Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hamburgers and Diamonds

"The Diamond and Fur Lady in her coat and I in my TJ Maxx cap settled down for a long winter's snack. We exchanged victorious smiles, and smacked our lips upon our burgers. Kindred spirits: We, The Living, of Interstate 70." 

Hamburgers and Diamonds:
A Generation X Love Letter  

“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.” We have been married 20 years, this November -- we two children who got hitched to each other and a Ryder truck and drove to Los Angeles by way of the Rocky Mountains in winter.

It was a good start for us, married under clear November skies in Bethesda, Maryland. “Bethesda” means “house of mercy.” You gave me a diamond ring and we made our promises surrounded by soft autumn colors, and friends stood by in fine attire. Our proper brick church was arched by bare, grey trees, fibrous and plucky. Our great-grandparents would approve. Those were kindred trees with the German and the Scots-Irish, our ancestors. And like our ancestors before us, “we walked off to look for America.”

After our honeymoon at a house on a windy North Carolina beach (the best kind of beach there is), we struck out boldly for California over the Rocky Mountains in a whiteout, with no chains for the tires. Our ponderous Ryder rental truck clutched around turns and snaked over dark drops reeling into snow-flecked emptiness. Guarded by flimsy tin ribbons of guardrail, we were our own careening Gary Larson sketch, complete with a top-heavy vehicle, hairpin turns, and reckless overachievers (both the guard rails and those two wedded kids). 

I spent that part of the honeymoon clutching the dash, while you white-knuckled the wheel. The vinyl seat my prayer bench, my eyes squinched shut, I prayed like a saint for safety and deliverance. 

Driving on Bald Tires in Blizzards through Plunging Mountain Passes had not been mentioned on your resume nor come up in premarital counseling. What a glaring omission, I despaired, on the snow-melt on the floor of that cab. What a ghastly oversight in our courtship. Who is this man, really? And can he drive a very big truck in blinding snow and ice through steep mountain passes? 

Vows, rings, morning coats, honeymoons, counseling with clergy – none had prepared me for that pressing question: Am I going to die in a rocky valley tonight?

Kyrie eleison, I prayed with Mr. Mister. And the Lord did have mercy.  

And you had skills I didn't know about, and brought us through safely, in that dismissively-casual way of yours when things are dire. Then we nonprofit types stopped at a Wendy's with all the ski-resort-rich travelers, also breathing sighs of relief. We ordered hamburgers, and I sat near a lady in big diamonds and real fur.

Plucked back from the yawning maw of death, no food has ever tasted as good. The Diamond and Fur Lady in her coat and I in my TJ Maxx cap settled down for a long winter's snack. We exchanged victorious smiles, and smacked our lips upon our burgers. Kindred spirits: We, The Living, of Interstate 70. 

“Hamburgers and diamonds” -- a metaphor for the last 20 years and the different places we have called home.

A 15th floor apartment hanging in the air above a snaky Shanghai river and the floating marquees and coal boats of Pudong. You somehow found a coffee press to help me wake up in that Tea Town, and when homesick, we went to Blue Frog for burgers.

A pink-tiled, one-bedroom walk-up in North Hollywood, where we lay in bed each night and listened to police sirens and to the plates in the cupboards tinkling during 100 tiny earthquakes. 

A spread-out suburb in Texas with big and bright stars, wildflowers, and coyotes howling after hapless housecats in the front yard. We bought cowboy boots and tickets to Rangers games. 

A 1950s split level on the Morristown-Gladstone train line in New Jersey. We walked trails in the Watchung Range, sang with the Jersey Boys (we lived minutes from the site of the Four Seasons Bowling alley they took their name from), and ate at Carnegie Deli. 

Home was once a condo next to an ostrich farm in Denver. We hiked near Red Rocks and cuddled at home during a surprise spring snowfall. 

We’ve lived differently in our different homes. 

I had a cleaning lady in Shanghai. I was a cleaning lady in Denver. 

Black tie and Dickeys barbecue. Buddhists, Baptists, and Catholics. 

Wild turkeys and deer crossed the roads in New Providence, NJ and snow fell deep and heavy in 2012. All just "life in a northern town."

You’ve put up with the fact that I unconsciously take on the accent of the locals. In China, this means I speak English with a bad Aussie, British, or Chinese accent, while your eyes plead for me to stop. In Texas, it means I talk like Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard.  But is it really as embarrassing as that time in D.C. I kicked you under the table and you blurted out, “Why did you kick me?”

Audibly, almost, I can still hear the raspy chain-smoking intonations of our landlady in Los Angeles, telling us we were “good kids” and instructing us not to put nails for pictures in the wall. Sorry, no art in LA! 

Also, I can hear the Chinese-accented clamor from across Weifang Xi Lu of "san gah' haizah!” (My muddled pin yin for, literally, "three pieces of children!") And, yes -- “dui” -- we nodded, pointing to my stomach. “All from one womb!” they exclaim. Three siblings are a wonder and delight to wombs taxed rapaciously by the government to house more than one. 

Over time you have financially supported four dogs, five hamsters, two gerbils, two guinea pigs, and untold numbers of fish fated for an untimely demise. We seem like nice people, but the fact of the matter is, our house is the end of the road for the life aquatic. Motto: Here, the fish sleep with the fishes.

Reader, what happens when the Scots-Irish and Germans marry?  I can tell you. But first, one thing that does not happen is: Boring.

Something that does happen is an unseemly number of U2 concerts and baseball games. Along with passion, persistence, political debates, and poem analysis. Or, as you, you old blasphemer, like to call them: song lyrics. Some Yeats and some Sting.

“Grace trumps karma.” And together we cling to Shakespeare’s ever-fixed mark -- no impediments, no alterations. For “love isn’t someplace that we fall, it’s something that we do” (wrote the poet, Clint Black).

And still more songs and poems and stories -- and that muffled, married, most-private late-night darkness. That knowing that it is just We Two. Who else do we have here in New Jersey-Virginia-China-California-Colorado-Delaware-Texas-Pittsburgh?

Though, to make things current, it is now it is We Five. You cloned yourself, as any enterprising, industrialized German ought, and gave me a small brood of bonny, brown-eyed stalwarts. They are wry, skeptical, and often unsubtle. They like good stories and sports and music. 

Together we try to teach them a sense of humor, both broad and wry, and we make them read books and articles (though you'll never read Sci-Fi and I'll never read Vince Flynn). And we make them get a little fresh air, as a moral duty. That's what the Germans and Scots-Irish share: books, a little fresh air, resolution on a good day, and stubbornness on a bad one. Not to mention a fondness for cheese and butter and bread.

This is a letter to my husband:

Who talks theology and politics with me just exactly when I want to, every night.
Who loves me even when I get a little plump on bread and cheese. 
Who plies me with warmth, and who kisses me so well that I don't want food.

Thank you for the fireworks, still blaze-y after all these years. Thank you for the roof, the bonny babies, and for the books and fresh air. 

Thank you for the hamburgers and the diamonds.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Corrie ten Boom: Watchmaker, Spinster, Subversive (re-post)

Corrie ten Boom was an old, Dutch spinster, a watchmaker with her family business.

She was also a dangerous contra-Nazi subversive, hiding Jews in her own house, serving as a central link in the communications of the Dutch resistance, and stealing massive stacks of meal tickets from the Nazis to make sure Jewish people were fed.

She and her sister and father were eventually captured and sent to a series of prisons, where they were stripped naked, beaten, and starved with Jewish and other political prisoners. In the barracks at Ravensbruck she secretly led prayer and Bible study, and administered vitamin drops to prisoners with materials she and her brave sister had miraculously secreted in.

If you haven't read her own rather short and gripping account of her resistance to the Nazis, may I commend to you her book, The Hiding Place.

In honor of the liberation of the Jews at Auschwitz, here are some of her quotes, (presented at goodreads website), she who faced extreme hatred and fear -- and responded in courage and love.

"In darkness God's truth shines most clear."

"Some knowledge is too heavy... you cannot bear it...your Father will carry it until you are able."

"Whenever we cannot love in the old human way, God can give us the perfect way."

"This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see." 

What's Deuteronomy Got to Do with It? (re-post)

One segment in Nancy Guthrie's series "Help Me Teach the Bible"

Scott Redd on Deuteronomy

In this audio, Scott lays out ideas for how to teach and explain Deuteronomy to lay people. Included is the following: a discussion of the context for the book historically and a descriptive word picture of what is happening among the Israelites at the time, the covenantal framework of the book, the idea of using the Ten Commandments as an outline for the laws, a handling topics like slavery and punishment within the context of Scripture, and how we are to view sacrifice and purity laws, theocratic laws, and moral laws as believers today -- as not one jot or tittle of the law has passed away. Scott also discusses something he calls Mosaic Eschatology -- Moses looks ahead, and at the end of the discussion, grave errors he has encountered in approaching teaching OT Scripture.

"The Old Testament is not rejected, denied, or refuted by Christ and the apostles...They [the OT books] still make claims on us....How do they, in light of the work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

"We are still called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and all of our selves, and all of our strength today."

Strengthening the Executive Function (re-post)

Three publications look at how to develop your frontal lobe function
-- Psychology Today

-- Sharp Brain

"Examples of neurobic exercises are listed below:
Writing or using a utensil with your non-dominant hand.
Walking down your hallway with your eyes closed.
1-leg balancing exercises.
Spend time outside smelling all the plants and flowers.
Eat foods with lots of colors to stimulate your visual senses.
Feel the texture of different objects like rocks, shells, etc.
Additional neurobic activities include:
The use of essential oils – take a sniff to excite your brain.
Brushing the teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Listening to classical music or music that has different tones, melodies and instruments than you are used to listening too.
Surround yourself with lots of different colors.
Play a new instrument or try a new sporting activity.
Do a crossword puzzle.
Walk barefoot outside and pay attention to the unique feel of the rocks and ground with your feet.
Sit in a park and journal about all the unique sounds and smells you are experiencing.
Read a book or recite a speech out-loud while pacing with your eyes closed
Try a new, healthy dish with unique flavors you are not accustomed too."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Christianity and Foreign Policy

Dad from Shangri-La, Vice Admiral J.S. Redd, Ret., signs a statement about Christianity and US foreign policy:

"A Christian Declaration on American Foreign Policy" Providence Journal 

Women in Direct Ground Combat

Brother from Shangri-La, Scott Redd, and Friend of Shangri-La, Jennifer Marshall, write about pragmatic and biblical concerns with intentionally putting women in direct ground combat roles.

"Deploying Women to Direct Ground Combat" from Providence Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy

In Christian theology, responding to God’s call to that cultural task is imperative for human beings seeking to honor God. Incorporating Bavinck’s observation above, honoring God means honoring him as his image. From this perspective, if sexual difference is part of humanity’s imaging of God, then recognizing and respecting sexual differences is essential to honor God. This conclusion has implications both for individuals inhabiting sexually differentiated bodies, and for males and females relating in community.

To strive for [gender] interchangeability fails to reflect the fullness of the image of God. Similarly, to set up typically male achievements as markers of female success risks denigrating aspects of God’s image that he has revealed in the nature of females.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Begin at the Beginning

When we persuade mothers and fathers that it is acceptable to kill their own children, we have no hope in bringing peace and love to our land. The process of peace and love and healing begins with truth, forgiveness, and a new direction.

A long and beautiful speech, of which this is one short part:

Mother Theresa 1994 National Prayer Breakfast

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Pleading the Case for the Mundane


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pleading the Case for the Mundane

A letter to a gifted prep school friend

Dear Friend,

You are caught up in a hundred little deaths of your soul these days. You are forced to sit through classes which are beneath you.

You know more about these books, these histories; you understand them better than your peers. You are better read than some of your teachers. This is really true, at least in an academic sense.

In other classes you are made to study material you know you will never use. Odds are good you won't need that quadratic formula in graduate school or in cooking your dinner.

And this is an indignity. You, O Suburban Minion, must abide the endless chores of polite conversation, lunchroom shufflings, leading questions, obvious observations, endless chores, polite conversation....

You have better taste.

Every day you are forced to eat food lacking in subtlety, speak to people lacking in insight and nuance, and grind through homework assignments lacking in imagination and spark, taught by adults who punch the card when you include "setting," "characters," and an ample amount of ham-handed adverbial verbiage.

Similes that sit like a knuckle sandwich in your mouth.

What's the use? Where are Sartre and Camus and Kerouc and Woolf in all of this mundane flotsam and jetsam? Where is the Green Knight?

Where is Keats in this tedious homework assignment to analyze Fanny Brawne -- 'til the Bright Star herself becomes thick-limbed, ugly, and graceless with dead eyes? Nothing like the sun.

Oh to be one of those noted intellectuals! Those brilliant sparks, caught up in thought and conversation, and not hampered by The Daily Bourgeois of suburban high school and carpool line and vacuuming the stairs.

Oh to feed that bright fire of the mind, all day, with people who understand and appreciate the heat!

Yet, you are well-read. What about those characters you know so well?

What about Saruman in his tall tower hanging in the thin air far above the plains and the little men and the beasts.

What about Uncle Andrew and Queen Jadis, and their "high and lonely destiny"?

What about that Invisible Man, and his lone scientific pursuit of autonomy, fed by a withered heart lacking in human connection?

What if Dr. Frankenstein was a monster and the Monster had a soul?

What about Virginia's Lighthouse? Did it help her see the rocks?

And you have read The Intellectual Greats. What if:

What if many of those ivory tower intellectuals were tiresome bores in the pub or the parlor?

What if it would be insufferable to share just one drink with them? What if they were the ones everyone avoided at the cocktail party or on the street?

What if they were people that made other people look at the clock to mutter about appointments and traffic and "needing to go, so nice to touch base with you...."

What if -- in their rejection of humility, humanity, and the simplicity of duty -- they lost touch with glory, divinity, and the deeply complex?

What if, in their single-minded pursuit of truth and beauty in isolation -- in the rarefied company of themselves and their toadying salons -- they lost both. (Truth and beauty, that is.)

What if we all felt sorry for their wives and children and dogs and next door neighbors?

And more.

What if Mother Teresa was a genius and Sartre was a fool (himself telling tales full of sound and fury, signifying nothing)?

What if Einstein practiced piano scales daily as a kid?

What if the capitalist down the street is a philanthropist, the humanist down the street is a misanthropist, the scholar is a bigot, and the small town sheriff is a sage?

What if theology is the queen of the sciences?

It's complicated, isn't it?


What if we maintain our connection to the divine, in part, by maintaining our relationship with the human?

What if we love God in part by loving others and performing daily duties?

What if even the Word Himself became flesh. And dwelt among us.

And what if to love and know and learn, we have to go where the unwashed they are, and live where the un-nuanced they live, and eat their casseroles, boiled vegetables, and drink their iced tea, and do their homework assignments?

And in meeting with daily life and daily people, what if we find not just truth and beauty, but also ourselves -- right there?

What if we find that we, in fact, are just another one of them: merely a co-regent of all creation. (Nothing big.)

My friend, what if we find our best selves in the mundane performance of daily duties that bring order and abundance, done with love, joy, and humility?

Here is your next homework assignment for "Life 101"

* Read the Gospel of John to yourself aloud and slowly
* Read "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Andrew
* Read "Intellectuals" by Paul Johnson
* Discuss with your fellow co-regents. (Ie, your middle class parents, teachers, and friends. You might be surprised at how much they know.)

An old friend who once hated homework, wore black turtlenecks, and choked on both gnats and Camels