Jane Eyre

Last Wednesday, given February vacation in the local school system, I held the second annual Girls’ Night In slumber party for the youth group girls of Now Church. Only three of them showed up, plus Miss Jean who came to help out. Although any combination of any of the girls in the youth group would have been great (they’re all fantastic kids), I really enjoyed having just three of them. I am decidedly a one-to-one/small-group kind of person, and any semi-conscious stress I might have been feeling at the prospect of chaos and crowding dissipated as soon as the three girls got to my house and I realised they were the only ones who would.

We ate pizza and gave ourselves facials and put our hands through a 4-step moisturisation process and painted our toenails. (Well–I didn’t paint my toenails because I got lazy, but I almost did.) Then we watched Jane Eyre. This was at my suggestion and Miss Jean’s subsequent command; the girls had never heard of it before. I told them I thought they would love it. I also told them it was very long. And so they did. And so it was. Even though we didn’t any of us get to bed until 3 a.m. on account of it, I don’t think anyone regretted it, and one of the girls actually asked to borrow my copy of the novel to see if she might want to read it.

I was inordinately pleased by this. I have decided that my primary life’s calling is to introduce people to Jesus and then help encourage and facilitate their relationship with Him (the more abbreviated churchy terms for these activities are evangelism and discipleship). But I’m pretty sure my secondary calling is to get teenagers in touch with their inner nerd. It’s actually not that hard with this particular youth group . . .

Anyway, since we watched that movie I’ve been mulling the story over on and off, and recalling that I fell in love with Mr. Rochester when I first read the novel in eighth grade, and so perhaps it’s not that surprising that I gravitate toward men with dark pasts who seem, to me, in need of rescuing.

Then I started musing about the stereotypical feminine wish to “reform” men. I remember learning about Lord Byron in my Victorian literature class in college and thinking what an insufferable cad he was and how silly that woman was who loved him and wanted to change him, and by whom he occasionally wished to be changed. Also, I wasn’t that impressed by his poetry. I made a mental note that people can’t change people. But the thing is, I still prefer castle ruins and fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast or Snow White and Rose Red to Windsor Castle and fairy tales like Cinderella or just plain Snow White.

Yesterday I was thinking about this as I drove through the snow to church, simultaneously wishing for a snow day (I guess it wasn’t an overly holy ride to church). I was wondering what was wrong with me–and so many other intelligent women–regarding our penchant for reforming men when said men so often do not wish to be reformed. Psychologists and psychiatrists probably have their own theories. Mine does; she thinks I have low self-esteem. But to me it seems more like inflated self-esteem: who am I to think I can “save” somebody?

To some extent, I don’t believe I do imagine I can save somebody. But I know that Jesus can, and every once in a while I manage some childlike faith and expect that, since God loves whatever man I happen to be involved with at the time, and since He loves him more than I do, and since He doesn’t want anyone to perish, He’s going to save that guy, and I’m going to be fortunate enough to be there.

But there is a little bit of me that is overweening, too, because sometimes I catch myself thinking I can “save” somebody–maybe not in an ultimate and eternal sense, but . . . something close. For some reason yesterday I imagined it comes simply from being a Daughter of Eve, as CS Lewis called womankind. Though I believe Adam and Eve were both equally culpable in their sin, I wonder if Eve ever felt either extra guilt or extra pride (or both) that she was the one who sinned first. Maybe we feel like we have to make up for something. Maybe when God promised that one of her descendants would crush the serpent’s head, all women wished to be the bearer of that One who would change the world. But we’re just ourselves, and while some of us, it turns out, do bear Him (differently than Mary did), sometimes we forget who the Saviour is and wish to do it ourselves.

(I suspect I may need to come up with some sort of coding mechanism for my blogs so you’ll know when I’m thinking through something seriously and when I’m just rambling on, one degree removed from stream of consciousness. Numbers, maybe. Or colour-coding like the terrorist alerts?)


The Rule Book

The book of Leviticus gets a lot of bad press. It’s that book of the Bible that evangelicals, at least, cite when we’re trying to address the fact that people find the Bible inaccessible or boring. It’s the book that makes us rush to insist that people new to Bible-reading not start reading cover to cover; secretly we know, or think we know, that if they try it, that book is single-handedly going to discourage even the most intrepid–or geeky–reader.

Some of us know this from personal experience. When I was six years old, my parents bought me my first Bible for Christmas. It was a Today’s English Version edition, complete with a gold-coloured cover and line-drawing illustrations. Being both a bookish and perhaps unusually devout child, I was very excited about this gift, and as soon as I could read well enough (which was not, I think, quite when I was six years old, but maybe eight), I set to work reading it, starting with Genesis 1. Well, Genesis is interesting (apart from the genealogies, which I now kind of enjoy–nerd that I am), although I did (maybe fortunately, as an eight-year-old) find the story of Er and Onan and Judah and Tamar a little baffling . . .

By the time I got past the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, and into the directions for the creation of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, I started to flag a little bit, and by the time I got to Leviticus, I could make neither head nor tail of it. I asked my dad about this and he told me it was okay to skip to Joshua (which is disturbing in other ways, but maybe not so much for children who are able to tolerate the black-and-white justice and violence of fairy tales) because the next two books after Leviticus would be much the same. I seem to recall feeling that this was somehow suspect–wasn’t it all in the Bible, and was it really okay to skip bits?–so I think after that I gave up reading any of it for quite some time. Perhaps I thought I would “grow into” Leviticus, and therefore the rest of the Book, when I was older.

I have read Leviticus a few times since, but I suppose I have read other books of the Bible more often, because, although I find it more interesting than I used to, it’s still a little difficult to access. There are rules that are disturbing and even though, as a Christian of the New Covenant, I do genuinely believe that some of the more specific laws about, say, food or skin disease, have been abrogated by the death and resurrection of Jesus, I have to think that they’re still in our Bible for some reason, and since I can’t often figure out what that reason is, frankly, I often prefer to avoid them. This is probably not laudable, but it is truthful.

However, this year for the first time ever, I have embarked on a Read-Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year plan and at present, I am reading (you guessed it) Leviticus. Sometimes I feel confused or even disturbed when I read it. Confused: Why kill only sorceresses (this one’s actually in Exodus)? What about sorcerers? It’s only bad if women are involved in the occult? Or were men not likely to get into magic? Huh? (There’s the whole issue of capital punishment involved in this one, too, of course, but I’m not going there today.) Disturbed: Nadab and Abihu may have overstepped their bounds on the day of the consecration of Aaron and his sons, but not allowing Aaron and his remaining sons to mourn them seems pretty harsh. (God told Ezekiel the same thing when his wife died, and I don’t like that story either.)

Other times, I just feel like a smart-aleck. Here is what I was thinking the other day when reading about a man with “an unusual bodily discharge” (What? Yes, I know–gross, but it’s in the Bible so I have questions):

  1. The hypothetical situations surrounding this set of rules are interesting, e.g., “If the man with the discharge spits on anyone who is clean . . . ” Did people spit at each other a lot in ancient Israel? Was this a real and present danger? Is God talking about an intentional gathering of saliva (and phlegm?) and a subsequent hocking of this mass at a person? Or does this apply to conversational “sprayers”?
  2. Did people usually go around talking about their discharges? (“Stay away from me today–I have an unusual bodily discharge. Yep. My bed, too. Unclean. Maybe next week.”) Or was it really obvious? Did they not try to hide these things? How would anyone other than the guy’s wife (or wives) actually know about this? And were they really supposed to?

I don’t know. I guess I don’t think my or anyone else’s salvation is riding on these issues, but really. I wonder about this stuff sometimes.

School Days

I feel like I’m back in school again.

I mean, I am back in school again, but this is different. Up until the last few weeks I was only taking one class at a time, and even still I’m taking my classes on-line, so it wouldn’t necessarily have to feel like I’m back in school again, but today, I officially do. Only I mean junior high or high school.

Granted, the subjects are much more difficult than anything I took then. I’m taking grad-level versions of “World Mission of the Church,” “Christian Ethics,” and “Greek I.” At the same time. While working full-time. See, when I was in college, I didn’t work full-time. Sure, I had odd jobs (serving lasagna or liver on Monday nights in the dining hall, for example; by the time I was done serving food for three hours, the only thing I could stomach was the item I had served the least. I ate a lot of liver in those days). But I wasn’t a full-time student and a full-time employee and looking for a way to augment my income to ensure I had enough to live on. That’s what loans were for.

Okay–I wasn’t doing those things in junior high and high school either, but being a full-time student then was kind of like going to a full-time job, because you’d go somewhere, sit at a desk most of the day, go home, and still have homework. (I was a pretty diligent student. With a rather lacking social life.) When I got home from school, there might have been a little “decompressing” at first, even though we never called it that, but then it was time to practice the flute. I had to set the kitchen timer to make sure I practiced for at least half an hour. Then we ate dinner–all together as a family because people sometimes did that back then–and then it was all this homework in multiple subjects of which to keep track.

Look–honestly? I’ve been doing this one-at-a-time class thing for a year, and I’m not a good multitasker to begin with, and now that I have three classes looming, I honestly can’t remember how I took multiple subjects at the same time. And got “A’s” in them. So today I got home from work and talked to the Matchmaker on the phone for a little while to decompress.

Then, for pretty much the first time in three years, I took out my flute and practiced it. This, you see, is the current plan for Augmenting the Income: giving flute lessons. If I can get five students a week, that’s only 2.5 hours (plus driving, potentially) out of my week and it’s enough extra cash, I hope, to finally pay off my bills and maybe have a small savings account again. I don’t have any students yet, of course. It’s all still a pipe dream. But I kind of wanted to find out if I could still play before I put a shingle out, as it were. Turns out I’m a little rusty, but in much better shape than I thought. I didn’t set the kitchen timer, but I did keep an eye on the kitchen clock.

After practicing, just like in high school, I ate supper, and then I parked myself in the midst of a mound of books and got to work. I managed to tackle two of the subjects at hand this evening. I’m not sure I’ll ever keep it straight if I have to look at books from all three at once. And I’m still a little hazy on how you take a New Testament Greek class on-line. I mean, when I was in high school, all we had was a Commodore 64. It might not even have had enough pixels to type Greek.

Avoiding Scurvy

In case you live under a rock–or in Hawaii and are blissfully unaware of other people’s weather conditions–you probably know that a good proportion of the United States has spent most of 2011 so far in blizzard conditions. New England, in particular, has been inundated with snow. The so-called blizzard which prevented me from visiting Brother-Dave and his family at the new year was nothing in comparison to what we’ve had since.

Last week, for example we had two days of snow in a row. Everybody knew they were coming, and that it was going to be a lot of snow, and we had already had a snowday or three under our belts, so by and large, all the places that were prone to shut down over weather did so pre-emptively. I was ready with two days’ worth of Work At Home, but what I had neglected to do was stock up on foodstuffs.

I actually did that before the first real storm, but we had already had three or four since then, and I hadn’t really replenished anything. I woke up that Tuesday morning realising that I was out of milk and that if I were to be stuck in the house for two days, I would be likely to drink lots of tea (not to mention my mandatory morning coffee), and that if I were going to be drinking lots of tea (and mandatory morning coffee), I would not sufficiently enjoy it if there were no milk to put in there.

After that I realised that I also had no vegetables.

Former-Roommate-Sarah’s parents have an organic farm, and I get a mini-share of vegetables from them. They drop it off at the church on Tuesdays and I take it home and have fresh organic veggies every week. The selection’s a little limited in the winter (they do import fruit and stuff from Florida), but still. It’s good for you. I’ve been getting these shares almost ever since I had cancer.

The problem, two Tuesdays ago, was that I had forgotten to take home my share the week before, and the blizzard had already started on the Tuesday in question, so even though the veggies would surely get dropped off, I was not going to get to them until after the blizzard was already over. Also, my parents and I had eaten up the frozen vegetables I had on hand, when they were here at Christmas. I started to think about scurvy.

As one does.

How long does it take to come down with scurvy? If I’m shut in my house for two days with nothing but bread and cheese and meat, I will be confirming my Northern European heritage, but . . . when will “suppurating wounds” start to develop? I decided that, before the snow got too bad, I had better do something about both the milk and the vegetable situation in the house.

Fortunately Kermit was already parked up near the street (because he couldn’t get in the garage–there was too much snow piled up), so I set out to the closest convenience store I could find. I’m not sure when it turned into a liquor store instead, but fortunately it had a cooler with milk tucked away into one corner. Unfortunately, there were no vegetables. Not even tinned ones. Unless you count B&M Baked Beans–which, for the purposes, I didn’t. Then I noticed, on the shelf below the milk, a bottle of cranberry juice. Well, I thought, it’s better than nothing I guess!

I picked up the milk and the juice, paid for them, and crept back home through the gradually increasing snow. Once I got back, I decided to see if I couldn’t get a little more creative about the presence of plant matter in my house. Besides the Christmas cactus, I mean. At first, before the cranberry juice, it looked like the only ingestible plant matter around was coffee, tea, and a bottle of wine. (“Oh,” said Brother-Dave on the phone, “So you’re all set then!”) But, as I poked around a little bit more, it turned out that I had a lot of some things. Primarily onions and turnips. Fortunately, no one was going to be around me for two whole days, besides Oscar, who doesn’t always smell that great himself. Onions, I could handle. Turnips? Are a little bit of a trial for me. (I can say this because Former-Roommate-Sarah admits the same thing herself.)

However, it turned out I also had some apples and some sweet potatoes, and a recipe for a turnip and sweet potato soup which called for all those things. I also found a falafel mix in my cupboard, so I could eat something besides turnip and sweet potato soup. I have no idea how long the box had been in that cupboard, nor do I suspect processed dessicated chickpeas really contain the nutrients necessary to combat scurvy but still, it had to be better than ham. And it still tasted pretty good. I also found some lettuce. It turned out that there really were enough vegetables around, more or less, to get through the two days of non-stop snow. Without scurvy.

Then on Saturday night we had an overnight fundraiser with 20 teenagers at Now Church, I came down with the flu, and have been Working At Home pretty much all week. So, I avoided one disease only to succumb to another. And this week? It barely even snowed.

Back to the Joy

So, I decided that, to be a fan of any sort of integrity, I’d better listen to some Led Zeppelin stuff to round out my Robert Plant history. Deep-Thought-Jeff said I would recognise their songs if I heard them, even if I hadn’t known they were Led Zeppelin songs before. I went onto YouTube and watched a couple of vids, and while I confess I haven’t had time to listen to very many, none of the ones I did hear sounded familiar. Also, I was disappointed in a “my Led-Zep-fan friends are going to be disappointed” kind of way that I couldn’t really get into it. These were my impressions.

1. He looks better with facial hair. And with his shirt on. So what that he’s the same age as my dad?

2. Had and has an incredible voice.

3. I can hear the blues roots that everyone’s talking about, and can see how Americana isn’t a totally unrelated progression, but I am so much more into the now stuff than the then stuff.

4. His stage presence has aged well. He seems arrogant as a younger man, but now he just gets up on stage and dances this weird little dance like he got stuck in a box-step, and holding the mike-stand like a cane in a tap-dancing routine (or just flailing it around), and smiling a lot, and it’s just way more appealing to me . . .

But, I can’t fault the musicianship of Led Zeppelin, even though I (so far) can’t get into it. I had to try to explain this to the Led Zep fanboys (boys?) who commented with hopeful excitement on my facebook post indicating I was attempting to introduce myself to the music. Brother-Dave said, “I have to agree that I think it would be harder to get into them as an adult – especially in online videos with inferior sound quality. When you first encounter them as a teen, their ridiculously exaggerated sexuality is probably easier to take seriously. And if you’re just listening to the music, it’s one thing, but I imagine the films take it a bit more over the top. But yeah, they were amazingly talented and I think you should give their songs a shot in all their ragged remastered glory sometime.”

All right. I will. When I go visit Brother-Dave and Sister-in-Lu and TWCN and Smiley-Guy . . . and am not babysitting the latter two.

Grumbling in the Desert

There’s this way that most Evangelicals I know read the stories of the Exodus and the Desert Wanderings. (Other people besides Evangelicals may look at those accounts this way, too, but I wouldn’t like to speak for them. Where did this blog-non-sequitur come from? Well, I’m reading Exodus these mornings, that’s where.) We read about the Israelites being stuck between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, and we say, “Well duh. Why would God have brought them out of Egypt in the first place if He couldn’t get them out of a bind like that? Didn’t they just see 10 pretty ridiculously incredible plagues? Those silly, whiny, imperceptive Israelites.” Then we find some scenario in our own lives in which we haven’t been (or aren’t being) very good at trusting God and we deplore ourselves, too: “And look! We do the same thing!”

I don’t actually think that’s a bad way to read those stories, because it’s true–the people leaving Egypt weren’t overly perceptive regarding the works of God, and nor are we, most of the time. At least, I’m not.

Yesterday morning I was reading that story and saw it from a slightly different slant. The Israelites are camped on the shores of the Red Sea. The Egyptians are having second thoughts about letting all their slave labour just walk out of the country and so the army has hustled after them. The Israelites, becoming aware of the encroaching Egyptians, are freaking out a bit, and they start reminiscing about the good ol’ days as slaves. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems a little bizarre, but there they are, fearing that they have only been brought out into the desert for God to exterminate them all. Wouldn’t it have been better to die a slave and be buried in Egypt? (Later, since they get stuck wandering around for forty years, they riff off this theme and start lamenting the absence of leeks and things in their Egyptian diet. This complaint is kind of all-purpose; no matter what they’re facing, there’s some reason staying enslaved in Egypt would have been better.)

Immediately after they say this, Moses says, “Stop being so fearful! Remain steady, and you will see how Adonai is going to save you. He will do it today–today you have seen the Egyptians, but you will never see them again! Adonai will do battle for you. Just calm yourselves down!” (Ex 14.13-14, CJB).

I never thought about it this way until yesterday, but in light of the fact that the Israelites had just been missing Egypt, I wonder if there weren’t one or two of them who felt a little pang when they were told they would never see the Egyptians again. I started wondering if this inspirational speech might not have been such a comfort to the people as it was supposed to be, because they didn’t really know or trust God yet. In spite of the fact that God had spared them most of the plagues, He must have seemed a harsh and frightening God. In contrast, the overlordship with which they were familiar was that of the Egyptians. They were clearly afraid of it, and it was harsh, but it was not all-powerful. You have to think that this group of people had been praying for deliverance for so many generations they didn’t even know what it would look like. Certainly they would not have known any other life than Egypt’s.

In further thinking about this, I decided that human beings, in a classically codependent way, “love” what enslaves us. After God destroyed that Egyptian army before their eyes, I suspect they were both relieved and terrified–God had annihilated the framework of their lives.

This in no way justifies forty years of doubt and whining (either in them or in me), but it does make it make a little more sense to me, I guess. It helps me also to see how small-thoughted and petty I am when God calls me to a new facet of trust. It also makes friends’ resistance to the “Good News” seem easier to understand. We’re all slaves to something, and it’s much simpler to perceive someone else’s slavedriver than the one that afflicts our own selves. I have friends whom I love and for whom I have been praying for years. I think I can see pretty clearly what the issues are that are holding them back from trusting Jesus, even though I have also seen Him working in their lives. I feel like they must see those issues clearly, too, and that they’re just being stubborn. “Well duh . . . ” But when any of our pet sins are challenged, we think we love those “gods of Egypt” and only see God as the harsh Destroyer, when really, He is the giver of true Life. Sometimes it takes something as drastic as His destroying the power of the captors in our lives, so that we never see them again. I’m not always sure I want to see the last of them. But little by little I’m learning that, sometimes-drastic measures notwithstanding, God is the one who is really powerful and who gives my life a framework and a purpose and, what cannot be said for any of the other gods, loves me. And my friends, too. I hope we learn to see and trust and know Him together.

Band of Joy

In contrast to all the whining that has been going on here lately, let me tell you about the Absolutely-Most-Fun-Thing that has happened all year so far.

You know those passing comments when you say you like something and then you totally forget about it? That happened a couple of weeks ago, and then all of a sudden I found myself hanging out with TAG and going to hear Robert Plant and his new Band of Joy. I think I might be one of those people who is subject to suspicion in my newfound fandom, because honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Led Zeppelin, and if I have, I didn’t know it was them. I only learned of Robert Plant’s individual existence when I was working at Starbucks and we started playing songs off of his and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand CD. I already knew about Alison Krauss because she sings a song of Uncle Phil’s on one of her CDs from a few years back.

I remember being surprised by Raising Sand because it didn’t fit my uninformed image of Led Zeppelin–and Led Zeppelin fans have told me it didn’t fit theirs, either. But I liked it. I’m not sure when I decided I was kind of a fan, because it’s not like I own it or have exactly been following them or anything.

But let me just say that if my fandom was at all in question beforehand, it’s pretty firmly established now. And maybe it’s lame to become a fan so late in the game, but hey–I like it when people find my blog and decide to read it, no matter when they start. This concert was incredible. Robert Plant’s vocals are astonishing, the band (who includes Uncle Phil’s friend, Buddy Miller) is tight, and they all looked and sounded like they were just having a blast. The result was that the audience did, too. I couldn’t stop smiling. And that, my friend, is a good thing.

Chivalry Is . . .

A couple of posts ago, I recounted a lovely story about cherry-picker-truck-guys watching me trying to dig a Yaris out of the snow, and how nonplussed I was that not one of them offered to help me of his own volition. I didn’t bother to mutter under my breath because it would have taken all the energy I was expending on shoveling, but I did mutter under my brain, and what I was muttering was about how chivalry is dead.

But later I considered this some more and decided I don’t really think chivalry is dead, though. I think I get so bent out of shape when it’s missing because I have actually experienced it and I like it. My dad and my brother are both chivalrous, and with one glaring exception, all the guys I’ve been close friends with or dated have been more or less gentlemen, too. I have been accused of being inconsistent because I’m sometimes a little feministic but I still like men to open the door for me, but . . . well, I’m inconsistent, I guess. I like feeling respected, and who doesn’t?

Something else occurred to me after the above did, however, and that is that chivalry actually goes two ways. I mean, it’s great if a guy is going to offer to shovel your driveway or something, but then what if you turn him down? Part of the “respecting” happens when the woman allows the man to do something for her which she could just as well do herself, I think. But this doesn’t come easily to an independent, world-traveled, long-time-single, shy, doesn’t-want-to-inconvenience-anybody New England chick like me. I’m pretty sure if one of the cherry-picker guys had offered to help me dig out the Yaris, I would have accepted it, and I hypothesise this because of the fact that I marched over there myself and finally asked for help. But another time a male friend offered to dust the snow off my car and I got all prickly and said I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. Well clearly. That wasn’t in question. He was just being nice, but, perhaps I preferred to have him stand there awkwardly while I dusted off my own car, rather than stand there awkwardly myself while he did it. Which, in the end, is a little self-interested, don’t you think? It was also kind of ridiculous, since that same evening I had ranted to him about the lack of chivalry exhibited by the cherry-picker guys. I mean, I had clearly declared I appreciate chivalry, so was he just going to drive away while I cleared snow? This is what I mean about chivalry going both ways.

But then it gets confusing.

TAG said, “There’s a fine line between chivalry and annoying,” and I think that’s probably true, but I couldn’t begin to tell you where that line is . . . probably because it’s fine.

And then if it is sometimes appropriate not to be stereotypically chivalrous, when is it appropriate not to accept the offers? Presumably if it is clear that the gentleman in question isn’t really being a gentleman and has clear and insistent ulterior motives, but I suspect those motives, even if not clear and insistent, are always underlying these dynamics in some way. Is it better to accept chivalry from a friend or from a stranger? Presumably you will never (or rarely) see the stranger again, so the chances of strings-attached is less. What if someone is being chivalrous and you genuinely respect them but you also suspect they have intentions you don’t reciprocate? Do you show respect but raise false hopes? Or do you just be rude? I think the guys face this when considering offering chivalry, too. What if you like a guy and he’s being politely chivalrous and you take it the wrong way, even if you know it was just common courtesy? Would you rather have the courtesy even if you know you’re bound to be disappointed, or would you rather have him act like an oaf to keep reality in check? Why is the male-female dynamic so complicated? Still? When you get to be (almost) middle-aged? Shouldn’t we have figured this out by now?

Well, I’m sure some people have, but clearly I haven’t. So, I’m not going to go all out and say chivalry is dead. I’m just going to say . . . it’s complicated.