And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, to be illustrated by the author. Pray for a publisher!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Different Kind of Christmas Eve Story

It is, perhaps, a different kind of Christmas Eve story, but one with a definite link to what we celebrate...on the wrong date, at the wrong time of year. Jesus, son of Mary, Son of God, son (supposed) of the carpenter Joseph, who was engaged to Mary at the time of her conception -- even for an unbeliever, it's fascinating reading.

There are two genealogies given in the gospels. The familiar Christmas story, read in Christian schools, in churches, by firelight in countless homes each year...this appears in the gospel of Luke. Scholars believe that the genealogy it contains is that of Mary, while Matthew's traces the lineage of Joseph.

Why does it matter? The Messiah's birth was foretold in the Old Testament. Micah 5:2 says “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Scholars (again) connect this prophecy to Jesus.

Luke tells us that there was a census. Joseph had already decided not to divorce Mary after an angel told him not to (smart man) and had to go to his family's home of Bethlehem, under Roman law. Mary's lineage was also from the house of David the king, but women weren't regarded as all that important at the time. The head of the household was what mattered, and so Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem where, the story goes, the time came for her to give birth to a very special baby, conceived of the Holy Spirit.

For the prophecy to be fulfilled, Mary had to be betrothed to a man of the house of David, even though his bloodline wasn't, technically, the highest priority. Mary is venerated, even worshipped by some, and by all accounts a remarkable young woman...but she also couldn't be betrothed to just anyone. Had to be form the house of David, so that he'd have to take her to Bethlehem. Well, you get the idea.

Matthew's lineage, written to Jewish readers, includes -- amazingly --- four women, and not the ones you might expect. No mention of Eve, the mother of us all, or Sarah, the mother of the Jewish race. No Rebekah, the mother of Jacob, whose twelve sons became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Matthew included the names of Tamar, a Jewish daughter-in-law who posed as a prostitute to get pregnant by her father-in-law; Rahab, an ACTUAL prostitute who saved Jewish spies in Jericho; Ruth, whose "Whither thou goest" speech is often quoted at weddings but was spoken to the mother of her dead husband; and then...there's Bathsheba, who isn't even named.

She gets credited as the "wife of Uriah." Whaaaat?

The story is not a sweet one. In a nutshell, King David sent the army out but stayed behind, saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, sent for her and got her pregnant, invited her husband (and one of his esteemed Mighty Men) Uriah home for R&R to cover his actions. Uriah wouldn't sleep with his wife while his men were embattled, so David sent him back to war with instructions to place good ole Uriah on the front lines, hoping for his imminent death. Uriah did indeed die; David married Bathsheba, the baby died and David repented. David and Bathsheba lived, if not happily ever after, long enough to have Solomon, who became king, was regarded as the wisest man on earth at the time, and who built the Temple.

That's a lot of history, but at the very least it shows that the Bible is not dull. Why bring this up now? Because when Bathsheba's story is mentioned, it is always (in my experience) slanted. David, hero of the Goliath incident, writer of Psalms, husband of many...he is shown to be the lustful, powerful man who wrongly sends Uriah to his death to cover his adultery. That's fair.

Bathsheba doesn't get a lot of mention at all, other than as sort of a victim of circumstances. Uriah is praised as a man of honor.

That's not the way I see it.

Uriah was one of David's Mighty Men. Respected by his soldiers. Respected by his king (up to a point). But, really? He refused to sleep with his wife because his men were in the field? What did that communicate to his wife, and was it a pattern she had been living with for years?

No wonder she went to the palace when David called her.

I'm not saying she was justified, or that David wasn't wrong. I'm just pointing out that back when Joshua was preparing the Israelites for war, God told him to send home anyone who'd just been married, so he could enjoy his wife. A man is supposed to be intimate with his wife. A wife is supposed to be intimate with her husband. If one of them refuses, no one should be surprised when things  take a different direction.

Uriah would have been better off to have slept with his wife and returned to battle happier and more refreshed. Would he have died anyway? No doubt -- otherwise, Solomon wouldn't have been born. Had David not called for Bathsheba after the rooftop bathing...had he not gotten her pregnant...had nothing wrong transpired...I'll go out on a limb and say I think Uriah would have still died in battle, David would have still married Bathsheba, and they would have still had Solomon. Without all the condemnation and conviction and grief. 

Maybe Bathsheba had had all the neglect she could handle. Maybe she heard that David was in the habit of strolling on his rooftop at a certain hour. Maybe she planned the whole thing. Maybe she hoped that something would jolt her brave, strong husband out of his self-imposed, single-minded focus on Duty and remind him of his responsibility to her. We don't know.

But I like the fact that Bathsheba, even if she isn't called by her own name, gets a little press in the gospel of Matthew. She was a black mark on the beloved King David's reputation, but she didn't put it there all by herself. David was a participant. And so was Uriah.

Fort Pierce artist
Helen Terry's
beautiful "This I Do For You."
I especially like the fact that Matthew lets the world know this: even the worst of the worst, according to polite society, are included in the family of Jesus. There are those who give the world the impression they have to clean up their acts, their faces, and their vocabulary before they are welcome at church, but Jesus came for the world. Warts and all. Sinful, weak, helpless, hopeless, labeled as unfit and unloved. He was born for them, to make a way for them back to the Father who never stopped loving them. For you. For me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Red Letter Challenge

I found this photo on a Bible commentary site
but liked it because Jesus looks a little
like Liam Neeson, doesn't he?
Maybe you've never read the Bible, not cover to cover, not even the shortest verse ("Jesus wept."John 11:35). Maybe you had one of those evangelical check-the-box mornings and are patting yourself on the back for Quiet Time spent in prayer and the Word. Maybe you're a Bible scholar, maybe you think the Bible is one big collection of myths and fairy tales.

I want to challenge you to read something, whether it's for the first time ever or for the umpteenth time since you got saved at a youth meeting in high school. Commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount, it's three chapters in the book of Matthew. Matthew was one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who lived roughly 2000 years ago, who was hated by the religious leaders of his day because he hung out with the outcasts of society and rocked their neat little black-and-white, good-and-evil, heaven-and-hell worlds.

The book of Matthew has 27 chapters. I'm just asking you to read three of them. If you pick up a copy of the Bible somewhere, most of those three chapters may be printed in red ink. Some Bibles print the actual words of Jesus, what he said inside quotation marks, in red. Why? Maybe you assume it is to add significance, as if they needed more. Or so they'd be easier to spot on a page.

Actually, it was a magazine editor's idea. According to Wikipedia, the editor of The Christian Herald in 1899, Louis Klopsch, asked his mentor what he thought of a New Testament with Jesus's words printed in red and his mentor, the Rev. Talmadge, said (I paraphrase) "Well, it couldn't hurt, and it might just help." The Red Letter Bible was born, popular since 1901.

Keep Reading

I challenged you to read Matthew 5-7, and you may be thinking...why doesn't she shut up so I can go do it? Go ahead - what you'll find in those chapters is imminently more important and more beautiful than anything here. But if you want a bit of background before you accept the challenge, here it is.

Today, there's something called the Red Letter Christian Movement that focuses, radically, on just the red parts, because in their way of thinking, what Jesus said is more important than what anyone else said. I have to agree. Not that you throw the rest out, but everything else should be taken in context, as commentary on Truth. Yes, yes -- I can hear pages rattling in the background while you look up the favorite rebuttal verse: Paul's reminder found in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:
 16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Remember, though, if you have your ecumenical knickers in a twist, Paul was talking only about the Old Testament at the time he wrote those words. The New one hadn't come along yet. It wasn't even being finished writing, much less canonized (circa 305, there-abouts). Even so, Paul also wrote to the Colossian believers that:

 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Paul, in other words, gave Jesus's words every bit as much emphasis as the folks who printed them in red.

A Quick Overview

The Sermon on the Mount is called that for a very good reason: Jesus sat down on a mountain to teach the crowd that had followed him and his disciples that day. He started out by blessing them, specifically reminding them that God wanted to bless them. They were, for the most part, living under harsh Roman rule, with an occupying army to deal with on top of everything else. That first "blessing" part is why it's sometimes called the Beattitudes, meaning "blessedness." In Sunday school they like to say it's the BE Attitudes: Be humble, be good, be....  But it's cool just the way it is. Why do we have to try and cute-sy the Truth up?

Jesus spoke simply to them about practical matters of their faith (the crowd was mostly Jewish, as he was), but not just "obey the rules." Instead, he consistently went beyond, explaining that although they'd always heard one thing, he wanted them to understand the principle, not just give lip-service or white knuckle compliance.

It is the principles of Matthew 5-7 I want you to consider, at least once in your life if you've never read the passage. It is the principles of Matthew 5-7 I want to jolt you out of spiritual lethargy if you're thinking "Sure, sure, heard it a thousand times. Yada, yada, house built on solid rock. Got it."

You don't.

How can I say that? Because every time I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see something new, and I think you just might too. And because, looking around (and in the mirror) I don't see a Church (or a Christian) that is necessarily behaving and speaking as if Jesus's words had registered. Really and truly registered, sinking down into the deepest consciousness that is able to affect lasting change.

I Dare You

Don't take my word for it, though. Read it for yourself. I dare you. I double-dog-dare you to read Matthew 5-7 straight through, silently or out loud, and NOT hear its simple, yet powerful, eloquence. I'm not asking you to join the Red Letter Movement, or join a church, or believe in Jesus. I'm just asking you to read three chapters in a book. And if you don't have the book, you can read online:

I think you'll be pleased with the words. Comforted. Instructed. Maybe a few "ouches" here and there, but mostly, the refreshing sound of Truth. Oh, and by the way, the passage includes what is commonly known as the Beattitudes

As the Rev. Talmadge said, "It can't hurt. Might help."

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2016

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB),
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Out of a Job

My granddaughter is 17, and her little brother just turned 13. They both live with me, so it's a different dynamic than many grandparents experience. When they were younger, their mother was often ill, and so a good deal of the parenting was mine. Now that she is able to parent them herself, it's sometimes a challenge for me to, well, not. Sure, I've got more experience. Sure, I actually know a better, easier way of getting something done or seeing a certain outcome, but I'm learning (slowly) to keep my mouth closed. Back off. Stay out of it. Keep a healthy distance.

I wonder if other women nearing 60 suddenly face the fact that after spending most of our lives with huge responsibilities -- the daily rearing, cleaning, wiping bottoms and noses, preparing meals, fixing problems and affixing band-aids to boo-boos, sewing clothes and hanging out the wash, giving advice and wiping away tears, teaching children how to make beds and tie shoes and (in my case, as a 12-year homeschooler) read and write and add -- we are now out of a job. That one, anyway.

My children are grown. We raised them, like the Boy Scouts, to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Some of the training took better than other parts; of the four, some are better in specific areas than their siblings. Each one, however, is of age. Each one is responsible for his or her own decisions, choices, and behavior.

No longer do I need to be vigilant on their behalf, or instruct them on what is Right. With one daughter and two grandchildren in the home, I still have a responsibility for the house itself, and make reasonable requests (in my opinion) as to their care of rooms or help with chores.

But I'm clearly out of a job. Or maybe the job description has merely changed, because it's not like I've retired. Theoretically I get to enjoy the fruits of my labors, enjoying the company and affection of my adult children, enjoying the company and affection of their children and significant others (and in one case, the children of a significant other). Now and then, my advice is asked. I get occasional texts and calls and emails and Facebook messages. Sometimes, my help is needed, and if able, I'm happy to provide it.

The adjustment hasn't been a smooth road, however. I've clung too long to being needed. My
expectations have been unreasonable. I've wanted my children to make decisions according to my own wisdom (which is unfair, because some wisdom must be attained over time). I've longed to see them walk in complete happiness, free from pain or issues or struggles, because as a mother of four young children, I tried to create that bubble of happiness. Somewhere along the way, the bubble burst. I've blamed this on myself (not true). I've blamed this on others (also not true). Bubbles are simply nice while they last, but they never last that long.

I've decided ... or maybe I should say that I am deciding, because it seems to be a daily process ... that working myself out of a job isn't a bad thing. It may mean that one phase of my life, my womanhood, is not exactly over -- I'll always be my children's mother, no matter how old they are -- but the lines have blurred. The edges of relationships have softened. My role in the play is being rewritten.

Mothers are called upon for so much: we have to be tender, we have to be strong, we have to sacrifice, we have to put the needs of our children first. As we reach this point in our lives, however, even though it sometimes feels harder, it's actually the opposite. We can relax. Take a deep breath. Do what we want. Go where we want. Not selfishly, but taking care of ourselves in ways we may have overlooked.

Many women learn this at a far younger age than I have. Women with different personalities may have less trouble letting go than I have had. Life has a way of knocking us around in different ways, and we learn the lessons we need at different rates. We get the same tests until we pass, and maybe we pass with an A+ and maybe we pass with a D- but that test is done, and it's on to another. This awareness of the job thing is, perhaps, just one more test for me.

I used to have a dream in my head: an Old World compound, filled with grown-ups and children, living and working together, relationships entwined with love and shared responsibilities. Bonanza and The Waltons and The Big Valley all merged into one big happy family. The problem with this is that it was my dream alone. No one else wanted it. My efforts to build it failed, and my disappointment in that failure was in danger of turning me into someone I didn't like. 

My children were raised to be independent and capable, which meant that they didn't need or want a compound. They wanted wings. As they've flown away, they've learned to soar. And I have loved watching their majestic beauty, even from afar.

What do you do when you realize that one dream will never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, come true? Another dream replaces it, hopefully, because everyone needs a dream. King Solomon wrote that "a desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12) but every tree begins with a seed. 

During these last few years of adjusting to my new role in life, I've planted a seed. When there isn't enough rain, I have a watering can. If there's a chill in the air, I'm out there with newspaper to ward off frost. And I'm waiting, praying that this tree will grow quickly, knowing that the roots are deep. The soil is good. 

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2016

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Chrissie Hynde Rocks. Literally.

Since the late 70s, Chrissie Hynde she has been the one constant of the English-American group The Pretenders. She also rocks as a woman who knows who she is, where she's been, and handles criticism for speaking her mind.

The criticism comes, ironically, from proponents of women speaking their mind. Apparently we're supposed to say whatever we want unless it goes against the current notion du jour.

Hynde's 2015 memoir, entitled Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Vogue, the New York Times, and other popular, well-respected outlets: "frank," "well-written," "humorous". But because of one small part, one tiny episode of transparency and personal honesty, that goes out the window with some folks, and she's come under fire.
has gotten rave reviews from the

Hynde's sin is that she is audacious enough to accept some of the responsibility for being raped.

That goes against the notion that No Means No (which it does!) and that rapists should receive consequences for their actions (they should!). There are lots and lots of generalities with such things, but occasionally, we need to realize that some circumstances are different.

M. Emmett Walsh, as Dr. Bass in "A Time to Kill."
Remember the scene in the movie "A Time to Kill" where a doctor's testimony is completely
discounted because he'd been arrested for statutory rape? What the jury didn't hear was that the girl was a few days shy of the required birthday to get married, and the couple stayed together forever. I may have the details wrong, but you understand the point. Sometimes, the facts don't add up to the underlying truth.

Hynde's rapes are unfortunate, tragic, emotionally harmful, criminal -- just like all sexual assaults. What makes her comments in her memoirs troubling to some is that she admits that she wasn't caught off guard, or stalked, or drugged against her will. Her eyes were wide open when she began hanging out with a motorcycle gang known for sexual misbehavior. She knew the lifestyle, she was aware of the risk involved, and when the inevitable (in her own thinking) took place, her response was philosophical.

"Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t f--- about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges," she wrote. In a later interview she stated, "You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say, 'Whose brush is this?' You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive. If you play with fire, you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?"

Yes and no. And I get that.

When I was 16, I was molested by a family friend. In one respect, I should have seen it coming, and in another respect, I wasn't surprised when he made his first move. Because when I was 14, he'd made an inappropriate remark. I was offended. Red flags went up. I even rehearsed a confrontational conversation with him which I never (unfortunately) delivered.

Could've. Would've. Should've. We can't go back. We mustn't beat ourselves up for choices we made or opportunities we didn't take. But that doesn't mean we can't acknowledge the fact that we played a role in what eventually transpired.  I should have repeated the remark to my parents, rather than plan on handling myself. There's no way of knowing if that would have changed the future, but it might have changed ours. I should have, when he said what he did, told him it wasn't funny, and I didn't like it. That  one thing might have stopped  him from what he did later.

Because I never confronted him or told a responsible adult what he had said, and later, what he did, I had a part in all that happened beyond simply being a victim. No, a survivor. I refuse to let him have any more control over my thoughts, behavior, emotions, whatever. But I also know, honestly, that I wasn't beat over the head and dragged into the woods, either.

I was manipulated, seduced, deceived. That was my own scenario. A smart, modest, raised-right teenager, and I still fell victim. Was it my "fault"? Not at all. I'm not blaming myself, simply owning the part I did play. I could have avoided what happened. I didn't act on the red flags. I didn't alert anyone of the subtle manipulations, because I was too immature to recognize them as such. But there was a time, when I knew something was "wrong with this picture," and I never followed through.

Today I see young women, teens, pre-teens, dressed provocatively, knowing that there are predators who would love nothing more than to rob them of those scanty clothes and what innocence is left. I worry about them. And I also know that some of them are actively asking for trouble, as Hynde admits she was.

Those who aren't...the girls and women who say they can dress however they please and it doesn't matter... I would suggest using a little personal restraint, a little common sense. Open those beautiful eyes a little more and really see where you're walking, and who you're walking with.

Rape isn't about lust, but control, they say -- but there are also plenty of lusty guys who think that what a girl wears on a date is the fashionable equivalent to putting out the welcome mat. Making out (which a girl may hope for and encourage) can easily become a rape... call it date rape if you must, but if a girl or woman doesn't consent to intercourse, it is rape. Report it, prosecute it. But also... avoid situations in which it is even possible.

My granddaughter and I went through a R.A. D. program at our local Sheriff's office. That's Rape Aggression Defense. The very first and most important training is self-awareness. Know who you're with, even in an elevator. Look at people. Look around. Check out your surroundings.

But back to Hynde: she went out of her way to find surroundings that were dangerous. She sought out people who were criminals. And so, she wasn't particularly surprised when they committed crimes and put her life in danger. She'd walked in with her eyes open.

I think it's grand that she can own her part in that. She would have completely avoided being raped (most likely) if she had avoided the rapists. Instead, she waltzed into a house on fire and got burned. She knows she was unwise to be there, and she's honest enough to acknowledge it.

That doesn't make her own rapists innocent nor blame other victims. But it does reflect the honesty of a woman who knows herself, and doesn't mind letting everyone else know her for who she is, not for who they want her to be.

Now, having said all that, let me also say this: it would have been appropriate, and better, and right, if Hynde had reported the rapes, if those guys with the horrible t-shirts and worse behavior had ended up behind bars. Acknowledging that she played a part by simply being around those types of people in no way implies that rape is acceptable. If you have been assaulted, molested, raped ... please talk to someone.

The national Rape Crisis hotline number is 800.656.HOPE (4673). Where I live, the Sexual Assault Assistance program provides victim advocates who will stay with you and your family through the entire process. The Inner Truth Project provides outlets for help and overcoming. Here are some links:

Being a victim of rape, incest, or molestation is never the fault of the victim, but if you can avoid being a victim, doesn't that make sense? R.A.D. teaches to run away from trouble, if possible. I think that's what Hynde is saying, that she could have avoided what happened, because she knew the risks, knew the environment. 

We don't always have prior information. When we do, we should make the most of it. Run. Avoid. Be aware. Use wisdom. And if things happen anyway... get help. Make noise. A lot of noise. By yelling, and telling, by prosecuting if that's possible, you're helping not only yourself, but future possible victims.

Chrissie Hynde bashers should get over it, already.

(c) Ellen Gillette

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Letter to Indiana From God (a bit presumptuous of me, but He can handle it)

Dear Indiana,
I am known by many names, and many of your citizens know me well, but allow me to introduce
myself to the state as a whole, because the state as a whole is currently in the news: I’m the Creator of the universes which spread out endlessly (I came up with infinity, as well) and have been around since Time began (that was mine, too).

Out of all that I created, Earth has been my pet project. What would happen if I created mankind with a free will, showed clearly the best way of going about life, and let them have at it? Of course, I already know the answer, because I’m outside of time, but it’s been a very interesting process for the last multi-millennia.

You may ask why I’m writing, when there are so many other pressing issues. Trust me, I have it well in hand, although you need to remember I see things from a very different perspective. When you see it all from beginning to end, it’s a little easier to see the reasons, but just as a forest fire may look – at a particular moment , to humans – as a disaster, the living forest knows that fire is a necessary cleanser periodically, allowing for better and more productive growth.

I am regularly accused of (1) not existing at all, (2) being cruel for allowing any number of things to continue, (3) being ineffective because I didn’t intervene in this or that tragedy, or (4) needing your help. Aside from  the sheer entertainment value of (1) and (4), I put up with (2) and (3) out of mercy and patience, and the obvious knowledge that my creation’s limited understanding was, after all, built in. By moi.

But there are times, such as the current uproar over your Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Bill 568), that I am inclined to give a little fatherly nudge. I could have sent tornadoes, an alien invasion, the zombie apocalypse, or plague – could, doesn’t mean I won’t…doesn’t mean I ever did! – but that isn’t how I roll. I wrote the book (literally and figuratively) on love. I AM love, if you remember one of my publicists’ words (I John 4:7).

Governments are raised up with my permission and for my purposes. As one of my other writers said, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1, NIV). Rulers always think they accomplished things by might or wallet or even qualification, and certainly I take all that into consideration, but I’m on an eternal clock. What happens today or next month or the next hundred years is not the pressing issue it always is with you, or them.

But Indiana. I’ve got some thoughts.

This bill troubles many of your citizens. It troubles many of the citizens of what you call the United States. For those with enough vision to see beyond the geographical lines and boundaries mankind has set up, it troubles citizens of the world, not so much for what it says, but what it implies. What it could lead to in the future.

Your governor, Mike Pence, wants to clarify the sticking point of discrimination protection, specifically discrimination against men who marry men and women who marry women, or would like to.

Not so long ago in your nation, Jim Crow laws kept the races separate, as if whites might catch black germs, as if blacks could not be trusted around white women, as if blacks were second-class, subhuman. Other countries went even further, gassing millions of Jews and other so-called “vermin.”  If ever there was a point that I questioned myself, it would be when my creation, my children, are so blind that they lose sight of the fact that they are all, each one, exactly the same below the skin. Same bones and muscle, same veins filled with blood, same brains with electrical energy.

Masterpieces, each and every one. How often you forget this one basic fact.

Your bill, on the surface, seems innocuous enough, providing protection from lawsuits if a person, business, organization, church, etc. refuses to provide services to someone on the basis of the person (business, etc.)’s religious beliefs.  Frankly, I would hope that folks would just as soon take their business elsewhere rather than get their knickers in a twist, so to speak. There are plenty of businesses that are not, for lack of a better word, jerks. Plenty of businesses who are in business to make a profit and not to make a political stand.

People need to be honest about such things.  “This business is owned by a self-righteous hypocrite who still thinks whites are superior.” That might work. Or “We prefer to serve only those who attend our church/synagogue/mosque/coven/temple” – I wouldn’t think such a business would succeed, but it’s worth a try.

Because you see, even with the law in place, the religiously inclined for whom you claim the law is desired,  are going to have a difficult time convincing the public and the courts that they are taking a stand based on religious beliefs if they are, at the same time, doing things that circumvent that very religion.

Religion is man-made, true – all I started out wanting for was that my creation love me, and one another. People have gone in various directions, and this is not the time for further explanations and apologetics. The fact remains that in the U.S. there are multitudes of religions operating freely, and your laws must apply equally, as your Constitution states.

Muslims will have difficulty proving that their unloving business practices are based on religion, since they know me as al‑Wadud, He who loves.  Sikhs profess love of God and his creation (fellow humans included), therefore, good Sikhs would serve anyone. Buddhists strive for enlightenment, which comes through unselfishness – not likely to hold up in court if you are selfishly refusing to serve someone in a restaurant.

And Christians! Not so-called (their name is Legion) but true, sincere adherents to Jesus Christ, will be laughed out of court if they try to convince anyone that being unkind, unloving, intolerant, etc. is due to their religion. Really? Perhaps they mean a different Jesus than the one I know so well.

Religious freedom is lawful, and I make all kinds of allowances, constantly, for the behaviors and attitudes I observe in the United States, because your government places such a high priority on this one universal right. One’s right to religious freedom is not less important than one’s right to obtain services.  We are in agreement here.

Common sense would dictate that if an organization states clearly that it is for men, or women, or heterosexuals, or gun-toting anarchists, or Baptists, or Catholics, or tree-worshippers, that anyone not in that particular category would stay away. Not wanted. Find somewhere to chillax after work. Common sense would dictate that if I want to buy something, and the owner would rather hold on to it than take my money, I can find it elsewhere. (I don’t literally mean myself, obviously…what do you have that I could possibly want…except your love!)

But people don’t always show a lot of common sense. That’s just reality. Every ornery agenda you can imagine is going to latch on to this bill of yours, challenge it, tie up the courts, eat up your budget. What you perhaps intended as a help for your 6.5 million citizens, a speculative protection just in case they ever need it, is overkill. Unnecessary. And it sends the wrong message.

Do you really want to go from the state known as The Crossroads of America, to simply Cross, as in Cross and Surly? Find ways to be more loving, more inclusive, more tolerant. Not less. As my guy said to the Romans years ago, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10, ESV).

I can bless that. I will bless that.

Thanks for listening,


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Taking up an Offense

A Facebook friend posted an article about marriage, by a self-proclaimed "truth sayer" by the name
of Matt Walsh. Because of my respect for my friend, I took a look.

Walsh begins by announcing that Nicholas Sparks, author of multitudinous and much-loved romantic novels that all seem to end tragically (some of them anyway), is separating from his wife of 25 years. Note the word "separating." Walsh carries it to its logical, but not always accurate, conclusion by implying divorce. I know couples who have separated and remained married, getting counseling and enjoying a marriage that was stronger. It may not happen most of the time, but it happens. So that is strike one.

He then goes on to talk about how culture has negatively influenced us on the idea of marriage. There is the thought that there is that "one," a perfect soul-mate. He says that his wife wasn't "the one" until he married her. Okay so far. We have freedom of choice as to whom we marry. We aren't forced into it, as is the case in some cultures. We decide who to propose to, or who to say yes to. But then he starts to meddle.

There’s a very real danger inherent in the “there’s only one particular person out there for you” mentality. Think about it. If you are “meant” for one specific person, who’s to say when and if you’ve met them? Who’s to say that the person you married is them? And who’s to say that you don’t get married and then, just like that, someone moves in next door, or you get a new coworker at the office, or you run into someone at the grocery store, or you lock eyes with the cashier at Trader Joe’s and all of a sudden you realize that this is your real soul mate, the person you were “supposed” to marry? If we are meant for someone in particular, who’s to say you’re wrong? Sure, adultery is evil, but this is your soul mate we’re talking about here. This is the person God Himself designed for you. Can He really be mad if you ditch the mistake in favor of your true Prince or Princess Charming? Maybe you’re technically a backstabbing, adulterating cheater, but you’re just following your heart, and who can fault you? You’re correcting a mistake. Resolving a cosmic injustice. Fulfilling your destiny. Isn’t that what cheaters often tell themselves, especially women cheaters? This is the dark underbelly of pop culture fairy tales. It gives a free pass to adulterers, and convinces married people to follow their emotions rather than stay true to their vows.
What do I find offensive about this? The implication is that married people are always supposed to stay married, that marriage is always preferable to divorce, and that if a couple divorces, it's probably because of unfaithfulness. (In a way, it is, but more on that in a minute.)

I used to be so naive that I would have bought Walsh's logic without a second thought. Of COURSE! Marriage is sacred and divorce is wrongwrongwrong. Years ago, I even encouraged a woman to stay with her husband - because it's the Right Thing To Do - and later learned of his horrific emotional and verbal abuse. It pains me to think that she remained for even another day because of my well-meaning but ignorant advice.

I know a beautiful, lovely young mother who married a man in her church. After she and Mr. Right had a child together, she discovered a heinous crime and pressed charges. There were people who told HER not to get a divorce. Good-freaking-grief. The man is sitting in prison, where he belongs, and she's supposed to put the rest of her life on hold because of HIS mess? I think not. Where is the justice in that?

The problem is...well, there are a lot of problems, perhaps the most significant being that it's none of my gosh-darned business why a person who gets a divorce believes he or she needs to get a divorce.

Another is that while we may look at the Bible and traditional values, etc. and see an ideal presented, life is anything but. People change. We make decisions based on what we believe to be true and best at a particular moment, but I just can't wrap my head around the idea that staying in an abusive sham of a marriage is more glorifying to God than exercising that "free will" we talk about and getting out while the getting's good.

Another problem is that the ease of divorce today (from a legal standpoint) can easily lead to laziness and a lack of wisdom, to hard-heartedness. So I want to be clear that divorce would be sort of a last resort, after trying all available options. Chinese author Watchman Nee wrote that a divorce is the public declaration that the oneness God intends in marriage is dead. I like that - two become one. If they emotionally split back into two, a divorce is really nothing more than acknowledgement of that fact. It's an end. Probably not a happy ending, at least not at the moment. But not the end of the world.

A husband and wife (or in many states, a same-sex couple....that's going to get some folks riled at me, I'll bet) make vows before God which ideally will be obeyed. Except that life isn't ideal. People develop addictions, suffer economic setbacks, lose loved ones, have mental health issues, become criminals or abusive or assholes. What a blushing bride in her teens or twenties promises...what a lovesick groom of the same immaturity tells the world he'll do...changes. Always.

If both are able to keep up, emotionally, with the changes, great! Hallelujah! What a great example of love, romance, and commitment! Yay, those people! Pat them on the back and throw them a party!

Not everyone experiences that, however. Sometimes one person practically kills himself  or herself trying to do all the heavy relationship lifting, while his/her partner becomes more and more distant. Sometimes two kids marry and when they grow up, realize they aren't the same people who said "I do." What's more, they don't want to be those people, ever again.

I said that divorces are the result of unfaithfulness, but I didn't necessarily mean sexual infidelity. Those promises in the traditional marriage ceremonies talk about honoring, cherishing. If a wife leaves her husband for another man, or leaves her husband and then finds another man...chances are, her husband was unfaithful to his vows long before that. The same thing is probable when a man leaves his wife. It's never because of one person falling in love, cheating, screwing around, or other phrases for what Walsh paints with a fairly wide brush as "evil." Two people say vows. And two people, working together, loving together, are necessary to maintain a healthy, happy, forever marriage. One person can't do it alone. Can. Not.

I suppose Walsh's blog struck a nerve because I have known many couples in loveless marriages who held on so long they turned into withered, bitter copies of who they once were. Ideally they would have sought help, gotten help, and experienced healing and transformation. That would require both parties wanting the same things...and if both wanted the same things, it's far less likely to end up in such a crisis in the first place. Ideally everyone with cancer receives prayer and treatment and experiences healing and transformation too, but we all know that the reality is that some people die. Only the most arrogant and cruel would blame them for not trying harder.

Some marriages end. I have, I say to my own shame, been arrogant and cruel, blaming one or the other or both partners in my heart for not doing enough, not trying this or that, not forgiving, not loving, not obeying. If I communicated that abysmal representation of Christian love to anyone reading this, I ask your forgiveness. I was stupid, self-righteous, and wrong. Oh, and young. Getting older definitely has a way of turning some of those black-and-white thoughts into more gracious grays.

Marriage problems are a concern, yes, especially when a failed marriage is that of a friend or family member. We don't like being reminded of the fact that none of us is perfect. As long as everyone smiles pretty and says things are fine, doesn't that make it so? When we discover that someone we thought was happily married really wasn't, we feel let down, disappointed. We may feel the need to change minds, offer counsel, send "fix it" books. And our hearts may be right, wanting only the Best for those we love.

That's our national codependency rearing its ugly head. Other peoples' lives aren't our responsibility. We can't possibly know what is Best for someone else, living under circumstances about which we know and understand very, very little.

I don't want to be too harsh on Mr. Walsh. He's young. He's excited about life. But he is also enjoying a happy, loving marriage that he and his wife have been maintaining for...not 25. Not 20. Twelve or thirteen! They've barely begun!  Perhaps they haven't had any life-changing traumas occur - I hope not. I hope they never do. I hope that 40 years from now, Matt is still writing blogs about how great his life and marriage are.

But...if I had written about marriage after only 12 or 13 years, I wouldn't have written these words, either. (We're into our 39th year, and we still don't have it figured out completely, not by a long shot.) But I can tell you one thing: If Matt Walsh and his wife don't make it, I seriously doubt he'd appreciate folks writing blogs about it, building up  the bloggers' audiences based on the Walsh's personal pain, smugly implying that divorce is an affront to anyone's own sensibilities and experiences. I think he would appreciate grace. Mercy. Understanding that since no one's living his life but himself, we don't know the whole story.

Amazingly (I prefer happy endings) Nicholas Sparks has kept millions of readers merrily buying books and devouring them. Anyone who sells that many books has my respect, whether I read them or not. So what if he and his wife aren't the perfect couple? They don't owe anyone an explanation for the choices they make in their personal lives, and they aren't This Month's Example of What Is Wrong With Our Country or Bad People.

Bottom line: I love the idea of marriages lasting and lasting and lasting if they can last with love and laughter, lots of kissing and touching, emotional and physical intimacy based on the sheer joy of being together. Without that, Lord keep me from judging when miserable people have had enough heartache and decide to part ways. Hopefully, as a friend of mine shared with me recently, they part as friends. And hopefully, each finds love again.

Maybe, really, for the first time. Hopefully for the last.

Ordinarily, I don't think it's a good idea to take up an offense for others. Two people may have a conflict and you get offended, then they make up and you're still mad. But Matt Walsh didn't just take on Nicholas Sparks and his wife - he used them to make a point, emphasis on used them. And he pointed his finger at lots of people I know and love, simply because in his world, divorce is the worst thing that could happen.

Earth to Matt: it isn't. Divorce isn't ideal, ever, but not much that passes for this life fits that description. Plenty of folks divorce on whim (and marry on whim, too, for that matter). But there are also valid reasons for divorce - which really aren't anyone's business! I just don't think honor or love or religion or Christianity or God are BEST served by going out of our way to make others more miserable than they already may be.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2015

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Bit of Perspective

Watching "The Butler" this week, it dawned on me that given our brief history as a country, slavery was (relatively speaking) a few months ago. The Civil Rights movement was last week. Perhaps one reason why there has been such public outcry over recent tragedies is that what racial balance we HAVE achieved as a nation must seem tenuous to those who relatives still remember, firsthand, things like separate water fountains, lynchings, segregation.

We have come so far, but it is understandable that there would be fear, fear that that balance might tip at any moment. We haven't come so far, at least in some minds, that we could never go back. I don't think we will, but then again, I haven't been raised on horror stories.

White and raised in the South, my parents nevertheless taught us tolerance and equality. I never heard the N word in my home. I'm too young to remember much about the marches and the riots, the anger and the  hatred. It was difficult to watch "The Butler" at times, to see a level of intolerance and cruelty I have never experienced. Snarling customers in a diner spitting in the faces of young college students conducting a peaceful sit-in. People made to feel as though they were less than others, less than humans.

Most of us have not experienced that, thank God. Certainly those of Jewish descent carry with them stories of the oppression in Europe. But perhaps black Americans have heard too many first-person stories of injustice handed down from those not-so-long-gone. Great-grandparents of our day can still remember hearing their own great-grandparents speak of firsthand experiences.

In our nation's history, injustice and racial inequality was the norm for a substantial length of time. When protests erupt, when cries of racial injustice are heard once more, it may be that the New Normal is not be quite as solid as we thought, as absolute as we had hoped. Having seen history retold in the movie, I understand a little better how it could easily seem to black Americans that we are not standing on a rock, but on shifting sand.

Those who lived through the Civil Rights struggles may be the best hope for speaking out today for moderation, cooperation, reason, kindness, forgiveness. Emotion cannot rule the day. There is too much at stake, for too many people. Those who raise their voices in anger, calling for violence...they only remember the struggles, and not the triumphs. Those who gave their lives for Civil Rights would not be pleased, I think, with much of the response to recent events.

But I think I understand a little more WHY there has been such an outcry, the protests, etc. Not just because of the incidents themselves - it is so hard to remain objective when lives are lost, when lives are ruined -  but the culmination of our history, the upsurge of old feelings and fears once again.

Without a frame of reference, it is difficult to understand situations foreign to us. If you haven't buried a child, you can't possibly comprehend the depth of that particular kind of grief. Most of us have no real frame of reference for racial tension because we haven't personally experienced it. And we need to realize that for those who HAVE - the wounds are not fully healed.

We can, however, all appreciate the progress that has been made, the battles that have been fought and won so that human beings of one race can treat fellow human beings of other races with respect and good will.

Several years ago I was sitting with my mother at a restaurant in North Carolina. A black waiter came over to the table and was clearly enjoying his job. Friendly, glib, a twinkle in his eye, he charmed us both as he took our orders. When he left, my mother commented, "Times sure have changed." I knew what she meant. In her lifetime, she had known of blacks being separated from whites at theaters and restaurants, black men beaten for looking at white women, black schools inferior to white schools. Our waiter had benefited from the struggles, had complete freedom to chat two white women up without fear of giving offense or receiving punishment.

We have a bi-racial president, for heaven's sake! We have come so very far, in a relatively short span of history. From slavery to equality - but because it has been during a relatively short span, I can see why fear lingers. If the wrong people get into office, we could go back to the way it was.

We may not agree with the protesters, but we don't need to get sucked into mindsets that go completely off-topic; we shouldn't equate the loud, fist-raised ranters with the majority of peaceable citizens who just want to find a way to get through life, make a decent wage, see their kids graduate.

If you haven't seen "The Help" and "The Butler" I'd encourage you to do so. Many of the events they portray occurred in our lifetimes. Faint memories, perhaps. Incredible progress since, absolutely. But perhaps viewing our history, brushing up on painful attitudes and hurtful actions, may help you understand why there seems to be a fear that this or that are not isolated incidences but part of a growing trend. I don't happen to agree with that, but I think I understand a little better how much fear and anger remains.

We're a young nation. Very young. At times, a little too big for our britches. And issues are far more complicated than I fully appreciate, with roots going far deeper than I have much grasp of. But we must find a way to continue the forward motion and progress we have made. We must not become discouraged or let fear and bitterness widen the divisions between us.

I've babbled on a bit about something that seems a little clearer to me this week. In no way do I encourage violence as a means to an end. In no way do I encourage anything that discredits the thousands of Law Enforcement officers in our nation who daily lay their lives on the line for their communities. But I get it, at least a little bit more than I did before watching "The Butler." The scab is just about healed, and then it gets scraped off again. It's human nature to fall into a "here we go again" mentality, to doubt that change is real, or permanent.

Our timeline is so short. Two months ago, blacks were sold into slavery. Two minutes ago, there were random lynchings. Two seconds ago, an unarmed man was shot by the police. Completely unrelated to those with no frame of reference, but fear is strong. Fear runs deep. If we can all understand that, perhaps we can help find some real and lasting answers in the upward trend toward justice.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2014