Friday, February 26, 2010

Context? We don't need no stinking context!

Hunh. According to iTunes, I have over 19 hours worth of music from Over the Rhine stored. Just goes to show that, no, in some instances, you CAN'T have too much of a good thing.

Today's post is partially inspired by the book Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. If you claim to be a Christ follower, read this book and get offended by it, I would suggest you take a good hard look at yourself and see what that offense says about your own state of heart. If you claim to be a Christ follower, read the book, and suddenly think to yourself that you're not so alone...welcome to my perception. It's always refreshing to read something and discover you're not the lone voice crying out in the wilderness that you thought you were...

MY PARTIAL WISH LIST FOR CHRISTIANITY: (1) stop calling the Bible a manual/instruction book; (2) stop saying you have a “life verse” and/or posting a single verse on Facebook as a status update; (3) more to come…

Okay – sometimes, I’m as guilty of #2 as anyone. Anyone, that is, who’s ever pulled a verse out of the Bible and quoted it, without perhaps putting it in its correct historical, societal, and contextual framework. In simpler language, looking at the verse outside of the context of the chapter it’s in, the audience it’s addressing at the time, or the deeper meaning behind the words.

Case in point: the other day, the Internet told me at Biblegateway that the Verse of the Day (…grr…) was Proverbs 17:9. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong per se with starting with a VOTD and going from there, but after I read this day’s verse, I was struck with a powerful, insightful response that could only be brought on by a stirring of the Spirit within me: “Hunh? What the crap does this mean?”

Proverbs 17:9 (NIV) – He who covers a offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

After reading this, I was struck by two thoughts: (1) the first part of this verse is probably on the business card of many a politician; and (2) it’s kinda ironically funny this was selected as the VOTD the day after Tiger Woods’ press conference.

All joking aside, I was kind of taken aback by this verse; specifically, the translation of this verse in the NIV. Not that I have a bone to pick with the NIV translation itself, but just reading this – or, more dangerously, someone just quoting it/throwing it at someone as Christians tend to do with verses – it reminded me of the danger in just looking at a verse and letting my own interpretation of it guide me. Anyone who reads this could easily interpret it/place it in a pigeonhole of their own to go with whatever situation they find themselves in. Kind of like how many people don’t accurately understand (or, sadly, more often than not, have been led to misunderstand by a minister) that when Jesus says “Ask and it shall be given to you” that He’s not positioning Himself as a genie or Santa, and that it’s not to be taken as an open invitation to get a new car, healing from a disease, or hot date. …and yes, I’m sure that some people have prayed for one if not all three at one point.

My funky little translation (Key Word Study Bible, NAS translation) of the Bible that I do all my reading/research in has a lexical aid in the back (thank you, 706) that provides the Hebrew or Greek words for certain words. Proverbs 17:9 has the following words (herein highlighted in bold) as underscored with an appropriate Hebrew translation in the back of my Bible:

He who covers a transgression seeks love. But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.

Now, when looking up in Hebrew the meaning of these underlined words, the verse takes on a totally different context and interpretation:

Whoever who forgives an intentional offense or sin seeks ahava. But whoever who repeats this offense repeats history and separates intimate friends.

Instead of looking at this as a verse that addresses (in the first part of it) “Hey, if you really love me, you’ll forgive me” as a conditional command, this is a passage about reconciliation. About shalom. About the intentional and direct desire to not be separated.

The first part of this verse could easily say the following:

Whoever who walks a mile in the shoes of another to wrap themselves in the actions of this person seeks to be beloved of that person, and have a deep and intimate relationship with them.

This verse isn’t just about forgiveness, but also about understanding. About not just seeking love but acting in love. About understanding the context of what you’re forgiving, not just (as the cliché goes) loving the sinner but not the sin.

And I gotta say: for me, that means a lot more to me than just forgiving because I’m commanded to. It means being forgiveness, not just acting in it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

You ever have one of THOSE days...?

Like, for instance, my day yesterday...

You wake up on the wrong side of the bed...after getting next to no sleep (thank you, extremely strange dreams with probably some symbolism you're not quite ready to face)...with a splitting headache...and yet, you just can't seem to get in a "bad" mood all day. You're just on the cusp of it, but not quite there. And you just can't seem to either get in a foul mood or get in a better one. It's like an emotionally impotent limbo.

You start applying for jobs - jobs you're qualified on paper for - and find out that out of all your friends (including your spouse) who are attending the same conference to interview for various're the only one who's not heard back from any of these places to schedule an interview. You try not to internalize your worth, knowing that this is not a value judgment, but you still can't help but feel a little...
less...because of it. You also try to treat these potential interviews using the lesson you learned from STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE - even though you really, really, really might like the job, where it's located, and everything associated with it, you just can't bring yourself to get hyped about it, for fear of being disappointed...because you've been in that position where you've gotten excited about a job before, and then been burned by it.

So, you're feeling pretty much emotionally stymied by this point in the day (say, eleven am or so). witness the the sparkle in the eyes of and smile on your kid's face when he looks at you -
really LOOKS at you - and you can feel the love, trust, and happiness he has from being with you. And you realize that at the end of it all, if you never get another interview for another job, maybe...just maybe...this is the most important thing you can do with your life instead of having full-time employment: being a good dad. Letting your kid know you love them. Being there for them. Letting them crawl all over you (which, by puberty, might get a bit awkward).

Then God smacks you up the side of the head (and/or heart) with Jeremiah 29:11-13. Being the snarky Creator that He is, this was timed to be the VOTD at
, where you've been doing some research for two forthcoming blog entries. You read over these verses, and you have to smile a little (granted, a weary smile, but a smile nonetheless) over the way you're just...subtly trust. To hope. To have faith.

Then you spend the rest afternoon listening to Waterdeep/Enter the Worship Circle.

Then you kinda have to smile slightly at the way your day's gone so far, acknowledging the weight of the stress you feel around your eyes as they wrinkle, but not being hindered by that weight.

Then you start craving a Smoothie. ...but maybe that's just me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

STAY AT HOME DAD CHRONICLES: What the heck are you FEEDING that kid?

Time for a confession: when I started this whole "stay at home dad" gig, I knew there might be issues or questions I might have that arise. Like, say for example, what the crap do I DO with him all day?

One of the more frustrating (for lack of a better word) situations was that the men I know in my life who ARE fathers all have - you know - 9-5 (or thereabouts) jobs, and I couldn't really call them at work with questions. It's not like I have a plethora of friends of either sex who do this gig, so some of the isolation I felt/feel on a continual basis by living about 19 hours (at a minimum) away from most of my friends and family was exacerbated by not knowing who to ask what about baby-rearin'. And even more enjoyable for me was the fact that there's not really a readily-available source of information on the 'net about BEING a stay-at-home-dad, and all the baggage (again, for me) that comes with it.

Recently, I stepped out of the shell of not knowing who/where/what to ask and inquired of a dear friend of mine who hangs with her kids all day long what she fed her brood when they were all around Kai's age. I asked this, because...well, I cook all Kai's food.

Yes, you read that right: ALL Kai's food.

Between the two of us, Ashley & I have an almost infinite number of allergies. Although thankfully none of them are to food, we decided that the best way we could help to keep Kai on the straight-and-narrow health path was to take control of what the little bugger eats. To that end, once he hit six months of age, we bought a baby food cooker and recipe book, and began the process of weaning him off the Earth's Best jar food we'd bought (which was mostly just fruit, carrots and sweet potatoes), and instead started making him his own food.

I, of course, began to take the need to cook for the critter as a challenge, and I began introducing several new foods/textures/tastes to his diet as his age would allow me to. To this end, I am listing below some (if not most) of the foods we've fed and continue to feed his highness. I ask any of my fellow 'rents who read this that if you have a favored or preferred food by your young-un to shoot me the recipe, book title, or suggestion for what you have found your wee one likes.

And yes; I realize the sheer insanity of cooking all his food. I also understand were going to have the weird kid who doesn't like fast food because we've gone and ruined his palate...

Apples (plain or mixed with cinnamon, pineapple, cherries or blueberries)
Mangos (hey - it's south Florida. We have 'em year-round)
Prunes (only when necessary and a haz-mat team is on standby)

Sweet potatoes (plain or mixed with cinnamon)
Carrots (plain or mixed with ginger)
Green beans (mixed with mint)
Peas and carrots
Mixed vegetable medley: corn, peas, green beans, carrots
Potato and butternut squash stew
Succotash (which he adores)
Root vegetable medley: sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rosemary
Dal (yes, we feed our kid Indian food - and he loves the stuff)

Curry (again - he loves the stuff)
Grilled chicken mixed with orange peppers and mushrooms


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent (or, in this case, Tnel - since we're turning it on its ear)

A number of people have been asking me what I plan on giving up for Lent. Some have jokingly remarked I should give up coffee (not fully understanding how my doing so would affect and/or jeopardize their life), while others have remarked I should give up LOST (see above for possible side affects to my giving this up). After much careful thought and consideration – in other words, what struck me as a great idea while waking Maggie the other morning – I have decided to sort of redefine my involvement in Lent this season.

Without getting into the deeper theological aspects of Lent, during this season those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ and choose to participate in reflecting on this season are asked/challenged to give something up for 40 days. At the heart of this sacrifice is the understanding that during the time we would allot to the activity we would give up, we are to spend it in prayer and meditation. In simpler terms: we give up something in the here and now to connect ourselves deeper with God in the Spirit. Sounds easy, no?

So, I started thinking, taking into account in my own life the things that take me away from connecting with God. Things that take up my time. Things that I idolize before God. I wanted to really think about the things that were important to me that it would seriously affect my time and energy if I gave them up.

And then, it hit me: what if I gave up myself?

Up until about a year and a half ago, I used to spend an inordinate amount of time reading, writing, and engaged in what years of ingraining through a youth group would lead me to call a “quiet time” with God. Then, as the saying goes, something fell (a little Cerebus reference for those of you who’ll get it). I lost focus. I stopped writing (for the most part). I stopped reading as much as I did. I stopped…being me in a number of ways. And I took this time I would have spent, which for me was the time used to align myself, to ground myself, and just…squandered it.

So, for Lent this year, I’m going to try to challenge me to give myself up, and go back to taking that time I allowed other things to become important in, and spend 40 days forcing myself to write during this time. To reflect during this time. To engage in an activity which, for me, connects me deeper to God.

Now, not everything I write may make its way to teh Internets. There may be some days when I write things that are too personal. There may be days when I literally send the time writing about what cheeses I prefer over others. But I know in my heart of hearts that during this time – even when I’m waxing philosophically on paper about the superiority of gouda – that in my heart, I’m going to be smiling a little. There will be an inner dialogue going on with God. And if my Spiritual moment comes in that we both share a giggle over what strange and crazy thing I just thought…but that’s okay, because it’s the way He made me, loose screws and all.

It may not be THE strictest definition of “denying yourself and following” Christ, but I am denying myself the distractions that kept me from following deeper.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Two items of note

I. Netflix is the writer’s mortal enemy. Between finally being able to watch a few shows people have sworn for ages I should be watching but haven’t (like The Big Bang Theory) and watching a few guilty pleasure flicks (The Last Starfighter on Blu-ray is just stinking beautiful) my DVD player has been eating away at all the free time I get afforded when Kai sleeps…which has been with alarming infrequency as of late.

II. I’ve been massively out of sorts. Emotionally I’ve been all over the board, I’ve not felt like I’ve been myself, and honestly, there have been some deep, serious, soul-searching moments that have come through in the last few weeks that – well, it’s been rough, kids. Rough.

Case in point: up until about four days ago, I was just a few keystrokes away from deleting this blog. Calling it quits, throwing in the towel – you name it. Part of my series of self-doubt moments came in me questioning “Really – who reads this? Who honestly cares? Is there genuinely anything of one whit of worth in the entirety of everything that I have written? Is there anything of note in my observations about parenting, the stuff of spiritual relevance I’ve written about, or in my just rambling endlessly about things that I think are cool?” I was glad that there were (and still remain) TONS of material sitting in notebooks in my house that have not gone up, because I thought if I was going to just chunk this page, then what was the point in typing it up or expounding on any of it?

I mean – surely people would rather read the observations of a stay at home dad from someone who was a little more well-known than me. And surely the insightful spiritual meanderings of a Donald Miller or a Jim Palmer are better than anything I have to say on any matter.

And then, as I randomly checked my email this past week…

A message.

One email.

From someone who stumbled across my blog and wrote me. With questions.

A total stranger. A total stranger who (apparently) had a few questions raised by what I wrote, and it led into a dialogue between us.

One person. One unsolicited email.

To be sure, I’ve had a few people who I’ve never met who read something I wrote and decided they wanted to email me. I can actually count that number on one hand, because – yes, uber-dork that I am – I have these messages saved. Based on traffic stats alone, I’m sure that there have been people who have read stuff hat I have written (and for all I know, are currently in the process of reading this post right now…ooh, heavy meta-text stuff here) and thought “This is pretty okay” or “This guy is a moron” but have never written me.

But this one time, right at the time when I needed it most (almost as if there were divine providence behind it) – I got an email from someone.

The three morals of this story are: (1) God knew exactly what I needed, when I needed it, and knew that with me, all it required was the simplest of things; (2) it’s made me actually want to write again (a desire which drained out of me a few weeks ago and I REALLY took a slug on the chin for me to think about tossing my journals at the start of last week). I’m not sure what will go up next yet but I have faith that whatever I write will be for more than just me to read; and (3) to those of you reading this: NEVER underestimate what one kind word, one email or note, or what one simple act of encouragement can do for someone.

So to those of you who read this stuff I write – thank you.

Even if I never know you're reading this.

You matter.

To me.