Feb 23, 2006

Chuckle for a Good Cause...

On the way into work this morning, I saw a great bumper sticker. Emblazoned on a white background with a pink ribbon:

"Save the Ta-Tas"

Hee hee...


Feb 20, 2006

Mrs. Cranky-Pants...

In honor of Presidents' Day, and of working while the Cat-Daddy gets to sleep the day away, a list of some of my pet peeves, grammatical and otherwise...

--Confusing "its" and "it's." Kids, let's get it right: "It's" is a contraction for "it is." "Its" is the possessive. As in: It's perfectly normal for a dog to sniff its own butt.

--Confusing "there," "their," and "they're." Location, possesive, and contraction for "they are." As in: The dogs over there aren't sniffing their own butts, but they're sniffing each other's.

--Mispronunciation of the word "nuclear." Admittedly, Webster's lists "nu-kyoo-lar" as an appropriate pronunciation, but it still bugs me. Phonics people, phonics.

--Going to bed with a dirty kitchen.

--Dogs that eat cat poop--UGH.

--To a lesser degree, confusing "your" and "you're." Probably lesser because I've caught myself on this one multiple times. Possessive vs. the contraction for "you are." As in: Zoe, you're not leaving this house without your coat! And we don't eat cat poop in this house!

--"I" vs. "me." This one doesn't bother me all that much, but I might as well throw it in there. It's whatever you would say by itself. As in: The Cat-Daddy and I say we don't like poop-eating poodles one bit. But between you and me, we think Zoe is quite endearing, despite her disgusting habits.

--And for a touch of irony (hypocrisy?)--it irks me when people feel like they must correct every grammar slip with no regard to the current situation or surroundings. There are times and places to enlighten the grammar-ignorant, and they are few & far between.

By the way, I've decided to decorate my cube wall with quotes, famous and infamous. Here's a list of what's already up:

Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone…The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire…It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it…Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted…Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else…Never test the depth of the water with both feet..If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments…Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes…If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you…Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day…If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it…If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything…Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield…Everyone seems normal until you get to know them…The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket…A closed mouth gathers no foot…Duct tape is like 'The Force'. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together…There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works...Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving…Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it…Never miss a good chance to shut up…Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

There's still plenty of room, so anyone who wants to contribute, send 'em my way via comments or skerri_bATyahoo.com. Just be sure to include the quoter, if known. Even better if it's one of your own...

Feb 16, 2006

Something Light for a Change...

After a wonderful week of 50 degree temps, we got a foot & 1/2 of snow over the weekend. I don't care that my winter hat is funny-looking, because it's warm. It is definitely winter in New England.

Tougher to eat healthy, you say? No fresh produce for months, eh? One would think so, but the commissary has been carrying Chilean produce. Perfect timing, since it's summertime in the southern hemisphere. Didn't want to pay $5 per pound for the cherries, but I've had grapes, nectarines, peaches & plums. And not sorry little consolation-prize fruits either. These are de-lish.

God bless Chile.

Feb 12, 2006

Church--Control vs Relationship (III of III)...

The third and final post. The others are here: Part I, Part II

There’s an excellent illustration of this in chapter 8 of The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning:
“On the [Alcoholics Anonymous] calendar it was Year Two. In that time nothing could be seen but two nameless, struggling groups of alcoholics trying to hold their faces up to the light. A newcomer appeared at one of these groups, knocked on the door, and asked to be let in. He talked frankly with the group’s oldest member and quickly established that he was a desperate case. Above all, he wanted to get well. ‘I must tell you that I am the victim of another addiction with a stigmatism even worse than alcoholism. You may not want me among you. Will you let me join your group or not?’

“There was a dilemma. What should the group do? The oldest member summoned two others and, in confidence, laid the explosive facts on their laps. Said he, ‘Well, what about it? If we turn this man away, he’ll soon die. If we let him in, only God knows what trouble he’ll brew. What’s your answer—yes or no?’ At first the elders could only look at the objections. ‘We deal with alcoholics only,’ they said. ‘Should we not sacrifice this one for the sake of the many?’ So went the discussion while the newcomer’s fate hung in the balance.

“Then one of the three spoke in a very different tone. ‘What we are really afraid of,’ he said, ‘is our reputation. We are much more afraid of that people might say than the trouble this alcoholic might bring. As we’ve been talking, five short words have been running through my mind. Something keeps repeating to me, “What would the Master do?”’

“Not another word was said.”

What are pastors really afraid of when they implement policies? Certainly they want the congregation to be safe. But like all of us, pastors also want the church to look good. When it gets down to it, the Christian life gets messy--a new ministry doesn't take off, members of church leadership have a conflict, a busy young mom loses her temper and swears at her kids. Or deeper--an otherwise-put-together man or woman confesses an addiction, a child reveals abuse in the home, a teen enters into severe rebellion. It’s easy to want to hide these parts when we want so badly for people to be drawn to God. We all do this to some extent. Some think of it as guarding their testimony, or wanting to represent God in the best way possible. While this is a wonderful-sounding goal, I think our motives are misguided. Who are we to think God needs our help to draw people to Him? How are we so self-absorbed that we think our efforts can make or break a person’s relationship with God? And let’s be honest—how can we think that we’re convincing anybody that really, we’re happier than they are, and if they join our club they can have it all as well? While I think people as a group are stupid, individuals can be fairly sharp—they pick up on things that are contrived and/or disingenuous. When it comes down to it, I’m just not fooling anyone when I try to put on a happy face all the time. Just like having enough of the right rules and people who exhibit "Christian" behaviors doesn’t make a happy and healthy church.

Part of trusting God is trusting him with our church body as well. Because of our human nature, it will get messy. People will make mistakes and we will be hurt. The difference is learning how to handle things the way God deals with us—grace, compassion, consequences when necessary, honesty, healing, forgiveness, and love. This takes much humility on everybody’s part; no one is ‘above’ mistakes, and when we speak the truth, it needs to be done in love.

Not to mention the implications of this in other parts of life. If I follow my own advice, the wrong way to get the Cat-Daddy to do the dang dishes each night is to nag or impose rules on him. The dishes need to be done…how do I get them done without taking it on myself (after all, I’m the one who slaved over the hot stove)? As scary as it is, it involves my relinquishing control. I can ask him to do dishes, but I can’t make him. I can set boundaries as far as what I will and will not do, but ultimately he’s an adult who makes his own choices, and I have to let him be his own man. It gets messy sometimes, and we’re still learning. As insignificant as it sounds, the dishes are a model for deeper things. I think we wives, in our desire to have a good marriage, have a tendency to try to control our husbands instead of loving them. Maybe not all of us, but it can't be just me. What are my motives in my marriage relationship—am I speaking and acting in love or do I just want other people to think I have a good marriage and a nice house?

On the church level--are we loving people or controlling them? Are we living out of our freedom in Christ, or trying to make God happy with nice, 'Christian' behaviors and habits? Are we wanting to do things for God, or are we trusting Him for what He wants to do for and through us?

Which brings it right back around to my relationship with God. It's good to want a healthy church, a healthy marriage, healthy kids. Am I trying my darnedest to have those things so God will be pleased with me, or am I living out God's grace, trusting Him for my needs & desires because I'm certain that He's already pleased with me?

Well kids, it would appear that I’ve made my points for control vs relationship. I hope my thoughts have provoked your own.

Part I, Part II

Church--Control vs Relationship (II of III)...

This is Part II in my series. The other posts are here: Part I, Part III

The question for me is why I seem to have a significant disconnect in my mind about rules. Why am I OK with standards of dress for work and school, but not church? Why do I think that membership rules don’t apply to me? Why is it that my taste in movies generally limits itself to PG-13 and below, but I’m the most vocal supporter of an individual’s freedom to watch R-rated movies?

At least part of it for me personally is that in the two situations I mentioned in Part I, the rules were not there to begin with, or at least were not enforced. Someone then decided to implement them. From my viewpoint the rules changed, my inner 3-year-old cried "No fair!", and I had to re-evaluate how the new rules affected my participation. But then again, I've been in jobs where rules have changed and there was little weeping and gnashing of teeth. Maybe a touch of "No fair!", but then I adapted fairly easily. There has to be something distinct about church which triggers my unease.

My thought process goes something like this—at work, they pay my salary, so that gives them some pull in my life. If I choose to work for my company, I need to abide by their rules. If I cannot bring myself to abide by their rules, I’ll probably be happier working for someone else anyway. The same can be said about church, to an extent--if I don't agree with the rules of a particular church I will probably be happier at a different one. But somehow I have a problem at a deeper level with the existence of the rules in church. Part of it could be that church is a volunteer-thing. At least at work I’m getting paid to follow the rules. At church I'm showing up on my weekend time. I want to minister and contribute, but does God really need me to jump through a certain set of hoops and sign my name in blood to qualify?

Taking myself out of the equation for once, I ask why pastors and church leadership have rules to begin with. Why do they feel they need a dress code, rather than trusting people to dress appropriately? What do they stand to gain by requiring that people take formal membership in order to participate in ministry?
Well-meaning pastors want to protect their congregations. They (rightly) feel a certain amount of fear or concern that a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” could come in and hurt their flocks. And as discussed in Part I, a natural human reaction to fear is control, so that’s how rules get formed—If there is a dress code, people will know exactly what is expected of them, so we won’t have to deal with people dressing inappropriately. If people are members of the church, we’ll have a chance to “pre-screen” them before allowing them to minister and/or lead in the church, and that way we’ll know we’re putting good people into those positions.

My problem with the dress code is that it isn’t Biblical. I don’t have a problem with a dress code at work because it isn’t a spiritual issue. I have a problem with it at church because God tells us very clearly that He is not about appearance, so why should we be concerned with it? Of course, if someone is dressed grossly inappropriately, deal with the individual situation. But don’t try to spiritualize the issue and somehow twist it into obeying God or not, and do let the nonoffenders live within their freedom of personal style.

My problem with membership as a requirement, which I'm pretty sure isn't in the Bible either, is that it doesn’t guarantee anything. Most membership processes consist of sitting through one or several meetings where the church leadership tells you what that church is about. And then you get to vote in business meetings if your church is structured as such. It lets the leadership learn your name, and verify that you at least claim to be a Christian before you go off teaching Sunday School.

The element that’s missing in all of that is relationship. The only way to be as sure as possible about the people in leadership and ministry is to know your people. This is both the tougher and scarier route. It’s easy and quick to implement policy or hold a weekend-long meeting where people give their testimonies in a nutshell. Relationship takes the time and effort of getting to know someone on a deeper level. Not just how they became a Christian, but what events in their life have shaped how they view God? What are their greatest gifts, their greatest struggles? What sorts of ministries has God put on their hearts, rather than which vacancy can the church stuff them into? Does their yes mean yes and their no mean no--ie, when they commit to something do they follow through?

Recently, we attended a newcomers' lunch at our church. It was a relatively simple meeting where they told us what the church is about and we got to ask questions. It was suspiciously similar to what we might encounter at a membership class, except that our church doesn't have formal membership.

Here's the difference: that meeting neither qualified us for anything, nor obligated the church in any way toward us. It was just a time to start getting to know each other. At another point we called the assistant pastor and said, "Hey we're into music and we'd like to come talk to you about how the worship team works." Over the past several weeks, we've begun to integrate into the worship team, meeting regularly and getting to know people. They know us well enough to know that we love Jesus and music is our "thing," and we know them well enough to know that we want to be part of the team and grow & minister with them. No way do we know them (and they us) as well as we would like, but that will begin to happen over time. We're not taking over or in charge of anything, but we're part of the group.

Then there’s the scary element of trust—no matter how well you know someone, there are never any guarantees. If we are honest about this life and human relationships, all of us will hurt and be hurt, even in church. How do we deal with that without kicking people out every time they mess up, or resorting back to standards and regulations?

Part I, Part III

Church--Control vs Relationship (I of III)...

This one turned out WAY longer than I expected so it is now my first official series of posts. You can link to the other parts with these: Part II, Part III

I'm in the bigtime now.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not really a rebel. I like to think I’m all raw & edgy, but when it comes down to it I generally don’t have a problem going along with rules and systems. I work for the government, where silly rules & systems are a way of life; it is the government after all. They govern.

The thing about church is that it is intended to be the place where believers live out what God says to us and about us. From the Bible we can gather that God’s way of doing things is pretty much the opposite of our kneejerk reactions as fallen sinners. Our natural inclination is to try harder, set rules, and build formulas. We want to control our surroundings as much as possible because if we feel in control, we feel less afraid (a false sense of security, by the way). God’s way is for us to stop trying, to set aside the rules and formulas. He wants us to relinquish our control and false security to Him so that he can give us real freedom from the mess of fear we live in. It’s about relationship. So theoretically, church should be a place of rest & freedom from the rat race of the world’s way of doing things.

This gets messy because we are still on earth, so to an extent a church has to have some laws & rules in place in order to interact with the world on a business or organizational level. But I’m not getting into that here. When it comes to the church leading and interacting with its members, there should be very little in the way of regulations for the general congregation to follow. I think that’s why I flinch when there’s talk of rules and such at church. I’m going to church to get a break from the structure of the world, I don’t want to walk into another set of standards and regulations.

In a former church they decided to enforce a worship team dress code. It wasn’t all that extreme. Basically you had to be adequately covered (ie legs, stomach, and shoulders), and no jeans or shorts. The official reasoning was that the worship team is up in front, representing the church to the people, and they were afraid of people getting the wrong message because someone on the team could dress inappropriately. The unofficial reasoning was that some felt that dressing casually was disrepectful to God, and my guess is that they pressured the pastor to do something about it. There was a big meeting and a big debate and when it boiled down to it the pastor said, “It’s my call and I’m making it.” Most people responded with “You’re the pastor, it’s your prerogative and we’ll submit.” I felt very conflicted. I was livid about the dress code, but I complied and gave myself a stern lecture about sucking it up and just wearing the dockers without complaining. I also questioned my motives and wondered why on earth I was so hung up over this. I ignored my anger and hoped it would go away—I resigned myself to the situation, wishing I was a little more submissive so I could get over it. Over time my resentment built, and worship team wasn’t fun anymore. I just couldn’t let it go. The time came for us to move out of state, and frankly I was relieved to be out of that particular situation.

I’ve thought a lot about the dress code since then. I do believe God is sovereign, and He has something to teach us through every situation. I certainly learned a lot about myself during that time, but if given the opportunity I think I’d do things differently. I think I would say to the pastor, “It is your call, but I can’t obey with a happy heart so I will have to not participate in worship team.” Of course that’s easy to say on this end of things--I only came to that conclusion after 2 years of experiencing the results of halfhearted compliance. But I did learn.

So we moved to a new state and a new chuch, and got involved in the worship team right away. Guess what my first question was? Yep, I asked if there were any dress codes. There were none—I was relieved. The first year was nearly-bliss, but then the pastor decided to enforce a rule that participants on the worship team had to be formal members of the church.

Without taking up the time and space, let me say, in a nutshell, that while I am not necessarily against church membership, per se, I have a problem with using it as a requirement for ministry participation, and I will eventually get to my reasons for that.

Having learned from my halfhearted compliance to the dress code in the previous church, I knew that this time I couldn’t go along with it. I wasn’t going to go through the motions of membership just to keep drumming every couple weeks. My heart wasn’t in it. It eventually became a moot point, as the Cat-Daddy and I ended up leaving, bringing us to our current new church, where there is neither formal membership nor anything resembling a dress code for any aspect of the church, and they are not big on rules, which suits us fine...

Part II, Part III

Feb 7, 2006

Told Ya I'm Neurotic...

Your Five Factor Personality Profile

You have medium extroversion.
You're not the life of the party, but you do show up for the party.
Sometimes you are full of energy and open to new social experiences.
But you also need to hibernate and enjoy your "down time."


You have medium conscientiousness.
You're generally good at balancing work and play.
When you need to buckle down, you can usually get tasks done.
But you've been known to goof off when you know you can get away with it.


You have medium agreeableness.
You're generally a friendly and trusting person.
But you also have a healthy dose of cynicism.
You get along well with others, as long as they play fair.


You have medium neuroticism.
You're generally cool and collected, but sometimes you do panic.
Little worries or problems can consume you, draining your energy.
Your life is pretty smooth, but there're a few emotional bumps you'd like to get rid of.

Openness to experience:

Your openness to new experiences is medium.
You are generally broad minded when it come to new things.
But if something crosses a moral line, there's no way you'll approve of it.
You are suspicious of anything too wacky, though you do still consider creativity a virtue.

...Courtesy of

Feb 2, 2006

Church--Further Musings on Halloween & Other Stuff...

I want to clarify my remarks on Halloween. The thing I found ridiculous is that because one person chooses not to take part in Halloween, the other felt the need to explain, apologize or justify her display of the holiday decorations. And I can't say for sure, but I would bet that if she'd thought about it, she'd have hidden the decorations so person number one wouldn't see them. Not out of consideration, but to save face. Over painted pumpkins.

I’m not saying that you have to participate or not participate in such things. While I do the trick-or-treating festivities, I have good friends who choose not to, and for good reason. Neither of us is more or less Godly because of it. I think this and other "minor doctrines" can only be approached from a viewpoint of freedom in Christ, meaning freedom to do or not do as God leads us.

It can be a tricky task to convey this in a nutshell...

So, major doctrines--our need for salvation. Christ's death and resurrection to pay the penalty for our sins. Salvation by grace, and not by any action or merit on our part. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. There are probably more, but those are the biggies that come to mind. God makes the biggies clear in the Bible. These are a matter of black-and-white--no grey areas about them.

Minor doctrines on the other hand--geez, where to begin. Dancing, alcohol, playing cards (gambling), church membership, tithes and offerings, church attendance, grooming & appearance, entertainment, holidays...some or all of these have some sort of reference in the Bible, but I believe they fall under freedom in Christ.

Some are addressed under the Old Covenant in the Old Testament, but it would seem that when Christ's death did away with the Law, that included all of the requirements and such in the Law. Tithing, for example. In the Old Testament, the Israelites lived more or less under a theocracy. Their tithing was something akin to the federal and state taxes we pay to fund the various programs that keep things running and help needy people; or attempt to, anyway. It was mandated then, as taxes are mandated now.

Does that mean we give nothing to church? Um, probably not. In the New Testament we are told to give freely, sacrificially, and joyfully. Ye olde "10% of the gross" guideline? Some find it cutesy-foo-foo to say that you need to calculate your giving before taxes so God will help you out when it comes time to do your taxes, implying that if you give more then God will give you a bigger refund. Of course there's nothing wrong with giving 10% of your gross income, per se, unless it is preached as the only correct way to give.

Listen for God’s urging and give as much as He prompts you. True, it could be less than 10%. But it could also be more. If you're in a church body that you love and believe in, it's entirely possible that you'll find yourself wanting to give as much as you possibly can. Guess where that desire comes from? Or rather, guess who gives us that desire??

Other topics were discussed in the New Testament which I believe do leave room for cultural interpretation. I know, I know, this is one of the biggest cop-outs people use when they want to just disregard scripture. But really, I think there's room for serious insight when you read certain passages in a cultural light and observe the spirit behind what God is saying.

Take, for example, the passage about women not braiding their hair. Really? I can curl my hair, pull it back, or put teeny flowers in it, but I can't braid it? Rats. Does it include French braids? What about fishtail braids? What if I just do one big braid, as opposed to a head full of teeny-tiny braids? And can girls wear little pigtail-braids? And the God who said this is the same God, by the way, who gave explicit instructions to Solomon for a glorious temple…the same God who created and loves beauty. So is beauty OK, or do we have to pretend we don’t notice or care about it? Or is there something inherently wrong with the shape of a braid?

A friend once pointed something out...when the Bible was written, personal hygiene was much different than it is now. Back then, bathing was much, much less frequent, and they definitely didn't have Wal-Mart in every town. If you're not bathing as often and you can't just pop in to pick up a bottle of shampoo & cream rinse, how much more difficult will it be to wash, comb, and style your hair? How much more time would it take? I'm guessing that sort of thing would be limited to royalty and the rich who had both the time and money to spare for such luxury. For most people, it would be incredibly frivolous. I believe God is saying hey, don’t be preoccupied with your outward appearance at the expense of living this life. It's not really about hair, it's about your heart's focus.

Two examples, and admittedly this is my opinion on these things, as opposed to solid fact. Plenty of Godly people have totally different views, which I think is the whole point—we all have the same freedom to do or not do as God leads us.

Up next--control vs. relationship in church and in life. Which of course is something I never struggle with, I just want to help you all see the light...