Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time to Start Over

It’s time to write again. I’ve tried a couple times to sit and write something meaningful for this blog, but the words (like the gas in my idle lawn-mower) have grown gummy. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it feels like life started over again this Easter (or Pascha, for you Orthodox out there).

My wife and I broke our fasts (meat, dairy, iPod, etc.). We celebrated by feasting with my wife’s side of the family. My brother-in-law was chrismated and officially entered the Orthodox Church. We stayed up way past bedtimes to celebrate the Resurrection with his new church family and slept it off well into Sunday afternoon.

The Resurrection has never felt so real to me. Honestly, it’s one of the hardest things to believe as a Christian. Right up there with the Trinity, and the fact that God, the Word, became man. But it’s true. I can’t think of any other reason why the disciples and apostles would risk their lives defending it.

The topic of torture has been a prevalent one in our country as of late. What constitutes torture? If we’ve crossed the line, who’s to blame?

In the time of Christ (pre-Geneva Accord), no one was worried about human rights violations. Most, if not all, of the people who appear in the New Testament were persecuted or martyred in one way or another. Why? I’ve often thought, naively, that I could undergo and endure torture for my faith or for my country. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I would crumble if I were whipped or beaten, or had my hair pulled out, or were water boarded.

I’ve often fancied that I would die, but never kill for what I believe, or for my family and friends. I have a romanticized view of men like Desmond Doss who served valiantly in the Army while refusing to bear arms. But the simple truth is that I’m more like a bashful Peter, denying Christ when questioned by, of all people, a little girl. I’m more like a self-serving, duty-dodging Mark Twain than a courageous Thomas Bennett.

I love the religious freedom we enjoy in this country, but I can’t deny that it has made many a weak Christian. It has, in many ways, made Christianity fashionable, or at least harmless and tolerable, if not a little annoying. What a shame! I’d rather be highly offensive in defending the truth, than kind and considerate, but deceived beyond all measure. Granted, many Catholics, Anglicans, Quakers, and others spilled their blood on our soil, but by-and-large they didn’t die defending the truth of the Resurrection or the humanity and divinity of Christ; they died defending their political rights. They are still martyrs, but on a different level.

I’d like to go back and talk to those early Christian martyrs (Paul, Peter, Justin Martyr, or Cecilia) and take a little of their fire back home with me. When brought into the torture room, Jesus didn’t condemn, didn’t try to get out of it (unless you call “not my will, but Thine” an attempt at getting out of it), didn’t even beg his persecutors to stop. He bore it with almost complete silence. May we all bear silently, without grumbling or condemning, the crosses we have to bear, trusting and praying that they will be turned into victories, knowing that “if we die with Him, we will also be raised with Him”.

"Behold, I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Books, Books

I'm a pretty big fan of reading. Ever since I can remember one of my most favorite things to do is to cuddle up with a cup of coffee, tea or a glass of wine and read and read and read. Read until you realize you've been reading for 4 hours straight, though it feels like it's only been an hour. Read until you are so connected, so intertwined with the characters of a book that you feel as if you've known them your whole life. Read until your husband tells you you need to get some more sleep.

I have a habit. Some may call it nasty, others may call it awesome. I need to read before I can go to sleep. It can be for an hour or just 10 minutes. This usually means that I am up much later than my husband. I am naturally a night owl, but this reading habit only exaggerates that. We learned early on in our marriage that the beside lamp needed to be placed on my side of the bed because I would be the one turning it off every night. Now, this habit isn't 100% 7 nights a week. There are times when I am so exhausted that I just fall straight into bed. There are other situations too...but I won't talk about those. Anyways...most of the time, I need to read before I can sleep.

But reading doesn't happen only at bedtime. Joe and I used to have "reading" dates when we were dating. We'd go to a coffee shop or bookstore and spend our time reading. Wait, we still do this for some dates. Mostly because it's cheap and enjoyable for both of us. When I was nursing Azalia I would read to help pass the time (this girl was a s.l.o.w. eater).

I'm positive I get this love, this voracity for reading from my mother (Among other things I inherited from my mother, such as late-night Law and Order and a strong dislike for cleaning). I remember watching her read these long, epic stories and wanting to read them too. My mother had me reading The Client when I was in 4th grade because other books were too easy. Every book she would recommend I would devour. This continues to this day. She and I like to exchange books we've just finished and I frequently will purchase books with her in mind. Almost every time she comes to visit she will tell me about a new book she heard about and wants to read. I love this aspect of our relationship.

All of this leads me to this: Joe and I have made books a permanent category in our budget. We've been really disciplined (well...Joe more than me) about setting a budget each month. One category in that budget is "blow money". So I guess you could say that "books" is a subcategory in the "blow money" category. Either way, we have decided that part our spending money will be spent on books. There are many reasons for this. I'm a collector and one of the things I collect is books. We want our daughter (and future children) to be surrounded with good literature. And we have some pretty awesome built-in bookcases in our living room that need more books to display.

So this is where you come in. Recommend a book to me. Recommend a few. Help us build our library please! I am a fan of fiction, though Joe really loves non-fiction. But I will read just about anything as long as it is quality. Quality, people.

Here is a sampling of our library:

These are some of my favorites....

Some more...

And we can't forget this guy...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Stay Awake"

I fall asleep on the couch a lot. Usually this happens in the evening under the glare of the laptop blaring out sound effects from episodes of Law and Order or during countless movies and documentaries watched a little too close to bed time. My wife can vouch for all of this. It’s about as predictable as gravity or the laws of thermodynamics (nerd glasses pushed up).

I fell asleep most recently during a documentary on the Dark Ages. I wasn’t particularly bored and didn’t feel that tired. It just crept up on me. I slept on the couch from right around 9:30 p.m. until 1:15 in the morning. Then, we went to bed. This is a bad habit.

As is fairly obvious from my previous entries, I’ve been reading through the Gospels this Lenten season. One of those recent readings was from the Evangelist Mark. It ended with Christ’s haunting admonition, “Stay awake.” (Mark 13:37) Another related reading was the Parable of the ten virgins who, having run out of oil, scramble to find more to light their lamps so they’ll be ready for the bridegroom. Many days I think my lamp has gone out, or is going out. My eyelids are heavy and Christ is near.

I’d like to be found ready, to prepare the lamp of my heart, soul, mind and strength, but I am a cold, empty, wickless vessel. I am more frequently on the couch asleep than in prayer. I’d rather have my ears and eyes tickled than be challenged and convicted. I’d rather indulge and give into bodily desires than discipline my body and “make it my slave” (1 Corinthians 9:27). I’d rather keep my money, time, possessions and food than pour myself out for the least of these.

I think many times I’m content to just resign myself to passive reliance on a sovereign God who will probably make me holy one day. But passivity is absent in the Gospels and in the lives of Christians from the time of Christ until now. Yes, God is sovereign and it is only by His grace that anyone can become like Him, but we must actively cooperate if we’re going to grow and change. The Apostle Paul recommended that we “take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). A local Pastor I heard speak recently said that “being ‘saved’ is all hooey unless you live for God”.

And here I am again tying everything back to the Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian: O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of…sloth.

On dreary days like this one, my ardent desire to press on has turned to a tiny panting flame. The freezing northern winds of sin, death and the devil are gathering around me, but I hear the Psalmist’s prayer: “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” (Psalms 18:28)

Now it’s time to start the day and get to work.