the newer versions of the NIV myself, I do not yet have an opinion. I use the 1984 NIV Life Application Bible and the Holman. I intend to explore newer versions of the NIV in the future, and will not be forming an opinion on this issue until I have.

Good exegesis – the extraction of meaning from the text – depends upon several factors. Who is writing, and who is the audience? Is the writer speaking of historical events or being philosophical? Is he using metaphor, or describing a physical being? Is the writer quoting someone else, or expressing his own thoughts? What were the cultural norms of the time and place? Most difficult of all for me: what did these words mean to the first people who heard them, and do they mean the same to me today? Or, to put the question in another way, did the Apostle Paul really mean that all women for all time will never be qualified to speak in church? Of all the debates that I have listened to or read transcripts of, none seem to be hotter than the proper role of women in the church today.

Opinions range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some believe that Paul’s instructions to the churches of his day were given because women were not educated, or because there were problems related to a specific group of women who were creating disruption. Others say that those instructions are permanently in place, regardless of the abilities or educational level of women in our culture. What do we do, then, with passages that indicate that there were women actively involved in and working in Paul’s ministry team? Were they cooks and dishwashers? The text does not lead me to think so. Were they there to minister only to women and children? The text doesn’t say, although that is a good possibility.

I will not pretend to know the answer to these questions. I do know the danger of taking one verse of Scripture out of context and building a doctrine around that one verse; you get a disjointed, muddled, inconsistent understanding of Scripture. As a woman with a desire to know Truth, I must admit that I have some particular struggles with Scripture. As I read through Paul’s writings, I frequently encounter phrases that apparently were clear to the original audience, but leave me in the dark. I will use 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 as an example. Within that passage there are questions that arise. Some take this passage so to heart that they expect women to wear scarves over their heads in church and look down on men who keep their hats on; yet, as we read through the end of that passage, was that what Paul really meant? It doesn’t appear so. In verses eight through ten, what does he mean by this reference to the angels? What about them? So is this passage about scarves and hair, or is it about something completely different? The footnotes in my study Bible indicate that this was a cultural issue between people coming from the Hebrew tradition merging with people coming from Gentile cultures; that Jewish men and women were looking at Gentile men and women and making assumptions about them based on their hair or head covering. Paul’s statement in verse sixteen indicates that this would be the correct understanding of this passage. Then I wonder, where did the information used for the footnotes come from, and is it reliable?

I will say this: given the proliferation of prosperity preachers and false prophets like Harold Camping, there are many men who should not speak in church either. I have also encountered men who believe that the option to divorce an unfaithful spouse belongs only to men, and that if a woman has a philandering husband she is obligated to tolerate it. After all, taking Jesus’s words at absolute face value, that is what the text says.

What, then, shall we say when several qualified people disagree over what a particular passage means? Unfortunately, it causes some to fall away from the faith, becoming critics and skeptics, rather than to persevere and seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit. Of course, the question this leads to is, what if one person insists the Holy Spirit told him one thing, and another insists that the Holy Spirit told her another?

I won’t pretend to know the answer to that question either.  Having listened to much debate on the subject, and having read transcript after transcript of debates that center on the meaning of the original Greek in context, all I can do is sigh.

Did Paul know that his letters would survive for nearly two thousand years, translated into languages that did not even exist in his lifetime? Did it even occur to him that his writings would be canonized? I don’t believe we can know the answer to this question. When Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16) that all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, many people do not understand that he was talking about the Old Testament. Those were the only Scriptures in existence during Paul’s lifetime. What of Paul’s statements prohibiting women from serving in positions of authority over men, or even from asking a question in church? It should be apparent to us that church in twenty-first century America is far different from church in the first century. Are we trying to hold on to traditions? How do we separate tradition from truth?

For the sake of the Gospel of Christ, I would not take up a battle flag in church. But if applying a rigid application to 1 Timothy 2:11-13 means that well-qualified women are prohibited from teaching men who are new believers, or from sharing the Gospel with men, I think we’re in troubled waters. Our culture offers women all of the same educational opportunities afforded to men; Paul’s world did not. Women can read and study the Word of God themselves.  Considering 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, many of us are self-supporting and do not have husbands at home to ask questions of. Many women have husbands who couldn’t name ten books of the Bible. Even in Paul’s day that was true. Or, in the greater context of that entire chapter, are we missing something?

The elephant in the room, as it were, is the erosion of the power of God working among the body of believers today. I only know the times in which I live, and cannot speak from personal observation about times past. I frequently hear of a small group of people becoming unhappy with their pastor, or with leadership of their church, and starting one of their own. Some of those have not turned out well. I know of a group who left a local Southern Baptist church several years back. Their leader eventually proved to be the molester of a child, leaving his little flock in a bitter and disenchanted state. I am aware of one Independent Baptist pastor who supports polygyny (the specific word for the family structure of a man with more than one wife) and blogs about it. He believes this to be God’s model for the family. He no longer has a congregation, which indicates to me that his congregation wasn’t buying it. He has alienated some of his own family. Yet another young man I know seemed to always be seeking “more”. He kept seeking new experiences, moved to a pentecostal denomination, went to seminary, became a pastor and eventually left his wife and four children for other men.

I have worked hard on this blog post, not really sure of the direction my thoughts were going. I said all of this to say that the church in Western society is in disarray. Too many believers are following wild winds. On one hand I would send out a call to all Christians to study their Bibles and fall in line with Biblical doctrine. Then on the other, I realize that at the heart of the problem lies intense disagreement over just what that entails.

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The Measure Of Success

I’ve never followed American Idol or any of the other talent shows. I know that some people have found stardom by winning the contests, or even by progressing far into the competition. I’m sure they are talented, but I’ve never been keen on these kinds of competitions. I have seen a few parts of episodes where contestants have been bounced, and I don’t like seeing disappointment in people. Many of them really are not very polished but have been encouraged by well-meaning friends and family members, only to find out that the world of competition is cold and cruel.

As a musician myself, I understand the desire for fame. When I was young I wanted to be a famous musician, playing on stages the world over and composing songs that would move peoples hearts and create memories. I did get a little look inside the world of the music business and I could see that there would be some sobering compromises involved. Still, I thought it might be worth it for all that money and all that fame. There was a little window of opportunity that opened for me back in the early 1980s. In retrospect, I believe that if I had made that my entire focus and pursued it hard, I might have found a place. Other circumstances presented, though; I chose marriage and motherhood instead.

In the back of my mind I thought I could continue to pursue my musical dream later. The marriage was certainly rocky and ended badly. I continued to write a few songs here and there, and played locally with a few groups. As time went on the dream began to disappear, but then I was very suddenly and unexpectedly swept into church. I had these neighbors whose children played with my daughter and upon learning that I was a musician, they invited me to church. I kept politely trying to get out of it, but then relented. I’ll go just one time, I told myself.

In one day (Sunday, June 7, 1992 to be exact) I was transformed from a rudderless ship to a woman called for a purpose. I kid you not; I woke up that day in one condition, and went to bed that night in another. Not only was the dream recreated, as was I; the variety of styles involved in playing for church challenged me to become a more proficient musician than I ever thought I would be.

That’s when I met satisfaction. Fame and fortune mattered less as my focus shifted toward storing up treasure in heaven. Over the years I developed and grew. These days arthritis has slowed me down a little and presented new challenges, and I am adjusting. I still wouldn’t trade what I have now for what I thought I wanted back then.

I struggle at present with some cognitive dissonance about the quality of the music I play. On one hand, I am all for people worshiping Jesus in song, but I miss the challenge of reading music and playing songs with written accompaniment (as opposed to lyric sheets with chords printed above the words without a clue as to the melody line or the rhythmic pattern). I have been playing for two contemporary services but will soon be shifting to one traditional and one contemporary service. I pray that God will rekindle my desire to stretch myself again and learn new skills, or even to sharpen skills that have been shelved for awhile.

All in all, my idea of success has been completely reinvented over the years. As a church pianist I have experienced a level of spiritual development and satisfaction that would never have been found in the music business. While I might welcome an opportunity to play publicly in a secular setting, within certain parameters, my heart will still be singing, “O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!”

 

 

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Dry Seasons: Life’s Metaphorical Plays.

As I write this, several wildfires are burning in my state.  The largest and least contained fire burns in eastern Arizona, having destroyed an area of over 400,000 acres as of this minute.  It could possibly become the largest fire in Arizona’s history, a title previously held by the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002.  The fires are fueled by extremely dry conditions. To my recollection we have had no measurable rain in over eight months.

In my previous blog entry, I noted how dry and brittle the landscape is through the southwest.  To think about how volatile these conditions are gives me pause; the wind keeps pushing the fire across dry brush and trees, completely outside human control.  I think back on the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002, the largest wildfire in Arizona history, which consumed over 468,000 acres of forest land before it was contained.  It had started as two separate fires that eventually merged. Both were human-caused, intentionally set. The Rodeo fire was set by a man hoping to find work as a quick-response firefighter (I am not kidding). The Chediski fire was set by a stranded motorist who was trying to get the attention of a helicopter.  Her plight was a little more understandable; it was an ill-conceived decision, nonetheless.

A cause has not yet been determined for this fire, which is called the Wallow fire, but it is believed to have been the result of a camp fire that was unattended. How long will it take us to learn? Do national forests have to be closed to the public to prevent these things from happening in the future?

I heard an interesting thought on the radio recently, from a sermon that  a well-known pastor had given on the subject of the return of Christ. I believe it was David Jeremiah; I apologize if I am crediting him with someone else’s ideas but because of Harold Camping’s failed end-of-the-world prediction there have been so many sermons on this topic. Anyway, the thought was this: God is the Author of the play, and we all have a part in it whether we acknowledge that or not. Our lives are filled with allegory and metaphor. God speaks to us through His word and through His creation; all we have to do is listen. If we seek Him, we find.

As the fires are extinguished by those brave, young people who have made it their vocation to fight them, the landscape will be scorched and blackened.  The monsoon season will come and the rain will run right off the mountains, with no vegetation to soak it up.  But then, saplings will be planted and in time, the forest will return.

The underlying issue is stewardship; Arizona’s forests are thick with undergrowth that should have been cleared out.  Managing these forests is an absolute necessity to keep this from being an annual event. There is a lot of blame-storming; it is said that at one time Arizona had a logging industry but that environmentalists blocked the harvesting of trees through the court system, and ran logging out of the state. We have also seen infestations of bark beetles that kill the trees, making them more susceptible to fire.

Again I find myself wondering, what is wrong with people? So many of these fires are intentionally set, and then you have people whose campfires get out of control. Then another metaphor begins to take shape as I consider these things: an unattended fire in a dry forest can erupt into a raging, deadly blaze, destroying everything and leaving behind a scorched landscape that can only be restored slowly, one sapling at a time, and with the passing of many, many seasons.

So don’t set fire to your own environment, and don’t leave your campfire unattended. If it doesn’t burn you up along with everything else, God can and will heal, but the process can take a very long time. Emotional and spiritual wounds affect the parts of us that make us what we really are; guard your territory and don’t let the enemy in.

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