30 October 2010

Fig Trees and Memories

The smell of figs is like catnip to me. It makes me happy. One sniff and I am immediately transported to my grandmother's home in El Sobrante. She lived on the top of a small hill that had a view of the San Pablo Bay. I lived with my grandmother for several years after my parents split up. I can't tell you that it was a happy time which is odd since the smell of figs makes me happy. It's just part of the time that was mine and in the middle of my childhood chaos I found sanctuary in a fig tree. I was young and fairly self-sufficient from the very beginning and since Grandma was not the affectionate involved type, I had many hours of solitude. I liked to spend that time perched in one of her fig trees. There I could observe the world go through its motions and nobody noticed I was watching. They were completely oblivious to the running commentary in my inner monologue. I made mental notes on everything. For instance, I bet you didn't know you could sing all the songs you learned in kindergarten before the ship in San Pablo Bay seemed to move even a tiny bit across the water, but if you forgot to watch it for a minute or two, it would be all but gone. Or that when my grandfather was concentrating on something, his head shook from side to side like he was telling the thing he was working on, "No!." And that my grandmother, who said she bought the house for the view, never once looked outside to see it. Not while I was spying on her anyway.

It was in the fig tree that I could safely think thoughts about my mom. My grandmother hated my mother and didn't bother to hide her feelings from me or from anyone who dared to ask. I quickly learned to be silent where my mother was concerned but when I was in my fig tree I was safe to think whatever I wanted. I could miss her there and even cry about it without being yelled at or interrogated. I could long for my siblings and wonder if they liked to climb trees too. Where was their special place to be safe? Did they envy me as much as I envied them? What had I done wrong that mom left me behind when she took them and started a new life? If I climbed high enough in the tree, I could see Interstate 80. Would I be able to recognize her car if I saw it? I determined that I could and so I watched the cars with interest but in truth they were too far away for me to identify much more their color. It didn't matter though because the sad thoughts of being left behind never lasted long while I was in my tree. There were too many wonders to behold. This was especially true when the fruit in the tree was beginning to ripen.

The best tasting figs are the ones with the necks just starting to bend from the weight of the fruit. When you pick them then, a little bit of milk will dot the severed end. That tells you that the fruit was still getting nutrients from the tree and had not started to dry out. Too much milk and you'd picked it too soon, the fruit would be moist but not juicy. When it's ripe the body of the fig is a little soft and feels like an under-filled water balloon. Figs have stripes but when they are perfectly ripe those stripes are harder to see. If you eat them when they are warm from the afternoon sun, they are juicier. If you split them open at various stages you can see their how their colors deepen from pastels to near jewel tones. They are a marvelous pink and brown with tiny yellow seeds and the underside of their black skin is a creamy white color. Sometimes you find under-ripe, ripe and overripe figs all on the same branch. That's a treasure because then you can have a comparison of color, taste, smell and texture. Fig leaves are a tiny bit fuzzy like sand paper with a fine grit. The leaves smell wonderful and will rub the smell your Grandmother's Vantage cigarettes off your skin but it will scratch a little. This is why despite their other amazing attributes, fig leaves didn't seem a suitable leaf to use as clothing like the picture I had seen in my uncle's art books.

Figs are however, a good fruit to eat when you want to test how loose your tooth is. An apple would surely snatch a baby tooth out too violently to be a painless procedure. If you use an over ripe fig, you can gently test how much your tooth moves as you gingerly bite down. Once the tooth has been extracted in a careful series of bite experiments, you can conduct additional research- like just how much of a ripe fig you eat by breaking it open and sucking the contents through the hole where your tooth used to be. By the way, ripe juicy figs should never be compared to or confused with dried figs like those awful Fig Newtons. They are not the same fruit. I refuse to allow it. Though I have to admit I did like the Fig Newton commercial with the guy in the fig costume dancing. He was comical but real figs are beautiful.

I have both a painting of figs and a framed print of some figs that hang in my kitchen. I have fig scented soap and perfume too. More importantly I also have a fig tree growing in a pot. This morning the fields were covered with frost and I was glad that I had taken my fig tree into the house a few weeks ago, even though it lost its leaves and that's sad. I had planted one out in the yard a few years ago but an over zealous landscaper mowed over it as if it were nothing more than kudzu. They don't really grow figs here in Kentucky and it's difficult to find a variety that will survive the winters. I am on my third attempt. This one looks a bit like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but they say the third time is a charm. Here's hoping.

Song of Solomon 2:13 'The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth {their} fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!'"

21 October 2010

There Are No Unalienable Rights in Hell

I am so done with people feigning offense, trying to step on guilt glands or reacting with knee jerk responses to perceived political incorrectness I could scream. I know that conflicting opinions are difficult. When people champion causes that I think are inane, I try to lay out a reason for my opinion, respectfully. I try to listen to their arguments. Really listen, not just look for flaws. I am not always successful. Sometimes the fact that I think the person holding a different worldview is a booger-picking moron is obvious and that is to my shame. Occasionally unedifying and unsanctified thoughts actually give way to spoken words that slide off my tongue like they are rocket launched stupid-seeking missiles. I am not proud of myself when that happens. It's sinful.

Today I read that Juan Williams, a commentator, was fired by NPR
. His offense? Admitting that he fears being on a plane with people who identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims. Is it chilly in hell? It must be. It must be frozen solid. How else can I account for such behavior on the part of those running NPR? Was he advocating that we all refuse to fly if there is a Muslim on the plane? No. Was he championing that we should all feel that way? No. He was admitting his first thoughts, being vulnerable about his fears. Little did he know that being honest was not what National Public Radio wants from their commentators. Instead, let's all lie to make friends and keep from offending people, especially the people group of the hour. Currently the spotlight is on Muslims and Homosexuals so no matter what your intent, do not even appear to disagree publicly with either group for any reason. Tolerance is only intended for those who lobby hardest about their perceived rights being violated.

NEWSFLASH! There is no constitutional right to be unoffended. Hey, if I didn't have to tolerate the people who have offended me, I would have voted most folks off my planet a long time ago. What's that you say? It's not my planet? It's as much mine as it is yours. Truth of the matter is we're all just passing through on the way to our eternal destinations. Opposing someone's worldview does not give me the right to treat them in an ungodly or hateful manner, but make no mistake, there are lots of worldviews I oppose because they are in opposition to God. Calling me intolerant doesn't hurt my feelings. My conscience dictates that I tell you why I am intolerant; because I fear for the disposition of the souls of unrepentant sinners. What sort of monster would I be to remain quiet? Think that people here are intolerant? People are of little consequence. Don't fear man fear God. God will not tolerate sin of any kind-period- end of story. Want to delude yourself into believing you have the right to call the shots here? Then eat, drink and be merry because this fly speck on the time-line of eternity is all you have. There are no unalienable rights in hell.

Matthew 10:28
28 "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Ecclesiastes 11:9
9 Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.

20 October 2010

Suffering, Rue and Differences

Suffering. We all have some of it in our lives. Some of us get by with a sprinkling and others get dumped on. Most of try to avoid it at all costs by avoiding, denying or medicating it. A few of us are compelled to try to alleviate the suffering of others. Some twisted souls enjoy either receiving or causing it. Old, young, white, black, saved, reprobate, rich, poor, man, woman none of us are exempt. I can't help but think of Ophelia's mad scene and her distribution of flowers.

"There's fennel for you, and columbines:
there's rue for you; and here's some for me:
we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays:
O you must wear your rue with a difference..."
Shakespeare was using rue as it symbolized sorrow or regret. Each of us has particular sorrows and regrets. Ophelia's sorrows drove her mad. She allowed her suffering to overwhelm her. Poor thing, love gone awry, torn between family and the prince who toyed with her. I do understand it, but the fighter in me wants her to get a grip. My estimation of suffering and hers are vastly different.

Christians tend to think of suffering as physical pain and torture; being beaten for our faith, being imprisoned or martyred. That's because we have delusions of grandeur and/or the wrong idea on the purpose, nature and scope of suffering. The sufferer has to have some value to us before we will intercede for them. How many times have we seen a story on the nightly news about people ignoring someone in distress? Stepping over their body without so much as a second glance? Why do we find it so amazing when someone steps in and does the right thing? We have odd reactions to suffering.

Suffering comes in all sized packages... minor inconveniences and major heart breaking malfunctions. For Christians it isn't the size of the suffering package but our reaction to it that is important. That's where the rubber meets the road and faith meets the world. Suffering and pain move us and impel us to action. Whether it's learning to live with chronic pain, losing loved ones, being ridiculed/imprisoned/tortured/martyred for faith or any number of causes in any conceivable combination, our suffering is meant to sanctify us and encourage others to glorify our God. That doesn't mean we have to like it. I just means that we should wear our suffering differently; with hope.

Ezra 9:13
13 "And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since Thou our God hast requited {us} less than our iniquities {deserve,} and hast

Psalm 103:10
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

John 16:33
33 "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."

Acts 14:22
22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and {saying,} "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."

Psalm 30:5
5 For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy {comes} in the morning.

Psalm 103:9
9 He will not always strive {with us} nor will He keep {His anger} forever.

1 Peter 5:10-11
10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen {and} establish you.

18 October 2010

Ironing Out Envy

Recently I had a conversation with my friend and brother in the Lord, Mark, or johnMark as I know him best. Mark has a blog worth reading and you'll find it here. In our conversation we talked about writing styles and Mark complimented mine. We chatted a bit about writing and I realized that while he envies my wordsmithing, I envy his discipline and tenacity. Mark wants to be a better writer and he works at it. I wish my posts were read by more people and that more folks would comment on their content, but unlike Mark, I am not doing anything about it. So while our envy of one another is mutual, he has the more valuable and desirable skill.

I have written before about discipline, or the "D" word. Discipline- dreaded but coveted discipline. I make halfhearted attempts at acquiring it but never get much further than the 'want to' part. If 'want to' isn't converted to action it's pretty useless. Discipline means you actually have to get up and do something which is entirely too frightening for me. Doing something means the risk of failing. Failure is one of my biggest fears. Failure means disappointing myself, my God, my friends, my family.... virtually everyone. Notice that I put myself first on the list. That wasn't accidental. Failing for me is like having one of those dreams where you're out in public and no one is aware that you're naked until you notice it yourself. Ever have one of those dreams? I have them all the time because I am always afraid that I am less than a hair's breadth away from my total incompetency being discovered.

It would be easy at this point to employ false modesty, something I genuinely consider a plague on God's people, and say that my incompetence is not really a secret. God created us all with gifts, talents and abilities and I am no exception. Neither are you. I think it is just as sinful to deny your gifts and talents as it is to take credit for God's handiwork. Sure, sometimes we acquire skills by hard work and determination, but we're all working with the equipment God has given- whether it is raw talent or the ability to achieve it- we have what we have because of Him. We all have different limits to our abilities. Most of the time we impose false limits on ourselves. What gets in my way is fearing man more than I fear my God and desiring my comfort above using my talents as God has commanded. My besetting sins are fear and sloth.

When's the last time you heard a sermon on sloth? Too often sloth is defined as physical laziness. We are quick to quote the verses about those who don't work shouldn't eat. Physical activity is part of sloth but I would contend that the sins of presumption and apathy toward God are the more serious part of the definition. Lack of physical diligence may have your house come down around your ears but lack of spiritual diligence could cost you as much as an eternity in hell. The least you can expect for your sloth is difficulty. None of us are saved by our works, but using those gifts, talents and abilities given to us by Almighty God is how we honor Him and how we exhort one another to do the same. I think exercising our gifts, talents and abilities in service to Him increases and strengthens our faith. To quote Solomon, a sharp axe makes light work.

And so, johnMark, our mutual admiration could and should be a catalyst- iron sharpening iron. I think it's supposed to work that way within the body of Christ. We are commanded to encourage one another to use our skills, gifts and talents. We should be as quick to point out those areas where God's light shines in our brothers and sisters as we should be to confront them in their sin and folly. As we all put off the old man and put on the new, we should think about what character traits we envy in others and pray they that our sanctification includes developing those same traits to His honor and glory, not our own.

Proverbs 15:19
19 The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

Colossians 3:16-17
16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms {and} hymns {and} spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do in word or deed, {do} all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Romans 14:19
19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

05 October 2010

Mores and other Human Failures

For the last several days the media has fixated on Tyler Clementi's suicide. I am not going to link to any of the stories, if you haven't heard about it, Google his name and you'll find a plethora of links to click. It is a horrible thing when anyone chooses such a permanent solution to a temporary life problem. I am so sorry for the loss of this young man's life. And I am outraged that the focus of this tragedy is on his homosexuality.

Violating any human being's right to be safe in their home, dorm room, public restroom, or store fitting room-etc. etc. by secretly recording, filming or live streaming their activities is wrong. Period. I don't care whether this young man was playing Parcheesi with a group of nuns and Buddhists; to have his activities streamed via web-cam for anyone's entertainment or curiosity is wrong. I get that having intimate moments viewed in this manner is much more damaging to the psyche. I really do, but I resent the fact that because this young man was gay- that his having a homosexual encounter streamed via web-cam makes his choosing to end his life any more or less a tragedy.

Perhaps I am outraged because this sort of thing has happened to women for years and where were/are the celebrities making special pleas on their behalf? How many young women having sexual encounters video taped without their permission have had their lives destroyed when their sleazy boyfriends showed the tape or pictures to others? Wives have been victimized by their husbands in this same way. Are they less important to our society because they are not gay? Our young people are committing suicide at alarming rates. They do not have to be homosexuals to make such a desperate choice. All teenagers are at risk. What is the matter with everyone? Right is right, wrong is wrong and dead is dead. Doesn't anyone think anymore?

Who do we blame? Reality television? I heard one psychologist say that because the frontal lobe of the brain isn't fully connected that the students alleged to have set up the web-cam couldn't have known how serious the repercussions might be. (Hogwash. They may not have thought it through but they definitely didn't treat Tyler the way they would like to be treated- a concept requiring empathy...something that begins developing in toddlers). Perhaps we should blame technology advancing before we have social mores to tell us what is and is not acceptable? No, morals are always dependent on a consensus of opinion by those in charge. Leaders are not always right. Ethics are set by right and wrong. God's standards for behavior are the only sensible /ethical solution and the only true measure of right and wrong. I understand that unbelievers balk at the idea... but its because they want to do what they want to do, regardless of the right and wrong of it.

Romans 1:16-22
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
17 For in it {the} righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous {man} shall live by faith."
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.
25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

I John 5:20
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

Matthew 7:12
12 "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.