And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

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

Monday, November 10, 2014


Edward Bok’s story is the stuff of fairy tales. He emigrated from the Netherlands, grew up with nothing, and turned that nothing – through hard work – into a publishing empire as founder and editor of Ladies' Home Journal. He championed causes, refused to use quacks as magazine advertisers, and coined the term “living room” because it appalled him that people spent so much money furnishing the “parlor” without often venturing into it for the family’s enjoyment. His Bok Tower and Gardens, dedicated in Lake Wales in 1929, continues to inspire, educate, and quiet thousands of visitors each year.

Well-known to those who walk the peaceful garden is a famous quote, actually the words of Bok’s grandmother which he shared in his autobiography, The Americanization of Edward Bok; he won a Pulitzer for the book. The statement – on everything from plaques to magnets – is worded a little oddly, reminiscent of Old World syntax:  Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been in it.

Think about that a minute. The big picture first, that when you die you will leave behind a legacy with your family, friends, and community. Will it be a legacy of beauty? Loving actions and words, accomplishments you were proud to achieve? No one wants to think about their death, as certain as they may be, however. I think we can take Bok’s quote and use it every day. Every hour. Every moment.

Years ago I was in Turkey, visiting museums and mosques. I was amazed at the use of artistry in unexpected places. Islamic art is traditionally free of any figures that might seem idolatrous. Living beings are often avoided, then, with a focus on geometric shapes. But such beautiful designs and colors are used, and in every corner, whether seen by many or tucked away, hidden. It reminds me of Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Churchyard: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” In nature itself, where high atop mountains grow beautiful, delicate flowers that are rarely, if ever appreciated by the human eye.

I’ve heard that a good housekeeping practice is to develop an eye for making quick adjustments. Before leaving a room, scan for items out of place or in need of a once-over. Leave each room better than the way you found it upon entering. If this is done as a lifestyle, it follows that clutter is better kept under control.

We could adopt a combination of these thoughts as a lifestyle with one another, in our families, our relationships, our communities, our world. Beauty for beauty’s sake – not just artwork, but attitudes -  in a world of coarseness, where giving someone the finger when he cuts you off in traffic is the standard, where children’s ears are no longer protected from harsh vulgarities, where those in authority are disrespected, where elegance has given way to crassness.

As a substitute teacher, I have been asked on several occasions why I smile so much. “I’m happy,” I reply. “Aren’t you used to seeing people smile?” Inevitably, the response is negative. How sad, that children grow up where a simple smile strikes them as unusual. We can change that.

We’re entering that time-slammed period of time in our country between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when everyone seems to be in a hurry, pressured, focused on self-imposed goals or societally-imposed expectations. Buy, eat, hustle here and there. I propose that we take a few breaths and set another intention.

Let’s leave the next few months more beautiful. Flowers on the table. Smiles upon our faces. With every room we enter, let’s ask what can be done to improve it. With every relationship, let’s ask the same thing, every encounter with a fellow human being. In an elevator, what can I do to make a positive impact on these strangers – a smile, moving a little to the left to give someone more room, a compliment on those earrings? Does someone at the office never have a kind word for anyone – perhaps he or she could hear one, instead. Is a child at school always a problem? Perhaps he is waiting to see if his teacher looks beyond behavior to his true self, and appreciate him for just being who he is.

And when someone cuts you off in traffic, be thankful for your brakes, the gentle reminder to slow down, the opportunity to smile at another’s foolishness. It is a simplistic idea, perhaps, but a thing of beauty, too, that today, I might leave a conversation with a sense of having contributed something positive. I might leave a room with a sense of order and creativity. I might leave a person with a sense of affirmation and affection.

Maybe this is just too, too naive, but like in the movie Pay it Forward, in which a little boy challenged others to help, truly help, a few others, who would in turn help, truly help a few in the book and movie Magnificent Obsession, where people devoted their lives to anonymously and significantly helping in the Bible, where we are taught that we should love others as we love ourselves...I think a revolution of beauty in all its expressions is possible. Physical beauty is enhanced through smiling. Artistic beauty for its own sake, with no other purpose. A beauty of spirit, looking for ways to uplift. A beauty of order and cleanliness in our homes. 

It's something to think about, anyway. For what it's worth.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Parable of the Wolf

When we lived in Lillington, North Carolina, we attended Crossroads, a non-traditional Baptist church pastored by Ken Dalton. Every summer he did something unique with his sermons: During the series, he would focus on a current or past movie, and point out biblical viewpoints and lessons to be learned. Not every movie he chose was G-rated. Few of the movies he chose were "Christian."

I thought about this regarding two movies my daughter and I watched the other day. We'd had a full day and wanted to relax, so the plan was movie-dinner-movie. The first selection was The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the tough, greedy, licentious Jordan Belfort. I am sorry to say it was based on a true story, but we'll get to that later.

The second movie was also based on a true story: Noah, with Russell Crowe in the title role as the ark-building, humanity-saving, animal-herding patriarch we've known since we were kids at Sunday school. For non-Sunday schoolers, many different cultures include a story of a great flood. And there's this big ark thing in Turkey that didn't get there on its own. But that's another blog.

Of the two movies, which had more to offer, from a strictly biblical standpoint? Hands down, it was the first. That's right. The graphic portrayal of the ruthless and decadent Belfort - although not one I would necessarily recommend, and certainly not for family viewing due to excessive language, nudity, sex, drugs...pretty much the whole thing.

Paul's first letter to the young man Timothy contains this warning in chapter 6:
9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
The Wolf of Wall Street shows us the reality of this in living color. It's as perfect and complete a picture of the downward spiral of greed as I can imagine. Jordan Belfort grew up poor and purposed never to be poor again. As a stock broker, he was introduced to the fast-paced, take-no-prisoners environment of easy money, easy sex, easy drugs. He became a drug addict. He lost his wife. Then he lost his second wife, plea-bargained with the FBI, served 22 months, and started a motivational speaking business.

What the movie doesn't tell us: He's apparently sober now, living close to his children, and in the process of paying back millions he bilked from clients. The story of Jordan Belfort isn't over. He could revert to the life of drugs and debauchery, or he may have learned his lesson. That's not for us to know, or to judge.

What pulled him down the slippery slope from hard-working husband to a broker pimp who snorted cocaine off a hooker's derriere? Not money. Money is a necessity in society. We use it to purchase goods and services we can't provide for ourselves. Money isn't evil. Sometimes we hear rants and raves against this rich person or that, as if their money automatically makes them greedy.

The most generous man I know is also the wealthiest - he sees himself as a conduit of God's blessings, which he believes he has received because he has used money according to biblical principals. He has tithed (given 10% back - and probably much, much more), given to the poor, been generous with others. He treated his workers well, before he retired. He taught his children the value of money, rather than spoiling them with things for which they were not grateful.

It's easy to see the contrast. It isn't money that's the problem, it's the love of money. The drive to accumulate more and more. Did Jordan Belfort help people along the way? Absolutely. The movie gives only one example of his charitable side, but there were probably others. But the ambition and greed he steeped himself in did not have positive results, because it was always about money, power, what he wanted, when he wanted it. Others, including his family, were there to please and serve him, not the other way around.

Bear in mind that the R rating here is not one of those like Schindler's List's, for brief nudity and some language. The language is relentless, F-bombs galore. Sex is graphically depicted. Lots (and lots) of skinny naked chicks. A disturbing scene in which little people are thrown around. As a cautionary tale, however - which parables sometimes were when Jesus told them - The Wolf of Wall Street has much to offer. Here's what NOT to do. Here's what happens when you don't care for anyone but yourself. Here's a little story 'bout a man named Jordan who loved money so much he lost the ability to love anyone or anything else.

Hopefully, his life has turned around. Hollywood's not as interested now, apparently which is probably a good sign.

And Noah? If you're a Crowe fan, go for it. If you want a truly exciting story, stick to the Bible. The movie version adds nuances and out-and-out fabrications that do nothing to enhance the original. Entertaining, but not the story of Noah you're likely to remember from Sunday school.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

End Times

Jamie Buckingham and his wonderful wife Jackie
I'm not absolutely sure about this, but I think it was the late Jamie Buckingham - author,  minister, speaker, and (what a blessing!) personal acquaintance - who said that someone once asked him about the prophesied return of Jesus to the earth.

"Are these the Last Days?" the person asked.

"Well, they're MY last days, anyway," Jamie replied.

These are the only days we get, in other words. Does it really matter to you or to me when Jesus will return, if it will be next year, or in the next millennium?

Trick question.

On the one hand, we are to be ready, at all times. Prepared. Our lamps filled with oil, as Jesus said in
the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. As wedding attendants, they had to stay up all night waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. The five wise ladies took extra oil along, just in case. The five foolish ones ran out and tried to borrow some from the others. The wise told them to go buy some, as they might all run out otherwise.

A wise, albeit (from some modern perspectives) selfish statement. But that's a blog for another day, the mind-set that "real" love involves constant giving, giving, giving which leads to an entitled segment of society with unreal expectations of both their own responsibilities and those of others toward them. Again, for another time.

The parable's message was to be prepared. Jesus had begun his discourse to the crowds and disciples by speaking against the pride of the Pharisees. Then he left the crowds and taught his disciples privately about he end of the age. Jesus warned that there would be deceivers who claimed to come in his name. (check) There would be wars, famines, earthquakes. (check) Christians would be persecuted (check - and I don't mean being the subject of memes on Facebook. In other parts of the world, Christians are still martyred for their faith.) Christian love would grow cold. (An argument could be made that this would also be a check, although I see signs of abundant Christian love every day.) The Gospel would be preached in the whole world

Che-    nope. Hasn't happened yet. In 2014 there are still unreached people groups that have never heard the Gospel. Dedicated missionaries are chipping away at the list, but to date, according to Global Research, there are over 3000 unreached people groups. 352 of those have populations in excess of 100,000. That's a lot of people.

Which is one reason why, when I hear of this or that famous evangelist say THE END IS NEAR, I remember Jamie's words. The end is near for me, nearer at 56 than it was at 55, but not THE end. Not the end of the world. Not the end of life as we know it. Not the beginning of the Great Tribulation. No sign of the Anti-Christ. No mark of the beast on the horizon.

The other big reason, an even bigger reason, I don't think Jesus is coming back any time soon is that he returns for a spotless Bride, the Church. Paul wrote, in his much-(and unfairly, I think) maligned discourse on marriage in Ephesians 5, the following:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Italics are mine; the unattainable standard for husbands is Paul's)
Jesus is returning (he said he was, and I believe it) for a radiant Church. A spotless Church. A holy and blameless Church. Not little-c church as in the one you go to, or used to attend. The big-c Church, the worldwide group of all who believe that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be.

And if you've BEEN around any of us lately, you will probably agree that as THAT put it in very plain terms: We ain't done yet. I don't need to give any specifics, it's so epidemic. The Church is in process, but the process is nowhere near coming to an end. The Bride hasn't even chosen her dress. Jesus is pacing up in heaven somewhere, wanting to get. On. With. It. and the Bride is still thumbing through bridal magazines. Hasn't even picked out the cake. Bickering with the bridesmaids, broken out in acne. A mess.

A loved mess. A mess that is looking forward to the wedding, despite all the distractions. A mess that is accomplishing great good throughout the world. But a mess, nevertheless.

So. Is it the End Times? It's yours. It's mine. And we're supposed to be ready at all times, just in case. And also, because being ready means doing the things we're supposed to be doing: learning, praying, praising, giving, helping, affirming, strengthening, uniting, forgiving, loving, loving, loving.

Did I mention that we're supposed to be loving each other? Jesus mentioned that as well. More than a few times.

So yes, it matters. When Jesus returns matters a lot, because it reminds us to be ready. Even if the end isn't as near as some would say. Get ready. Stay ready. Be about the things we know to do (the short list, paraphrased):
  • He has shown you what is good: do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. - Micah 6:8 
  • Do the Word. - James 1:22 
  • Be thankful. For everything. - 1 Thessalonians 5:18 
  • Follow Jesus. - Matthew 4:19 
  • Look after orphans and widows, and don't become polluted by the world. - James 1:22
  • Don't be judgmental. - Matthew 7:1
  • God is love. If you live a life of love, you're either on the right path now, or you'll get there eventually. (1 John and a little of mine)
No need to sit around twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the Lord's return. Get busy! That love stuff is pretty much a full-time job.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sex Ed

My last post was two months ago. I've been busy.

This afternoon, going through my grandson's backpack, I saw a couple of words in his distinctive scrawl that caught my attention immediately. My grandson is 11, in the 5th grade. I don't expect to see school papers, or personal papers for that matter, that include the words  "penis" or "vagina." Certainly not both. I flipped through the other papers stapled together. Clearly this was part of a science lesson on AIDS, but I couldn't remember seeing anything about it. If I had, it was so long ago that I'd forgotten it.

I called the school and got the principal, fresh off dismissal duty and no doubt tired, but not too tired to talk to a concerned grandparent. He assured me that yes, permission slips had indeed gone home with every student. I assured him that either my daughter had signed one, or I had - and forgotten. "The papers are incomplete," I told him, "but we can go over them at home." Click.

Later, I took the papers into my grandson's room and pointed out that some of the vocabulary match-ups were wrong. I wanted him to have the correct answers. When you're talking about genitals and STDs, you don't want your grandchildren walking around with the wrong ideas.

Not like you did, yourself.

I remember the library where this happened, so I was either in the 5th or 6th grade (still an elementary grace back in the Mesozoic Era). I commented that something was very gay, and was chastised by a worldlier classmate. I am fairly positive that this was the first time in my life I got a hint that "gay" might have earthy, even naughty, overtones. I thought it was about being happy.

Did I go home and ask my parents about it? Of course not. I got my sexual education from a book my mother kept hidden at home. Since I eventually did most of the housework (she worked full-time), I would discover the book while putting away laundry or dusting the bookshelves in the family room, take a break, and glean pearls of wisdom. The book was Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask, by Dr. David Reuben, which came out when I was 12. (It was in paperback by the time I got a hold of it, however.)

Like the all-you-can-eat buffet patron who was sent away..."But I thought it was all-you-can-eat for $10!"  ...and the owner says, "That IS all you can eat for $10!" ... the title was appropriate. What I wanted to know WAS everything. Dr. Reuben's book was quite the education, but it was all theory. Actual practice took things to an entirely different level, but that wouldn't come for quite awhile. (I was a late bloomer, as they say.)

So 5th grade THEN had not prepared me for facing 5th grade NOW. Do 5th graders need to know the information that was in the lesson? This particular packet was aimed at AIDS. I think that's important information. AIDS can kill. AIDS was one of the factors that led to increased sex education in the school system - awareness is key. And, as we should all know now, it isn't just a problem in the homosexual community. We're all in this together, obviously. A sick community does no one any good.

Sex ed increased in the schools. Did that cause an increase in Bad Behavior? Surprisingly to some, no.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, teens are waiting longer to become sexually. From 2006-2008, 11% of girls polled in the 15-19 age range had had sex, compared with 19% in 1995. And 14% of the guys in the same age bracket were virgins, down from 21% previously. They gave reasons based on religious beliefs, morality, a desire not to get pregnant, and not wanting an STD.

For those who haven't ever opened a magazine or taken my grandson's 5th grade Science class, an STD is a sexually transmitted disease. Kids having sex lack maturity to go with those hormones, and sometimes have sex without using "protection" (i.e. condoms). If you've ever picked up a brochure at the health department, however, you know that promiscuity snowballs:

That's mind-boggling, isn't it? A dozen different sexual partners, who each have a dozen different sexual partners, and things get out of control very, very quickly. Kids are supposed to have the be-jeezus scared out of them by such information, and "Just Say No."

It would seem that the plan is working, at least to some extent. Not enough - half of the STD cases reported each year, according to the Center for Disease Control, belong to patients between 15-24 years old - but information is not the bugaboo demon some people have painted it to be over the years.

Sex education isn't as modern a thing as one might assume. Even before the turn of the century (the 20th, not the 21st) pamphlets were circulated, speeches made, mostly about the evils of masturbation. The World Wars gave the country an increase in STDs, however, and sex ed started getting a better rap. It was a health issue, after all.

There were critics, of course. Some felt that the birds and the bees were most appropriately taught at home, by stable and loving monogamous parents by the name of Ward and June Cleaver. Reality wasn't as effective. Schools got in on the push for prevention of sexual abuse, STDs, teen pregnancies, and more.

There was also a concern that educating school kids about condoms and homosexuality would increase both in society. An argument could be made for this, I suppose, but the increase of Trojan sales and gay pride has more to do with society in general than sex ed at school.

All this to say that at one time, I might have withheld permission for my kids to have the lesson at school. I homeschooled for 12 years, remember. I think I could handle - and did - discussions about sex. I don't remember these discussions, however. I probably didn't say enough, or do enough. Maybe I subconciously knew that because I was doing more than leaving a book ill-concealed, that would make up for the lack of a power point presentation or anatomically correct dolls.

But now it's grandkids. I want my grandsons, especially, to learn how to treat young ladies, how to choose young ladies who act like young ladies, how to be respectful. I want them to grow up knowing that sex is this awesome, unbelievably wonderful gift from God that has important boundaries set NOT to rob them of fun, but to safeguard their physical, emotional, even spiritual health and happiness. I want them to fall in love and have no baggage when they give themselves completely to the object of that love.

I want my granddaughter to realize she must respect herself, or young men will not. I want her to know that not just YOUNG men look at her (she is very pretty, and very curvy, at just 15) and that there are some very, very bad guys. I want her to learn there are guys who know the value of manners and a good work ethic, who are sensitive and have a great sense of humor. I want her to know that when a man says, "If you love me, you will..." he doesn't have a clue what love is.

It has been said that men say "I love you" in order to get laid, while women put out in order to hear those words. I don't know. I think we're all just hungry for connection, for love, for intimacy. Kids today may have a better working vocabulary of the terms and parts, but I'm not at all sure they're learning the more important things. Put a group of teens in the room and chances are, they're not talking, but texting and checking out Facebook. Which is fine. But it's so not intimacy.

I wasn't upset by the materials I saw from the school. I took the unfinished paper into my grandson's room and corrected some of the errors with him. He didn't seem particularly interested. He's 11. I'm okay with that. It sounds trite to say that I want to protect him from predators and from getting his heart broken, that I just want him to fall in love and be happy, but I don't mind sounding trite. Sex is too important to be reduced to coarse jokes and R-rated movies. It's too important to learn from the wrong people, those who have selfish interests and agendas. Who use other people and throw them away.

I heard once that God never intended anyone to come into your life, mess it up, and then walk away. It was during a talk about sexual purity, and it stuck with me despite the fact that I haven't always been sexually pure in thought or deed. There is a high standard, and it comes direct from the Creator. Who loves whom - that's not the issue here. What I'm getting at, is that the reason there are such high standards is because it's that important. God is love, the Bible says, and while that doesn't mean the opposite - love is not God - it does say to me that love is God's domain, a priority. He uses the marriage relationship to explain his love for his people. It matters. It should be, and I believe it can be, the best thing on earth when two people in love enjoy one another completely. But that doesn't happen because you've had a course at school.

Sex is one thing; intimacy is what we thirst for when it isn't there. And they don't teach that at school, pretty sure.

(c) 2014 Ellen Gillette

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coming to Terms with Obamacare

I don't like being told what to do. I suppose it's human nature, or perhaps a Western thing. Wherever it came from, it gets reined in appropriately when it comes to God (mostly), traffic laws (mostly), and the Protestant Work Ethic (which, from my observation is not so much Protestant as it is Decent Folk - I mean, the Catholics I know work every bit as hard).

As I have gotten older, I have realized this basic fact: people do what they want to do. They may argue with this if you butt in and say it to their faces, but if they're honest and thoughtful enough, they will eventually have to agree. The first time I had such a thought was many years ago, as a young wife. I was putting away groceries and was angry at my husband. (The reason isn't important, and not just because I don't remember; chances are very good that he had done nothing wrong, just annoying.) Perhaps as a Freudian move, I threw a package of hot dogs across the room in exasperation. Why am I here?! I thought.

And just as quickly, I realized The Truth: I'm here because I want to be here.

Keep that in mind, the next time someone complains about a situation or person. Why stay, then? Because the reasons for staying outweigh the trouble, guilt, cost, etc. of changing jobs, roommates, spouses, residences, etc.

Americans - and I am painting with a very wide brush, I realize - choose the things which control us. We vote for the people who make our laws. We set our alarm clocks to go off at ungodly hours of our own free wills, because we want to keep our jobs or get to the mall for an early bird sale. We follow traffic laws because we don't want to get tickets. We study because we want to get good grades, pass the class, graduate the program. We put ourselves through extreme discomfort in order to finish a race or lose weight or get in shape.

But the title says "Coming to Terms with Obamacare" and so far, I haven't mentioned insurance. I don't like having to get insurance just because the government says I have to. So, as I sat down to log onto the healthcare marketplace, what were my options? I could not get it, and pay a penalty. Or I could get it.  I decided to get it.

So what were my options? I couldn't get it through my husband's work because he said it was too expensive. I looked at the marketplace options, which cost even MORE. Then I remembered that friends had belonged to a Christian organization that operated LIKE insurance - monthly fees, coverage, but had a different philosophy. Would that work?

I looked into it. The idea is like this: you pay a monthly fee that goes directly to someone else's medical bill, so you're helping someone. And not just any person: someone who is a Christian, so...the theory goes...someone who has a healthy, moral lifestyle. When I looked at the application, however, I balked. I was supposed to promise, close my eyes and hope to die, that I live according to the New Testament.

Talk about a broad brush.

Throw seven Christians together (please - not literally) and you'll get seven interpretations of what a "New Testament" lifestyle looks like. For some, it means no drinking. For others, drinking in moderation. For others, getting plastered as long as you're doing it at home where no one will see you. And let's not even talk about sex...there are probably a few people who think anything but the missionary position is a sin, even if you're married, monogamous, and straight.

I didn't like the idea of the government telling me to get insurance, and now I didn't like the idea of an insurance company (yes, it qualified for Obamacare) telling me what constituted a New Testament lifestyle. Because frankly, I don't even live MY idea of what that means. Not every minute of the day and night. And that's what I would be saying, if I clicked the appropriate box. (There wasn't a "some of
the time" option anywhere I saw. I looked, much the same way I've always looked for loopholes in what my parents told me to do, school rules, employee requirements, etc.)

So I was back to more traditional insurance coverage (as in "more expensive") and my nephew Jason helped me out. He found a plan that is astronomical to someone who doesn't spend much on health care annually (currently, me), but makes me legal. Since I only work part-time, I am now, pretty much, working to pay for my insurance, which galls the shit out of me (not a New Testament-approved word, there, which renders me non-New Testament-compliant at the moment and thus, from an honesty standpoint, ineligible for the Christian pseudo-insurance that costs less).

But as I have pondered, and read liberal Facebook posts, it strikes me that Obamacare and the Christian organization are doing basically the same thing: paying the bills of other people who need help. It's just that with the latter, you're paying for the needs of "nice" people, "good" people, "Christian" people. And with Obamacare, you're just helping the poor.

Sort of like what Jesus did. Ouch.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Venting a Bit about a Bible Study

Several weeks ago I went to a Bible study. There was a kids' group at the same church was going on which ended before the Bible study, so I had to leave early. And it's probably a good thing I did, because I might have been compelled to interrupt, or pose a question that would have stepped on - from what I could tell - the toes of just about everyone who had been vocal.

The minister decided to tackle homosexuality. Looking at the materials that were handed out for reference I wasn't sure which direction he was headed. I wanted to keep an open mind, hoping that I would hear a refreshingly compassionate message.

Not so much.

I became increasingly uncomfortable, thinking of friends who are gay or have family members who are gay, who would be so hurt by what was being said. The thought that I couldn't, in good conscience, invite them to attend that particular church with me made me feel sad.

Understand, the verses being quoted were accurate. It was just that only certain verses were quoted. Which is, of course, the way any message goes. You can't quote the entire Bible or you'd be there all day and night. And I think that only when the entirety of scripture is considered, do some things start to make sense. It's just quicker, and easier, and more painless (for those speaking, usually) to use an abbreviated approach.

Later,  I emailed the minister and let him  know my thoughts. He responded quickly, and said that by the end of the Bible study (remember, I had left a little early), they had gotten around to the "all sin is sin" which was supposed to take the edge off the judgement and condemnation that had come up previously. And it's true. All sin IS sin. But I would bet money, if I were a betting woman, that the majority of the folks sitting in that church that night had one list of their own fairly mild and even reasonable sins, and the far worst sins that everyone else commits.

The Greek word we translate as sin is a word picture. "Hamartia" is actually one of several words translated "sin" but it is the main one. It means missing the mark. The bull's eye of a target represents the holiness and perfection of God. We constantly miss the mark - no matter how close we come, we are never spot on. We might be way out on the edge of the target. We may be a centimeter from the black bull's eye. Or if you're like me, the arrow is off in the woods somewhere and it takes the better part of the day to even find it.

The point is, we are all sinners. Humans are born into sin. My husband used to get a rise out of my mom when he would look at his newborn son and say, "Repent!" He was joking, but not theologically. We are born in the likeness of our father Adam, with a sinful nature. When we are born AGAIN, accepting the forgiveness and sanctification of Jesus Christ, we become saints. We have all the power of the Holy Spirit within us to avoid sin, something we didn't possess prior to that. Before sanctification and spiritual regeneration, we can try really, really hard to do better and often are able to accomplish wonders through sheer will power, but we still have, at our core, a sinful heart. After....the power is there to say no to sin. And yet we do not. We may continue to entertain "little" sins, or may struggle with "big" sins, but continue and struggle we do.

The problem with a lot of Christians, as I observe and read, is that we are fine with this state of affairs so long as we focus, at church, in the news, on Facebook, on all the sins with which we don't have a particular struggle.

If I'm skinny (I am not) then I point my bony finger at the sin of obesity. If I'm a teetotaller (I am not) then all alcohol consumption is reprehensible. If I'm straight (which I am) then lsurely I must attack those who are not.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but a Christian can lie, be unfaithful to his or her spouse, cuss someone out, steal things from his place of employment, discipline a child in anger, ignore someone in need, be a glutton, be proud of not being a glutton, worry - all sins. There were probably some on the list that struck closer to home for you than others.

But back to that Bible study.

I love sex. I'm so thankful God created the sexual relationship for men and women. I happen to be attracted to men, and both enjoy and appreciate the wisdom and wonders of monogamy, so that worked out very nicely for me. But I know others who knew, from a very early age, that they were attracted to the same sex. I know men (and women) who have monogamous, committed, long-term relationships that make many of the heterosexual, Church-sanctioned unions I've observed look bland and loveless....which they are. Which honor God more? Committed, loving same-sex unions that are villified by many in the church, or white-knuckled, angry, abusive marriages between men and women but do nothing to honor the perfect picture of Christ and the Church...which biblically, marriage is to be.

Granted, I used to be very black and white, very cut and dried, very...self-righteous. I knew the Truth. But when Saint John has the gumption to say that if everything Jesus did or said was written down, the whole world couldn't contain the books...John 21:25...then it makes sense to me that Jesus may have had some things to say about things we don't understand completely.

I don't understand the whole gay thing. At first glance, it's pretty clear that male parts fit nicely into female parts. Male parts don't fit as well into male parts. Female parts are missing some key ingredients. Adjustments are made that apparently make it all work, and that's, frankly, neither something I'm interested in nor something that is any of my business. And too, if it's just a matter of parts, what is all the hoopla about anyway?

Because it's not about parts at all. It's about PEOPLE. People who have feelings, and emotions, and dreams, and valid expectations for how they are treated by people who claim to follow Jesus Christ.

I recently had a gay man tell me they don't understand the whole gay thing either - they just knew, and chose to be true to who they were.

I think that many Christians, especially heterosexual Christians, haven't taken the time to get to know any homosexual folks, and so they are lacking an important frame of reference. You can't argue with experience. You can believe speaking in tongues is of the devil, for example, but if you get to know someone who actually DOES speak in tongues, and you discover that you trust their character completely, then've got something askew in your thinking. Same here. If you meet gay couples, see their genuine devotion to each other, see their kindness - it's not so easy to hold a sign somewhere with barbaric words like "God Hates Gays."

He doesn't. If he does...if he hates those who miss the mark, who are guilty of breaking his holy Law...if God is not really love, as it says in 1 John 4, then we are ALL in trouble. What the gays are up to in the media and politics should be the least of our worries.

I think what bothered me the most about the Bible study I attended was the use of Sodom and Gomorrah, but only Genesis 19. Hello? Sodom comes up again in Ezekiel:

"'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49)

I  heard muttered comments in addition to what was being presented in the materials. I heard some extremely arrogant overtones. I saw plenty of folks who were overfed. The church does help the poor and needy, but they were behaving that night, anyway, as being unconcerned over the 8,000,000 gay people in the United States.

Truth is truth is truth. But where we go astray, in my opinion, is believing that the slim leather volume with Holy Bible imprinted on it is the whole of God's wisdom.

Years ago, a man spoke about a dream or a vision he'd had in which he was taken to heaven, taken to a huge tall room that was filled, top to bottom, with books. All the wisdom of the universe was contained there. The angel, or whoever his guide was, went over to a shelf and pulled out a small book. It was the Bible. Precious, yes. Truth, yes. But how arrogant and ridiculous for us to suppose that ALL of God's wonders and wisdom could possibly be condensed into its pages??

Frankly, I have enough trouble just trying to live according to the Bible we do have- I'm pretty glad we don't have a whole Encyclopedia to follow. But I think we need to exercise a bit of humility too.

It reminds me of the Jodie Foster movie, Contact. Her character says this to a group of children:
 I'll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space. Right?

I can't possibly understand the universe...universeS, plural. It is impossible for me to know if life exists
in other forms elsewhere, or in the same form elsewhere. I know less than less about ANYTHING. I believe the Bible is true. I believe that love is true. I believe that Jesus died to open the way back to God for a sinner named Ellen Gillette, and every other person on the planet. I believe that what I don't know is a lot, but that I am called to love and kindness, to love my brothers and sisters - which NEVER, in the Bible, has something tacked on like "unlike they're gay...or another race....or poor...or stupid...or ugly...or unloveable...or of another political persuasion...or believe differently.

Since we know so little, isn't it possible that the Church should err on the side of love and compassion and let God sort out the particulars in his own way and time, rather than attack the particulars and leave people bleeding and dying by the roadside of our self-righteousness?