little activist

Dylan and I attended her first peace demonstration yesterday. (Second including last year's Christian Peace Witness for Iraq vigil and march to the White House, but I didn't even know I was pregnant then.) Saturday's march coincided with the fifth anniversary of the war and the memorial honored and acknowledged the 4007 American soldiers who have died as well as the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

We drove the hour and a half out to Pittsburgh and parked in Oakland. The weather was sunny and warm by March standards. I was able to change Dylan at a church, and thanks to a nursing cover, I can nurse her easily anywhere, so after a little while, we were good to go. We joined up at the tail end of the rally and walked with the eclectic gathering of several hundred activists, students, clergy, parents, aging hippies, kids on bikes, musicians, and one dog. Dylan faced out in her carrier, so she could see all the posters, flags, and banners, as well as the rag-tag band that accompanied the march. She took it all in and didn't fuss at all, even though I had her wear a too-big sun hat.

We marched down Fifth and up Forbes and walked to Flagstaff Hill at Schenley Park, where people and leaders from different faith traditions offered readings, prayers, and exhortations to continue to work for peace and bring our troops home. Excerpts were read from Martin Luther King's speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence," and it is worth reading if you have time. His words are eerily prophetic and just as relevant today. It was good to take part in the peaceful, democratic action, and several people thanked me for bringing the baby.

Before she was born, Dylan did make it to one more political action: a vigil at Congressman Murphy's office in support of reauthorizing S-CHIP. However unflattering the shot, we were glad the event received media coverage, and it gave us something interesting for her baby book:)


prodigal dog

our dog sydney ran away yesterday. i let her out, got distracted, and when i went to get her, she was gone. this happens more than i'd like, but i wasn't too concerned until i found her collar, which she wasn't wearing.

now, sydney has it pretty good here at la casa de paul. we live at a camp with 550 acres of land, including a pond, creeks, lots of woods and fields, and a sweet, swampy bike park that is also fun for doggie explorations. our yard is adjacent to an expansive field that she can play in until her little heart's content.

unfortunately, when sydney runs, more times than not, she does not run through the fields, but up and down the busy road in front of our house, and we get calls about a frightened dog darting in and out of traffic. sydney gets scared, comes homes shaking and repentant, and yet always manages to get herself into the very same situation again.

sound familiar? she reminds me of adam and eve--discontent with the bounty of the garden, and desiring to push the God's limits, only to feel miserably afterward.

she is so much like me, too. God has given me so many blessings, but I am tempted to leave the boundaries he's set, convinced that outside holds greater excitement or joy. but somehow, what's "out there," never quite measures up to the goodness and abundance God has already provided for me. yet the temptation is always there, even though i know that nothing other than God will satisfy the longing in my heart. so why do i try to settle for cheap substitutes?

(post script: after flyering local businesses and going to bed in a sad, dogless house, i got a call this morning from a woman whose daughter had found sydney yesterday. she is back at home, and like the father in the story of the lost son, i am not so angry as relieved and thankful that she is back, safe and sound!)


his truth is marching on: scripture, ministry & the postmodern church

last week on facebook i recommended a book to an old friend, which began a lengthy online discussion about postmodernism and the church. i typically enjoy wrestling through theology with a fellow believer, but what was difficult in this exchange was that all sorts of red flags went up for my friend when we began discussing the emerging church movement, and he ended his last post with what was, essentially, an exhortation for me come back to the fold.

it saddened me, because though we are both sincere in our pursuit of Christ and probably believe 90% of the same things with regard to the gospel, somehow we were speaking different languages.

it fired me up enough that i thought i'd share some of my thoughts to my friend with you:

Often, Christians think postmodernism is relativism and an enemy of the gospel, and that modernism is right or true. But the bible and the early church were formed in a pre-modern context. One worldview isn't superior or better equipped for sharing the gospel, but in order to share the gospel, like a missionary, we need to understand the culture that we are trying to reach. The church is simply not reaching people the way we are doing things now. The Mainline churches are dwindling, and while megachurches continue to grow, they are largely attracting bored believers from other churches, not people who don't already know Jesus.

The premise of the book is basically that, in a postmodern context, if we want people to come to faith in Christ we need to stop trying to attract people to church and instead BE the church in the world. We know that ever since the curtain of the temple was torn in two, we have access to God without a mediator, but we often act as though church is still primarily where God lives, and people can't experience God without coming through our doors. The book is about what incarnational ministry looks like--being Christ in the world and recontextualizing the gospel, like a missionary would, to the people we are already called into relationship with.

My experience in attending an emerging Presbyterian church plant, and in all the reading I've done, I've found a markedly high esteem of Scripture and an honest emphasis on the significance of the cross-- to redeem our broken, sinful hearts and restore us to right relationship with God, and also to redeem the brokeness that sin has wreaked on the world--to inaugurate the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached so prolifically. If anything, I think the emerging church may have a fuller picture of the significance and scope of Jesus' redemptive work.

Jesus called people to follow him, not to espouse a litany of beliefs. Which is not to say that there are not clear cut beliefs that we as Christians ought to hold. Scripture is clear on many things. But perspicuous? No, I do not believe that is an attribute of Scripture. Sixty-six books written over the course of thousands of years by dozens of authors in several languages, in forms as varied as poetry, prophesy, history, personal correspondence--that is confusing! People go to seminary, study Greek and Hebrew, read and write sermons and books, and join bible studies to learn more about a book whose meaning isn't clear, obvious, or easy to apply.

The postmodern idea is not that truth doesn't exist--it is that we cannot fully know it, because we are limited--by our perspective, the finite nature of our lives and minds and because of our sin. I always bring my own prejudices, beliefs, and life experiences to whatever I read, which will inevitably color my interpretation--causing me perhaps to take away something different than what the author (and God) had in mind. This is why the emerging church values studying the Word in community and engaging with believers from other communities--to get a fuller, truer understanding of the Word than we may find on our own.

This also serves as a check and balance to someone going off alone and twisting Scripture to say something it doesn't say--a concern for the Church as a whole. Reading an ancient Middle Eastern text with a 21st American century lens will cause some truth to get lost in translation (even with the gift of the Holy Spirit helping us to understand), which is why we all value having ministers and teachers help us to interpret Scripture. 

As Christians, we know that Truth is a person--to know the Truth is to be in a relationship with Jesus. Look at Jesus' own ministry--if anything, he asked more questions than he answered, was intentionally vague and often refused to explain himself! If Jesus wasn't concerned with defending himself, why do we feel we need to defend him?

Truth is not in danger or threatened by any doubts or questions people may raise. If anything, raising those doubts and questions makes us go back to Scripture to understand the source of our faith and helps us to be able to articulate and live it better. 

Shouldn't the Church be in a continual process of reformation? Do you really think the (Catholic) Church went astray once and the Protestants set it all back in order once and for all? The Church is made up of sinful, broken people, and we are going to get it wrong from time to time. Look at the Church's now-reformed stances on slavery or segregation.

The Holy Spirit works in the midst of communities to help us understand Scripture and calls us back to the Word (again, a Person!) It's not about making up new stuff, it's about being willing to ask whether the way we have been interpreting things is in fact in alignment with Scripture.

Isn't it possible that we have at times, as Christians, enthroned tradition over Christ?



dylan slept through the night last night. I put her down at 10:45 and woke her up at 7:10 to get her ready to go to bible study. over eight hours!

this was a feat she accomplished with a certain to degree of regularity at two months. at three months, she was back to being up once or twice a night, which really wasn't so bad. but the past two weeks, dylan was all over the map--skipping naps, extra cranky, and nearly impossible to put to bed. we had a few nights of her being up, crying, every one or two hours. the most frustrating part was that the more tired she grew, the more she resisted sleep, making her, of course, even more tired.

but the little beauty is napping now, and has napped well all week. i think her little body is getting itself back on track, and i am so thankful.


your hair is everywhere

the hairbrush and i have never been friends. as a child, my mother would pull and prod my tangles into submissive braids while i'd yell, "you're killing me!" with all the drama a seven-year-old can muster.

though the hairbrush may have done it's job in childhood, by middle school it only served to intensify my hair's tendency to "pouf." bad cuts in eighth and ninth grade only exacerbated the problem, and no amount of blow drying or anti-frizz products could really alleviate the pouf. the flat iron and 0% humidity helped, but really, who has the time, and i sure as heck have never lived anywhere that wasn't humid.

sophomore year in college i discovered that if i basically stopped brushing my hair, and "scrunched" it wet, i could let it dry in waves and it looked halfway decent with essentially no effort. perfect!

well, nearly. the downside to this near-perfect strategy was an increased tendency to shed. in college, i lived in a house with six long-haired beauties, and no one really cared much--we all had a lot of hair. that mess of hair in the shower could have belonged to anyone!

but now, living with jim and dylan, there is no escaping the fact that the hairballs are mine. and it is worse than ever--even than in january when my sister was here. she, who's hippie leanings and hairbrush anathema so exceed my own that she discovered the undersides of her long red locks were naturally dreading from lack of attention!

evidently, pregnant women do not shed much hair, and so several months postpartum, the head makes up for lost time and sheds with a vengeance. it is out of control. we are constantly pulling hairballs from the laundry and the bottom of fleece pants. i find strands on our pillows and in the baby's tiny fists. it's so awful that i actually have taken to using the hairbrush again, but i can't even keep up! so i really ought to go and grab the vacuum. and the hairbrush.


obedient to death

growing up presbyterian, i don't remember much being made of maundy thursday. i knew it had to do with the last supper and the night Jesus was betrayed in the garden, but it was never commemorated in any particular manner, like Good Friday or Easter.

st. michael's has a maundy thursday service, and since i was pregnant and sick last year, i'd never been. i wasn't especially excited to go this year either. my in-laws are in town, and we'd had a nice dinner together right beforehand. i hadn't showered, was wearing a sweat shirt, and there was just ten minutes to get ready. since having the baby, finding something clean that fits is hard enough, but if it also must look nice, (re: not yoga pants or pajamas), ten minutes can't even begin to get the job done.

i was beyond grumpy rolling into church during the opening hymn and after the processional. the liturgy and music were much like any other service, but at the end, the lights were dimmed and the alter was stripped of all its ornament, signifying Jesus' humility in choosing to suffer the cross. it surprised me how poignant it was.

dylan was restless, so i held her in the back. despite (because of?) my complete self-absorption and bad attitude, God really spoke to my heart and met me there. as everything was slowly taken away, philippians chapter 2 kept ringing in my ears as tears streamed down my face...
"your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"
the process of stripping the alter was long and deliberate. women, many old with canes in hand, got up from their pews and took turns extinguishing and removing candles. the bible, prayer books, and kneelers were all removed. the cup and the bread were removed. the palms displayed in place of flowers were removed. the cross, shrouded in red, was taken, too. the red and gold cloth that draped the table and pulpits was removed. our priest, who had also removed his robe, sung "were you there when they crucified our Lord?" with his guitar. he finished a capella, and then left silently out a side door. we all left the church in darkness and silence.

i left thinking of Christ's humility--the glory he gave up, and the human body, life, hurt, and death he took on. he wasn't about claiming his due as God's son, but rather assuming human burdens, punishments, and ultimately, death. my death. on this night, the night Jesus' friends slept in the garden while he anguished alone in prayer over his coming suffering, my biggest concern was what i was going to wear to church.

Lord, forgive my selfish heart. forgive my pride and desire to be right. forgive my reluctance to serve. help me to love others with the kind of sacrificial and generous love you modeled. thank you for your incredible grace that i need constantly.


mamma's girl, daddy's girl

it's completely true that babies relate to their parents differently. dylan is completely smitten with jim, and she shines her brightest smiles for him. she'll laugh riotously at any funny face or voice and thinks he is hysterical. i have to work to even get a chuckle out of her. daddy is the source of excitment and entertainment.

but i am the comforter. i feed her, and i am the one she wants when she is upset. this is new, and it's actually pretty ridiculous. she now screams inconsolably when i leave her with jim to go to youth group, so last night i took her with me. she hung out in her sling, napped, and didn't fuss a minute. after we came home, jim tried to put her to bed and she screamed bloody murder, even in his arms, until i got her. so as i'm holding her, (sobs abated), jim says to dylan, "you drive me nuts!" and through tear-stained cheeks, she flashes him her famous smile.

fun with dad

here is a 30 second video of jim making dylan laugh. so cute!


sex and dating and bible study

i am a small group leader at the local sr high youth group, but tonight i gave a talk to both the junior and senior high about dating and flirtation. i love youth ministry, i love leading small groups, and i especially love researching and writing cirriculum, but speaking in public is terrifying! it went ok, and even better than ok the second time around. we are spending a whole month talking about sex and dating, so at least i didn't feel like i had to lay out all the answers in one talk (as if that were even possible!)

i tried to frame my talk in the context of Jesus saying we need to love God and love people. basically, the question is not whether dating and flirting are ok or not, but what are my intentions and motivations as i relate to someone else--am i serving them and reflecting Christ's love, or am i serving myself and treating that person as an object or accessory to my pleasure or popularity? we were able to have some decent large group discussion, (even with middle school!), and i think small groups afterward went pretty well. if even one kid left thinking about what it means to honor Christ in the context of their relationships, then it was succesful.

turnout among senior high girls has dwindled away to only two or three girls a week (which is also as many leaders as we have.) it's frustrating. there is larger christian youth organization that meets weekly, and i think a lot of the girls who used to come go there instead. the kids are busy with school and sports, and i understand not having time to devote more than one evening a week, but i wish they wouldn't give up being in a small group bible study. the accountability, community, and growth that are fostered in that context just can't be replicated in a large group setting.


the promise of spring

i love daylight savings. love love love love. it's freezing and snowy, but at six o' clock pm it is also sunny, praise God, and it gives me hope that things around here will eventually thaw out and i can actually take dylan outside.

on another note, my husband is amazing. last night we were trying to decide what to have for dinner from our pantry and sparsely stocked fridge. nothing was exciting me. jim, however, was inspired by the bowls of pho we enjoyed recently at tram's in pittsburgh, and while i was nursing dylan and playing around online, he thought up and prepared a deliciously spicy soup with tofu, veggies, and rice noodles. it was fabulous. tofu, from a man who is perhaps best known as passionate hunter (and cook) of deer, duck, and goose. that's my baby:)

the other baby has started to take longer naps, to our great pleasure. what a blessing.


my delight is in her

last week, jim and i were eating dinner, and dylan was in her stroller hanging out quietly, when out of nowhere, we heard this chuckle. she was justing sitting there, happily amusing herself. the next night, we were all in the bathroom, playing with the baby in the big mirror, when she full-out roared with laughter. it was the best sound the in world. we made faces and played and kept her laughing for the best ten minutes i can remember.

then for days, despite my best effort, i couldn't get her to do it again! the mirror, songs, silly faces, tummy kisses, nothing. last night, i took her to girls' night, a high school ministry event, and a handful of girls poured out affection and attention on the baby, and she laughed and laughed and laughed. it was pure joy and beauty.
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