28 December 2010

Welcome to the world, Baby Girl!

My newest granddaughter, Emery Esther Madden, was born tonight just a little bit ago.  I don't have many details yet but mother, daughter, dad, and big sister are all doing well.  Grandma is all verklempt :).

26 December 2010

"Silent" Monks Singing Hallelujah

I saw this video on another site and thought it was really cute :).  The "story" is that these monks have taken a vow of silence but have found themselves caught in a quandry:  the Bible says to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  How do they do that without violating their vows?  This video is the "monks" on tour with their solution.  (This is a thing that apparently made the rounds of several churches' and schools' Christmas services/concerts a few years ago but these kids seemed to be having the most joy with it.)

25 December 2010

Sing, All Ye Citizens of Heaven Above

The picture below is my Dad on one of the many motorhome trips he loved to take.  Christmas was his holiday.  He loved everything about it.  He loved searching for the perfect gifts for his wife, children and grandchildren.  He loved presiding over the turkey during the family meal and leading the family prayer.  He loved watching everyone open presents and taking pictures with his camera.  And he took great joy in being part of his church choir and being in the Christmas service every year.  He loved singing and he loved singing as a celebration of Jesus. 

The Spousal Unit and I went to our first Christmas Eve service in about ten years (our previous churches were a biker bar and a mixed martial arts gym so not so much on the traditional) and it was really nice; one of the best services I've ever been to.  Still, singing some of the more traditional hymns made me tear up a bit because I kept thinking that if I looked out of the corner of my eye, I might just catch my Dad in his choir robes and singing along, singing his heart out, singing in joy.

Merry Christmas, Dad.  I still miss you so much.

23 December 2010

Beatitudes: Grace

I'm reading another Yancey book as part of my devotional (The Jesus I Never Knew) and was finishing up Chapter 7, in which Yancey continues to discuss various aspects of Jesus' message in the Beatitudes.  The thrust of this chapter was the offensive nature of the Beatitudes since it seems to outline a standard of living that is impossible for anyone to live up to.

I was reading along when I came to a particular sentence that stopped me in my tracks.  I had to go back and read it again and then I had to go grab my highlighter and mark it (because there are days my brain is like Swiss cheese and I have a better shot of finding something if I mark it than if I assure myself I will remember the page/chapter where I read it).  Yancey has just finished comparing and contrasting Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in order to highlight the difference between ideals and grace when he writes "Grace is absolute, inflexible, all-encompassing.  It extends even to the people who nailed Jesus to the cross:  'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing' were among the last words Jesus spoke on earth."

This is the part I had to go back and re-read:  Grace is inflexible.  I don't think I'd ever seen it put quite like that before and I started thinking.  How much easier is it to offer grace to someone who shows repentance for their actions?  How much easier might it be to offer to pray for someone who has hurt a friend or family member by their actions because of a prior relationship you may have had with that person and you may have insight into their problems?

That sentence...grace is inflexible.  It says to me that grace doesn't work on a sliding scale.  We need to remember that the same grace extended to the outwardly repentant soul needs to remain on tap to the outwardly unrepentant soul for the moment they realize their thirst.  It doesn't mean that the unrepentant person gets off scot-free (although it may definitely seem like it at the time) since actions have consequences and those consequences must be dealt out fairly depending on the severity of the situation.  But how many of us - myself included - have simply put someone out-of-sight-out-of-mind...stopped praying for someone...because what they did was, to us, unforgiveable and they just didn't care?

I don't know.  I mean, this is something I'm still figuring out for myself - partially because God knocked me upside the head with a clue-by-four about two months ago and told me he wanted me to start praying for a particular person.  Now, I don't like this person.  I don't like what they did and I don't like what they've done since then.  The damage from their acts has been great.  It's like what you see when you throw a stone in the water:  the ripples just keep spreading further and further.  I haven't even talked to this person since it happened and I don't intend to. 

But there was God one morning settling down next to me and my caramel latte.  *zealously guards caramel latte*

God:  "Hey, I want you to start praying for this person."

Me:  "Really?  I don't suppose this would be an example of your sense of humor this time, either?"

God:  "No.  As before, my sense of humor remains excellent.  However, I am, once again, making a serious request."

Me:  "Oh boy."  (please use correct Sam Beckett 'Quantum Leap' tone)

And...I'm trying to pray for this person.  Some days it really sucks and I don't want to think about the grace that is there should they choose to avail themselves of it 'cause...you know, they hurt people.  Badly.  They hurt my friends.  They wreaked havoc.  And I have to pray for this person?  Send up the "it's not fair!" whine.

And then I get to the end of the chapter and the clue-by-four pretty much smacks me between the eyes.  So it's not fair I "have" to pray for this person but, considering sin is sin and there is no hierarchy (i.e., no one sin is worse than another), it's perfectly fair that I can accept grace for all my crapola and move on?  Yeah, errrr....*cough*.  Hypocrisy, would you like some cheese with that whine? 

Yancey writes, "Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters.  We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God.  Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace."

I guess grace can make ripples too.

22 December 2010

Despicable Me

It's so fluffy!

(and I still have another week off from work!  Fear...)

16 December 2010

Water for Elephants Official Trailer

Loved the book.  So going to see the movie even though Robert Pattinson is playing Jake.  The first person that shouts "Edward!" at the screen gets it...:P.

13 December 2010

Things Best Left Unseen

There are certain things that, when driving into work, are best left unseen.  They would be:

1.  The woman directly behind me putting on her makeup using the rearview mirror.  I had always heard of this legendary tale yet never seen it for myself, yet there she was behind me, straining up to her right to get that perfect rearview mirror angle so critical for the proper application of mascara.  And blush...can't forget the blush.  Never mind the two freeway on-ramps we're rapidly approaching at 70 miles an hour.  Oh no. Blending is much more important.

2.  Reading a book propped up on the steering wheel while driving.  Really?  Here's a clue:  Dumbledore dies.  The Fellowship wins.  Bella is still a completely passive, immature twit and Edward is a stalker sparklepire.  If you really can't wait to find out what happens, can you at least wait until the stoplight?

3.  Driving directly behind someone whose license plate reads "BLIND".  No.  Just...no.

01 December 2010

Lessons in Attitude Adjustment, Part III

...continued from Part I and Part II

(I have this horrible urge to start off with either "In our last episode..." or "As you know, Bob...".  Must...resist!)

So, going back to Yancey's subchapter Checklist for Healing in his book on prayer, I've written about three of the four questions and how I felt they related to my husband and I when God called us to something that was rather unexpected.  The first three questions were:  (1) Am I expecting a miracle as an entitlement?, (2) Am I using the benefits of God's "common grace", and (3) Do I wrongly blame God for causing the suffering?

The fourth question Yancey lists is this:  Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing may not take place?  He further writes "In its most detailed passages on suffering, the New Testament moves the emphasis to what we can learn from the difficulty and the good that can be produced."  Yeah, all that character-building I was talking about in Part II?  That comes into play here.  While the Bible does have stories of people who were miraculously healed of their ailments, it also contains stories and accounts from those who were not or mentions others, for example, in their letters to the churches but there is no followup, no postscript to note the healing that had taken place.  Paul himself prayed regarding a "thorn in his flesh".  There is some debate on whether the "thorn" was physical or not but, if it was, there is no mention of it ever being healed and this was a guy who was regarded as one of the greatest apostles.  If anyone had been "deserving" of healing, surely Paul would have been a contender.  And if it had been a physical illness or infirmity that was healed, I'm thinkin' someone might have mentioned it.  I mean, dude.  Seriously.  Paul.

Okay...yanking this back to the topic at hand?  This is an outcome with which the Spousal Unit and I had to get comfortable.  Not comfortable in that nice La-Z-Boy recliner kind of way (which would have been a lot easier) but comfortable in the sense of understanding and acknowledging that we had absolutely no control over the coffee shop and what God wanted to do with it.  We had deeded it over to Him in a sense so, really, we were working for Him versus owning a coffee shop.  We continued to pray, we continued to fire our requests and wants at God because we should always be knocking on the door or, more fitting in my case, working on that submission hold :).  But the prime request became for God to help us get out of our own way - that we wouldn't become so worried or consumed about funds, et cetera, that we would lose sight or miss an opportunity in the meantime.  This was where I think I really started to get under the skin of the idea of prayer and discover more what it is meant to be rather than the dry exercise it appears to be.

And God wants our requests.  He knows the motives by which we pray and persistence in prayer is part of spiritual growth.  A lot of people will offer up the last half of a C.S. Lewis quote on prayer as the reason we should pray:  "It doesn't change God - it changes me."   However, I think the entire quote is much more indicative of what happens when we start honestly pursuing God in prayer, seeking Him, importuning Him, and yeah, even yelling at Him:  "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping.   It doesn't change God - it changes me."  Being determined or (let's face it) stubborn in prayer brings me closer to God in a more honest way than reciting a litany of prayers learned in Sunday School or at my parents' knee.  By being flat-out honest with God about what's going on and how I feel about it, I learn what it feels like to be able to pass along my burdens, so to speak, to someone who is waaaaaaay more qualified to handle them than me.  The money issues, the other things, the employees...they were still there but I felt like someone else understood and was watching those things as well once the Spousal Unit and I really started digging into praying.  God is definitely "trouble shared is trouble halved".  'Cause honestly, who else can handle taking on all your crap like the Creator of the Universe?

Also, praying got my focus off of me and what I felt was important.  It's not that God doesn't think our problems have merit or that He doesn't take us seriously; however, sometimes we can become so consumed with what we think we need or what we think is missing or what we think should happen or how God should solve a particular problem, that we can lose sight of the fact that our viewpoint is not necessarily God's viewpoint.  Because humans exist in a linear timeframe, we may think we know what we need because we are used to thinking in the immediate or the short term. What will solve my current problem right now?  God, who exists outside time and space, truly does know what we need since His picture is much, much broader.

Serious, persistent prayer (angry, pleading, questioning, or even just talking) shifts the focus of the person  doing the praying.  It may be quick or it may be so gradual you really don't notice it until you think about it months down the line.  Prayer brings us more into line with what God wants to do and my role in that scenario.  I know I'm probably rambling at ths point because I don't think I can pinpoint how or when my point of view shifted.  It just did.  I started praying as a steward of what God had given us with the shop, the house, our jobs, et cetera, and asking Him to help me use our resources well and to just...be available when He did need me for something (God sometimes has to yell at me to get my attention).

And we prayed for the shop.  We prayed it would do well.  When it didn't, we prayed about that and what God's plan was.  There were a lot of times over that year that things should have ended a lot quicker and uglier than they did. I said it in the last entry:  if you look at the math, there was no way we should have been able to pay a mortgage, buy food, and work on keeping up on home bills, shop bills, giving, and so on. That was totally God and I absolutely believe it was because we stood back and said, "Hey, we work for you and we have no clue what's going on. Here's what we need."  Like God told me in the shower, He gave us "enough" and we were able to steward that "enough" to get us through the year.  Was it a complete and total answer to our prayers?  No.  But it was what He had seen would be enough for His purpose.

When we finally had to close up shop, we prayed about all the people we had worked with, met, and wouldn't get to see anymore.  We prayed about the bills and everything else that happens when you lose a business.  I prayed really hard for the Spousal Unit because as the head of the household, a lot of this fell on his shoulders to deal with when we finally did close the doors.  I did what I could when I could but he had to bear the lion's share of it and it was hard for him.

Final outcome?  We lost our business.  Our house is now in foreclosure and we moved to another state in order for the SU to have work.  We have no retirement anymore and very little savings, mostly living month to month.  Hoping to be able to time the paychecks so we can send the kids and our grandchildren some Christmas presents.  Not sure how we're goingn to deal with taxes this year.  We still owe money and are working at paying that off as we can a la Dave Ramsey again. 

Part of me wishes I could tie this entry up in some nice, neat little ribbon; make a pleasant package out of it; not really the point of it all, though.  I guess my whole point in this series of entries is that while following God has its times of peace and joy and happiness, it is also messy, hard and painful.  He can call us to do things that seem to make no sense and we may never know the whys or wherefores in this life - and that is an outcome we have to be prepared for.  God never promised us all the answers nor did he assure us that somewhere down the line, the last piece of the puzzle would pop into place and we'd say, "Ohhhhhh, I get it now!"  My (sometimes daily) choice is do I become bitter about how things worked out and let that rule me, separating the closeness that I've grown to know by becoming more persistent in prayer over these past two years?  Or do I keep praying about it, admitting those days that I'm really kind of ticked off about the whole thing, and then ask God to help me get my head screwed back on straight again so I continue to work on lining up my world view with His?

Yancey writes, "Jesus never promised to erase all poverty, all suffering, all human need.  Rather, he announced a kingdom that values the needy above the beautiful and powerful and self-sufficient."   Becoming needy/weak is a frightening thing, particularly, I think, because we live in a world that does place a high value on self-sufficiency and "pulling oneself up by the bootstraps".  We've got shows like The Apprentice and Homemade Millionaire that base their appeal on the idea that anyone, anywhere, can make it with their talent or skills.  There is a place for that and a place for hard work, most definitely, but there is a time and a place to set aside self-reliance and admit that we need so much more than what the world tells us will solve our problems.  Paul talks in Corinthians about being delighted in his weakness because it is then he is strong since Christ's power rests on him.  It's not in spite of the fact Paul is weak but because he is weak.  When we are self-sufficient, we tend to think everything is done under our own power.  When we are weak or needy, we are then able to see God's hand at work with much more clarity than we originally might have.  Weakness helps remove the blinders.  I got very needy over the past two years and I can see where being needy changed me through learning to pray about that need through prayer, and I think my model of prayer is beginning to approach C.S. Lewis' model.

I still don't know why God had us open a coffee shop and I may not ever get an answer to that.  The need for that knowledge, though, has faded as my relationship has grown.  Before we moved, we had a guy from our church ask us why God would have us open a business when it was ultimately going to fail.  Our response was "He told us to.  We don't have to understand it.  We just have to do it."

And we'll hopefully remember that when the next event comes around.  We won't have to understand it.  We'll just have to do it.  And be needy.  And pray.

26 November 2010

Cookie Exchange

Post-Thanksgiving Moments of Sloth and Momentary Lapses of Reason

1. I managed to avoid any Walmart Black Friday shoppers by doing my grocery shopping about 10 am today. Yay for uncrowded aisles.

2. Kindles are of the good. Unlimited funds with which to load the Kindle would be even better (or "would be Harlan" if you are a Stargate SG-1 fanatic. Komtraya!).

3.  Spending the entire day (minus the trip to the store) in your jammies, taking an early morning and late afternoon nap with your husband, and eschewing the healthy breakfast for the last bit of Captain Crunch is made of win!

4. It seems that wearing flannel jammie bottoms, socks and sitting in a chair with a blanket wrapped around me (and did I mention the socks on my feet?) does not somehow equal to the Spousal Unit that I might be cold. Must remember to check his logic capacitors.

5. Why, oh why, when I see a black lump in the middle of the road with a white stripe on it must I sniff as I drive by juuuuuuuuuuust to make sure that it's a skunk? Because the white stripe and the odiferous stench lingering in my car via the heater vent isn't enough? I just have to be that much extra sure? Pepe le Pew, indeed!

(Note: No skunks were run over during the making of this post. Contents may settle during shipping. Batteries not included.)

22 November 2010

Lessons in Attitude Adjustment, Part II

...continued from Part I

We lasted a year; one very long, very hard, very painful, very lesson-filled year. It was the kind of year where you wave the white flag and say, “Please God, enough with the character-building!” (It sounds even better if you can say it with an accent like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.) Looking back on it, we went through all of these steps in our process to both start what God wanted us to and then to try and make sense of it when it didn’t seem to go “as planned”.

First would actually be second or step number two: Am I using the benefits of God's "common grace” - the healing built into our bodies and the medical knowledge we have gained? Or, have I exercised due diligence for my particular situation? For our circumstances, it would be more of a question of using resources and knowledge properly and I believe we did. Both of us have a fair amount of business acumen gathered over the years, and we investigated loan rates, amounts, different square footage rates, renting in an already existing building versus building a place, suppliers. We also had previously followed Dave Ramsey’s financial planning advice and were completely out of debt except for our monthly house payment before we took on this assignment.

Numbers one and three are somewhat entwined for me.  I do think there is a general mindset amongst Christians that we have a right to certain benefits because we are followers of Christ, meaning that if God has called us to do something for Him, then He will undoubtedly bless that endeavor. I know both the Spousal Unit and I had to deal with this both within ourselves and with other Christians who were on the outside looking in at us during this whole process. Accompanying that is also the general “success” mindset in America today that if you work hard, keep your nose to the grindstone, be a good citizen, and so on, your hard work will be rewarded.

We started out okay as far as customers and profits went, quickly building up a small but loyal customer base – and just as quickly went into a period of some of the worst spiritual warfare I have ever been part of. It was like we had a target on our foreheads. It was like the shop became invisible to the town at large and some days we couldn’t get anyone in there for love or money. It was mystifying. It was scary-making, too, considering that money was tight (to say the least) and we didn’t exactly have reserves of cash, and it was angry-making as well. Y’know, kinda like “Hey God, you told us to do this. What exactly is the deal here?” (Those of you that know me know that is the highly edited, clean version.) In some ways, I think it was harder for my husband than me. While both of us had been raised with one heck of a work ethic, when I failed to complete the appropriate, high-school-to-college-to-marriage-within-five-years track, my family pretty much labeled me a failure so, in a way, I was okay with things NOT working out “as planned” The Spousal Unit, OTOH, had done the success track and had gone very far in his chosen career with nothing more than a high school diploma – a subtle nose thumbing at his family who had all gone to college and had degrees except him. Now, despite all his good, solid planning and hard work, things weren’t working out the way he/we had figured they would.

I don't think I can adequately describe the anger and fruutration he felt, or the fear.  Submission is a difficult thing and so much of submission talk gets centered around Ephesians 5 and how wives should submit to their husbands.  While this is true and Biblical (something I believe so much in that I had the guy who married us put submit back into my vows), I think men sometimes have the more difficult job.  Men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (NIV).  Dude, Christ died for the church in submission to God's plan for him.  Now I was watching some of my husband's ideals and stumbling blocks being broken by his being willing to submit to God's plan for us and it wasn't pretty.  It was hard to watch.

We had agreed together this was God's plan for both of us so, in my role as a submissive wife, my job was to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with him and support him in every way possible whether that was through working more hours at the shop after my other job; telling him verbally or by text what a great guy he was, what a good job he was doing and how proud I was of him; or by praying for him and asking for others to pray for us too.  A prophet once told us that the Spousal Unit and I are like balloons.  When one of us is down, the other is inflated and seeks to pump the other one up.  I was pumping as hard as I could.

One of the things I noted were the changes occurring in me.  Money has always been a hot button issue of mine ever since childhood when my dad wasn't quite so good at getting things paid on time.  When things started to go wrong in our eyes, I was surpringly, weirdly...okay about it.  I wasn't weirded out.  I wasn't freaking out over where the money was going to come from to pay bills. People talk about the peace that passes all understanding and if that's it?  It's one of the oddest feelings ever.  Nice...but odd :).  Shortly before the shop had opened, I had been in the shower (God likes to talk to me in the shower and I'm not sure why) and God had said, "I will give you enough."  And he did that whole year.  It may not have been my definition of enough but if you looked at the books over that year, there are several instances where there was absolutely no way the math should have worked.  Yet we had food, a roof over our heads, and we were able to keep the doors open to the shop longer than we should have.

Even in the midst of all the spiritual warfare, there were bright spots.  One night, there was just nobody coming in and it was so oppressive that the Spousal Unit finally said, "You know what?  I've had enough."  He grabbed his guitar, threw open the doors and sat on the stage playing and signing worship songs for a couple hours.  We learned how to pray and give thanks for the good amidst the bad which can be really hard to do.  We learned how to start getting out of God's way by letting go of our expectations.  We gave thanks for everything He had given us because none of it was anything we had done on our own.  We were able to counsel many young married couples, do pre-marital counseling and also counsel a long-term married couple and keep their marriage together.  We also managed to convince one couple that getting married was probably NOT the best thing for them right now.  I was able to give cooking lessons to some of the young women in the church and give some guidance to a young woman who was getting married and becoming a stepmom - same as I did.  These are all people we wouldn't have been able to touch had we taken the job in London and moved two years earlier.

We prayed before the shop was built and while it was open that it was God's to do with as he would.  We asked that it be an extension of our church and I believe He did make it that.  In doing so, we committed ourselves to a deeper level of service, I think, and God required a deeper level of faith from us.  Hence point number one - no necessarily quick or dependable release from suffering.  He grew both of us in a way we were not expecting (and is still stretching us) but God has become much more the shelter from the whirlwind than the whirlwind itself.

(...to be continued)

20 November 2010

Lessons in Attitude Adjustment, Part I

I have been reading Philip Yancey's book, Prayer, over the past few months (just finished) as a kind of morning devotional.  Prayer is something that has always been kind of...elusive for me in a "how-to" way that made sense and made me feel like I was actually talking to someone versus out loud to the air or to some nebulous guy with a white beard wearing the Old Testament version of a onesie up on a cloud.

 I so watch too much Family Guy...

The book itself is great.  There are a lot of yellow highlighted pages in it and some things I will probably be pulling out over time and writing about as I mull over them some more.  One of the chapters that really struck me right away was on prayer and physical healing although not for the actual topic itself.  Under the sub-heading of "Checklist for Healing", Yancey talks about how Jesus' healing miracles are a sign of how the world should and someday will be.  However, at the same time, the Bible also has examples of illnesses that are healed and unhealed.  He says, "In search of the proper balance, when I desire and pray for a miracle I ask myself a series of questions."

  1.  Am I expecting a miracle as entitlement?  (God does not necessarily provide a quick, dependable solution to all suffering.)

  2.  Am I using the benefits of God's "common grace” - the healing built into our bodies and the medical knowledge we have gained?  (The best healing is when a person lives so a properly aligned soul and body can direct bodily healing prompted by good medicine.)

  3.  Do I wrongly blame God for causing the suffering?  (God is a source of comfort, not torment.)

  4.  Am I prepared for the possibility that physical healing may not take place?  (Jesus never said he would erase all suffering or human need; rather, he talked about a kingdom that values the needy above the self-sufficient.  In other words, as Yancey writes, "God offers us a minimum of protection and a maximum of support.")

 This particular part of the chapter resonated with me not due to a physical ailment that I had been wrestling with or praying over but instead a financial one.  Long story short, the Spousal Unit was out of work for six weeks due to surgery.  When he came back, the SU's job said, "Hey, we don't need you anymore.  Here's your severance check.  Goodbye."

 Whoa.  Yeah.  Wow, SU's job.  Yea, verily.  You suck.

Ah, but the SU has a prodigious talent in a particular field and there shortly came an offer of a new job.  Saved!  Not to mention the job was in London.  For $250K a year.  Tax-free.  To borrow from the native language of my SoCal youth: Duuuuuuuuude!

So we went to God and the conversation went something like this:

Us:  "Hey, God.  We've got this great new job opportunity.  Isn't this cool?  It's everything we wanted."

God:  "Yup.  That's nice.  But what I really want you to do is to stay in Podunkville, Redneckland and build a coffee shop."

Us:  "Beg pardon?  Oh, that was a joke, right?"

God:  "I do have an excellent sense of humor but, no, I was really quite serious."

Long story short, we took a deep breath, cashed in the 401K, and did what God told us to do.  The idea was basically “Cheers without the alcohol”.  Coffee, sandwiches, desserts and live music a couple nights a week – mostly blues but with some other stuff thrown in, using local artists, the SU and friends of the SU both locally and from Metropolis.  We prayed over it constantly, had others do so, checked in with God, and always got the message that we were on the right track. It took us almost a year to get the place built, inspected, supplied and so on and so forth.  Then we opened the door.  

(...to be continued)

14 November 2010

Mixed Messages

I was driving to Fresh Market yesterday and saw one of those marquee signs that flashes messages in big red letters every few seconds. The first message was "Be happy with your body!".

The next message was "Get liposuction!"


06 November 2010


The heat died some time during the night in the apartment.  Maintenance has been called.  Socks *looks down*...ok, a couple pairs of socks are being worn.  Send help :P.

05 November 2010

Inigo's Dictionary: Misogyny

I’ve been online for a number of years but it’s been over the past two or three or so that I’ve started to notice a particular trend in the entertainment-centered communities and journals I read. That trend seems to be a growing bent towards a hair trigger temperament regarding any dialogue or scene that doesn’t have equality or empowerment or gosh-darn-it-ain’t-diversity-great either at its core or else somewhere explicitly stated within the scene/program/movie, et cetera.

Case in point? The way so many people keep throwing around the word “misogyny” if a male character dares to say something uncomplimentary about a female character on a television show (see latest example “The Walking Dead”).

In the first place, I don’t recall where broadcast companies ever developed a contract with the general public to make programming that showed a perfect world where everyone behaved with utter propriety and gentility towards their fellow man. That would be unrealistic – not to mention boring. Drama and comedy are both built on conflict, the fact that people are different from each other, and the working out (or not) of those differences.

That is not to say there is not misogyny both in the real world and portrayed in entertainment. However, there is a very big difference between misogyny, sexism and, frankly, just being a dim boor. Context is important and it’s the context of the comments characters make that is getting lost in the misogynistic battle cry.

Back to The Walking Dead for a minute. The premiere was on Halloween. Early in the premiere episode, two male characters have a conversation while sitting in their patrol car. One of them makes a couple comments about how women want men to talk about their feelings and so forth; standard guy complaints, essentially, that have been done a thousand times before. Cue journal posts and TWOP (itself a rather bizarre microcosm of the television-watching public) posts about misogynistic characters and how they won’t tune in again because that kind of crap has no place in appropriate or thoughtful programming and so on and so forth.

In the words of Stacy London: Shut up. No, really. Shut up.

It tends to boil down to two issues for me: television and the use of the word “misogyny” itself. To start with, let’s hit the television issue.

It’s the premiere. The first episode. Of a new series. The idea seems to escape some people that a character saying lines such as the ones mentioned above does not mean that the show itself is misogynistic nor, necessarily, is the character himself. Again, degrees of difference between misogyny, sexism and stupidity abound. If the character is a misogynist, it doesn’t mean that I have to (a) agree with what they are saying or (b) somehow see them as a hero just because they are on a show I like despite the presence of Misogyny Man. It’s okay to like a show and hate a character (see Battlestar Galactica Reboot and my everlasting grimace for Starbuck and Her Special Destiny). If the character does actually turn out to be a misogynist by definition versus a sexist or just a fool, then I can make a decision to continue watching the show based on whether I enjoy the show enough to put up with him and if I truly feel the show is somehow giving a platform to or endorsing misogyny.

The other thing about it being a premiere that makes me go “er?” is that I find it astounding someone is really going to judge an entire series based on less than five minutes of dialogue from a character that they’ve seen for less than sixty minutes. Okay, then. I mean, seriously. You (general you) as a woman have never made a similar, stereotypical comment about a subset of women that annoy you or a comment about men, perhaps? Applying similar logic, doesn’t that mean, then, that you’re also a misogynist or a misandrist?

The second issue is the use of the word “misogyny” by some women as a kind of catchall for any phrase or action they deem remotely offensive. Misogyny is defined as a hatred of women – prejudiced hostility or animosity, abhorrence, detestation, revulsion, loathing, disgust, et cetera, according to the dictionary and thesaurus. All of those are very strong words. As far as The Walking Dead goes, some guy making a general comment about women that is on the level (to my mind) of a Tim Allen Home Improvement episode is not misogynistic. It’s dim. It makes me wonder exactly what a (potential) girlfriend might see in the doofus. I might find it offensive or eyebrow-raising depending on the comment and the context if it happened/happens again and would place it alongside what I am learning about the character and use it to continue to evaluate his personality but I’m not going to rush right out and stock up on tar and feathers because he’s a jerk at first blush.

In the past I have worked with men whom I would consider to be much more towards the sexist/misogynist bent. When I worked security for concerts, one of our jobs was to go up in the stands during “no camera” shows anytime we saw a flash so we could confiscate the camera. When I started up the stairs, my erstwhile partner would shout “Rape her! Rape her!” When I was a crew chief on an Accommodations crew, I had a couple guys who would try to refuse the duties I assigned them because I am a woman.

I spent the last five years as a fighter and instructor in an MMA gym and that’s probably where some of my attitude about this comes from. You want to talk about a place that is rife for sexism and misogyny? Oh yeah. Respect is definitely earned in a place like that and, as a woman, there were times you had to work harder for it and you made definite choices about what was offensive and what was not. Context.

We had a “rage fighter” at the gym. Once you got to know him, he was one of the absolute sweetest guys you could meet. He trained me, worked with me, supported me and cheered me on more time than I could even recount and his support meant the world to me. Heck, he would tell newbies I was his hero, but some of the stuff that came out of his mouth when we were talking or training would make you want to smack him upside the head, and would have the people up in arms over The Walking Dead and other shows screaming for his blood. Yet I know that he most emphatically does not detest women. He doesn’t loathe them. In fact, he loves his wife and baby daughter and is working to be the best father he can be. Is he perfect? No. Could he improve? Sure (as can we all). Was he trying? Yes. People that are quick to jump to conclusions (about a fictional character no less, never mind a real human being) would never have the opportunity to find that out, though.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to choose what offends them or where their line in the sand is to be drawn. Still, I find it hard to fathom that some people want to spend so much time and expend so much energy looking for prejudice when none may be intended or even thought of. It sounds very draining to me and I don’t think I’m the only person staring at my computer screen with a blank look and wondering what the Sam Hill you’re banging on about.

So, in summary? Misogyny is a bad thing. I think we can agree on that. However, when people immediately start playing Misogyny Bingo the moment a fictional character says or does something that they may find personally offensive but yet doesn’t even come close to fitting the definition, they are the ones diluting the gravity of the word and the charge it brings, not the show or its writers or actors

03 November 2010


My sinuses have conspired against me.  They must die.

And the colitis is back which means my sphincter is like Sergeant Schultz:  "You poop no-THINK!"

So, yes.  Picture entirely appropriate today.

Ed Note:  Thank you, God, for the creation of 7-Up, thereby assuring me that I am still only a nominee for the Pukeys and not a winner.

28 October 2010

One is the loneliest number

(and now I have the Filter version of that song from the X-Files movie stuck in my head...)

The Spousal Unit and I went to Life Group on Sunday night.  We had a good time.  PW makes dinner and then we get into a directed study for a while afterwards.  One of the things I really like about it is Head Guy keeps things within a time frame.  We can all talk, question, et cetera, but if it's getting close to the magic hour, he'll note that we need to wrap it up and then keep it directed towards that end.  Yay for someone who can land the plane!

Anyhoo, we are currently going through the parables and the PotW** was about the sheep - you know, the one that goes skipping merrily off from the ninety-nine and the shepherd goes to find it.  One of the questions posed was why the shepherd (or us, really) might go after the one and the general consensus was because we knew what kind of trouble the sheep could get its little self into.  Plus, we also know what the sheep is capable of - both good and bad.

The conversation switched to types of sheep and boundaries were brought up; specifically, the idea that grace is a part of sheep-catching but that doesn't mean the fluffy little bugger gets to overrun your boundaries and/or take advantage of you.  Jesus showed grace but He also called people on their issues when He needed to.  Forgiveness does not recreate you into a door mat.  It doesn't require that you lay down and let the person walk all over you.  Forgiveness does not necessarily equal relationship restoration in some cases.  At that point, it's basically saying, "I care about you and I love you.  I am forgiving you for what you have done to me because I need to in order to be able to move on."

It also doesn't mean God isn't going to allow Woolyhead the consequences of his/her actions.  We all make good and bad choices and I have yet to see God somehow completely go against the laws of nature and wipe out every consequence or every hurt from memory and set the counter back to zero.  God can (and has) done miraculous things but I think He also sees the value in us learning from what we've done and working to set things right both in the horizontal and the vertical.  How can we grow if everything that comprised our learning becomes a do-over?

While everyone was talking about the more visible types of sheep (addicts, thieves, etc), I started thinking about "other" sheep.  If Christians are the ninety-nine, then anyone who isn't is pretty much the "one".  I don't think that means we immediately go out and start proselytizing to people willy-nilly (wooly-bully?); however, I do think it means we need to invest in the lives of the "ones".

For example, the Spousal Unit and I go out to have a drink on Friday nights and talk about our week.  We usually get the same waitress and we've kind of gotten to know her a bit.  Last Friday before we left, the SU spent some time talking to her about how she was doing in school and what was going on.  As we walked out to the car, I looked at him and said, "You're sowing."  His reply.  "Yup."  It's not a big thing.  It's not handing her a tract (oh, how I hate those).  It's just spending a couple minutes a week finding out who she is and what's important to her.  You gotta know somebody first, y'know?

My mom is one of the sheep who's kind of wandering on the outskirts of the flock - has been ever since my dad died.  She is lonely and afraid.  It's one of the reasons I talk to her every night.  She's already technically one of the ninety-nine but by investing in her, I know our relationship has grown and changed.  She talks to me now about things she wouldn't have before; things that concern and frighten her, worries she has about Heaven and my dad, insecurities, and so on.  I'll admit there are times I repeat that verse about "widows and orphans" because some days it's hard to get through that call.  Still, it's worth it to help her feel safe and secure not only in our relationship but also in the ones she will have after death.

So..the sum of all this nattering on?  Sheep.  They come in many forms.  Be on the lookout.

**PotW = Parable of the Week

25 October 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am normally not a fan of chocolate chip cookies since they tend to be overly sweet for my taste.  I suppose if I had to pick a cookie, I would be a total philistine and choose Mother's chocolate chip cookies (if you grew up in California, you know the cookies whereof I speak).  They had that slight chemical taste that screamed "I'm from an assembly line" and texture that had them trash-talking Twinkies about beating them in the longevity sweepstakes, but they were in my lunch everyday - thanks, Mom! - and therefore, inevitably I suppose, what I compared any homemade chocolate chip cookie against.  Although I'm pretty sure purists would weep, the Mother's brand always came out on top.

I tried various chocolate chip cookie recipes over the years but could never find one that didn't make my teeth ache or the roof of my mouth tingle like some dental Bat-signal my teeth were going to begin rotting in 3...2...1.  My cookie baking experiences over the last couple decades were therefore spent making oatmeal raisin, shortbread, and various other kinds of cookies.  I'd occasionally dip a toe back into the chocolate chip side of the pool but never found a recipe that I liked.

Then I saw a post on another blog about a chocolate cookie recipe from the New York Times.  Instead of regular flour, it uses a combination of bread flour and cake flour, and then adds in chocolate that is at least 60% bittersweet and sea salt.  The combination of bread and cake flour makes a much better base, IMO, to house the chocolate pieces.  Somehow it manages to neutralize the overly sugary taste I find in other chocolate chip cookie doughs and allows the bittersweet chocolate to take center stage.  The sea salt sprinkled on top of the cookies before baking creates a lovely contrast between the slight sugar sweetness still evident in the dough and the chocolate pieces themselves.  The cookie itself is crispy on the outside and softer/chewier towards the center with almost a carmel-like taste in the background.

The recipe is as follows:

Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Jacques Torres)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note**)
Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

The one instruction that you need to make sure you follow is to let the dough rest.  This allows the flavors to blend together better and the flour to absorb some of the moist aspect of the dough. I usually take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit for one to two hours so it starts coming back up to room temp.  It makes it a little easier to scoop out when I start baking.

**I've only made one recipe change and that is I tend to use a mix of bagged, store-bought semi/bittersweet pieces with the "better" bittersweet chocolate.  While I love the flavor of really good chocolate, it's unfortunately a lot more expensive than semisweet or bittersweet pieces.  So, when I make this recipe, I split the difference.  And I know the sea salt may sound strange but give it a try!  

I also don't make the cookies as big as the recipe calls for.  If I'm spending that much time on cookies, I do want a bit of bang for my buck, y'know?  I tend to make them around the size of a very large tablespoon or two.  That way, I get around four dozen cookies versus the one-and-one-half dozen in the original recipe.

Moral of the story?  For me, I think I have a winner in the chocolate chip cookie sweepstakes.  It isn't overly sweet, has great texture and is very satisfying.  The next time I want to make chocolate chip cookies, this will probably be the recipe I reach for.

12 October 2010

"The Year of Living Biblically" (Or, how I followed lots and lots of rules)

The part in quotes is the title of a book by A.J. Jacobs. He's also written The Know-It All about his mission to read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  I find "outsider" views on religion in general and Christianity in particular to be interesting, sort of a window into what separates my belief system from someone else's and why.  This book, however, didn't do much more than scratch the surface of anything, including the author's reasons for even embarking on this escapade.

Jacobs' idea is to live out the rules of the Bible and follow them as closely as possible.  He will spend eight months with the Old Testament and four months with the New Testament in an effort to...well, I'm not really sure other than I think Esquire magazine (his employer) and his book publisher thought it would make good reading.

Jacobs' heritage is Jewish so it makes sense he would start with the Old Testament and he is also up front in admitting his heritage makes him step back from the idea of Jesus as the Messiah.  His forays into Old Testament living include the 600+ rules that made up life for people in the OT.  He lets his hair and beard grow, he doesn't mix clothing fibers, he observes the correct procedure for touching/not touching his wife when she is considered ritually unclean, etc.  His New Testament wanderings include snake handlers, Jerry Falwell, the biblical creationists in Kentucky, and Red-Letter Christians; an interesting mix for the latter but also one that is rather stereotypical and easy to categorize both for himself and for any reader who may also only have a passing interest in Christianity.  It's actually a kind of polarizing group of New Testament "spokespeople" that he picks.  Now, mind, I certainly don't agree with Falwell on just about anything and I've never handled a snake in my life (for example) but many people have preconceived ideas about these groups of people and would, I think, read those chapters with an eye towards those quotes or impressions that would bolster their own opinions.  Rather than go for easy and identifiable, I would have liked to see Jacobs search out a few less Christian monoliths and a few more smaller churches or groups.

I think the biggest issue I had with Jacobs is he never really surrenders himself to the idea of God as an actual Person who has an interest in and love for A.J..  From reading his previous book, it's apparent he enjoys knowledge and facts but it seems he enjoys them simply for the fact of knowing them and nothing seemed to ever really penetrate beyond "Wow, isn't that interesting."  He amasses books and lists and rules simply for the sake of doing so and then sets about trying to live them.  The leap he seems to be unable to make is that Jesus' coming to Earth removed the need to live by those rules.  They are no longer valid.  For all his perusing and rule-checking and interviewing both Christian and Jewish leaders, no one seems to really mention the idea of grace, that we are free to screw up and can come ask forgiveness and start over again.  He misses that Christianity is not merely a bunch of rules to live by, get a grade when we die, and then live out the afterlife on A, B or C cloud layer.  If so, then Jacobs would already have lost in his quest to follow the rules.  God is holy and can have nothing to do with anything that isn't.  The law (the Old Testament) was death.  Nobody could keep it.  You could sacrifice at the temple until the cows came home but it didn't keep you current in terms of atonement for your sins.  That was why Jesus came.  He came to do away with the rules and bring us in to a direct relationship with God.  No more sacrifices or middle men.  We would be able to speak directly to the Creator of the universe and he to us.

In the New Testament, yes, there are rules and guidelines that Jesus laid out for his apostles but it is not nearly as rigid as Jacobs makes it.  Since God also gave us free will, we have the choice to obey or not.   He misses that as we pursue Jesus, and that by doing so, we grow to become more like Him.  As we grow to be more like Him, we desire to follow what He laid out.  There is a connection that goes deeper than rules, deeper than simply following the letter of the law, and by not allowing himself to jump off the metaphorical bridge and experience the relationship aspect of Jesus, I think Jacobs really missed the boat.

So, overall?  I found the book interesting and somewhat humorous in watching Jacobs struggle with the legalistic aspects of Christianity with a smile and a "been there, done that" nod to his musings but I wish he would have come away with a greater understanding that God is not just a set of rules.  He is also a relationship.

04 October 2010

Rising from the Ashes

It's been a long time since I've written on this blog. I had fantastic intentions when I started it. However, as has been said, "life is what happens when you start making plans". In the past months, I have lost a business, moved, had to realize that my spine is pretty much permanently effed up and it's just going to have to be a fact of my life now, and that my house (which we also lost) is in foreclosure.

So, yeah, not the most happy-making last several months of my life.

But ('cause there is always a but) there is still my ever-wonderful Spousal Unit who brightens my day in ways I don't think he ever really understands, the cats who provide endless amusement and not a little bit of WTF?, God and the fact He continues to provide for us and give us "enough" as He told me he would almost two years ago, good books, friends, and the fact I'm still cooking up a storm.

So I'm grabbing the dust cloth and the polish and hoping to give this place a bit of a shine-up.