Saturday, December 22, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb macaroni
14 oz white wine, divided
6 oz chicken stock
8 oz smoked gruyere, shredded
16 oz brie, rind removed, cubed
3 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp dried thyme, or 3 Tbsp fresh 
7 oz dried figs, coarsely chopped
4 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms
6 oz sliced cremini mushrooms
2 Tbsp butter
8 oz diced ham

Cook macaroni until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Combine figs with 8 oz white wine and cover.  Set aside and allow to macerate until ready to use.  I had a full day of shopping, so mine were hanging out on the counter for 8 hours.

Toss cheeses with corn starch and set aside.

Combine chicken stock and remaining 6 oz wine in a medium saucepan.  Add thyme.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Slowly incorporate cheeses, melting completely before each new addition.

In the meantime, melt 1/2 the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Cook 1/2 the mushrooms until lightly browned.  Repeat with remaining mushrooms.

Pour figs and remaining wine into the same saucepan and cook down until wine has evaporated.

Mix macaroni, ham, figs, mushrooms, and cheese sauce.  Pour into 9 x 13 baking dish and cover with foil.

Put in cold over.  Set temperature to 375*.  Once over reaches 375*, bake for 40 minutes.

Serve hot.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Humiliations Galore

Oh, epic fail!

It all started earlier this week, when I asked this incredibly attractive man if he'd like to go on a date with me.

This seemed simple enough.  I was clear that this was totally casual.  I'm not looking for someone to be my boyfriend (what are we, twelve?), but just a casual date.  Are you interested.

This begs the question, however, of what casual means.

I LOVE this question.  Genuinely.  It delighted me that this was the response I got.  Define the parameters.

I love this question because it is precisely the kind of response I would give.  In fact, it's precisely the kind of response I gave many years ago.

At 26, having never really kissed a man, and on my way home from a holiday party with a friend, as we strolled the streets of Brooklyn to the nearest subway stop, we happened upon a couple of men, of similar age, and my friend being the not-so-shy and very persuasive type convinced them to kiss us.  To those of you who know me, yes, I am actually quite shy in some regards.  Her level of forwardness shocked and horrified even me.

But, there we were, and they consented, so she kissed one and sent the other to me, and he said, "Okay, let's kiss...."  And I said, "Define the parameters."

Actually, I asked, "How long will the kiss last?  Open mouth or closed?  With or without tongue?"  His response was, "Let's just go for it and see."  Not a good response in my mind.  I wanted to know what to expect.

So, fast forward to four days ago, and I asked, "Would you like to go on a date?" and his response was, "Define the parameters," and my response was to do just that.

I've heard nothing since.  Which is fine.  It's either yes or no, and regardless, I'm okay with it.  I took a chance, and regardless of how he answers, though I would prefer he say "yes," I'm proud of myself for doing something bold.

Then, today.  Epic fail.  Oh, epic fail.

I've been concerned, as this is a man I see on occasion out and about in life, that there might be awkwardness, especially if he wasn't interested.

So, when I saw him in passing this morning, and he made eye contact and kind of smiled, I smiled back and gave a small wave.

And being distracted, total klutz that I am, I wiped out.  Stumbled over my own two feet and barely kept myself from falling flat on my face.  I caught myself to be sure, managing to strategically place my hands on a desk to prevent a full on face-plant, and my shoulder has been sore ever since.  Right there in front of this gorgeous man, God, and everybody in the area, I make a complete idiot of myself.  Much to the delight of those directly around me who rather enjoyed it and laughed with gusto.

Humiliations galore.

I have no idea if this experience of witnessing my klutziness and proof that I really do need hazard cones permanently affixed to my hamster ball of personal space is working for or against me in this situation.

What I do know is that I chose to ask a kind, decent, genuine man if he'd like to participate with me in a social engagement in a public arena, and I'm waiting (patiently?) for his answer.  I truly hope he says yes.  I will understand if he says no.

No matter what, I know that I have the ability to choose to act out of a place of hope and grace and joy, rather than fear and pain and brokenness.  I figure knowing this about myself, yes or no, I've already gotten more out of this experience than I ever dreamed possible.  That is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Subsumed and Pornified Grief

Much ado has been made lately about me.  I've been referred to as cold hearted, lacking manners, unsympathetic and shameful.

I have never claimed to be a warm or loving person.  I freely admit that empathy is something I struggle with, and more often than not have to talk myself through.

In this particular situation, however, the assumptions people were making about my motives or the condition of my heart when I made a very particular remark are in no way, shape, or form in line with my actual motives or heart.

In the face of great tragedy, there were a number of remarks in my facebook news feed that were extremely disturbing to me.  That two young girls had disappeared five months ago and their bodies were likely found is tragic.  Many of the responses from individuals in the community where these children had lived in support of these families was beautiful.

A large number of the responses in my personal news feed, from people I know, however, were not offering support to the family.  They were status updates about their own sense of loss and grief now that the bodies had been discovered, and there was near certainty by the authorities that they were the bodies of the missing girls.  The vast majority of my friends had never heard of either of these families prior to the disappearance of their children.

There were some disturbing trends taking place in the community, and I responded quite strongly to what I saw as the subsumption of familial grief by a social network "community."  Hundreds of people expressing grief, mourning, and heartbreak at the discovery of the remains of two individuals they had never met and to whom they had absolutely no personal connection.

I have not, however, seen any of these individuals expressing a similar sense of grief, mourning, and heartbreak for any of the other tragedies that happen around the world on a daily basis.  These individuals were assuming grief and heartache that isn't theirs.  While the untimely deaths of these two girls is tragic, it is no more or less tragic than the systemic rape, torture and murder of young girls the world over.  None of these individuals has previously expressed mourning for them.  What makes this different?

Additionally, the families specifically requested, through a police representative, that their privacy be respected during these difficult circumstances.  Here was a group of people claiming this familial grief as their own, and focusing on themselves as they put this family at the forefront of a social networking site, robbing them of any privacy in the digital world.

I was also incredibly frustrated by the disingenuous nature of the dual-messages being spread concerning the case throughout the five months these children were missing.

A few days after these children disappeared, news media indicated the police suspected one of the girl's fathers because he was convicted of several crimes, including possession of illegal substances, two months prior to the girls' disappearance.

There was much speculation amongst most of the people I know about this revelation.  Many people shared their own suspicions that this family was intimately involved their own child's and their niece's disappearance, based on the fact that this girl's father uses drugs.

That those who struggle with substance abuse are regularly cast under a cloud of suspicion is deeply offensive to me, as I happen to love and hold dear a number of people who have struggled with substance abuse.  Even more offensive to me was the fact that these same individuals who were shouting the loudest about dead-beat fathers who use drugs and put their children at risk from drug kingpins were heavy drug users themselves this side of ten years ago.

When these girls were first reported missing, the surrounding communities offered significant support to both families--searching for the children, holding vigils, starting a fund to assist the families in light of the fact that they could not work for some time as they assisted investigators in the search for their children.

Once the news broke that one of the families had a history of drug use, and people began to speculate that this history was connected to the disappearance of these girls, the public support I witnessed in person and on facebook was withdrawn from the family with this history of substance abuse.  Additionally, when fundraisers were discussed, people specifically requested that their gifts be restricted to the support of the family that did not have a history of substance abuse.

As soon as the bodies were discovered, the statements of support and mourning, however, were once again focused on both families.  All speculation seemed to have stopped for a moment, as people put aside their own assumptions about who is acceptable and who is not.  I find it significantly problematic that people are only willing to express sympathy for those who do not fit the mold of social acceptability when tragedy strikes in the most horrific way.

I will also be woefully unsurprised if, in the coming days and weeks, given our cultural notions of worthiness, innocence, guilt by association, the public discourse concerning this case once again primarily focuses on the family that more closely fit the mold of social acceptability.
The role social media has played in the unfolding of this tragedy is also deeply disturbing.  Virtually no one I know has any personal connection to either of these kids, but so many people I know are seemingly devastated by it. They didn't lose anything, it's not their grief, and there is something deeply offensive to me about the pornification of tragedy as unconnected individuals make it about them.

Grief is deeply personal and private. The families have asked for privacy, and people are treating this loss as though they have some right to it.  And I believe this tendency is a result of the over-exposed, tell-all, zero-boundaries, denial-of-privacy, exhibitionist/voyeuristic nature of social media.

Ultimately, this is the families' grief, and the grief of those who know the families. And the sense of ownership over these girls lost lives that has been expressed by those I know is disturbing.

Lastly, I saw at least one comment in which the poster indicated "We will never understand the will of God."  If you've read this far, and take nothing else from this post, please read and understand THIS:

God had absolutely NOTHING to do with this tragedy.  The deaths of these two girls has nothing to do with the will of God.  It is the sole result of the will of the individual or individuals who committed this heinous crime.

This situation is tragic, like many others.  But it is the tragedy of these families.  The grief belongs to those who have lost these children.  It is not my grief, there is no reason for this grief to belong to those who have no connection to these girls.  Subsuming that grief can, in many situations, put the families who were directly affected by a loss, in the position of caring for the feelings of those who were not directly affected by that loss.  This is also deeply offensive to me.

If it's not your tragedy, and it's not your grief, get over it. Because there are people out there who are grieving a loss that is personal and intimate, and they need care and support.

While I was on the receiving end of a significant amount of hate mail in response to my own comments, only two people actually sought to understand my motives, rather than drawing their own inaccurate conclusions and assumptions.  One person sent me a private message asking what thoughts had motivated my response.  The other approached me in person and asked about it because they felt that what was communicated was completely out of character for me.  This second person also requested that I write a blog about why I responded in the very strong way I did, poor timing and all.  (Here you go, H!)  When misinterpreted in the way most did, it was out of character for me.  Which is why it is always best to ask if you ever have doubts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Filthy Things My Boss Says During Meetings at Work

I have decided, for the sake of pure entertainment, to maintain a list of quotes, taken out of context, of things my boss says while at work.

"I tried three times and I can't get back in,"

was immediately followed by:

"I only have the room for thirty minutes."

And today (12/14/2012):

"I finally got in!"

Stay tuned for more, as I plan on adding additional quotes as he continues making remarks are really dirty and totally hilarious when taken out of context!

*****

12/13/2012

After today, I've decided that I should keep a running tally not only of things my boss says, but of things my co-workers say as well.  This will also include any thoughts of my own that immediately spring to mind, and which I cannot shout out loud at work.

This morning, I overheard our off-center center-fold ask a customer, "Did you get it in yet?"  While giggling a ridiculous amount, I thought to myself, "If you have to ask, you don't want them to get it in."

Later in the day, JDubs remarked, "I can't take anything orally; I have a pounding in my head."

Oh, the dirty things that happen in the world of windows.

*****

12/14/2012

JDubs:  "Where do I put this?"

LF:  "It was sticking up, so I was rubbing it down."

*****

12/18/2012

LF:  "I squeezed the caulk and it kept coming out and I couldn't get it to stop!"

LF:  "It's all hard, and when your done (blows raspberry)... marshmallow."

BD:  "Oh, I took it!  I took it like a champ!"


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tempermental Candy Thermometers

I had this candy thermometer that got me through grad school. I can't number the batches of fudge, toffee, and caramel this thermometer was used for.  When I graduated and moved, I took this thermometer with me.  I can tell you that after this move, this candy thermometer made exactly four more batches of fudge and no additional batches of caramel or toffee.

The first batch of fudge was off slightly, but I didn't think much of it.  The second batch was off significantly.  So, I checked my thermometer.  Knowing that at sea level water boils at 212*F, I boiled a pot of water and clipped the thermometer to the side of the pot.  176*F.  My thermometer was off by 36*.

I took this into account for my third batch of fudge.  Instead of cooking it to a recorded temperature of 234*F, I cooked it until the thermometer read 198*F.  The fudge was perfect.  My thermometer, however, was no longer accurately calibrated.

The fourth batch of fudge was as bad as the second.  The candy thermometer seemed to be further and further out of calibration with every use.  So it was that I tossed it in the trash and bought a new one.

The new candy and deep fry thermometer made it through three or four batches of fudge and five or six batches of caramel before it was broken by a thirteen year old who was "assisting" but who also fails to pay attention and dropped it on the floor.

So, back to the store I went for yet another candy and deep fry thermometer.  In the past month, it has seen me through six batches of fudge, two batches of toffee, and two batches of caramels.  The joys of the holiday season.

This past week, while I was on a work trip, one of the head members of the company for which I do technical writing asked me how I got started in baking and candy making.  I started baking with my mother as a child, and continued through my teen years, when I also began making candy.  This continued through college.  It was not until graduate school, however, that I understood what it is that I get out of these activities.

Baking and candy making are activities based in scientific principles.  Baking and candy making make sense.

People do not.

Baking and making candy keeps me grounded in the reality that there are things in this world that can be trusted, given the same environmental factors and the same input, to behave in the same way every single time.

People are not like this.

People confuse the hell out of me.  They make no sense whatsoever.  They're like that candy thermometer that got bumped during my move and ended up miscalibrated.  Same thermometer, same altitude, same ingredients.  But due to internal damage, I got vastly different results.  Sure, I could compensate for that damage.  For a period of time.  But then, the rate of miscalibration changed again.

I never know what to expect from people.  I do my best to love them well, and sometimes this works.  Sometimes, it doesn't.  Sometimes people respond with love and grace and kindness.  Sometimes, people respond with anger and bitterness and resentment.  I know that peoples' responses are a matter of how they are calibrated.  It is a matter of the internal damage they have sustained.  But unlike with my candy thermometer, I don't know how to adjust for that, because I never know when people will respond out of their brokenness and when they will respond out of wholeness.

So, I establish boundaries, and make clear my expectations.  I ask questions, and move forward, and seek more open communication.

Unlike a miscalibrated candy and deep fry thermometer, I really can't throw people in the trash because they've been damaged in ways I cannot see.

So, I continue to engage.  I continue to love as well as I can.  And as a result, I end up with relationships that are pretty sweet.  Occasionally, when hidden damage plays itself out, I find myself in the midst of a gritty situation or an all-out fire.

That is when I head to the kitchen, and pull out my trusty instruments that do not lead my astray, and which I know how to compensate for otherwise.  I mix, and boil, and stir, and add, and boil, and add, and stir some more.  And when everything is set and the dishes are done, I package up the results and send them to people who might need a little extra sweetness in their life.  I do this last because I love blessing others.  It brings me immense joy to share this gift with them.

And all seems right in the world once more.  If only for a day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Long Expected Messiah?

It is Reign of Christ Sunday, the final Sunday in the church calender.  This is the Sunday in which we celebrate the glorious kingship of Jesus.  This is the week in which we acknowledge and celebrate his position in our lives as the ultimate authority, the ruler of all, the first and last, the king of kings, and lord of lords.

This is not the celebration anyone in first century Palestine was expecting.  For millennia, the Jews have been waiting for, praying for, searching for, striving for the Messiah.  The Anointed One.  Their savior.  They have been awaiting the arrival of the Son of God.  And almost no one recognized him when he came.

Since the time of Exodus, the Jews have been under the rule of one group or another more often than they have been independent.  The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and finally the Romans.  The last, which began in 63BCE, also began the time known as Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. 

Pax Romana was, indeed, a time of relative peace, with few wars between Rome and her neighbors.  Within the Roman empire, however, peace came at a significant cost.  Peace in Rome came only through the complete and utter submisision to the empire, and to the emperor himself, Caesar.  And Caesar was understood to be the Son of God.  Caesar who was to be revered and worshipped.  Caesar who was not Jewish.  Caesar who demanded oppressive taxes from his citizens, including the Jews, and who would use the full might of his substantial army to get what he wanted.

The realities of Pax Romana for the Jewish people were clear:  assimilate, sumbit, or die.

It is in this context that Jesus appears on the scene.  Jesus gathers around himself a ragtag group of 12 men who follow him as he travels around the countryside, healing people, casting out demons, shaming the Jewish authorities, and poking Rome in the eye.

Jesus eats with prostitutes and tax collectors, clearly defying Jewish purity codes.

Jesus overturn the money tables at the Temple, threatening a potential uprising against the Roman government.

At the end of the day, only one person, Peter, recognizes Jesus for who he is:  You are Christ, the Messiah.

And Peter totally misses the point.  When he tells Jesus, "You are the Christ," what he is saying is this:  You are the one who will deliver us from Roman oppression and lead us into our golden age of self-determination.  You are the one who will overthrow our enemies.

At the end of three years, we find Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate, charged with sedition, and he is being questioned.  "Are you the King of the Jews?"

Jesus does not answer this question initially.   Instead, Jesus poses his own question:  Does Pilate question Jesus's kingship on his own, or have others prompted this trial?  In other words, "Do you accuse me of sedition because you believe I have attempted to overthrow your rule, or have others provided testimony against me?"

Pilate then explains that he is not a Jew, and as such, if Jesus is their king, he would have no first hand knowledge of it.  Rather, we learn that the chief priests--the spiritual authorities among the Jewish people--have handed Jesus over to Pilate.  Pilate asks him, "What have you done?"

Here is Jesus, standing before Pilate, being tried for sedition, utterly alone.  His own ethnic group has turned on him, the Jewish authorities have handed him over, one of his disciples has betrayed him, turning him over the chief priests and their Roman counterparts, and the remainder of his disciples have abandoned him.  Is this the picture of a king?

Kings and kingdoms of this world, in first century Palestine to be sure and in much of the world today, are ruled using fear, intimidation, and lies.  Disloyalty and betrayal are rampant.  These kingdoms are based upon the enslavement of many for the protections and increase of the wealth, power, and freedoms of the few.  "Like thorns," David declares in 2 Samuel, "these kingdoms cannot be touched--they are dealt with violently, with the sword or spear, and they are burned beyond recognition."

Is Jesus, one who preaches that those who are favored in God's kingdom are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers.  Make no mistake:  Pax Romana is not included in the category of "peacemakers."

Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world, and this is the reason he stands before Pilate alone.  It has nothing to do with his twelve closest being traitors and cowards.  It has nothing to do with the failure of the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people Jesus has fed, taught, and healed to show up and witness for Jesus before Pilate.

Rather, it is because Jesus is not the ruler of a kingdom here on earth.  His kingdom is in heaven.  Yes, he is a king.  And his kingdom is not for the Jews, or the Romans, or any one people group.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to Jesus's voice.  Everyone has the right and opportunity to join this kingdom.

And what does Jesus's kingdom look like?  It is based in truth and faithfulness.  It is kingdom in which people are free from the oppression of sin.  It is like the light of the morning.  Those who are part of this kingdom respect God who rules justly through Jesus.

Make no mistake.  Jesus is a king, and we are citizens of his kingdom.

What does it mean to be a citizen of Christ's kingdom, which is not of this world?  How does Jesus's kingdom there engage or interact with our lives here?

We are ambassadors for Christ.  Wherever we go, we take his truth and reality with us.  We bring the kingdom of God from there to here.  We act in the now, while anticipating and engaging the not yet.

Do we believe that we are citizens of heaven?  Do we believe that God is in control?  Do we act in accordance with this?  Do we act in truth and faithfulness?  Do we experience freedom in our daily lives?  Because these are the promises we are given by our king, Jesus.  And as we anxiously await his return, we can rejoice in Christ's faithful witness.  We can rejoice that he loves us and has freed us from sin.  We can rejoice that he has made us to be a kingdom.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.  To him be the glory forever.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gingerbread Caramels

As you know, I love to cook.  And I love to feed people.  I do not have the time or the audience that I had when I was in grad school.  As such, I have to make the most of the opportunities I do have.  Since this is a four day weekend, and I finished work four hours early today, I decided to get started on my holiday care packages.

I have an out-of-town trip for work next week, and decided to bring some blessings to my friends to the north!

This is just an altered version of my basic caramels, but heavenly:

2 cups sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (I use Vietnamese cinnamon)
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Line a 9 x 13 inch cake pan with parchment paper, ensuring that the bottom and sides of the pan are covered.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, half-and-half, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in 5 qt saucepan and attach a candy thermometer.

Cook over medium-high heat stirring occasionally until mixture reaches 245*F.

Remove from heat.  Slowly stir in heavy cream.  Completely incorporate cream.

Return to heat and cook over medium until mixture reaches 245*F again.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Immediately pour into prepared pan.

Cool 2 hours.  Cover with plastic wrap and finish cooling overnight.

Cut into 1/2 x 3/4 inch rectangle and wrap in squares of waxed paper.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Ode to Mom Jeans

Every once in awhile, one might find a snarky gossip column abusing women for their decision to wear high-waisted mom jeans.  They refer to it as a fashion faux-pas.  They write that it's not fashionable.  They tell us that women need to wear lower waisted jeans for a more flattering appearance.  Jessica Simpson is oft on the receiving end of such critiques.

Well, I'm here to disabuse you of the notion that high-waisted mom jeans serve no real function in the world of fashion.

High-waisted mom jeans are not now, nor have they ever been, nor will they ever be a fashion statement, positive, negative, or neutral.

High-waisted mom jeans are a vital containment devise for fat girls, a necessary vessel for keeping our fat rolls in check.

I know this because I am a fat girl.

I am once again a slightly thinner fat girl.  And I once again fit into my slightly thinner fat girl jeans.

As a fat girl, and not just an average fat girl, but at 5'10" a really tall, really fat fat girl, I know the importance of these jeans.

Having lost a pant size, I have been presented with two options:  purchase a belt or rifle through my wardrobe for smaller pants.

I went with the second.

I found three pair of wearable pants.  After a week, two pair were in the laundry, and I was left with one option:  bright red, low(er) waisted jeans with gold thread embroidery on the back (zippered) pockets.  These pants make a fashion statement.

That statement is this:  The last time I was a slightly thinner fat girl and unemployed, I desperately needed a pair of pants and these were on sale for $5.00.

That these pants sit lower on my hips than my traditional jeans is what sparked this blog.  Because as a tall girl with a long torso, it's difficult to find shirts that cover the gap betwixt the hem and waistband.  Let's be honest, people neither need nor want to see my jiggly fat rolls!

The single best method for keeping these jiggly rolls in line:  high-waisted mom jeans.  Every fat roll that falls below my waist is safely ensconced within my jeans.  Thus, they are neither jiggly nor visible to the rest of the world.  High-waisted mom jeans are worn as a favor to the world!

So, the next time you see a woman wearing this article of clothing, consider not whether it is trendy and fashionable.  Rather, be grateful that she has chosen to contain the jiggle, to keep the rolls in check, and to hide that extra wide expanse of flesh betwixt hem and waistband that no one needs to see anyway.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Two Down and Counting

It seems as though I am losing friends at an alarming rate.

Last month, I lost my dog, an incredibly traumatic experience.  A couple of weeks later, I lost a dear friend, a thoroughly confusing experience.

A week ago, I lost a family member.

A few days later,  I faced the potential of losing my sense of security and well-being at work.

In the midst of all of this, I've been struggling with the effects of PTSD.

And so it was, that when looking at the only situation in which the outcome was not yet determined, I uttered (or rather typed) a very simple prayer.

My status update on Facebook was simply this:

"Dear Jesus,

If you truly love me, please do not let the big, bad, terrible, awful happen.

Sincerely,
Me"

What followed was a theological cluster-fuck, some of it hostile, most of it incredibly supportive.

The responses went something like this:

1) A menstruation joke from my sister

2) My reply to her that I enjoy menstruating

The rest, I will not paraphrase, but post in whole:

3) [From a seminary colleague]  "I don't think Jesus is partial to one person's prayer and not another. There are a lot of people whose houses are gone, who are in the cold, who lost everything in the hurricane. And if children still get cancer, then I'm sorry MB, your prayer just aint (sic) gonna cut it. But I have to believe that Jesus truly loves them and you too."

4) [My response and final post concerning this]  " I do not believe that there is anything wrong with petitionary prayer, nor is there anything wrong with questioning the divine or divine love. It is, however, extraordinarily cruel to denigrate or invalidate another's experience or tell them that their prayers are in any way insufficient."

5) [Same seminary colleague from comment 3]  "I did not denigrate or invalidate you, MB. But I do have an issue with prayers that assume that God is in one person's corner, and not in another person's corner; that God somehow gives me preferential treatment, because 'I'm a believer and God loves me;' like the movement in the 80's (sic) of being a "King's Kid" and how that helped "Christians" get good parking spaces. I have heard an evangelist say that a person's cancer did not go away because they didn't "have enough faith." That is a horrible twisting of God's message and it turns God into a facetious, conditional gigolo instead of an unconditional lover of all creation."

This is the point at which I stopped engaging the conversation.  In large part because I'm having a hard time and I have no interest in defending my prayers.

To a lesser extent, I just didn't want to get into a theological or semantic cluster-fuck on Facebook.  First point being, I never indicated that I had been denigrated or invalidated, but that my feelings had been, in that my seminary colleague compared my (unknown to her) experience to those who lost much or all of their material possessions in the hurricane and children who are stricken with cancer. 

Secondly, I never asked God to favor me over anyone else.  I never asked God to stand in my corner and grant me anything over another person.  I simply asked that something truly awful not come to pass.

Thirdly, I'm not an evangelist, and I'm not Evangelical.  I've never claimed that anyone is beyond the love of God.  I've never claimed that God does not answer prayers because people lack faith, and I've never claimed that unanswered prayers for healing and restoration, and thus that sickness, injury, and death are God's will.

All I did was express my fear, frustration, and hopes in a very simple prayer.  For very specific reasons, I could not go into detail about the issue I was struggling with in a public forum.  However, I was confident that those friends who read my post would offer their own prayers or even reach out to me personally in the event that I could share more with them privately.  It was never my intention to ignite a battle on social media.

But, alas, a battle did ensue.


And it seems that everyone else was in my corner.

6) [My sister--I'm so grateful for her!]  "Wow, P. I'm shocked. I was taught that Jesus loves everyone regardless of their stature, age, race,etc. Just because one person is going through something doesn't make it any better or less than another person's struggles. God hears all our prayers no matter how big or small, how great or insignificant and he acts in accordance for what each individual needs.  MB, your prayer makes the grade."

I'm so proud of my sister's ability to clearly articulate these most basic sociological and theological points!

7) [My sister again]  " Tonight, I'm going to pray to God for the guidance for others to have open minds and open hearts."

8) [Aforementioned seminary colleague]  "Wow, R, I'm stunned and so disappointed. I was taught that God is not a vending machine or a puppeteer, but I guess i'm (sic) wrong. ... Jesus, if you love me, please let me win the lottery..... Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz..... Jesus, don't let my aunt die today.... Jesus please do this, Jesus please do that ..... Jesus please heal those poor sinners of homosexuality..... And we know you will grant our prayers 'in accordance with our needs." The great cover phrase that gives you a way out if 'you don't get what you pray for." And I'm sure that tomorrow, everyone will have open hearts and mind, because R prayed for it. Amen." 

How the hell did this devolve into a discussion of prayers for wealth and status?  How did this become a debate on homosexuality?  At what point did this suddenly become an all-out war over the theology of prayer? 

I expressed a need, a heartfelt desire.  I acknowledged a fear.  My (unstated) preference in this prayer, was that I would not be forced into a situation in which I would regularly be subjected to emotional abuse and bullying by a superior I have no immediate hope of escaping because of economic necessity.  Suddenly my crisis has become a circus.  Suddenly a single petitionary prayer has become the platform for lambasting the types of petitionary prayer that some people find offensive.  How the fuck did that happen?

 9) [My sister, with a level of snarkiness that may not be fully appreciated outside our immediate family] "Oh the maturity and wisdom of the elderly truly shines through......."

10)  [A second seminary colleague]  "Fortunately, Jesus doesn't seem to need anyone to screen his calls, or sort his mail."

This may well be one of the best responses I've ever read.  Witty, clever, and hits home the point.  Thank you, LD!

11) [My sister's final comment] "Thank you, LD. A family member passed away earlier this week and while that isn't the issue at hand, I'm sure the event and the upcoming funeral are weighing upon her greatly and causing added stress."
  
12) [Second seminary colleague again] "Praying for you and your family tonight, MB! Philippians 4:6."

Love and support in the midst of circumstances that are very trying for me.

13) [A very dear college friend] "
I usually pray for the same M, without the "if you" and a "and if it still happens, give me strength to cope with it" added on to the end.
I hope you are doing ok!
Love and miss ya! Looking forward to when we can hangout again!

Sorry for adding my
2 cents but...
@above Tough Love lady: I believe that it is the truth that "God does not see as we see nor think as we think" So we really can't make such statements. Nor does this prayer ask for favor over another. It is a simple prayer much like Jesus in the last days (paraphrase) "If possible let this burden pass from me" just humans crying out to God in our hearts sadness. There will always be someone with a more difficult trial to face, but it does not lessen the ones "we" face at the moment. I hope you can be a bit kinder with your advice to my dear friend."


I understand that it may have been my "If you" statement that ruffled feathers.  The simple fact is, though, that I included it because, you know, I'm human.  I'm not perfect.  Sometimes, my emotions do no match up with my thoughts or intellect.

14) [A work colleague]  "M, I hope that what ever it is that is terrible will not happen or will pass very quickly. The great thing about Jesus and God is that They love us all and do so equally. I know that you know this. Do not let the judgement, hate, and/or bitterness of others sway you. I will be thinking of you and, if you would like to talk (or even vent while I just listen) you know where to find me. In the meantime, chin up, you're strong and I know that regardless of what it is, you'll pull through."

(Yeah, I've got some pretty rock star friends and family).

Sometimes, I fear I might be wrong in what I believe.  Sometimes--when things get difficult, when life is hard, when tragedy strikes--despite all of my brains, all of my training, all of my education, all of my stringently held beliefs, all of my faith--which I actively choose--sometimes, I actually doubt God's love for me.  Not because I didn't win the lottery, not because I don't drive a Mercedes-Benz, not because a loved one died. 

Sometimes, I doubt God's love for me, because I've been conditioned by our society to believe that only certain types of people are worthy and deserving of love; and I don't fit the mold.  I'm too fat.  I'm too smart.  I'm too female.  I'm not feminine enough.  I'm too bold.  I'm too loud.  I'm not perfect.

I've been told by the church most of my life that God rewards those who are good and punishes those who are bad.

When tragedy strikes in the wake of some unrelated mistake I've made, sometimes I struggle against a deep-seated belief that God is punishing me.

When I'm struggling to maintain my sense of safety during a episode of PTSD, despite having a home and a bed and material possessions, when the reality is that I do not have safe places but safe people, and when all of my safe people are hundreds or thousands of miles away, and I'm faced with the possibility of being forced into a situation that I experience as having potential to be incredibly dangerous to me personally, I question whether God loves me, and I wonder if I've done something wrong to warrant such a change in my circumstances.

I'm human.  I'm far from perfect.  I have weaknesses, fears, doubts, and insecurities.

People tell me how strong and capable I am.  But I'm only strong because I've had to be.  I'm capable because circumstances dictated that I become so to survive.

But some days, I'm just tired, and weary, and I don't want to have to be strong anymore.  I don't want to have to be capable of bearing up under one more virtually untenable situation.

In those moments, I acknowledge that I fear I am not loved by God, and I plead that if such a situation might be thwarted, it would be.

In those moments, when my family and friends gather round me to defend me and my simple prayer of petition and hope, I feel buoyed by their love, support, and uttered prayers.

That first seminary colleague, though, has unfriended me on Facebook.

I'm not really sure what I could have done differently in this situation (or in the situation last month).

I believe I did nothing wrong.  I prayed a prayer.  For that small act, a woman I know, who is a fellow Christian, who affirms the love of God, and the worth and dignity of all people, ended her friendship with me.

People confuse the hell out of me.

This whole situation leaves me wonder who's next.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Same God Then; The Same God Now

Today's Old Testament and Gospel readings come from very different times in biblical history and they deal with very different characters.  However, these two scriptures have much in common.

Both men are impoverished.  Job has lost all of his wealth, his property, his livestock; he has lost his family, and his friends have turned against him.  Bartimaeus is a beggar incapable of work in the ancient world.

Both men have some level of knowledge of God.  Job has "had heard of [God] by the hearing of the ear."  Bartimeaus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through town and declared him "Son of david."

The texts tell us that both men are blind:  Job metaphorically; who only "now...sees [God]."  Bartimaeus is literally blind.

Both men are regarded by their contemporaries as problematic in someway.  For the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, Job's friends and family tell him that he must have done something to offend God that he has been judged and punished so harshly.  Bartimaeus is sternly ordered to be quiet when he cries out to Jesus for mercy.

Both men encounter God.  Job is responding in this morning's passage to questions God has posed to him.  Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, the physical embodiment of God on earth, for mercy.

Both men's lives are changed after their encounter with God.  Job's fortunes are restored twice over.  Bartimaeus's sight is restored and he follows Jesus.  Both men see God.

After Job is restored, he celebrates with his friends and family.

Twice Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus.  After the second time Bartimaeus calls out to him, Jesus stands still.  Jesus does not approach Bartimaeus, but rather commands those around him to call Bartimaeus over.

In both of these stories, community is present: the first to celebrate Job's restored fortune, the second to bring Bartimeaus to Jesus himself.

Where these two men's stories appear to differ, however, is that whereas the text is clear that "the LORD restored the fortunes of Job....and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before" in the case of Bartimaeus, it was Bartimaeus's own faith which made him well.

Looking more closely at Job, however, we see that God restored Job's fortunes after Job prayed for his friends who did not believe that Job was innocent; friends who assumed God was judging Job for sin, and this was cause of his downfall.

The depiction of God does not change between these two stories.  God is waits patiently for humankind to seek him, to approach him, to make their desires known.

In both of these stories, God is inviting.  God speaks to Job (sternly to be sure), but asks questions in a fashion that opened dialogue rather than merely telling Job what is true.  Jesus does not assume what Bartimaeus needs.  Rather, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what is he would like Jesus to do for him.

In both storeies, God is just and merciful, choosing to bless and honor those who are faithful, regardless of the worldview of their contemporaries.

In both stories, God is a God of healing and restoration.

In both stories, God has a focus on faith in community:  forgiving the transgressions of Job's friends because of Job's faithfulness; Jesus using the crowd to welcome Bartimaeus to the restoration of sight.

The truth of who God is is the same today.

God is still a God who waits patiently for us to seek him.  God is still a God who invites us into relationship.  God is still a God who asks justly.  God is still a God of mercy.  God still heals and restores.  And God continues to do all of this in the context of community.

We all have areas in our life where we need restoration or healing.  Everyone, at some point, needs a miracle.  Your faith, we are told, makes you well.  Your faith restores you.  Your faith brings you the miracle you seek.  Sometimes, choosing to hold to our faith in light of all evidence to the contrary is the miracle itself.

Where do you need a miracle today?  Will you choose, like Bartimaeus and Job, to believe that God is good, and capable, and waiting for you?  Will you choose, not only to know about God, but to see and to know God as well?  Will you do so in community, loving and serving God as one body with many members?

I hope you do.  Like Job who needed to see God for the first time, or Bartimaeus who needed to see again, we all need our sight restored.  It is within the context of community, with many voices and many images of God among us, that we see each other, ourselves, and God most clearly.