The Church should be like a library

My husband always give me books as presents. He’s good that way. Although I talk with him frequently about my reading interests and maintain an up-to-date GoodReads list, he still might present me with something under the Christmas tree that is completely off my radar. He is good that way, too. This year he surprised me with a book I had never even heard of previously.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean not only details the circumstances surrounding the April 1986 fire which devastated the Los Angeles Central Library, but also chronicles the history of the California library. Orlean has completed painstaking research following Harry Peak, the accused, his life and the years after the fire, while providing juicy tidbits on the early head librarians from the late 1800s onwards, most of whom were women. Her book jumps from a detective whodunnit, to a work of archival history, to an homage on the nobility and malleable nature of the library’s role in society and its identity. The last section gives credit to library and library-inspired innovations like OverDrive, book mobiles, the Biblioburro in Columbia, Little Free Libraries across the world, and more.

However, toward the end of the book something caught my attention. A description of the library as a safe, public place, welcoming to all reminded me of something even more beautiful than a library. When speaking to the issue of homelessness most city libraries face, Orlean writes,

“The library’s commitment to being open to all is an overwhelming challenge. For many people, the library may be the only place they have to be in close quarters with disturbed or profoundly dirty people, and that can be uncomfortable. But a library can’t be the institution we hope for it to be unless it is open to everyone.”

p. 245

As much as I love libraries and all they do for communities, what if this section were instead speaking of the church? Certainly, church buildings can be important places to meet, organize charitable events and gathering places for community outreach. Church buildings have hosted AA meetings. They have held marriage seminars, opened their doors with food pantries, and threw neighborhood block parties. But I am thinking of something more than the building. I read the above quote with a specific eye on the church as the PEOPLE.

What would our communities be like if we, as a church, were open, welcoming? What if we accepted all unconditionally? The public library may be nearly viewed as a sacred space for the very reason that it enfolds the prosaic and unwanted, the lonely, the unemployed, the retired and the graduate student. Even though we all deal with problems in our lives, the church cannot be the people Christ expects for us to be unless we are loving and open to everyone.

Of course, I need to begin with myself.

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Jerry destroyed Oval. He ripped his seams wide open and pulled out all his stuffing. Jerry is our miniature labradoodle, and Oval is our eight-year-old’s favorite stuffed animal. He got him when he was about three years old on a trip to IKEA. He named him in the parking lot on the way to the car. He looks like this.

This is not how he looked after we stitched him back up. He was disemboweled beyond repair. This is the new Oval who appeared peeking out of my son’s stocking this Christmas morning. He was purchased via Amazon Prime. I might have thought that he would refuse this new imitation, that he would protest that this wasn’t the real Oval, but he didn’t. He was excited and reintroduced him to all his other stuffed friends. Here’s the thing- although the tiny bear was manufactured with thousands of others by the IKEA corporation, my son actually created him. His imagination is rich enough for him to realize that although his friend was given a new body, his essence, the one he created in his imagination and games and thoughts, was one and the same.

And this is what the Father wants for us. Every morning. Every year. When we are chewed up and destroyed, when we have nothing left to offer, he wants to make us into something new.

“Behold,” asserts the Son, “I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21:5).

And what is so spectacular is that he continues to do it over and over and over, never growing weary of his promise, never tiring of the work of creation, never wavering in his commitment to us and our relationship with him. He loves us and will always reintroduce us to his people.

As G.K. Chesterton notes in Orthodoxy,

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

He promises us a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19)

He promises us a new vision and purpose (I Peter 2:9-10).

He promises us a new authority, a new master (I Peter 2:16).

He promises us a new allegiance, no longer tied to a political empire nor economic securities. (Galatians 6:14-16).

He promises us we will be a new people, in a new type of place, full of joy (Isaiah 65:17)

He promises us a new home and a place of belonging (Hebrews 10:39)

He promises we will have a new attitude, eager for love and inclusiveness (Colossians 3:12-14, Romans 12:13-16).

He promises us a new attitude of mind and new identity of holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).

He promises us his very self (Ephesians 1:13).

It will all be new, replenished, a continual renewal, a life lived in constant rejuvenation, not fettered by our fatigue, nor contingent upon our confidence.

When things are new they are shiny. A penny. A new bicycle. Even metaphorically, new things shine- a marriage, a new career. But what happens when the Christmas tree is taken down, or when the ornaments are packed into the basement, or when the marriage has lost its sparkle, or the job has its annoyances? What happens to the beauty of the new? It fades, doesn’t it? It dissipates. It sags and withers. Sometimes it is beyond stitching or repair.

But Christ desires to be there with us. His Spirit whispers and firmly suggests we might be ready now for him to work in us. Then, he hovers and does what he does best: creates something new. He recreates us, reshaping us to look more like his Son, though in his infinite imagination, maintaining our essence.

Happy New Year. May each new day shine forth revealing his glory. Each day is newly created for you. The new year will be just as new and fresh and full of grace in March and September and November as it will be on January first. His mercies are new every morning. They are continually replenished and created anew, because he loves to create. He does not grow weary. It is who he is.

The Iceland Elves

When our kids see meaning in their work, it inspires them to branch out and create on their own. When we show them that their writing is valued and useful, we encourage them to engage in all kinds of writing. G creates shopping lists (although we don’t always purchase everything on them), he creates storyboards based on his favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, and he leaves notes for us around the house. After our recent trip to Iceland, and after purchasing him his own little hand-knit elf (whom, incidentally, he named Olaf) from The Hand Knitting Association of Iceland, G eagerly announced he was going to write a story.

I am including his story here, not necessarily because he is a prodigious writer, but as an example of the power of reading, love of story, and let’s face it, an eight year old’s enthusiasm for getting on the iPad. I share his story as it was originally written with the exception of the quotation marks which I added, because he apparently didn’t have time for them. I added them to clarify the dialog considerably.

You will readily see his influences are Norse mythology, C.S. Lewis and S.D. Smith. Bill Watterson is another favorite, but is virtually undetectable in this story.

The Iceland Elves by G… Bumgardner.

Chapter 1 “James Pike”

James Pike was a good boy of the age of nine. He always obeyed the rules so one day Mary Pike, James’s mom, and his dad, David Pike, told James that they were going to Iceland. James was happy. He had been to Spain, but he had never been to Iceland. When he had packed his bags, he was ready to go. On the way to the airport James kept asking, “Are we there yet.”

“James, only five more minutes till we get there,” said James’s dad.

Chapter 2 “In the airport”

James was super excited. He just couldn’t wait to get to Iceland.

“ Come on, or we will miss are plane,” said James’ dad.

“Ok, everyone’s on the plane,” said James’ mom.

When the air plane took off James had bad feelings in his head. What if the plane goes crazy and the driver takes the plane in water?! While James was thinking about the bad feelings, he started to go to sleep.

Chapter 3 “Olaf the elf”

“Hey, buddy, you,” said a voice.

James opened his eyes, and then he let out shrill cry of an AHHH.

“ Hi, my name is Olaf.”

James saw a little man that only came up to his knee. He had a big, long hat on that was brown. He had a chipped tooth and funny teeth.

“ Hi,” Olaf said again. “I know you humans are in danger,” Olaf said. “Come on, I have fire going,” said Olaf.

“Where are we?” asked James.

“Narnia,” said Olaf.

“Na… Na… Narnia?” said James.

“Yeah, Narnia. Have you ever heard of it?” asked Olaf.

“No,” said James.

“Well, “ said Olaf “let me tell you about King Peter and Queen Lucy,said Olaf and then there was the noise of falling trees.

“ RUN!” yelled Olaf.

Chapter 4 “The Ice Lord”

“GET THEM!” said a voice.

“Hide in here,” said Olaf.

“Who were they?” asked James.

“Oh, no they found me!” said Olaf.

“Who has found you?” asked James.

“The Ice Lord. He always had me next to him in battle until he found out that I was helping the humans, so he is on the hunt for me and humans,” said Olaf.

“Then we’ve got to find King Peter!” said James.

“We can’t,” said Olaf.

“Why?” asked James.

“He’s dead.” said Olaf. “They all died 900 years ago,” said Olaf.

“Oh, “ said James.

“Come on, “ said Olaf.

Chapter 5 The Forest of Temptation

“Look out,” said Olaf.

“Why?” said James.

“It is the Forest of Temptation. Come on, and be careful,” said Olaf.

“Ok,” said James. When they were in the Forest James said, “I’m hungry. Hey, look, Olaf, the trees have apples.

“NO!” yelled Olaf. “James, put the apple down now!” said Olaf. Now, as you know, James always listened to the rules, so he put the apple down.

“But I’m hungry,” James said.

“James, remember what the forest is called.”

“Yeah, we got to get out of here,” James said. “Yeah, agreed. Olaf.

“Come on, I will lead the way,” said Olaf. When they left the Forest, they found themselves in trouble. They saw a big ocean ahead of them.

“Hey, look a boat!” said James.

Chapter 6 The Lion Himself

“Come on, kid, I don’t have all day.” said Olaf.

“Sorry, Olaf. I’m just so sleepy,” said James. “Hey, look, there’s someone on the mountain top over there,” said James.

“But,James,” said Olaf, “that mountain is 67 miles longer. Wait one second- by the lion’s mane- it’s him; it’s Aslan.

“Who’s Aslan?” asked James. And then James let out a cry of “AHHHH,” and then Olaf whipped his head around and gasped, “It’s the lion himself,” said Olaf. The elf fell flat on his face and did not move. The lion said to James, “Come on back to camp. You will be safe there.”

“But what about Olaf,” said James. “Take him with you.” And they set off.

Part 2

Chapter 7 The Ice Lord’s Prisoners

“Help us!” all the prisoners yelled.

“Shut up all of you,” said The Ice Lord. “I do not like any of you, but hate the two beavers. They sing at night when I am making a plan to kill you,” he snapped at the beavers. “Listen,” he said. “If you sing one more time, I will put your heads on stakes.

“Okay,” the beavers nodded. They were very scared.

Chapter 8 Getting ready to battle

James and the lion walked into a bush about 5’ 11’’ He gasped as he saw a full camp full of people. “Hallo,” one said. “Hi,” said James nervously.

“Don’t be scared,” said Asian. “Let me go find Hago.”

“Who’s Hago?” James asked.

“He is the trainer for battle.” They walked up to a man who had six legs and four arms and two heads.

“Hello,” one of the heads said. “My name is Hago, and I am here to train you,” he chanted.

“Aslan, who is this guy?” James asked, but Aslan wasn’t there.

“Come on, young boy, let’s go train.”

Three hours passed by. James did 14 push-ups,10 sit-ups, and he practiced with a sword.

“I think you are ready,” said Hago.

Right at that second Olaf woke up. He yelled, “What happened?!”

“You fainted,” said James.

“I did?” The confused elf got up and did 28 push-ups, 18 sit-ups. James’ mouth was wide open. He gasped. Olaf trained with a dagger, because that was the only thing Hago could find that was light enough for Olaf. He trained and trained until the two were ready for battle, and then they saw the Ice Lord’s army coming up the hill.

Chapter 9 The Big Battle

When they heard Aslan’s roar they charged out to fight. Heads were being hacked off, the Ice Lord’s army was so strong. Then when they thought all hope was lost, they saw something in the distance. It was the Ice Lord’s prisoners – the fauns, the beavers, even the little mice were coming out to fight. They bit and poked with their little swords, and then Aslan jumped over the battle and on to the Ice Lord. With one gulp, he ate the Ice Lord. Olaf chopped a guy in half, James stabbed someone, finally the battle was over. Aslan had won!

Chapter 10 Goodbye Narnia

“Well, now what?” asked James.

“I don’t know,” said Olaf. “I think it’s time for the boy to leave,” said As.

“Ok,” said James. “Goodbye, mice, goodbye Aslan, and goodbye, Olaf,” said James.

Then he heard a voice,”James, James, we’re here,” the voice said. He woke up. “James, we’re in Iceland.”

James got off the plane and thought he saw Olaf’s face on a magazine, and then he saw a statue of Olaf. “I’m just seeing things,” he thought and they walked out of the airport and waited for the adventure ahead.

The End

Dutch apple means grace

This Thanksgiving I baked three desserts: a pumpkin pie with whipped cream, a gingerbread cake with a warm vanilla sauce (ok, the sauce was from IKEA) and a Dutch apple pie. If you are like one of my children, you might ask what is a Dutch apple pie? What does Dutch apple mean? Well, Dutch apple means grace.

Officially, I am not sure where the term came from, but for me it basically means there is no need to roll out a beautifully latticed top crust. You simply mix a bit of flour, a generous scoop of brown sugar, oats and cinnamon and mix with pats of butter and dump on top. Like most things I make I have no real recipe. And most people bake more delicious pies than I do. As I mixed this one up for the holiday I was struck how similar this pie is to the grace of both Christ and his community.

It doesn’t look nearly as pretty as many apple pies I have eaten. I have tasted more warm and delicious desserts than the ones I make. However, when butter and brown sugar, cinnamon and apples all bake together it is hard to mess it up. There is grace in that.

Even my crust cuts corners. My mom’s sweet friend Willene in Big Spring, Texas gave us her recipe years ago when we were living in Vienna. I am confident she would not begrudge me sharing with you the fabulous and simple recipe that you mix and press out IN THE PIE PLATE! It comes out flaky and delicious each time. I have used it for cream pies, fruit pies and even quiches.

Miracle Pie Crust

1 and 1/2 C of flour

1/2 C vegetable or canola oil

Dash of salt

4 T milk

My pie doesn’t have to be the most artistic to be appreciated. My family will have no trouble putting away the baked apple-y goodness even without a well-executed lattice top.

The cinnamon and oatmeal crumble hides the fact that there is no proper finish on this pie. It is its grace. It covers my flaws as a baker. And when I am unsure of the quantities, I just add extra butter to it. And there is probably grace in that.

Faithful

IMG_0536

Your children are certainly a credit to you.”

We have all heard these words of encouragement, either spoken to someone who has carefully parented and trained their children into impressive adults, or perhaps these words were even spoken to you at some point. Mostly they are said with all good intentions, giving honor to whom it is due, recognizing the hard-work and patience that is required in parenting. But it leaves me fearing that the inverse may also be true. What does it mean when your children make poor choices? What if they are not where they should be spiritually? What does it mean if life is hard and we are still in the trenches, losing battle after battle? Then, is the inverse true? Are the parents to be held responsible for rebelliousness or disobedience? Does it mean we are failing?

I don’t believe so. And yet, it doesn’t change my fear and sorrow and worry over my children. I began this blog over five years ago partly due to the encouragement from a friend, and partly out of a desire to record the daily ebb and flow of home schooling, as well as the spiritual struggles of parenting, particularly one on the autism spectrum. In five years they have grown, and not surprisingly, more quickly than I had anticipated. Out of respect for their privacy and to protect their dignity, I have written selectively and sparingly on any specifics regarding our struggles. This blog is likely to be from hereon a place where I come to confess my own shortcomings, to seek answers, and to share any morsels of grace.

In the middle of the trenches you just don’t know how things will turn out. Often, it seems I am failing. What if my children are not a credit to me? What if I am not a credit to them? What if the inverse really is true that I have failed in some way?

But I know this not to be true, even if I fear it. I know life is hard. And it’s not yet over. Christ has not called me to exact change on anyone, but only to be faithful. Most of the time being faithful is as much as I can handle.

The other day a friend, whom I admire more than I know how to write, handed me a piece of paper with a name written on it. It was a suggestion, a place to turn to for help. I think of her and know how faithful she has been, yet not without pain. Her eyes still reflected the same struggle, and reminded me being faithful is all I am called to do.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3:8

Marvel

Thanks to cashing in on my husband’s frequent flyer miles, my family just returned from a trip to Iceland. Although my husband and I have wanted to go there for two decades, the entire trip was planned and executed within a few short weeks. We are already wondering when we could make it back for a summer visit.

In a world which teeter totters between scientific pragmatism and truth’s relativity, I am thankful to have been able to experience a country which only increased my wonder and amazement at God’s power, fierceness and wild creativity. If we ever question the magic of existence, if we are ever tempted to think the world is humdrum, and long for the excitement of fantasy, we only have to throw a glance at the diversity and frightening beauty the creation reveals to us.

Who is this God who formed land, then caused it to catch fire and explode? In a country where it may be difficult to determine if the people are speaking imaginatively or not when they talk of trolls and elves, God’s breath and thumbprint, his intensity and love are in each stream and waterfall, in each wild horse and threatening mountain.

But so are they in my everyday life: in the turn into my neighborhood, in the willow tree in my backyard, in the monotonous routine of cooking rice, in teaching inequalities and diagramming sentences, and driving my kids to classes.

There is a beauty in the faces I see in my daily life, in the encounters of diversity, and in the souls I meet in my church family. I could only marvel at the geysers, and cliffs and freezing, roaring waters, because every day I see both the fierceness and quiet creativity of God as Creator working through us.

New Eyes

I was fourteen, and she was about eight. Initially, I was surprised by her flippancy and matter-of-factness. I was tempted to look around to see if there was an adult to reprimand or correct her. There was none. She held her brother’s forearm as he lay there, seemingly with little thought, and shook it gently. His wrist, as his whole body, was lifeless and limp, and it flopped back and forth with her motion.

“This isn’t really Dale,” she said. “He’s already in heaven. This is just what he left behind.”

I wondered who had given her these words. Had she been taught them by an equally grieving adult in an attempt to comfort her?

Dale, and his big sister Opal, were “bus kids.” Many churches in the 1970s and the 1980s created ministries in their communities by bussing in unchurched children on Sunday mornings. Our moderate-sized congregation drove fourteen buses throughout local neighborhoods every Sunday to pick up over 400 children. My father began on Saturday visiting the kids as they played outside, speaking to any parents nearby, reminding them that the colorful bus would be there to pick them up the next morning. Opal and Dale were two of these kids, and honestly, some of my favorites.

Joy Bus
My brother and I in front of one of the buses about 1978 or 1979.

Opal bounded on the bus most Sundays still munching a piece of toast, hair uncombed. She was full of stories and explanations. Dale was quieter with dark blond hair. Sometimes we called him “Porky,” because he reminded us of the little actor who portrayed Porky in the 1930s Our Gang comedies.

About 1984 six-year-old Dale drowned in a Phoenix canal.

When I learned of his death, I was insistent that I was going to the viewing. It was my first. The room was small and there were few people I recognized.

Opal’s dry eyes and nonchalant way of stroking her brother’s arm or bangs touched me more than an obediently tearful little girl in a corner would have.

That little girl is in her early forties now. The last time I saw her was at her little brother’s wake. I’m not sure if she remembers riding the white bus with Noah’s Ark animals painted across it. I hope so. I don’t know if she remembers any of the bus songs, or me, or even my father, but I do hope she remembers a time when she was loved as a little girl. And I  hope she associates that with Jesus.

I hope her words at the viewing  were her words, and that they have guided her through life. I hope she sees through new eyes. Our old eyes can see only the tragedy and heartbreak, and it is tragic. But it’s not the end.

I don’t know how Opal’s story ends…or Dale’s for that matter.

I hope to see fully, beyond the tragedy and a small room hosting a blond boy’s viewing. I hope to see with new eyes beyond lost time and missed opportunities. I hope in greater things beyond feeble efforts and self-reliance.

Because hope is more that just plaintive wishes. It is assurance that we haven’t yet seen all that there is to see.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Introducing Cross-Cultural Literacy

hands coming in together

Before my sixteen-year-old was born we began building his library. Among the board books and chapter books we eagerly collected, anticipating the day we could read them together, were atlases and cultural studies for young people. We wanted our future children to love the world at large and feel comfortable in it.

Although we have traveled widely throughout the United States with them, my two oldest made their first out-of-the-country trip last year when we joined a church mission group to the Dominican Republic. Yet, I feel we had already exposed our boys somewhat to cultures and customs beyond their own through personal stories (Their father and I have visited and lived in several countries), movies, documentaries, culturally diverse friends, and of course, through reading. Recognizing it will take time to develop fluency, introducing cross-cultural literacy now is important to us.

In 1987 E. D. Hirsch published his Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, where he first used the term. Tying an intimate and comfortable knowledge of one’s own language, customs, entertainment, symbols, history and dialect to a knowledge of decoding letters and words (i.e. literacy proper) Hirsch created an awareness of cultural literacy itself.

Having a solid basis in cultural literacy is important. If we are not aware of the idiosyncrasies, foibles, strengths and roots of our own cultural language, then it will be exponentially difficult for us to enter in to another culture with any sense of understanding or appreciation.

At sixteen, fourteen and seven, I do not expect my boys to be culturally fluent in any location outside their own culture, but I would love to think that they have been introduced to a sufficient number of other “worlds” that something new and different doesn’t startle them. I like to hear them talking with people from other countries or backgrounds while asking about their cuisine, being able to discuss basic issues relevant to the other country, or just being aware of behaviors that might be culturally offensive to others. We cannot be fully literate in every culture, but just as there is a term for “kindergarten readiness” or “reading readiness,” so there is a way to prepare for “cross-cultural literacy.” Whether it is through travel, meeting new people, eating out in a Vietnamese restaurant, or reading a book set in Botswana or India, there are many ways we can open new worlds for the children in our life.

What good is there in being culturally literate? Much.

  1.  We grow in empathy. Our hearts expand and open through the diversity of people we can relate to.
  2. We grow in our knowledge of cultures and worldviews, which piques our curiosity and broadens our interests and love for the world.
  3. We are protected from xenophobia, exclusionary or condescending views toward others.
  4. We learn the universality of feelings and basic needs. The specificity of lifestyle, language or custom may differ, but the commonality of the need for love, acceptance and respect transcends nations, ethnicities and cultures.
  5. We are less likely to fall prey to chronocentrism, the assumption that people who lived 100, 500, 1,000 years ago should think and act as we do.  A chronocentric attitude would see people from days past as inferior and as not having had time to progress as far. Here we should recognize that cross-cultural literacy does not only figure into national borders and dialects, but also time periods. The American Midwest where I live today, while sharing some similarities and history, does not share the same culture from 150 years ago. If I want to read James Whitcomb Riley, I will need to make use of some learned cross-cultural literacy techniques, and be ready to recognize that I am still not fluent.

Perhaps this seems obvious to us, but more and more I see kids (and adults) eschewing books which are “out-dated” in lieu of something “relevant” and “modern.” This belies the attitude that historical settings have no bearing or application in our lives, even more, that we have no connection as humans. Gravitating to contemporary and pertinent issues may seem understandable unless we only gravitate to books whose characters are “like me.” There is a danger in always trying to find ourselves in the pages of story. Story is where our world expands, and our capacity to empathize is not dependent on how closely the main characters’ lives and values reflect my own.

We need to help ourselves and our children become cross-culturally literate, whether we are crossing the street, traveling with a passport or through time. On first hearing of a new holiday or a new root vegetable from South America, I would love my children’s initial reaction to be curiosity and enthusiasm. In the same way, as they encounter hurt, discrimination and triumph in other people’s lives, I would love for their reaction to be sorrow, anger and joy where appropriate.

How beautiful to understand that God works IN cultures, ABOVE cultures, and IN SPITE OF cultures, including our own.

From Simply Robert: Fostering a Better Relationship with Our Meltdowns

The following is an excerpt from a practical and encouraging article a good friend posted yesterday. We have known each other twelve years now. He has been a tremendous source of information and inspiration to me as my husband and I strive to best parent a child (now, a young adult) on the autism spectrum.  As someone on the spectrum himself, he has a specialized perspective on how to navigate this world. As a person of faith, he is kind and compassionate, full of grace. Here, he explains how we might view meltdowns, not only as a negative, but leaning in to them, they might be a coping mechanism.

 

Continue reading From Simply Robert: Fostering a Better Relationship with Our Meltdowns