Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Luscious Fruit of Lies

Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech. (Proverbs Prov. 10:18-19)

One of my jobs is to proofread articles for the terrific Theology of Work Project, begun by my friend Will Messenger. I just finished proofing "Proverbs" and it is so good, I wanted to quote it left and right here, but I can't, since it won't be published until next week.

However, I can mention that the section on slander and gossip is something every person should read--especially every believer in Christ, since believers claim the Bible to be the living, authoritative Word of God--because just about every worker, every church-goer, every parent and teen (in other words, every person), has known the pain of gossip and slander.

Most of us have engaged in gossip--from a sip to a gulp-sized portion
--and the result is never good. I know I don't feel good about myself if I talk about another person out of turn, especially since I have known the sting of being gossiped about.

Slander is similar to gossip, except it is usually more public and more damaging. Two dear friends were the victims of slander a few years ago by someone who had perpetrated a crime but tried to shift blame onto innocent people. Because this person's family was well-known in their city, they made life very uncomfortable for my friends for a while. What made this all the more difficult was that those involved were members of the same church.

Sinners are everywhere and can especially be found at church. Is that such a surprise? True believers are those who know they are sinners saved by the grace of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus. So, our churches are filled with sinners--but they should be growing in love and wisdom and obedience to God's Word, not in building a rap sheet.

The Bible takes slander and lying very seriously and warns us to "not bear false witness" (the ninth commandment, Exodus 20:16). This makes sense, since the very first whisper of slander led to catastrophe. In Genesis 3, the serpent hisses a lie to Eve about God--slandering Him as unloving, selfish
--and extends the luscious fruit that traps Eve and Adam, and catapults the human race out of paradise and into the messed up world we live in.

Slandering our brothers and sisters is wrong, and many times it stems from blame-shifting: we can't face the log in our own eye, so we will try to find a splinter in our neighbor's (Matthew 7:5). Let's not take a bite out of the fruit the "father of lies" dangles before us, and instead have "the tongue of the wise [that] brings healing."

Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness speaks deceitfully. Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.  Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil, but those who counsel peace have joy. (Proverbs Prov. 12:17-20)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

No Means No

A young woman, petrified, tells her mother that a young man lies dead in her bed. The mother, appalled, asks, “Did he force himself on you?” The daughter shakes her head no, her face crumpled in tears.

The thing is, the daughter is absolutely wrong. She was forced.

Downton Abbey is a favorite series of mine on PBS. It is written well, has a terrific cast and a decent storyline. Unfortunately, a Season 1/Episode 2 storyline perpetuates the Hollywood-driven myth that when a girl says, “No” she must mean, “Yes,” especially when an ardent admirer is in pursuit.

Hollywood is not only to blame: this attitude and the one that equates love with violence extends back to ancient times. In the Greek myth, “The Rape of Persephone,” the daughter of Zeus and Demeter is kidnapped by Haides, who is described as “being in love” with her. The Biblical account of Tamar’s rape by her own brother is a more compelling, unromanticized account of a man ignoring a young woman’s “no”  (2 Samuel 13). These are two extreme examples of force, and of ignoring a woman’s right to refuse advances.

In Downton Abbey, the scene is more subtle. It cleverly disguises rape as a romantic conquest. Mary, the eldest daughter of Lord Grantham, meets a handsome Turkish diplomat staying at Downtown for a weekend hunting party. He is immediately attentive to Mary, who becomes quickly infatuated with the debonair Mr. Pamuk. Disregarding English social convention--and the fact that he is a guest in Lord Grantham’s home--he tricks Mary into being alone with him and grabs her for a passionate kiss.

She gives him her first “No!”  after he commands her, “Let me come to you tonight.” She reminds him that as her father’s guest, he would be thrown out if she revealed his behavior. She hurries back to the dinner party. 

Later, despite Mary’s emphatic earlier rejection of his advances, Pamuk has a servant guide him to Mary’s room and he simply walks in. She then gives her second “No,” and he again disregards it, convinced she is already his prize. She tells him she is inexperienced (code word for ‘virgin’) and that this liaison would ruin her reputation. That would again be a “no.” But the guy won’t take no for an answer, and convinces Mary that the act will be “safe” and that she should trust him.

Mary does not tell her mother these details--she believes she willingly allowed him into her bed; therefore, she was not “forced.” (He died of a heart attack that night, despite his young age and virility.)

Gavin de Becker, the author I mentioned in my recent post about fear vs. worry, writes in the “Gift of Fear” that a man who ignores a woman’s “no,” no matter the situation (“No, I don’t need your help”; “No, I don’t want to date you”) is not a trustworthy person. Our sons and daughters are getting a completely different message on television and in the movies.

Downton Abbey nearly had me fooled as well--I did not recognize this as a rape until I happened to watch the episode the other day. Why hadn’t I seen this before? I was probably blinded by the set up of the story, and the seemingly romantic pursuit of a girl by a handsome man. 

From the very beginning of his stay at Downton, Pamuk began forcing himself upon Mary. When a person ignores a “no” and continues to fulfill his own wishes, that is force, bullying, and yes, perhaps rape. Let’s call it what it is, so our Marys and our Pamuks can understand the difference.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Locked Out and Unlocked

At 7:15 a.m. yesterday morning, the door clicked shut behind us as my daughter and I left the house. And I knew. Sigh...locked out. Keys on the table. Tim in Boston to pick up our older daughter from college.  Every window locked, in an effort to combat all the roving criminals in Pittsford. Our spare key was missing and we hadn't replaced it.

At least I had the car keys and my wallet. I keep a Bible and some books on the porch--if I also had water out there, I could have survived. I drove Emma to school and then texted my husband my predicament...and then my phone battery died. Yup. Just call me Mrs. Prepared. Yes, I should have charged my phone the night before. Yes, I should have an extra key hidden outside. Better yet, had my house keys in my purse instead of...somewhere else. Where are they, anyway?

I sat on the porch for a while, the cat complaining endlessly at the window, as if to say, "Why are you getting to have all the fun on the porch? Let me out there!" 

A situation like this can cause one to lose one's temper. But, instead I felt peace. I also felt hunger, so I went to Dunkin' Donuts and blew my diet on a croissant. And then I felt more peace. I waited two hours more for the person I thought had an extra key--the owner--but he never showed. At that point, like any red-blooded American with not much else to do, I went shopping. It was going to be 80 degrees in just a couple of hours, Tim was not due home until 3 p.m., and I had a fleece jacket and a pajama top on over my jeans. And did I mention I was in desperate need of a shower?

I braved the morning crowd at Marshalls, and not a customer nor clerk fainted from my lack of makeup or unwashed hair. One new polo top and undergarment later (I changed in our garage), I decided to go for a drive, passing through the lovely town of Honeoye Falls. A gazebo on the green was filled with musicians and speakers,  and was surrounded by people on lawn chairs--and then I remembered it was National Day of Prayer. I had my Bible, a Diet Coke, and headed to Mendon Ponds Park. Parked by the the water, I prayed and enjoyed creation.

Seven hours after being locked out, I headed back home to decorate the porch with a sign and balloons (I managed to pop two of the four getting them into the car) to welcome home our Emerson College freshman, Maggie. Emma and her friend Grey managed a forced entry ten minutes before Tim arrived with the keys--she did not want to be late for crew practice. Grateful for our own resident Bonnie and Clyde,  I scurried to the loo.

One of the definitions of "unlocked," is "to free from restraints or restrictions." It was frustrating for me at first to know that the tools I needed for my workday (my computer and phone charger) were locked inside the house, but then I embraced the freedom. Being locked out unlocked freedom from my schedule and typical control of my day. I confess it has been a while since I have devoted most of a day to prayer and meditating on God's Word.

Today I remembered to unlock the door before zipping Emma to school. I admit, the thought crossed my mind to do a repeat and unlock my day instead.

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom....Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Psalm 90:12-14.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pushing Through

A recent race proved to be a character building opportunity for my daughter. A rower, she knows what it feels like to be in pain. Rowing (also known as “Crew”) requires nearly every large muscle group, and a good coach requires tough daily practices in anticipation of victory at a regatta (the rowing event at which several schools or clubs compete).

On the very day she had two races, my daughter was unwell and in pain. The racecourse was cold, the waves choppy, and she was scheduled to be in the top novice boat. She worried that she would get sicker out on the water, and then let her teammates down. “Push through the pain,” her coach and I told her. “We know you can do it--it may actually make you feel better.” 

Sound callous? Not really: her coach and I both know what she is capable of, and we were speaking truth (the demands of rowing would supersede the pain of the ailment--and yes, I know: easy for me to say!). 

Many times our worrying about a negative result is simply that: a worry, not a result. Pushing through, despite our worry or anxiety, will reap the data that will enable us through the next seemingly insurmountable hurdle: “Hey, that wasn’t so bad!” “That did not turn out the way I expected at all.” “I accomplished much more than I thought possible.”

Gavin de Becker, in his excellent (and a bit unnerving) book, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence, makes a distinction between situations that cause real fear and the worry that stems from imagination. True fear, which is connected to our intuition, causes action; worry, on the other hand, “stems from a root [word] that means ‘to choke,’ and that is just what it does to us.”

“Our imaginations can be the fertile soil in which worry and anxiety grow from seeds to weeds, but when we assume the imagined outcome is a sure thing, we are in conflict with what Proust called an inexorable law: ‘Only that which is absent can be imagined.’ In other words, what you not happening’” (de Becker, p. 292).

Worry is the enemy of action and “pushing through.” It consumes our imagination--and we make that imagined outcome the reality instead of pushing through to the real outcome! We sink our own boat, if you will, before even leaving the dock.

My daughter pushed through and realized the reality that her body did not fail her, and she actually felt better after the two races (coming in First Place probably helped). How about you? What anxiety about your imagined lack of ability or courage is stopping you from taking action? Pray for strength and push through (as Joyce Meyer famously said, “Do it afraid!”). You can do much more in reality than you can even imagine.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Ephesians 3:20-21.

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27.