Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sometimes a Girl’s Gotta ’ Bludgeon Someone

But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. Judges 4:21

I have such a love/hate relationship with the Old Testament. It can be very complicated theologically to marry the New Testament message of love and forgiveness with the Old Testament's slayings and smitings. Even though I accept that the Old Testament was written from a very different paradigm and understanding of how God can and will act in the world, it would be far more comfortable if God had gone with unconditional forgiveness from the start. But that is not the story we have. Instead we have a sometimes brutal depiction of war, pillaging, smiting, raping, and bloodletting. Despite that, I'm grateful for the record of God and human interaction. It reveals the depth, the breadth, and the complexity of our relationship with the divine. That relationship is not simple, so, despite the many gospel tracts you may have seen to the contrary, let's not pretend it is.

But that's another topic…

If we're going to have to deal with all that Old Testament bloodlust, I'm at least grateful for Judges 4 and 5. People want, with great frequency, to use scripture to oppress and silence women. I revel in a good counter-message.

First you have the judge, Deborah, who should have been home tending to children and making torches, instead going to battle with military leader Barak. He demands her presence because he's too chicken to use the bathroom without her telling him to.

Then when the enemy leader, Sisera, flees the battle, Heber's wife Jael finishes him with a tent peg. It's not enough for the scripture to say she bludgeoned him with a tent peg; it's a Quentin Tarantino special. She sneaks up to him while he's sleeping and hammers the peg through his temple so hard it pins his skull to the ground. This gal has spent her whole life having to submit to men. Her dad chose her husband, her husband has ownership privileges over her, her sons will tell her how to live out her old age, but when this powerful, oppressive, feared leader happens into her tent, she lulls him with false comfort and takes his life with the tools of a woman's trade (the women were responsible for putting up the tents).

Judges 4 and 5: Old Testament Girl-Power. Women do the judging, call the shots in battle, hear the voice of God, and drive tent pegs through villains' temples. Just try to tell Deborah and Jael that women shouldn't teach men or preach the Gospel.

The end of Deborah's song, however, is the most amazing part of the story, to me. Deborah acknowledges the mother of the bludgeoned leader, the anxiety and confusion she must have felt when Sisera did not return from battle. The real source of girl-power is compassion. While gals can definitely get it done, they also seem to comprehend the humanity of others more deeply. In my opinion, it's one of the most amazing things about "Girl-Power," and one way women most often reflect the nature of Christ.

"Through the window peered Sisera's mother;behind the lattice she cried out, 'Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?' Judges 5:28

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Dined and Dashed

I could have spent the last decade in an Italian prison, instead of Middle America. The father of a high school friend once warned us before a day trip to Canada of the big loophole in foreign travel: they can hold you as long as they want before your trial. Two glasses of wine in Venice and I completely disregarded his sage advice.

I was fortunate, while teaching abroad, to be placed on the southern border of Austria, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and only a few hour's train ride from Venice, Italy. I planned a special trip with two of my most important visitors from home, to go to Venice for the first day the Venetians would begin appearing on the streets in their fantastic Carnival costumes. The pedestrian-only city, a web of alleys, canals, and stone bridges, is by itself a place that inspires the imagination. Adding these elaborate and elegant costumes made the whole place seem like a movie set or Wonderland.

One of the most striking costumes we saw.
We got lost in the sites, wandering the city until we realized it was late afternoon and we were getting really hungry. We found this pizza place situated right along a canal, with patio seating where we could bask in the sun, and marvel at the city around us. We ordered our pizza, and for a mere $6, added a carafe of red table wine. We were always surprised by the relative inferiority of Italian pizza, but the thin crust and cheese tasted great to our hungry palates, and the wine was the perfect splash to wash it down.

We had noticed the slight coldness we were getting from our waiter earlier, but it became most evident when we were ready for the check. It took quite a while to get his attention to even bring it. We were still enjoying the pleasant location and rehashing our morning, so we were pretty patient while we waited. Once we got the bill, we did our best to sort out who owed how much, and to put together the payment in Lira, along with a reasonable tip. Our bills didn't match up, and the result would have been a $15 tip for the waiter, whose kindness to us certainly wouldn't account for that much generosity. We waited for him to return so we could ask for change. And we waited. And we waited.
Note the empty table, the meal long-finished

It is really hard to guess how long we waited, because we had, after all, consumed a carafe of wine together. It felt like at least a half hour. The waiter never returned. Our afternoon in Venice was withering away. We could just leave, but we would have to make a choice whether to over-tip him substantially (especially by European standards), or under pay the bill by $5. We chose the latter and took off down the alley with the adrenalin-rush of young people who knew they were doing wrong. We could have just walked away, the waiter was obviously not going to come check our receipt with any urgency, but we were stealing and we didn't want to get caught.

We experienced some pretty lousy service at a stateside pizza joint last night, proving in some measure how universal it is that human beings don't really want to wait on one another. We had to beg for napkins, utensils, and refills. I'll give her credit, though. She was prompt with the bill. Wise woman.

Give everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:7

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Kids are the Best

I don't think it – I know it. I love my friends' kids, my nieces and nephews, and all those great kids at church. I even feel some affection for the less groomed little ones I encounter, sometimes way past bedtime, at Walmart. But really, none of them ever stood a chance. None could ever be as lovely, bright, articulate, well-mannered, kind, or charming as my kids. Sorry to the other parents out there, you just have to settle for what you've got.

My younger daughter blew me away today, between her performance at Drama Camp and the fabulous social skills she displayed at lunch afterward. I filled out the form wrong, so she was one to two years younger than the other kids in her camp. After the tryouts the first day, I assumed her role was probably some sort of animated scenery. We were quite surprised when we went to the show to find that she had one of the two major roles in the program. She spoke loud and clear and did a great job conveying the story. I was so proud of her. She knocked it out of the park.

Then we took her to lunch afterward, and ran into a family from one of the other performances, probably the class my girl should have been in. My daughter took a shine to the other little girl and broke the ice by offering a really nice, sincere compliment. The little girl smiled and they struck up one of the instant friendships that are so unique to being six. My girl showed more social savvy than I had until I was much older. She asked appropriate questions, shared appropriate amounts of information about herself, and expressed friendliness, kindness, and interested in her new friend.

Now, you may be annoyed with me for gloating so much about my own kid. You may think I'm laying it on a little too think. You're probably right. While I was writing, she held the dog captive in her bedroom until the poor thing peed on the floor. Maybe she's not perfect, but she's pretty amazing, anyway.

Make your parents proud, especially your mother. Proverbs 23:25

Friday, July 9, 2010

My reflexes are seriously inadequate

We thought it might be fun to get together a coed rec. softball team for the church this summer and it has been an exciting success so far. The roster filled up very quickly, and there have been even more fans there to cheer than there have been players in the dugout. Despite initiating the thing, last night was the first game my husband and I were able to make it to, and it was a hoot! I got on base twice, advanced a runner once, scored once (I think), and did not sustain any serious injuries – all very positive and exciting for me. More than that, probably historic for me, because my reaction time and eye-hand coordination were never polished by athletics or even self-defense. I've taken more balls to the face than anyone I know.

Despite my apparent heroics, I also ducked instead of going after two pop-flies, struck out, missed a catch at second base, and stopped a grounder with my shin, instead of my glove. But before my teammates give in to their frustration with me for my softball failures, I hope they understand the completely sub-grade reflexes I’m relying on. Seriously, I should not be out there on the field without some sort of head protection and body armor.

When my younger daughter was just over a year old, I came into her bedroom after naptime and she charged the crib rail, happy to see me. The rail went down when she hit it, and she plunged head first toward the ground and broke her arm. I was helpless, a mere 8 feet away, to react quickly enough to prevent her fall. Even as I saw the rail go down, my mind ran through a million possibilities of what to do, but she was crying on the floor before I could get to her. My husband, shocked at the cast on our baby, quizzed me later – couldn’t I have dived and caught her?

He was equally shocked by my unresponsiveness when we were hot-tubbing and the lid, precariously propped against the wall behind him, fell down on his head. He thought I should have warned him or something, but I was captured in a web of mental confusion, “Do I jump at it and try to push it back? Do I yell? Will he know why I’m yelling?” Boom. Too late. He’s already seeing stars.

My husband has the reflexes of a frog – he could catch gnats on his tongue. Although I hope he doesn’t try. He can’t understand why I wiff in the batter’s box, despite the slow moving 6-10' arch that you can see coming for a full 30 seconds. He marvels at the way I can chase a fly around the house with the swatter and never successfully take its life. It took me well into my adult years to finally make a stand at Wack-a-Mole. You don’t even want to know what Dodge-ball was like for me at P.E., or how many volleyballs landed on my face, instead of my clasped hands. I had to teach my dog to come to me – I have no hope of catching her if she runs.

Others sometimes get frustrated with my slow reflexes, but I bear the burden cheerfully, despite the injuries. That softball on my shin hurt me far worse than it hurt the team, I can assure you, but I still went out there for the second game, and I’ll be back again, as long as they’ll let me play. I’m just the gal God made me to be, and God definitely didn’t build me for great athletics! That’s OK, it's still fun to play; I just hope no one aims for my head.

Still, God, you are our Father. We're the clay and you're our potter: All of us are what you made us. Isaiah 64:8

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Ran Out of Compassion

After a tumultuous week of emotional ups and downs, with a long day of travel and to-do's ahead, I was not prepared for one of those flights where you end up with a headache and a voucher for 4000 extra frequent flier miles.  Being unprepared was never a good method of prevention.

Seated in the very last row of the plane with my girls on either side of me and my husband several rows ahead of us, we were just getting settled when a father boarded with his son, a kid about 3, I would guess, definitely an older 2 at least.  Said child was, already, crying.  Dad strapped him into his carseat across the aisle from us, briefly suggested that he look out the window (which someone else had vacated for him when they saw the kid was already crying), and wasted no time pulling out a bag of lollipops for his little guy to choose from.

As soon as the sucker was gone, the rage began.  For an hour and a half, the person in front of him got to enjoy the on-board massage chair - with little feeting pounding the back of his seat.  The youngster brought forth peal after peal of screaming.  Several times, he screamed so loudly that my daughter and I involuntarily covered our ears, because it physically hurt.

Now, I have great empathy for the parents of screaming toddlers normally.  I've been in that stressful situation where a little one loses it and you have to bring forth every measure of creativity to get them to calm down and stow their horns.  But when a parent starts to count, the child should know to what number they are counting, and that something is going to happen when that number is reached.  Dad kept starting over at one every time he hit five, but nothing happened at five!  He was helpless to prevent his kid from pounding the seat in front of him, or piercing all our eardrums with screams so loud they dulled the engine noise.

Call me a parenting snob, but my kids, even at their worst, were not allowed to treat other people like that.  Not even at 2 1/2.  Basic consideration is to teach your children that they are not allowed to hurt other people, no matter how upset or angry they, themselves, might be.   I wanted to offer Dad my seat, between two kids who were behaving with absolute decorum, even while undergoing auditory torture, and give his son a firm, but gentle reminder that strangers might not be as nice as Dad if he kept up his shenanigans.

Others on the flight were so considerate, I nearly cried.  They suggested that his ears were hurting and offered pieces of gum.  They offered their snacks and electronics.  Nearing the end of the flight, with no remedy working, the flight attendant suggested to the father that he pick up a bottle of kiddie pain meds before he put Jr on another segment, if the problem was ears; Dad says, "are you telling me to give my kid drugs?"  His snotty response to her empathic plea really topped it off for me.  The flight attendant, to my amazement, kept it discrete when she brought out "we're sorry you were on the flight from hell" vouchers.

My head pounding, I tried to remind myself that my 2 hours with this family was a small punishment compared to living 24/7 with the monster-child they are creating.  But as we sat on the tarmac for a 1/2 hour and his scream didn't not abate, I heard the words slip out and hoped no one else did, "It's not your ears now, Buddy.  How about another sucker?"

Two tips: one, don't count up, count down; two, when you get to zero, the consequence should not be another sucker.

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Psalm 34:11