". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, June 24, 2016

How to Survive the Homeschool Expo: Introvert Edition

1. Check in at registration desk and get packet of goodies.

2. Head over to vendor hall.

3. Quickly circle vendor hall, avoiding all eye contact.

4. Exit vendor hall.

5. Decide you really need to get some groceries for the folks back home. What were you even thinking, leaving them all alone for an entire hour? Poor souls are probably starving by now!

6. Drive to grocery store, buy groceries, and drive home.

7. Verify everyone at home is still alive. Put away groceries, make cup of coffee, and settle down in comfy chair with bag of goodies and conference brochure.

8. Eat a healthy lunch so as to build up strength for the afternoon.

9. Head out to try again. You can do this! You're a mighty homeschool mom!


Don't mind me--I'm just gonna hang out here in my shell a while. 

Photo from David DeHetre/Creative Commons. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

I Threw Out the Cheerios Today


They were my mom's Cheerios, the Cheerios that have been in my pantry for about 6 months now. They were in my pantry on January 12 of this year, and Mom probably had some for breakfast. But at lunch that day she fainted and fell. I called 911, and an ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She did not get better, and on February 19 she came home so she could die in her own room. She went to be with Jesus on February 22.

I have tried on more than one occasion to throw out those Cheerios. No one else in the house eats them. They're getting stale. They're just taking up room. But each time, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Until today. As I was putting groceries away I suddenly grabbed them off the shelf and in one motion, before I could think too much, put them in the trash.

I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Just Putting This Here

Not too long ago I wrote a #neverTrump article that has yet to find a home. At this point I don't think it ever will unless that home is here. Apparently the market for such articles is saturated and the articles that are getting published seem not to be having any effect on the people for whom they are intended anyway. Sigh. I thought with the second election of President Obama I knew what it was to be discouraged about our country's future. I am now experiencing that on a whole new level.

Anyway, I don't think I can move on unless I go ahead and post this somewhere. But I totally I understand if you skip it.

A Bully Too Far

One of the most puzzling aspects of the Donald Trump phenomenon, at least to me, is the extent to which my opinion has diverged from that of people with whom I typically have a great deal in common. There are many in my friend and family circles who see him as I do, as a dangerously volatile individual lacking in the personal characteristics I seek in a President. But there are also those who take a different view, seeing in Trump someone who offers the hope they so desperately seek. These are smart, conservative, patriotic and God-fearing people who largely share my values and world view. How did we end up so far apart?

It's a question that many have tried to address, and certainly there is no single answer. A few months ago in The Federalist A.D.P. Efferson took a stab at it with an analysis based on crisis theory. Efferson likens Trump supporters to those who have reached such a profound level of desperation that they experience a kind of breakdown, acting in ways they might otherwise not. Yet I think I have reached that same point of desperation, and Trump makes me feel more, not less, desperate.

Another theory focuses on Trump’s supposed appeal to the “authoritarian personality.” But the definition of authoritarian as someone who values order, the upholding of tradition, good manners and respect for authority fits me, and I am frightened by, not attracted to, “authoritarian” candidate Trump. I think the definition of authoritarian utilized by these pieces is faulty, too closely equating it with conservative Christianity, and I agree with this piece in the Washington Post that suggests it is less authoritarianism than populism driving Trump.

Instead, the psychological explanation to which I find myself repeatedly returning (because it’s gotta be psychological, since it is most assuredly not logical for conservatives to be supporting Trump) is Laura Ingraham's identification of Trump as the anti-bully. Here is the gist of Ingraham's argument:

"But the truth is that most, if not all, of the folks supporting Trump don’t care who he offends, as long as he’s standing up for them. They feel like they’ve been bullied for years. For them, Trump is like the savior kid in the schoolyard who takes on the bully by popping him right in the eye. The kids who have been ridiculed or roughed up suddenly have a champion."

Ingraham goes on to enumerate some of the ways Americans have been bullied in recent years. She is spot on that Americans, especially those of my ilk, are increasingly frightened of and angry at the reach of big government and deeply troubled by our seeming inability to combat it via the system that is in place. Why, then, do some of my like-minded friends look at Trump with hope while others such as myself recoil in fear? I think one determiner of how people react to Trump could be the bully factor: an individual's past experience, or relative lack thereof, with bullies.

There was a time in my adolescence when I was regularly bullied by schoolmates. It wasn't just a few scattered instances of teasing. It was day in, day out systematic targeting for several years. That sort of thing does a number on a person, affecting the way he looks at others, and the world, for the rest of his life. Among other things, it can result in making one 1) more skeptical and less trusting of others, 2) more sensitized to the marks of a bullying personality, and, ironically, 3) more vulnerable to falling under the spell of a bully in a misguided effort to align oneself with the axis of power.

In addition to my childhood experience of being bullied, I have several times gotten tangled up with an adult bully. The bullying done by an adult is much more covert than that done by a child. Whereas a child will bully another child in a very obvious way via physical abuse or overt verbal attacks, adult bullies are sneaky, utilizing psychological games and passive-aggressive behaviors. Sometimes the one who is bullied may not even realize what is going on until the pattern is well established. Adult bullying goes hand-in-hand with narcissism, since adult bullies are those whose arrested development leads them to never get beyond looking at others as objects to be used for their purposes. We all essentially begin life as narcissists, seeing ourselves as the center of the universe and others as extensions of ourselves, but the healthy person grows beyond that, developing empathy and an awareness of the inherent worth and otherness of those around him. The narcissist never makes that leap.

Interestingly, in Megyn Kelly’s recent make-nice interview with Trump, The Donald himself brought up the topic of adult bullying but then dismissed it as something people just need to get over. It might seem surprising that the one at whom so many have leveled charges of bullying would raise the topic, but it is actually characteristic of narcissists to criticize others for the very behavior in which they are engaging. It’s an element of the technique known as gaslighting, by which an abuser keeps a victim constantly off-balance by employing a number of strategies to make the victim doubt his own perceptions and thinking process. (Trump’s facility with gaslighting has been highlighted by more than one observer.)

Today as I find myself faced with the choice of whether to once again put my trust in someone who has so many of the marks of a bully, I have sometimes wished I could ignore all the alarm bells ringing in my ears and join my friends who have already jumped on the Trump train. His paternal, “trust me and I’ll take care of it” approach is admittedly tempting. Yeah, he’s a bully, but he’s on my side. It would be so easy to just give in and quit worrying about everything and leave it all up to Papa Trump to fix. But I am always caught up short by the little voice inside me screaming with all of its might, “No. Stop. You have been there, done that, and you have gotten burned. You can’t count on the bigger bully to take care of it for you, because some day the bigger bully will take the power you gave him and use it against you.”

It is for this reason that as much as my present self might be attracted to the defender-hero Trump says he will be, my past self is not falling for it this time around. I have seen too many Trumps in my day. I have, I am ashamed to say, sometimes stood by silently while they have wreaked their havoc on others. As a result I have learned a few things. When it comes to bullies, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. A bully is not in it for anyone but himself. His promises all come with an expiration date. You are either for him or against him, and if you question him in any way or give any indication that you are not 100 percent loyal to the “cause,” whatever it is, you are punished or summarily banished. Having been there, done that one time too many, I refuse to willingly open myself up to it again, and I refuse to be a party to the bullying of anyone else, in this case, the country I love. In the words of Huck Finn: "I can't stand it. I been there before."


Saturday, May 14, 2016

End of the Innocence

When you're 51 years old, both your parents are dead, your children are growing up too fast, you don't know what happened to your country, but you find that the sea of your life is calm for the moment after having come through a string of storms, this song will flatten you. Ask me how I know.

    


Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn't have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin' by
But "happily ever after" fails
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

But I know a place where we can go
That's still untouched by men
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

O' beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening
They're beating plowshares into swords
For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we've been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers clean up all details
Since daddy had to lie

But I know a place where we can go
And wash away this sin
We'll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair spill all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this
So baby give me just one kiss
And let me take a long last look
Before we say goodbye

Just lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence


by Bruce Hornsby & Don Henley

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day

Yesterday I changed my profile pic on Facebook to this one.


Since then, I keep looking at it, amazed that there was a time my mom and I were the same height. By the time she died, her osteoporosis was so progressed that she was hardly over five feet tall. Aging is brutal and death is terrible. Time does such cruel things to the body. I'm not talking about the cosmetic stuff--the wrinkles and gray hair and such. I'm talking about disintegrating bones, organs that don't work right anymore, teeth that can't chew, failing senses, a slowing brain, and weakening muscles. As those things wreak their havoc on the body, it can be easy for others to start seeing the person differently--to think that the 85-year-old is someone different from the 45-year-old or 15-year-old. But on the inside, nothing has really changed. That soul, that precious child of God, created by Him and loved by Him, is the same as it has always been. It still gets sad and lonely and afraid. It still wants its mommy. It still needs to feel that it is loved and accepted. It still needs a Savior.

This is Babsy. She is one of Jesus' little lambs, loved by Him fully and unconditionally. She's not sad, lonely or afraid anymore.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Noble Task

I keep seeing this post getting shared on Facebook. Every time I do, I cringe anew. I have a very difficult time understanding how anyone could find it to be helpful.

The author begins by asking a few questions. I would like to answer them.

Would you go to the church on the corner knowing that the pastor is an ex-con? 

Yes. 

What about the congregation three streets over, where the pastor is prone to lying? 

No.

The pastor at the store-front church who’s always questioning the truth about what the Gospels say about Jesus? 

No. (Really? This needs to be said?)

What about bad language? If the new pastor has a potty-mouth, would you still regularly attend church? 

And risk my children hearing their pastor saying things for which they would be punished? Um, no.

What if he’s kind of a thug too? 

No, no, no.

Here's the deal. "Ex-con" means that the man has repented of his previous sinful lifestyle. We are all sinners, pastors included. Someone who has repented and been forgiven and now rejects the sinful behavior should not have it held over his head the rest of his life or be prevented from using his God-given gifts and talents to serve a suffering world.

The problem with the rest of the questions is that they indicate ongoing behavior. One who is "prone" to lying is one who does so habitually. One who is "always" questioning the truth about what the Gospels say has no business teaching those Gospels. Someone who "has a potty-mouth" (as opposed to occasionally slipping and saying a bad word) demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to attempt to moderate his habit of speech out of love for his flock. Someone who is (not was) a thug is one who repeatedly acts in thug-like ways, bullying people, lording over them, running his church like a mob boss.

So to answer the broader question, no. Assuming I had a choice, I wouldn't go to a church like that. Yes, we all sin. We all fail every day. By the grace of God we repent and are forgiven. Sometimes even then we fall into the very same sin again. Again we turn to our Lord and repent and again He forgives. But if we get to a place where we don't see the sin as sin or where we view ourselves as prisoners to sin, hopeless to ever stop it, constantly throwing ourselves on God's mercy again and again because He forgives again and again, we are to my thinking in a very dangerous place. "It's just the way I am. But God will forgive me."

Yes, He will. But at what point have we quit being truly sorry, telling ourselves before we even commit the sin, "I can do this because afterward God will forgive me"? It is extremely treacherous territory, and when it is institutionalized into the life of a congregation because that congregation's shepherd is constantly hiding behind the Gospel, never truly repenting but constantly excusing and rationalizing bad behavior, that is not a church I could feel safe at. I am frankly dumbfounded that this sort of thinking is being promoted as something good.

I don't know--perhaps I am extra sensitive on this matter because I have in the past been hurt by my church and pastor. But my suggestion to anyone reading and sharing this piece is to go study 1 Timothy 3 and think long and hard about the ramifications of going to a church with a pastor who does not appreciate the seriousness of the calling with which he has been entrusted. The spiritual and emotional damage that can be done by such a man is real and long-lasting. 

(P. S. And don't tell me there's no such thing as a perfect church or a perfect pastor. God disabused me of that notion a long time ago and I am very thankful He did. But there is such a thing as a safe and healthy church, and there is such a thing as a faithful, upright, and loving pastor. And when you seek out a church home you are justified in looking for both.)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sympathy Letters from Kids


I finally got around to going through a bag of sympathy notes that were written to me by students at one of the schools I play piano for. I go to this school, a middle school, about once a week to attend chorus rehearsals and play for performances. I feel bad that it took me so long to get around to reading all the notes. There were over 100 of them.

Here are a few excerpts I wanted to preserve for posterity because I found them funny, touching, or unique or just because they made me smile. Enjoy. The authors are all sixth, seventh, or eighth graders. :-)

"I drew a rainbow because when my aunt passed away my mom said think of rainbows because it shows the bright side and it helps me. So maybe it will help you. My mom also tells me to think about the rainbow because my brother is in the air force and when he leaves it makes me sad."

"I will be praying for you. Thank you for being SO NICE to us even though we are crazy and loud. You are VERY good at the piano. I love you so much!"

"Thank you for being our accompanist, even though we're a band of bumbling baboons 90% of the time."

"Thank you for still coming to play with us tomorrow. I couldn't do it. I'm not that strong. My mom is still alive, but it feels like I don't know her. I haven't seen her in 3 years."

"It stinks to hear about what's happening, but for the short period of time I've known you, I think you can get through it. I know you can because I did. My brother died 1 year, 1 month, 6 days ago. You are much stronger than a 12-year-old so I know you can make it through."

"Hello. I am unsure what losing a parent feels like, but I have witnessed the death of some things. I once had a funeral for a turtle I found on the side of the road, and I remember how sad my family was when my grandfather died, even though I was not. I was five or six and I suppose death didn't really make sense to me. Or rather, I didn't really understand it enough to feel it. I'm fourteen and honestly don't know all that much, but I think that life is an incredible thing. Therefore, even though a life has been lost and I am certain that it hurts, there's still more life to marvel at. I hope that wasn't insensitive; I genuinely was not trying to be."

"I am glad you are the piano player at our school because you make us so much better than we already are."

"I love walking into choir and seeing you in the room."

"Every time I hear you play a smile will not come off my face. I also think you are very beautiful. I LOVE YOUR HAIR."

"To be honest I don't really know what to say. What I do know is that there are some days when all you want to do is be left alone. And then there are other days when all you want is a hug. I don't know what kind of day this is for you, but I just want you to know that I care, and that our entire women's choir cares! And I don't know if you're a religious person or not, but here's a Bible verse that always helps me when I'm going through a rough time: 1 Corinthians 10:13. Just always know that God will forever be by your side."

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.