“Interesting,” and Other Code Words

Family Friday

My Paul and I get along really well. At least five nights out of any given week we fall asleep laughing our heads off at some stupid, sleepy word-joke that one of us makes just before we drop off to dreamland. We share some similar hobbies and have some similar interests. We do have our off-moments, but these are far fewer and much less traumatic than some other “off-moments” either of us have had in previous relationships. All the same, we are pretty different from each other in a lot of ways, and given the fact that our courtship didn’t get off to the most auspicious start, sometimes we look at each other in wonder and say, happily but still with some astonishment, “How did this happen, anyway?”

I guess it follows that two such different people might come from two very different families. The quick way to describe it (which only works if you’ve seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is to compare our two families to the ones in My Big Fat Greek Wedding–only with Paul’s family being the boisterous one with lots of relatives and my family being the smaller, more straight-laced one. It’s not a totally accurate description, but it at least gives you the right general impression.


By the time I met my Paul for the first time, I had already also met or at least communicated with numerous other men who described themselves online as “what you see is what you get,” and I discovered that if a guy wrote that in his dating profile, it still didn’t necessarily mean that what I saw was what I’d get. Also, the ones who said they were “not into drama” were sometimes into drama. So I might have been a little skeptical when Paul applied these descriptors to himself, too, but it turns out that in his case, it’s true. He is pretty much a straight-shooter, and he is definitely not into drama.

My family, on the other hand, while also not into drama, is not as direct. We strongly emphasise “politeness.” This can sometimes stray into the realm of passive aggression, but mostly the motivation derives partly from insecurity and mostly from a respect for the belief that each person is made in the image of God and a desire to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This means that while we’re all terribly unconvincing at lying and we try to be truthful in all things, we also have certain code words we use when we imagine that what we really think might hurt someone’s feelings.

Our principal code word is interesting, which, apparently, covers a multitude of sins. Its main role is to jump into the adjectival breach when, say, someone is discussing a philosophy with which we don’t quite agree but we don’t feel the occasion warrants debate, or if they’re wearing an outfit we-wouldn’t-wear-ourselves-but-it’s-okay-if-they-want-to, or if we’re trying a new dish-we-wouldn’t-make-ourselves-but-it’s-okay-if-you-want-to-serve-it-to-us. Interesting isn’t a lie, because we are probably indeed interested in whatever it is. We probably just haven’t fully formulated what we think about it yet. We may not actively dislike it. We may even almost like whatever it is. But we don’t like it (or aren’t sure) enough to say, “Exactly right!” or “Great outfit!” or “Yum!” Interesting provides flexibility of sense, in the event that what we really mean is interesting-like-a-trainwreck-is-interesting.

Yesterday my Paul made Indian pudding as a dessert contribution to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house.

That looks interesting.

That looks interesting.

No, no, no. It was not a train-wreck. Bad segue. But I guess it almost could have been: While he was making it, he nearly put in a cup and a half (or whatever amount) of salt, instead of sugar. Fortunately he caught himself in time, but I started laughing. “If you put in salt instead,” I giggled, “and served it to my family, they’d just power through it and afterwards they’d say, ‘Thanks for the Indian pudding, Paul. That was really interesting.'”

Neither my parents, my nonagenarian grandmothers, a cousin, an uncle, nor an aunt had ever tried Indian pudding before, even though it’s an old New England dish which it seems at least a few of us should have. (My uncle’s wife had, I think, but not recently.)  They were very interested in the Indian pudding. Like, truly. They asked what it was made of and how Paul had come to think of making it and then talked about other Old New England Recipes and childhood recipes and family recipes. You can have a whole extended  conversation around things that are interesting. The pudding was rich and delicious, and after trying it, everybody said so, so it definitely graduated beyond interesting upon acquaintance. But I laughingly hypothesised to them all what would have happened, had Paul actually made the salt-mistake and served them salty pudding. Hilariously, everybody agreed that that was exactly what they would have done, had they been served a big blob of salty molasses pudding: choked it down and declared it interesting. No one even seemed to be able to imagine another course of action, beyond surreptitiously spitting it into a napkin, although everyone found the scenario humorous.

After dessert, my Paul and I packed up our things and headed back to our house to let the dogs out and make sure Paul’s Brother-John was still having people over in the evening. We weren’t planning to eat more dessert, which was what was on offer, but we did want to see that side of the family on Thanksgiving, too, if we could. Brother-John was, in fact, still having people over. My Paul said, “We have leftover Indian pudding. I’m going to bring it.”

“You don’t have to do that,” said Brother-John. “We’ve got pie.”

“I’ll just bring it,” said my Paul. “That way people can have some if they want it, and leave it if they don’t.”

“No, really though,” said Brother-John. “Nobody wants Indian pudding. Do you guys want Indian pudding?”

Evidently Everybody said no, they did not want Indian pudding.

“Okay,” said Paul, matter-of-factly. And Everybody (Paul, too) was okay with that.

“And that,” I chortled, “is the difference between your family and my family.” And it is. All wrapped up in Indian pudding.

Sometimes I think Paul and I were brought together to achieve cosmic balance between courtesy and directness. It could happen. It’ll be a process, though. I’ll let you know how it goes. Should be . . . interesting.


What Are Some of the Best Spiritual Formation Resources You’ve Discovered?

Theology Thursday
This is blog-sized Part Three of a paper I wrote for my Spiritual Formation Class. It's easy to find Parts One and Two. Feel free to answer the title question yourself if you have thoughts on it, in the comments. But first of all--Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for you, The Readership!
In the Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

In the Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

I’m starting to think one of the very, very best “resources” for being formed more into the image of Christ is pain, or suffering.  I guess this makes sense since Jesus Himself suffered, and we are told that we should expect to suffer, too, for His sake–not to mention that if He was misunderstood, we should anticipate we will be. I can’t say I particularly enjoy this one, but pain seems to highlight any formation that has already happened, and to motivate further growth. The faculty and staff of the Seminary have been exemplary of this principle since the announcement of the shut-down. Sometimes I imagine that this whole ordeal is actually a simulation—a spiritual formation class that we don’t even know we’re taking, which we will get credits for or something in the end. That, of course, is not really the case, but we may well still, and indeed it is to be hoped we do, “come forth as gold” (Job 23.10) when this is all over—and maybe in the meantime, too.

Besides suffering, regular time in and interaction with the Bible is an obvious but indispensable resource for spiritual formation. I often read it in tandem with journaling, which usually serves as my method of focused prayer. Because I usually don’t discover what I really think about things until I’ve written them down, journaling is rarely optional for me. The Richard Peace books we worked through in our journaling process for the SP511 class in the spring term were very helpful resources to me in discovering new ways to journal and pray, and thereby to start to assess my spiritual growth. Blogging is less prayer-like for me, but it is instead frequently evangelistic, which I also feel is spiritually forming.

Spiritual biographies or autobiographies are also extremely helpful to me. It is encouraging to see people who have gone before—particularly when they are presented as flawed but God-accompanied. I know I’m flawed. I just pray God also makes Himself known through my life. Getting to know some “church parents” last term contributed to this growth; I read a biography about Dorothy Sayers. Some of our similarities were startlingly uncanny. Learning about her spurred me on to further spiritual formation in the gifts I’ve been given which are, in some ways, similar to hers.

Avoidance Issues

Wordy Wednesday
Lion Avoidance

Like this. Or maybe not. Or maybe.

Sometimes I get an email from a friend that is actually kind of personal and detailed and informative, and they ask me questions about me, too, and I think, That was a good email. I want to write a comparable email back, but I just don’t have time right now. Or maybe the questions they asked were good questions but kind of uncomfortable, and so even though I know I need to answer them, and probably will answer them at some point, I just don’t have it in me to answer them at the time of the receipt of the email.

I leave the email in my inbox, fully intending to get to it . . . tomorrow . . . at the weekend . . . this month sometime . . . Once it gets past the two-month point, I stop wanting to answer it, but for different reasons. By that time whatever the topic of the email was, is starting to feel irrelevant, and I’m not even sure I have that much to say anymore. So it sits there a little longer. Or a lot longer. Such that I have definitely had unanswered emails staring accusingly at me from my inbox for over a year. Once the year is up, answering is just embarrassing, because it’s an acknowledgement that yes, I really did get that email, but I’ve been too occupied with other things, or just plain too inert, actually to answer it. When the email gets to be about one and a quarter years old, I finally break down and write a self-flagellating missive in reply, and try to respond to whatever life news is now no longer news, and answer questions I no longer remember what was uncomfortable about–except that I’m answering them so belatedly.

I do this with websites, too. I used to be on authonomy, and technically I guess I still am because I haven’t deleted my profile or my book, but I never had the time to self-promote there enough ever to get above the 600s in ranking, and rarely did I have time to read other people’s books, either. Then my ratings started to plummet again, and I had even less time, and so I visited the site less and less, because it was difficult telling people I couldn’t read their book, and worse telling them I would and then not doing it, and maybe selfishly, worst of all was seeing the numbers of my book ranking getting bigger and feeling like I could do nothing about it. So now I just don’t go there at all. That way, I don’t have to see all the messages I’m not answering, all the books I’m not reading, and how badly Favored One is doing there, due entirely to my own negligence.

So last week I wrote a bunch of posts and my stats rarely if ever broke twenty visits a day. Then I tried writing a paper for class. It was only five pages, but for some reason, it took me three whole days to write it, and when the professor sent it back, he said, “This wasn’t your best work.” And I knew it wasn’t, but still, I had kind of been hoping I was wrong about that. The convergence of all this seeming writing failure made me check my stats less and less often, because they were getting more dismal by the day, and instead of writing more posts and powering through, I just sat back on my hands and avoided the WordPress bookmark, the way you might avoid . . . someone you’re trying to avoid.

Avoidance is, obviously, entirely counterproductive, but sometimes, particularly on a rainy day in November right before a holiday, the preferable course of action seems to be to curl up under a blanket and forget the internet even exists.

What are your avoidance tactics? Please tell me you have some. Come on. Don’t avoid it.

How Does Spiritual Formation Fit Other Disciplines and Areas of Study?

Theology Thursday
This is blog-sized Part Two of a Spiritual Formation paper I wrote for class. You can find Part One last week.
Chihuly sculpture, Children's Museum, Indianapolis

Chihuly sculpture, Children’s Museum, Indianapolis

Because spiritual formation is a process, and a holistic one at that, there is no discipline or area of study it cannot impact or, I suspect, which cannot lead to greater spiritual formation if the Christian is open to it. Any human work is undergirded by a worldview, and interacting with those worldviews, whether sympathetic to a Christian one or not, can be spiritually forming. I immerse myself in well-told stories, for example. I don’t always agree with the perspective the story is written from, but when I get inside a story and, in effect, “bring Jesus with me,” I can both evaluate the worldview and also usually take away something that deepens my faith or gives me new ideas for approaching life in general and ministry in particular.

As regards disciplines which may be more overtly “Christian” in a Christian context, such as theology or, say, church history, these can become mere intellectual exercises or they can become spiritually forming exercises—forming the intellect and other areas of life. It’s easy for these studies to become dry and dutiful, but with prayer and some intentionality as well, they can become devotional.

Why Do We Say the Things We Say?

Wordy Wednesday

This post is not as philosophical as you would think from the title. Philological, maybe, but not philosophical. Also not as self-flagellating as the title could possibly imply, either. Not self-flagellating at all. It’s just, sometimes I wonder how we get certain words and expressions. You know?

Like, beheaded.

Last Saturday was, apparently, Extra Horrible Roadkill Day, because in the same stretch of less-than-a-mile-long road, I saw both a dead cat (fully intact) and a dead squirrel. The dead cat made me sadder, but the squirrel was far and away more disgusting, and this is because at first I didn’t realise it was a squirrel–or even exactly that it was roadkill.

This squirrel is clearly having a better day.

This squirrel is clearly having a better day.

I was approximating the actual speed limit on that road, and not really thinking about too much–certainly not dead squirrels–and then I noticed there was something in the middle of my lane that was very small . . . and kind of roundish . . . and it looked like it might be sort of a very short tube . . . and actually, it seemed to be incredibly bloody . . . and then I had driven over it (not with the wheels touching it–just over it–you know) and then all of a sudden there was a strung-out squirrel body . . . without a head. Because the head was the first thing.

In my mind, I was registering all this in words (what–you don’t do that?) and at first the word I thought was beheaded, and then I decided that decapitated was more accurate to the situation, but it got me thinking about the word beheaded after that. I started wondering why, when in every other word I could think of that started with the prefix be-, there’s more of a sense of adding something to something else, we say beheaded when we mean that someone’s head is taken away? Bemused seems to mean adding the need to muse (“things that make you go hmmm”). Bespectacled means with spectacles. Benighted means someone’s understanding or reasoning is dulled–night is metaphorically added. Behooved is certainly a weird one which needs explaining of another sort, but still. It may not mean that hooves are added, but it certainly doesn’t mean they’re taken away either.

So I’m wondering. Why don’t we say deheaded? Did some little kid learning her alphabet write the d backwards, and we’ve been beheading ever since?

I mean . . . hopefully we won't ever have cause to use that word frequently again ever, but just in case . . .

I mean . . . hopefully we won’t ever have cause to use that word frequently again ever, but just in case . . .

Swedish Hard Tack Crackers

The Tuesday Reblog

I totally did not know you could make this stuff at home. Or that anyone I know could, at least. I’m a quarter Swedish and Now Church is probably more Swedish than that, but I’ve never seen anyone serve this stuff during the coffee hour there. That may well be, of course, that store-bought Swedish hard tack (knäckebröd) kind of tastes like . . . sandpaper? I don’t know. I’ve never eaten sandpaper.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t know if you have to be Swedish to like knäckebröd the way you have to be English (or crazy) to like Marmite, but I love knackebrod. And this stuff looks way more delicious than that stuff in the supermarket. So I’m pretty stoked that Mrs. Swirls and Spice posted this recipe today. So stoked that I’m sharing it with you.

Swirls and Spice

Swedish Hard Tack

Not quite a cookie, and almost a cracker, hard tack is a traditional flat bread of the Scandanavian kitchen.  My grandmother served hers with butter and orange marmalade, which I always enjoyed.  These semi-crisp crackers also taste delicious with any good jam (including raspberry rhubarb I can attest), chutney, or cranberry salsa.

Hard Tack with Jam

I enjoy rolling the dough out with my children, since they can cut out shapes with cookie cutters if they wish.  Also, hard tack is low in sugar and easy to pack.  We enjoy snacking on these all day long!

Some Swedish cooks, like my mother, have a dedicated rolling pin that presses a unique waffle pattern into the flat dough.  In my kitchen we simply use a fork.  Either way, this recipe is authentic, passed down from my grandma to my mom to me.  I have lightly adapted it to include spelt flour and light brown sugar…

View original post 180 more words

Polyester Pants

Memory Monday

My Central American sojourn spanned my life from age two to  seven, and was contained entirely in the 1970’s. I guess there were some things we could get in the United States that we couldn’t get in Honduras, like apples that actually tasted good, but other things were totally transferrable:

My parents had this friend, I guess, named Polly Esther. It seemed like everybody knew her, but I never met her myself. I definitely remember asking who she was once or twice, and I don’t remember anyone laughing (amazingly), but I also don’t remember any answers to my satisfaction. My parents referred to her all the time it seemed, but I couldn’t figure out why they kept talking about her pants.

Or why my dad was wearing them. (American pants, people. Not British pants.)

My dad had this pair of spectacular polyester trousers which I called his “candycane pants.” This was because they had red-and-white vertical stripes. They were thin stripes, but not pin-stripes, and they were ridged like corduroy kind of, but not. The red stripes were not an overly brilliant red, but still. I can’t imagine . . . well, anyone I know, really . . .  wearing anything like that ever again. Daddy also had a pretty impressive moustache.

Evidently he also went for plaid. I, too, seem to be wearing a nice little polyester number.

Evidently he went for plaid as well. I, too, seem to be wearing a nice little polyester number.

My mother, for her part, had a turquoise pair of polyester trousers, and they made this kind of squeaky swooshing sound when she walked.

I forgot the blouse that went with them.

I would totally wear her outfit today. If she still had it.

Actually, in those days, all grown-ups seemed to make that noise when they walked. I think my red trousers with Tweety Bird on the knee were made of polyester, too, and I remember trying to make that sound when I walked but I could never do it. Pretty sure I could now, though.

I know. You’re distracted. You’ve been over polyester for the last 60 seconds because you really want to see a better picture of my dad’s moustache. Stand back, everyone . . .

This is what missionary families looked like in the 70's. Movember, eat your heart out.

This is what missionary families looked like in the 70’s. Movember, eat your heart out.

Here Be Dragons

Saturday Snippets

Earlier this week, Sherri over in her Summerhouse awarded me the Dragon’s Loyalty Award. I wasn’t aware dragons were particularly loyal, but I might be, and I’ve never gotten this award, so I feel honoured. I guess to accept it, I have to post the image, nominate 15 more people, and tell you seven more things you don’t already know about me. I’m not sure there are anymore of those things, but I’ll try.



The people I’m nominating for this award are, well, loyal. They come here regularly and read and comment and “like.” Some of them have been here for years. If that’s not loyalty, I don’t know what is! Kudos, bloggers!

  1. Processing the Life
  2. Missistine
  3. Swirls & Spice
  4. Ethel & Everett Go RVing
  5. Ben’s Bitter Blog
  6. Visiting Missouri
  7. Don of All Trades
  8. The Punchy Lands
  9. Novel Conclusions
  10. Darkness, Light, and Other Unavoidable Evils
  11. Treyzguy
  12. At Koko’s Place
  13. Said Simply
  14. The Belmont Rooster
  15. Food4ThoughtFood4Life

Random Stuff About Me

  1. I don’t like sandwiches. I’ll eat them, and I usually like every ingredient in them, but I don’t like how everything gets stuck in my front teeth in one bite when I eat a sandwich. Give me the components and I’m happy.
  2. When I was a kid, my family had a little black cocker spaniel named Chippy. (It was short for Chocolate Chip.) He was stupid, and he didn’t live very long, but he was very lovable. When I first got Oscar, I called him Chippy on and off by mistake for a few weeks.
  3. Of all the people in my family, I like ice cream the least, but I do like it, and pistachio is my favourite flavour. (Almond Joy is pretty good, too.)
  4. My dental hygienist goes to my church. (She is not the same one I started going to when I broke my tooth.)
  5. When I was single, I once took Oscar on a vacation to Baie-St-Paul, Quebec.
  6. I just found out I like this paté made out of pork liver. I have never liked paté. I would not have expected to like pork liver. I’m not sure what’s come over me.
  7. My Mac is 7 years old and is held together by packing tape.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Family Friday

Okay, he didn’t.

But if I were still attending school in the time when homework was actually done on paper, he undoubtedly would have.

It's the cute ones you have to watch . . .

It’s the cute ones you have to watch . . .

You may remember that last autumn we were having trouble with Oscar frequently peeing on the carpet. Then he got much better. Then this autumn he started eating paper. He used occasionally to sneak used Kleenex out of the bathroom wastebasket. Then he graduated to junk mail we might have left lying around. Then he chowed down on two of my Paul’s checkbooks. He has also been known to ingest bubble wrappers. When they were packed up with presents to mail to Dear Paulina. That evening I yelled at him pretty loudly and he didn’t get to sit with us on the couch. Cleaning up after him in the yard can be pretty . . . weird, honestly.

The day before The BroFam left for their home far, far away, TWCN (The World’s Cutest Niece) drew me two pictures. I stuck them in my backpack to bring to work and hang up on my office wall. Only I didn’t think about closing the backpack. This was pretty stupid, since that’s how Oscar had gotten Dear Paulina’s parcel two weeks before. I don’t know where I went, but when I came back, one of the pictures had teethmarks in the corner, and the picture I liked the best was gone. Without-a-trace gone. Not even a teeny tiny little paper crumb. I would have yelled at him then, too, but there wasn’t really much evidence left to point at and for a while I tried to convince myself I had somehow lost the picture. But that was a month ago and it hasn’t turned up.

I wrote to Sister-in-Lu and told her what had happened, and asked if maybe TWCN would be willing to draw me something else.

So she did. (She drew one on each side of the paper, the good little environmentalist):

These might be bees, but I think they're butterflies

These might be bees, but I think they’re butterflies

I like how she knows there needs to be sun AND darkness for a rainbow. And hey--Roy G Biv!

I like how she knows there needs to be sun AND darkness for a rainbow. And hey–Roy G Biv!

TWCN and Auntie Jenn

TWCN and Auntie Jenn

This last one’s my favourite. First of all, the drawing of Oscar is pretty impressive–she even managed his beard. According to Sister-in-Lu, TWCN was trying to sound out, “I’m sorry to hear Oscar ate the pictures.” I’m not sure where that is in there, but . . . she’s in kindergarten. I know–I do know–that one day she’ll become just as obnoxious a spelling-termagant as I am. And not even a paper-eating dog can change that.

Ethiopia what?

Ethiopia what?

What Does Spiritual Formation Mean to Me?

Theology Thursday
The problem with writing about Theology every week is that, although I think about it constantly, it takes me forever to untangle all my thoughts into manageable chunks. I just received back a paper I wrote for my current spiritual formation class, and it's already broken up into chunks, so I'm going to post it here, serially, for the next few weeks.

Approach to Spiritual Formation

In the aftermath of the announcement of the imminent Seminary closure, I think my understanding of and approach to spiritual formation is being both honed and jumpstarted, as I observe the reactions and responses of people further along in their own spiritual formation than I am yet in mine.

What Does Spiritual Formation Mean to Me?

            The term spiritual formation describes the process of being “formed” more into the likeness of Jesus Himself in all facets of life. I see it as a lifelong process of a Christian’s returning to the image of God in which he or she was meant to be before the Fall. In spite of the term spiritual, it’s a holistic concept, encompassing lifestyle but also thoughts, attitudes and speech.

Spiritual formation is not a self-help or self-improvement regimen. It is not a veneer to cover over an unredeemed life. Some not-yet-Christian people I know have argued that the kindest act is always self-serving at its core. They say that even apparently self-sacrificial acts have a payoff. I believe, however, that there is a difference between a so-called “good person” (according to the judgment of the world) and a spiritually formed person. Although the Christian may derive great benefit in the end from acting self-sacrificially, a spiritually well-formed one will have been motivated by love for God and others, and from having “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2.16; 2 Corinthians 10.5) at the core of their motivation, not self-interest.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012. Montreal.

The Wild Goose: A Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit carved into a church in Montreal, nurtures her goslings

The process of formation can begin before a spiritual rebirth in Christ occurs, as the Holy Spirit works in a person’s life to woo them to Jesus—kind of like a baby being formed in the womb. Often this work of the Spirit only becomes obvious after a period of time in the family of God. The initiator of the rebirth and of the spiritual formation itself is always God. Once a person is reborn, however, I believe he or she has some choice regarding whether or how much to allow spiritual formation to take place.

Ultimately, the process is somehow something of a joint effort between a Christian and God. Many times, God sets up or allows life circumstances to propel His child into greater spiritual growth. On the other hand, a Christian can also be intentional about seeking growth, and set up disciplines through which growth is likely to happen.

I don’t believe anyone is ever fully spiritually formed in this lifetime. Although there has been some debate about what exactly the correlation is between spiritual formation and discipleship, I tend to think they are the same thing. We are always learning from Jesus as we walk along with Him and until we finally meet Him face to face.