". . . 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)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Proverbs 31 Women, Revisited

Last year at about this time I wrote a blog post called "A Proverbs 31 Woman." Here it is.

Recently on Facebook that post received renewed attention. It was discussed by someone who blocked me from the discussion and who further refused to allow a link to the post to be included on the thread. That same person alluded to my post on his blog here. I am the writer who is said to have "virtually laugh[ed] off Proverbs 31 . . . saying that text does not really apply to individuals but is really about Christ and the Church."

Since I could not participate in the discussion on Facebook and since I am not allowed to comment on the above writer's blog (or at least have been rejected enough times in the past that I no longer wish to try), I must defend myself here. Please notice that the author quoted above says that I "virtually" laughed off Proverbs 31. That is an interesting qualifier, providing the writer an out. But the truth is that while yes, there was humor in the post, it was self-deprecating humor, laughing at myself. I do not laugh at God's Word. I am a poor, miserable sinner and I neglect it and daily fail to follow it perfectly. But it is my only hope in this world. So I take seriously this accusation and hereby refute it. "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)

The blogger includes me in a group of examples of what he says illustrate an "aversion to sanctification caused by phobic allergic reaction to any talk about good works." I fail to see how my blog post illustrates that phenomenon. The point of the blog post was not to discount good works. As I have been catechized by several dear, faithful Lutheran pastors over the past 25 years, I believe that good works flow from the new man (or woman) in Christ. I am called to keep God's Law perfectly, but because I was dead in my sin and unable to do so God sent His Son to live the perfect life for me and then to go to the cross to pay the price for my sins. I look to Christ Crucified and see that my sin put Him there, and I am devastated, crushed by guilt. But then my Saviour extends to me forgiveness and the gift of faith, and as His love is poured into me it flows right back out again in the form of good works--not of my doing, but of His. "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

Regarding the charge that I claimed the passage did not apply to individuals: that is nowhere stated. To state that I see one thing (a picture of Christ and His church) in the blog post is not to discount other things that may be there. In fact, as I go line by line through the passage, showing how I fail to measure up, what am I doing if not applying it to myself? Am I not an individual?

A year has passed since I wrote that post and if I were to write it today I would probably change one thing. I concluded in the post that Proverbs 31 is gospel. But as illustrated by the examples of all the ways I do not succeed at being a Proverbs 31 woman, it is also law. So I should have said it is both. And isn't that pretty much the case with all of God's Word? It kills us with Law and then brings us back to life with Gospel. And in our new life in Christ, we go forth in joy, sharing His love by proclaiming what He has done and gladly serving those He places before us.

As I wrote last year, I sometimes hear women, Christian friends of mine, despairing of their ability to be Proverbs 31 women. They want to be, but they are beaten down by their sin and overwhelmed by life and they are tired, so very tired. The purpose of the blog post was nothing else but to encourage those dear ladies, to tell them that far from being discouraged by the passage they should find comfort in it because while they might not feel like Proverbs 31 women, they are. In Christ they are! And what else would they want to be? They are clothed in the spotless robe of Christ, adorned by the beautiful jewels of His righteousness, equipped to do excellently while their works praise them in the gates.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reflets dans l'eau - Debussy

Trevor Magness, Senior Piano Recital
June 4, 2011
Bethany Lutheran Church, Naperville, Illinois

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Class of 2011

The set-up

The decorations

Sister/Aunt/Photographer/Decorator (Thanks, Deb!)

The spread

The cake



Mom & Dad

Presenting the diploma

You did it, Trevor.

Reading the diploma

I think we should cut it this way.


Pretty girls.

Let's party!



There are those pretty girls again.

Let me show you how it's done, Son.

I think he knows how it's done.

Tired but happy.

Our music man. Congratulations, Trevor. We love you so much.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New Hampshire Presidential Debate

My take on last night's GOP debate in one word per candidate (sorry, that's all I have time for today):

Mitt Romney - presidential*

Michelle Bachmann - impressive

Newt Gingrich - articulate

Herman Cain - unprepared

Tim Pawlenty - solid

Rick Santorum - indistinct

Ron Paul - brilliant

(*Don't blast me on this one, okay? Doesn't mean he's my first choice. But right now, he's got the "presidential" thing down.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Here We Go

I can't remember the last time I wrote a politically oriented post. It's been a long time. If you look at my archives you will see that my most prolific blogging period was 2008, an election year (I started blogging in 2007, so that was just a partial year). Many of my posts that year were about the presidential campaign. Each year since 2008 my output has gone down. Only sixty-three posts so far in 2011--wow! I need to step it up! One of the reasons for the decline in blogging has been the difficulty of the last few years. I guess life is never easy, is it? But there are things about the past four years that set them apart as some of the most totalizing I have ever experienced. I am hoping that I am personally ready to enter a new phase and I further hope that our country is as well.

So. There's an election coming. Next year, to be exact. And as my readers well know, I am a Republican, through and through. I cried the night Obama was elected, knowing what it meant for this country and wondering why so many people couldn't see it. Now some of my worst fears have come true. But the good news is that I think a lot of people who didn't see it before are seeing it now, and I think the country as a whole is ready to repudiate the direction we have taken.

The question, then, is who? Who is going to lead us out of this quicksand in which we find ourselves stuck and fast sinking?

I don't have a candidate yet. But for those who are interested, here is my very quick take on the people that have either announced or are likely to announce or that some are hoping will announce for the presidential campaign.

The NO's

Mitt Romney. He has repeatedly demonstrated a finger-in-the-wind method of arriving at his "principles." He refuses to repudiate his failed state-run healthcare system. He embraces global warming theory. And yes, I do have concerns about his Mormonism.

Newt Gingrich. Serial committing of adultery. Throwing Paul Ryan under the bus. Campaign staff has lost faith and deserted him. I rest my case.

Sarah Palin. I'm sorry, Palin fans. There is much to love about her, and I do. I think she is a great one to have on our side. But I think she has gone overboard on the folksy factor. In my opinion the leader of the free world needs to exude a certain seriousness and dignity and--okay, I'll say it--gravitas--that I don't think she has. The President needs to seem as well as be smarter than the rest of us. He/she needs to be someone we are comfortable with, yes, but also someone we are slightly in awe of. Palin doesn't do that for me.


Michelle Bachmann. I like her a lot. She has the right views. Her personal history speaks well of her. I think she has some of the seriousness Palin lacks. As a Lutheran, though, I think it is unfortunate that she has apparently left her church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, for political reasons.

Jon Hunstman. I really don't know much about him. Need to find out more. My husband likes him.

Tim Pawlenty. Hubby likes him, too. A serious, capable candidate with experience and conservative credentials.

Rick Santorum. I heard him on Rush this week and was very impressed. He spoke authoritatively and engagingly and he, too, has excellent conservative credentials combined with some foreign policy cred.

Herman Cain. Love to hear him talk. A true conservative, as far as I can tell. Great personal history. He gets the outside-the-beltway badge. But I think the "lack of experience" baggage will dog him. Very weak on foreign policy.

Ron Paul. Probably the smartest of all of them. If only people would listen to him. But if they still aren't after all these years I doubt they will start now. I think that, like Sarah Palin, he is to some extent hampered by his own brand.

The ONES I WISH WOULD RUN--One of them has to, don't you think?

John Bolton. Talk about gravitas! He's got in in spades! He makes Obama look like a teenager!

Chris Christie. I love his fearlessness and plain-speaking. Image-wise, he is the anti-Obama, a huge plus. But one of my Facebook friends has called him a RINO and I'm not sure why. Any thoughts on that?

Paul Ryan. A fiscal conservative with a plan to get us out of the economic mess in which we find ourselves. Incredibly articulate. Family man and Roman Catholic. Can go toe-to-toe with Obama intellectually.

Rick Perry. Has a Reaganesque, larger-than-life quality. Record of success in Texas. Married for 30 years to the same woman. Right now, would quickly go to the top of my list if he were to run (and it looks like he may).

Have I left anyone out?

For the record, I will support the GOP nominee whoever he or she is, and that includes Romney (I don't think Gingrich has a chance at the nomination). There is no such thing as a perfect candidate. But there is such a thing as Not Obama. And I will vote for Not Obama, whoever he or she is, while urging all other Not Obama supporters to band together and do the same. We cannot afford to splinter. We have got to pull our country back from the brink. Not everyone will pull us back as far as we would like to go. I hope we get a true conservative and I will work as hard as I can to support that effort. But ultimately, this election is about not going over the cliff. I know there are some who say that has already happened. I disagree. It's not too late to put on the brakes and back up the car. But we have to be in the same car, and there is only room for one driver. Let's get to work figuring out who should be behind the wheel, and then let's pile in the car and hit the road together!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Places He Will Go

I am now the mother of a high school graduate. Tonight was Trevor's senior piano recital, after which he received his high school diploma from the Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy (the name of our home school). Trevor's dad noted at the end of the recital that the audience had just heard the valedictorian of the class give the valedictory address . . . through this fingers. ;-)

We then adjourned to the church gym for the reception and before the bestowing of the diploma surprised Trevor with a few presentations. First, several family members and friends offered some lovely toasts. Thank you, all--you know who you are. Second, Phillip and I read a story that has become quite special to our family. You are probably familiar with it: Dr. Seuss' The Places You'll Go. The book was given to Trevor by my parents shortly after he was born. We have read it many times over the years and its words have never rung more true than they did today. Then, we played the video below. You are invited to watch and listen (with ears none too discriminating, please). The video contains photos of Trevor from birth to age 18 and is set to a song Phillip wrote some years ago with a friend. The song, entitled "The Places You Will Go," was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book and was originally composed for an ad campaign for Children's Hospital of Illinois. Phillip and I recorded it a few weeks ago for this video, which my daughter Caitlin put together for me with pictures I provided. I hope you enjoy it. (Personally, I have not made it through one viewing without crying, but then again, I'm extra fond of the subject.)

A few details to watch for: the music notes on Trevor's outfit in his hospital photo. And the Husker shirt his daddy was wearing when he held Trevor in the hospital the first time. Who would have thought that all these years later we would be sending that baby boy off to major in music at the University of Nebraska. It's almost as if God knew all along what the future had in store. :-)

(By the way, when the music changes, you have reached the end of the photos.)

Places from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension Day

What better Ascension Day treat than cotton candy?

Little Friends

Parade around the church campus!

Northern Illinois District President Rev. Dan Gilbert was our special guest.

Ascension Day Banner

Blowing Bubbles

Big Friends

More than Friends

Snow Cones!

Your guess is as good as mine.

Jumping time! (Are you seeing an Ascension sort of theme here?)

It was a very good day.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Virtue of Shutting Up*

In my last post I linked to an essay detailing the writer's effort to go one month without engaging in snark. If you haven't read it yet I highly recommend you do so. It is excellent in many ways. Here is one of the passages that impressed me:

But here's the thing. Without the ability to vent, I had only two options: to let something relatively stupid eat away at me -- or to just let it go. So I tried that.

. . . . As the days went on, I bit my tongue about many things, including but not limited to the following:

The journalist on TV with the squeaky voice

A good friend's seeming belief that her puppy is human

Tourists screaming outside our house about needing to buy Febreze for their car

The plumber's inability to make our bathtub hold water

The likelihood that an old acquaintance who has never not cheated will manage to keep his bits in his pants now that he's engaged

At first I worried that not talking about these things would make me not "known" to the people in my life. Maybe I've had too many years of therapy, or maybe we've all had too many years of Oprah and the imperative to "get it all out." But this was an odd and even narcissistic presumption, as though people close to me needed to be aware of my every thought in order for our relationships to be genuine.

Instead of me denying my true thoughts, I stopped giving the unproductive ones much weight. Adding credence to the theory that changing what you do changes how you think, unkind thoughts just dissipated in a matter of days. It actually doesn't matter much whether my friend's dog gets to eat sitting on a chair at her table. She has her reasons. What do I care? And it's not like I don't do anything weird, either. I think I can tell what's in the mail before I open the mailbox. Is that any worse?

Not giving voice to my flinty little put-downs also eliminated that weird guilt where you wonder if the person somehow heard you or found out what you said. I also stopped suspecting that anyone might be saying harsh things about me.

Win win win.

Then yesterday I read a blog post written by a friend who also discussed the merits of simply shutting up:

I have just been pondering the perks of not saying as much anyway as it seems to be less stressful overall. Listening is certainly happening and pondering but avoiding the ire just works better. There is so much noise etc. at home that quiet is okay. Perhaps a craving for the quiet I can get, in just listening and being stiller is what is up with me. I have just been thinking of it as 'practicing shut up'.

I think these writers are on to something. Today with the advent of social media it is so easy to give immediate voice to whatever comes into our heads. The irony of my writing that last sentence on my blog is not lost on me. But I think sometimes we are too inclined to air our thoughts when it might be better to keep them to ourselves. Something happens and we run to Facebook or Twitter and make our pronouncement about whatever it is. Until recently I was a member of a forum in which I felt pretty safe to vent, rant and spout off about almost anything. And I did just that until something happened to suggest to me that maybe I was sharing too much. I left that group and for a while it was very hard. Something would happen in my daily life that I wanted to complain about but the place I used to go complain was no longer there. And over time I have found that some of the things I used to complain about aren't eating away at me as they did before. Whereas I thought the "venting" was helping me, I'm starting to wonder if really it was hurting me, causing me to dwell on those annoyances rather than choosing between addressing them or letting them go. I think if you were to ask my husband and children they would tell you that in the months since I have not had that "b****ing post" available to me I have become a happier, more serene person.

I am not trying to knock discussion groups or forums in general. They can be a wonderful thing and I still belong to a few. And this is not to say that everyone will have the problem that I had. But for me, at this point in my life, it was not a positive in the long run to have a place where I felt "safe" to say anything because I said lots of things that in retrospect I wish I had not said.

I am also not suggesting that we all need to practice repression and bottle up everything inside. It is good to share our joys and sorrows with friends and to help each other celebrate those joys and bear up under the sorrows. But sometimes the positive act of sharing and encouraging can degenerate into a habit of whining and complaining that isn't ultimately edifying. And sometimes our need to be heard can get us into trouble. There is a point at which it is less important to get our own point of view out there such that we can be understood and win the argument than it is to just listen to and nod and love the other person.

What I found, for myself, is that if I need someone to talk to, if I need to "vent" or "rant" or cry on someone's shoulder, it is more helpful to go to an individual that has proven to be a source of encouragement in the past rather than to air my woes in the vast canyon of a place like Facebook or Twitter where I don't even know if anyone is listening. And sometimes in the time that it takes me to think about writing to or calling my "ventee" the thing that was making me crazy has been put into perspective and I no longer see the point of dredging it up.

And then, of course, there's always God who, miracle of miracles, is never too busy to listen. I don't need a computer or a cell phone to reach Him. And with Him I don't have to measure my words at all because He knows me inside and out and nothing I say can surprise or offend or shock or annoy Him. He pats me on the head, says "There, there" and turns me around to go back out into the world and give it just one more try, knowing that He is backing me up every step of the way.

"Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:7

*Bikermom, I borrowed your title. I hope you don't mind.

The Overratedness of Snark - Updated

I read something in a blog post the other day that surprised me a little. The article was about the difficulty of repenting--of saying we are sorry when we have done something wrong. One of the examples given of behaviors for which we should repent was being snarky in our online interactions. I found this statement surprising because I more frequently encounter the viewpoint that snark is something to be admired and cultivated than I do the view that it is something to repent of. After all, snark is cool, isn't it? And smart and clever and fun? I have held the same view, envying those who do snark well and wishing I could be similarly witty and quick to the draw (I'm not). No wonder, then, that snark (or snarkiness) has become so cutting edge that you can now purchase a how-to book on the topic: The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring. That book was apparently so popular that the publisher quickly followed up with two more: The Snark Handbook: Insult Edition and The Snark Handbook: Sex Edition. And why not? Who wouldn't want to learn how to increase his snark savvy?

Such used to be my thinking. But the more I see snark at work (and it's everywhere in cyberspace), the more I wonder why people are so enamored of this phenomenon.

Here is Amazon's product description for The Snark Handbook:

It’s impossible to go a full day without using snark, so why fight it? Snark is everywhere, from television to movies to everyday life. This lively collection provides hours of entertainment—better than an Etch A Sketch, and more fun than Silly Putty! At the heart of it, being in a state of snark can be one of the most useful tools at one’s disposal and hence (yes, I used “hence”), a powerful way to get what you want. With snark, you can catch people completely off-guard, and royally p*** them off.

Included here is the Snark Hall of Fame, the Best Snarky Responses to Everyday Dumb***ness, and much more. It’s a book that will make you laugh. It’s a book that will make someone else cry. It’s a book every student of the American psyche (that’s all of us, Sparky) needs to have. Let loose. Let your inner anger become a positive rather than a negative, but most of all, have fun. (Yeah, like that’s something you know how to do.) 50 color illustrations.

The description itself is a great example of snark. There's a certain contemptuousness of tone that is typical of the genre. But what I think is even more noteworthy is the message. It is assumed that the reader wants to catch people off-guard, to "royally p*** them off" and even to "make someone else cry." The reader is further encouraged to "let loose" and channel his "inner anger." These are good things? Is this truly how people should be encouraged to approach others?

Now, you may be right now rolling your eyes at me and my lack of a sense of humor, and that's fine. It won't be the first time I've been called a wet blanket. But the more I think about it the more I think the problem with snark is that sometimes it is hard to tell where the humor ends and the anger and contempt begin. And I simply don't think that encouraging the latter is in the long run a positive or helpful thing. I have seen too many people, in both real life and cyberspace, be hurt by those who were "just kidding." Not only that, but as with most hurtful behaviors, it's not just the receiver that is hurt, but the perpetrator as well, because when we harden ourselves to hurting others we end up hurting ourselves just as much.

In considering this topic I did some research and was struck by the common thread running through many sources that snark has at its core a basic aggressiveness that is exclusive and inherently unkind:

From David Denby, Snark: A Polemic in Seven Fits, 2009:

Snark attacks individuals, not groups, though it may appeal to a group mentality. . . . Snark is a teasing, rug-pulling form of insult that attempts to steal someone's mojo, erase her cool, annihilate her effectiveness, and it appeals to a knowing audience that shares the contempt of the snarker and therefore understands whatever references he makes. It's all jeer and josh, a form of bullying that, except at its highest levels, beggars the soul of humor. . . . Snark often functions as an enforcer of mediocrity and conformity. In its cozy knowingness, snark flatters you by assuming that you get the contemptuous joke.

From Richard Telofski, Insidious Competition: The Battle for Meaning and the Corporate Image, 2010:

Snark is considered cool, hip. Just listen to any late night comedian. They use that style liberally and with great effect. Listen to college students speak among themselves and you'll hear the same sly, knowing, condescending invective used by them in attempts to: 1) separate themselves from the mainstream; and 2) declare to each other that they are all part of the same contemporary group.

And finally from Elizabeth Svoboda in Psychology Today:

So why do wisecrackers keep their bons mots coming at the risk of alienating others? Though they may not be aware of it, sarcasm is their means of indirectly expressing aggression toward others and insecurity about themselves. Wrapping their thoughts in a joke shields them from the vulnerability that comes with directly putting one's opinions out there. "Sarcastic people protect themselves by only letting the world see a superficial part of who they are," says Steven Stosny, a Washington, D.C.-based therapist and anger specialist. "They're very into impression management."

Albert Katz, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, has recently looked at the wisecrackers' focus on one-upsmanship from a biological perspective, showing that people whose brains are best equipped to understand sarcasm tend to have aggressive personalities. Subjects who scored high on aggression tests showed different patterns of brain activity in response to sarcasm than those who did not. The differences suggest that the aggressive subjects were processing nonliteral meaning more quickly. "Sarcasm is definitely a dominance thing—it's related to being top dog," Katz says, both for initiators of sarcastic banter and those who catch on and offer a retort.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush. I think there is such a thing as lighthearted, fun snark. But I also think snark can easily turn mean and destructive, and it seems that more and more these days I run into an attitude of arrogance and contempt and cynicism that is not conducive to understanding. So often the door is slammed shut by snark before the conversation even starts, and that makes me sad. What ever happened to being earnest and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt? Call me an idealistic, foolish Pollyanna, but sometimes I wish we could all be a little nicer and a little less snarky. Couldn't the world use a little more peace, love and understanding?

Updated--Here's another essay on the topic that says it way better than I and fleshes out the point that snark actually hurts the purveyor of derision as much as or more than it hurts the object: My Month of No Snark.