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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Starting in the Middle and Working from the Center Out

I named this blog from my interest in sewing, and I just realized I've virtually never mentioned a thing about sewing in any form. It's about time I remedied that.

I was born with gracious stitches all around me. All the women in my family were amazing seamstresses and craftswomen with fabric and thread. I was brought home from the hospital in hand-stitched receiving blankets, laid in my crib in a room filled with home-sewn curtains and quilts and blankets. My first wardrobe, and for most of my childhood, I wore hand-created garments by my mother and grandmothers; little dresses with my Grandmother Lorraine's beautiful stitching and hand-smocking on them,
mittens and socks knitted with love, and jackets, hats, scarfs and ponchos crafted just in my size. I slept under heirloom quilts and laid my head on hand-embroidered pillow cases. My bedroom walls were hung with hand-stitched treasures, including a framed Noah's ark crewelwork piece with all the animals, and my bed was strewn with handcrafted dolls, stuffed animals, and crocheted toys. My childhood was surrounded by humble and practical artistic beauty, and hand-stitched love.
I naturally grew up with a needle between my fingers.

I started with simple stitches of my own design on scraps of cloth from my mother's sewing basket. Gradually I worked my way through the different sewing techniques: needlepoint, cross-stitch, huck weaving (Swedish embroidery seen below),all kinds of embroidery, crewel, counted-cross stitch and quilting. I learned to sew with a machine and kept myself and my dolls in simple little garments. I remember in particular, making my own complete outfit, a top and slacks, just in time for it's inaugural wearing on a 5th grade class field trip! I was in heaven.

As a child I never went anywhere without either a book to read or a project to stitch, and preferably both.
There are many life lessons that come from a childhood surrounded by multi-colored threads and fabrics, but for me the most profound is probably that sewing is seldom a linear thing. You can't quilt a beautiful quilt by starting at the beginning and working in a straight line to the end. Sewing and stitching beautifully, almost always consists of starting somewhere in the middle and working from that center out. As much as it may seem logical before actually trying it, creating a satisfying and beautiful piece of stitching is never a linear, top to bottom task.

Let me try to explain. Think of something that seems very linear to the eye, for instance the huck weaving example above. It sure looks to the eye as if you start at the edge and stitch horizontally right across the bottom of that towel. "Hucking", done on huck toweling with a special fabric surface for the stitches to be "woven" under, is actually begun right smack in the middle of the towel. You fold that baby in half, find the middle, and stitch a middle guide stitch to be removed later so you don't lose track of the middle as you sew! You then work your stitches out and away from the center, returning to the center point every time you need a reference. This is the only way a pattern will be sure to center and end on both sides with matching edges. If you were to try any other method, you'd either end up lopsided, or you'd end up with taking out lots of stitches (a subject for another blog on another day!)

The same is true with quilting. Start in the center as you piece together your pieces. Usually pieced quilts are done in small sections, and the sections (worked from a center-point out if they artist knows what they are doing) are then brought together in a larger and larger piece, consistently working from the center out.

This is even true when constructing a garment of clothing. "Now a shirt can't be started from the center," you argue. "Start at the top of the top and work to the bottom of the bottom... collar first, hem at the bottom last," you might think. Wrong. You will have nothing your pet boa constrictor will be even able to slither into if you follow that method. You start always with constructing the center of the garment, and work up and down from the center, working in a logical progression so that pieces are stitched on in a manner that allows the next piece to be attached. Example. You attach a yoke of a shirt to the body and the collar to the yoke, before you can begin to attach the arms, the front placket or sew up the sides. You must have a center from which to anchor the work that will flow out of it.

The center is the anchor of all that we do as we create art and fashion from needles, thread and fabrics. You can choose the most amazing fabric combinations, use the most complex sewing techniques, but if you fail to understand the "chord" that will makes the different parts into a "symphony," the piece you create will never be artistry.

As I live my life, I am more and more aware of just how much this is the basic reality of my life's melody and rhythm. I don't see the world from the edges in, or linearly, from top to bottom. I see the middle of issues, the center of the picture, the soul, and then work from that point out to the edges to clarify the picture in my mind. I tend to think that maybe this is a God-gift. I tend to think that maybe God sees the world from the center of its being too... from the center which is God's self, and that God works from that point out, to understand and view all of us.

God is the mirror in the center of our being that our person is reflected out from. The center of us is the center of God's self, and we are seen by God from that center-point. We are seen by God from the center of our hearts, minds, bodies, needs, hopes, dreams, challenges, heartbreaks... outward. God sees us from the center that is God within each of us. We are only capable of seeing that same center in each other if we seek in grace not to look at each other linearly; from logical top-to-bottom, front-to-back, outside first. We see only the individuals around us, if we see them with the eyes of love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and hope.

Our center is our foundation. What we are built out from. What we fail to attach well onto our central foundation, what we pick up as trash and debris from life, what injuries we do to the externals of our foundation, what evil bits we glue onto our central selves by choice, do not still, in their whole, destroy the inner beauty of the core that God built us from, because that core is Godself.

What I hope to do with this blog, with this life that is mine, with the children I have been given to raise, with the relationships that I have the privilege of being a part of, within the churches I serve, with the bits and pieces of my life and all its hours, is to sew the most beautiful gilded patches I can, with the most gracious thread I can find, onto the lives of the people I encounter. It is my intention and dream, and always has been my joy, to take the beautiful foundations of thread and fabric, and create with them objects of beauty that build from the center and the heart of their reality. It is my dream to stitch away the broken spots of people's lives. strengthening them and taking away their ugliness, revealing spots of rare beauty that reminds each person with pride, that God has not forgotten them, but seeks to bring out that which is their center and create a great masterwork of their life.

That is my dream.
With wool and silk,
floss and thread,
paisley-ed and patterned,
fringed and gilded bits and pieces,
to see the middle of God's great handiwork and work from that center out to patch with gracious threads the broken hopes of the world.

Oh Beautiful Seamstress of the Eternities, hear my prayer.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sexy Boots on Clergy Women

If you click on the title of this post, it will take you to a very interesting reflection by Michael and Anthony Emerson on U2s "Sexy Boots" (also printed below). I love the encouraging word coming from a blend of Bono's understanding of what the church can be, and Anthony and Michael's "exegesis" of this song. I have a concern though, and I think it's a very significant one. It's not a criticism of the writing of Emersons so much as it is a whopping big Aha that arises out of their thoughtfulness here.... Why, when they get to the phrase "Women of the future hold the big revelations" do they diverge from their explicit dealing with the text of the song, and start talking about "Resident Aliens" which has nothing to do with that line? Are we generally uncomfortable with that line in the church? I think we are. I think that we are not willing to imagine that Bono may be right, and that the women of the church do hold the message of how beautiful the church can be in their minds, hearts, experiences and spirits. I am concerned that we are afraid to discuss this possibility in the church. I fear, that instead of welcoming women's insights and thoughts, indeed wisdom, we are in fact eager to shut that conversation down if it ever rises up. Women have been the majority figures in the church almost since its inception, and yet we have still, in the year 2011, not been welcomed to share our vision of the church's future in very many liturgical or theological spaces. We are the silent/silenced majority. Women DO know how beautiful the church can be, and have something very important to add to the conversation. Is Bono the only one who recognizes this fact and will include us in the dialogue? Here's what the Emerson's have to say. See what you think.

U2's “No Line on the Horizon” has been one of their more misunderstood albums. The most misunderstood song of the album is “Get On Your Boots.” Here is a snippet.

The future needs a big kiss
Winds blow with a twist
Never seen a moon like this
Can you see it too?
Night is falling everywhere
Rockets at the fun fair
Satan loves a bomb scare
But he won't scare you

“Get On Your Boots” is is bombastic and urgent, sleek and fast-paced. But more than anything it’s a powerful message of hope to the church. Take, for example, the first line, “the future needs a big kiss.” What entity would be able to impact the future with a kiss (curious choice of words, right)? How about the bride of Christ, the church? The future needs the church because of the next six lines: the winds are blowing, the moon (a motif of confusion and evil) is up, night has fallen, and Satan is trying to frighten us. Why would Bono have the boldness to tell us that Satan shouldn’t scare us? Remember Matthew 16:18: “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Therefore, get on your boots. In other words, get up and do some work in this dark world because God has empowered you to do so.

You free me from the dark dream
Candy floss ice cream
All our kids are screaming
But the ghosts aren't real
Here's where we gotta be
Love and community
Laughter is eternity
If joy is real

“You free me from the dark dream” suggests the church is saving the lost. Then we see giddy happiness in the second line with paradoxical, light-hearted objects (happiness doesn't make sense). The third and fourth lines convey the same idea as the last two lines of the first stanza. Things become clearer when the necessity of community is brought in. Laughter is a godly and reasonable thing if there really is a happy ending awaiting us. We can fight the evils of this world with light hearts because we are fighting within a vibrant community of Spirit-filled people.

You don't know how beautiful you are

You, the church, don't understand how made-in-the image-of-God awesome you can be. You can have perfect joy and community! So get on your boots and be boldly beautiful!

Women of the future hold the big revelations
I've got a submarine
You got gasoline
I don't want to talk about wars between nations

It is striking how near the message of this song is to Hauerwas' and Willimon's “Resident Aliens.” Since we no longer live in a Christian culture, the church is free to live as a distinct people once again. We are to impact the world through our colony, not as we have been doing since Constantine: through the government. The holy community that we are supposed to be can astound the world by how beautiful we are and how much love we show the world. The problems and conflicts of this world will not be solved by mere mortals. Only through the church can the world be truly redeemed. Get on your boots!

Let me in the sound!

Where did this come from? Acts 2. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven . . .”. The birth of the church. If you want more proof, look at John 3:5-8, where Jesus compares being born of the Spirit to the sound of the wind – we can’t tell where it's going. It's probably not a coincidence that both the sound and birth are themes throughout “No Line on the Horizon.” The sound is representative of the Spirit, the Lord of the church.

There are people in the world who want in! Get on your boots, and let the church get to stepp’in!

Michael O. Emerson is the Cline Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University in Houston, Texas. His son, Anthony Emerson, is a sophomore at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clergy Resume, Day 7087:

Can comfort the sick; preach the Bible; teach and capture the imagination of any age on virtually any topic of faith and life; sit with the elderly; hold new babies when they cry; attend potlucks and compliment all the cooks; organize anything that needs organizing except for our desk; hold people together in crisis; help them figure out responses to their daily problems; read 8 books simultaneously and apply them all in one 20 minute sermon; conjure money out of thin air to meet the budget; know how to read music; play hand bells without practicing the part when someone gets sick; do light comedy; interpret ancient texts and John Wesley; be cool enough for teens to like you; hold conversations on the phone and with three other people in your office simultaneously; never get 8 hours of sleep or 2 days off in a row; write articles without grammatical errors; stay physically fit and attractively dressed at all times, day or night; conduct meetings; drive your car in fog/sleet/snow in the middle of the night to unmarked roads and back; arrive at meetings across state at 8:00 am and attend meetings at the church until 10:00 pm the same day; maintain your home, family, cars, health and pets on 10 hours a week at most; and always be at the office when the phone rings or at the shut-in's home when they think of you... we're unemployable in any other field except the church!!! :)

Did I forgot to mention: dealing with dueling musicians; a Trustees vs. United Methodist Women's scheduling conflict; a new leak in the sanctuary roof; overflowing toilets; the wrong color paraments on the altar; testy staff because the Sunday bulletin isn't complete and it's Wednesday; and then walk into the funeral service on time, perfectly dressed and hair in place, with a perfect meditation on the life of the deceased an hour before you have to undergo a dental surgery... then be back, rested, pressed and well enough to function the next day because you have Charge Conference that night after a wedding rehearsal! Oh, and don't forget what the 39 different people whispered to you about their Aunt/cousin/best friend in Florida on the way out of service on Sunday because you are going to be tested on that! But don't go looking for a job in the secular world, we are unemployable. (Boy was this therapeutic!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What is Happening to Mommy?

My 11-year-old went to WalMart tonight with me, and she asked to see the toys. I've now been introduced to the latest craze in 5th grade... Monster High Dolls (mostly very skinny girl monsters, but a few boy monsters too.) She did NOT ask, but she has been hanging onto birthday money for awhile, so I let her pick one out... I actually asked her if she wanted to. We looked them all over carefully and found one sufficiently clothed. It's a mummy Cleopatra.

Now I'm wondering what came over me? This is not like me at all to suggest my children buy something they are a little bit wistful about. I help and encourage book buying from time to time, but not toys, especially not emaciated, over-tall, sassy looking, vaguely sexy, monster dolls! (Then again I never thought I'd do lots of things as a mother and have.) We certainly never had a Bratz doll in this house! But this situation has sort of really surprised me.

I'm wonder if I'm starting to grieve my children's growing up? (Surely not me! I'm the stalwart, no-tears-mom type, who expects a lot from my kids and gets it most of the time. I'm not a mushy, push-over mom.) But, my oldest is about to become an adult in 22 days. (That's a reality shock if I ever had one before.) I have two in high school now. (How did that happen?) And hardly anyone asks to go to the toy department any more.

Maybe I got caught in her sweet conversations somewhere, (NOT asking for one herself, mind you) of her friends playing with their Monster High Dolls at recess at school. Maybe I feel guilty because we say no to SO much the children would enjoy and even benefit from; like a Labor Day idea of swimming rained out because of the weather; two parents, three jobs, not enough money and tired all the time; seldom time to cook a family supper and sit down together; events we can't squeeze in because of work demands; weekends we can't do what other families do because we "have to work"; not home most evenings to put them to bed; having moved with the ministry so often that one child has actually attended 7 different schools in 9 years; etc., etc., etc...and they are all growing up SO fast!

I don't know what it boils down to, but twiggy little "Cleo" with sparkly hair, pouty mouth and 10-inch-heel equivalent bedtime slippers represents a whole lot more than the $9.97 that was paid for her. She made my youngest very, very happy, and I guess maybe I'm just not wanting to lose that magic yet... the simple magic of a small gift lighting up my child's eyes with such happiness. It will all be gone so soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Women by Adrienne Rich

My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.
She is going as the Transparent Lady
and all her nerves will be visible.

My second sister is also sewing,
at the seam over her heart which has never healed entirely.
At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.

My third sister is gazing
at a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the sea.
Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sweater Shavers, Fuzziness, and Thoughts on Getting Moving in the Right Direction Again

I pulled on my favorite red sweater with one hand and reached for the sweater shaver with this other. You know a sweater shaver? You get them in odd places like fabric and craft stores, they look like small men's electric razors and use one AA battery to power them which is induced into a chamber much too large for its purpose. As a result, the sweater shaver actually shaves for only a few minutes at a time before you accidentally jar the battery out of position, have to open the sliding back to adjust the battery, and try again. I bought this sweater shaver about the time I acquired my husband, late 80s or early 90s, and it still holds its place of honor in my life. It is an honorable job, is it not, to restore fuzzed-out sweaters to their rightful de-fuzzed state?

I had erroneously failed to "turn inside out" my favorite red sweater at it's last washing, and now it was covered with towel lint and other unidentifiable fuzziness. The sweater shaver was the only way forward. So I shaved away, all over myself. I prefer the methodology of putting the sweater on first to trying to shave the sweater on a table, because the tendency is for the sweater to stay put on your body and not so much on a table.

Sweater shaved, I was off to my best caped crusader impression of the day.

About half-way through the day, it suddenly dawned on me that I had neglected to shave the fuzziness off the back of my sweater. Now that was probably obvious to you when you started reading this, but it wasn't so obvious to me from within my red sweater. I mean, if you look into a mirror, facing forward, I looked pretty good. But if you were following me around through my day, I was probably a little natty-looking from behind. Nothing to be done about it at that point, so I continued forward, and tried to forget my fuzzy rear-view.

As the day wound down, and I finally removed my sweater for the day, I could see that in fact there was a quantity of fuzz on the back of the sweater as I had suspected all day. Not one person had said a thing about my two-sided sweater dilemma, either.
I suspect that is because I am a whole lot fuzzier all the time than I like to admit, and my sweater was saying nothing others didn't know about me already.

I have for the past 20 plus years taken a certain amount of pleasure in being able to articulate my direction and purpose in life. I have been on a journey of faith that has been more or less clear to me, as I have both squished through the muddy places on the road and shimmered along the smoother paths. This rear-fuzzed sweater has pointed out to me that my life is less obvious and fuzzier than I had previously thought. I had just been looking at the "front" part of my life and not realized what was happening "behind"...looking through the dim glass and not realizing it.

Now having noticed how fuzzy my sweater-back has become, I find I have to choose. Do I remove my favorite red sweater, turn it around and pop it back on backwards so I can defuzz the back which is now the front? How disturbing that will be to those around me during the process. Am I moving forward with my back to the future or backward with my front facing where I've been? That seems unmercifully challenging, not to mention confusing, just so I can remove some fuzziness in my life.

Or do I remove my sweater completely. Stand there partly naked and lay the sweater, face-down on the table to get at the fuzz, accepting that I will have to chase the sweater across the table in a number of directions to get the job done? Is the nakedness and slipperiness of this solution any better way forward at all?

In order to keep your sweater free from fuzz, you must always remember to turn it inside out before you wash it, and preferably wash it by hand. I have failed, in several ways, the better angels of my pre-Vatican II upbringing that tried to teach me this.

Failure to meet some of the basic expectations of my sex because of the exciting new thinking of the 1970s led me to believe that I was a child of a new generation that could skip the tediousness and time-consuming efforts of the times gone by, and go on with something new. We were sure we could, both men and women, be interchangeable and wear unisex, machine-knit, polyester garments that would no longer require the attention to laundry techniques of earlier times. It was all to be easier, better, more successful. We would not fail.

I adapted myself to this new philosphy. Nothing short of total transformation was required from the way I had been raised. Learning new languages was mandatory. Putting off the generosities, kindnesses, sensitivities, carefulness, and taking on the golden and steel-edged ways of a new course in the world that was harsher and more careless about all things, especially precious things. But by radical change and transformation, a journey forward full of great success was guaranteed; unisex, un-frilled, slightly wrinkled but NOT fuzzy and surely much more highly successful than ever before.

Except for one thing. I never lost my fuzziness. I wasn't unisexual at all. My new golden-steel exterior, so blessed by grace and superiority to that which my former self had been, was fuzzy still. Very, very fuzzy. I forgot you can't put any sweater in the laundry, no matter if it is wool, cashmere, wood or steel, and expect it to come out fuzz-free if it's not first turned inside out. Fuzz on what is supposed to be strong and unbending is hilarious. It is even a punishable offense.

So here I am. Strong in all the wrong places and fuzzy beyond ability I have to remove the fuzz for myself without nakedness. I couldn't change the essential me by changing my philosophy, my personality, my commitments or by becoming unisex.

There is always a sort of restlessness that accompanies the cross-crossed lives of Jesus' followers. We carry the cross in a way that is uncomfortable and even painful to bear, and leaves us stumbling with the limitations we've accepted for our lives. We yearn to be off the cross and free to walk upright in complete acceptance and love by all we meet, instead of bent by the burden. Others see our cross-crossedness though, and crossing themselves, step to the other side of the road, clear that this burden is not one they want to help carry. We grow weary, tired of our discomforts and challenged by the unwillingness that our fellows feel toward helping us with our burden. They close their doors as we stumble by.

That is when it suddenly is clear how very fuzzy this all is. How, with our eyes front, we've missed how fuzzy this journey has become behind our backs. Where we had once seen through a glass clearly, we now need to see that no amount of AA batteries in our sweater shaver will ever really remove the fuzziness at all.

I'm thinking now about what it will take to get the fuzz off me, or if it ever will come off. Maybe I was meant to be fuzzy. Maybe you were meant to be fuzzy with me. Maybe we are all supposed to be fuzzy, and it's denuded that wrong.

Maybe we've been looking at the cross the wrong way. Maybe we have been clinging to it like it was life itself, when in fact it was the instrument of tens of thousands of torturous deaths. Maybe we have embraced and carried an instrument of torture when what we should have been embracing and carrying was fuzzy sweaters to warm a chilly world. Maybe the fuzz is of God, and that is what Jesus came to show us. Jesus seemed to really love fuzziness, our fuzziness, our confusion, our feebleness, our weakness, our failings. They all seemed pretty acceptable to Jesus and he seemed a lot less comfortable with the clean-shaven and perfect world.

What if I do start to wear my sweaters backwards? Maybe I should pull open my battery-operated de-fuzzer and start sticking fuzziness back on. What if I do start to value the fuzziness in me the way I have long valued the fuzziness I see in others?

What was that? I just said it... I have long valued the fuzziness in others.
I have long valued the fuzziness in others!
I have long valued the confusion, the feebleness, the weakness, the vulnerability in others as a sign of their best selves, and yet I did not value it in myself. I have been loving the wrong side of myself! I have been looking for only the clean-shaven strength in me...

when the fuzzy, weak, sensitive, wholesome, tedious,
kind and sexualness of me have been actually better all along.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

From the Blog Archives: A Commentary on "Big Baby", June 25, 2010

I saw Toy Story 3 tonight.

I, along with many of my friends, have been taking our children to see Toy Story movies since they first came out in 1995. My oldest son was immediately attached to Woody and Buzz, and we were "sell out" parents almost before we knew it, lugging "Bugs Biteyear" literally everywhere we went for years. Woody was easier, and fit better into carry-bags, but Buzz and Woody were a team, and had to go in tandem. We loved Buzz and Woody with our son, and eventually added a Bugs Biteyear sheet set and pillowcases, and a Bugs Biteyear sleeping bag. Pixar got us early, and Buzz and Woody became very literally the first big "give in" to mass media marketing for us. We never regretted it.

In true Toy Story form, Buzz lost pieces and parts of his famous spaceman suit, and Woody eventually wore out his voicebox and string, and became a much sought-after "groom" for our son's little sisters' doll weddings. Buzz and Woody still inhabit some crevice in our house, at the moment unknown to me, and probably always will be a part of our lives; as toys that the grandchildren will eventually share. But with the release of Toy Story 3, I find I am moved by an entirely new character. Big Baby.

Big Baby is a solitary character, as Toy Story 3 reveals. Once much loved, Big Baby is accidentally lost to her "mommy". Big Baby is left believing herself to be defenseless and subject to the authority figure, and more beloved lost toy, Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Lotso for short). Big Baby follows Lotso everywhere, and eventually, when Lotso's love for his child turns to hatred at his abandonment, Big Baby is turned into a hate-filled enforcer for Lotso's power and hate-filled schemes. Big Baby is cast into the role of a dumb, unfeeling goon, left with only doing the bidding of Lotso and his cronies.

Big Baby isn't a mutant figure as in the earlier Toy Story movies, where whole toys are disassembled by Sid, the child-next-door, and grotesquely reassembled. Big Baby is instead a once-beautiful, brilliantly blue-eyed baby doll, a whopping 18 inches tall, that once wore a beautiful dress and bonnet and a necklace proclaim her "parentage". By the time we catch back up with her, now presumably years after her loss, her once beloved vinyl and fabric body is naked, one eye is broken, and she has been permanently disfigured by the markers and paint of over-zealous child playmates. Her sweet baby mouth, now expressionless.

As you look at her promo picture, you see just how desolate her reality has become. At first she looks just like dolls we and our daughters have played with and lost the clothes for. Hundreds of naked babies just like her inhabit toyboxes and church nurseries everywhere. But pictured on a stark black background, black markered toenails, dirty, Big Baby is soon to become in our imaginations, too big, too unattractive, too dirty and too scary to be lovely or loveable anymore.

My immediate response to Big Baby was strong. She had been told she was ugly. She had been told she was unworthy and unwanted. She had been told she was not smart enough, and not important enough, and she was made to believe she didn't count. She was just a baby doll, a too-tall baby doll, and not a more valued "boy toy" or a Barbie. So, she turned to the only form of affection left for her...she found acceptance as a hater and enforcer with Lotso's "Boys". Big Baby became the biggest, creepiest "monster" of the movie.

There were other monsters in Toy Story 3, monsters that were made to be monsters and fuel childhood imaginations. But not Big Baby. She was meant as a toy for cuddling, loving, caring for, and nurturing. Without the good things she was created for, she became a tool for hatred and evil.

As I watched the movie, I was compelled immediately to want to go and save Big Baby. I wanted to rescue her and take her home and clean her up and make her a beautiful dress and name her and keep her forever. But most of all, I wanted to reprogram her dreadful self-concept. This baby doll was "real" for the moments of the screen filling my senses, and she was so damaged. It was for her, and not for the growing-up subjects of the movie, for which I cried.

Perhaps it's a case of "you can grow a girl up, but you can't take the girl out of the woman" or some sort of normal nurturing instinct in this mother-of-three that made me fill with tears. But what really fills me with sorrow as I reflect on Toy Story 3, is how accurately it portrays the reality of so many of us, whether we're at the point of admitting it or not. Big Baby is a victim of the highest magnitude, and in Big Baby, I see all my worst fears for my children represented:

First, Big Baby is a victim of accident. She has been accidentally lost to her mommy, who loved her, valued her, played with her, and needed her. What parent does not fear most, the possibility of being unable to protect their child from injury or death? The most traumatic nightmares for mothers during pregnancy, when nightmares are common, often includes a child just out of her reach, unable to be protected and saved. That is Big Baby; a child whose mother could not save her, leaving her emotionally scarred and damaged.

Second, Big Baby is left to fend for herself, no longer a named being. She is forced into the role of a nobody, a role which completely redefines and transforms her. I have traveled this way myself, and as I face the future with my children who increasingly walk their own way, I fear they too will not have the friends and community around them at some point that helps them maintain their sense of positive value and self-worth. I lost my own personhood early in life, and have spent the adult years of my life trying to re-establish what I had stripped from me. It's been a long, terrible journey, and one that I would give my life to keep anyone else from ever experiencing. (That is why I am in the try to help save people's lives from the dreadful hell of self-loss.) That is why tears filled my eyes for Big Baby.

Three, Big Baby is turned into a hater, by the only ones she believes she can depend on, and she subsequently is unable to be recognized for the truly loveable, sweet, innocent,capable, full-of-potential being that she is. Big Baby is what the Lotso Boys decided she is, a monster enforcer, without soul. A "thing", not a "being".

I think this matter stands for itself. How often are we redefined and our real personhood denied us by the forces around us? How often are our vulnerabilities exploited, and are we forced to take on false realities in order to survive? I have, with every fiber of my being, attempted to "immunize" my children from the forces of the world that would deny them their genuine God-graced personhood with the elaborate, unique and amazing personalities that God has given them. I actually grieved to see this same violence inflicted on Big Baby.

The main plots of the story...growing up, letting go, deciding on the future and how to reconcile it with the past, are all hard enough, and important. But they feel a little like emotional window-dressing to me by comparison to the truly important issues that I see in the character of Big Baby. Was I satisfied with the ending for Big Baby (which I will not reveal here if you haven't seen the movie yet)? Yes and no. She was still naked, still without a name, and still was not a "precious" toy as all of Andy's toys were. But, on a positive note, she was obviously aware of having had a different past than the one that she had been reprogrammed to believed by Lotso, she was cared for, and her needs as an individual recognized.

Have I read too much into this movie? Perhaps. Will I see the movie differently the next time I watch it having stated these thoughts electronically? Probably not. Maybe I'm just a case of a woman who once found true joy in the toys of her childhood, and over-sees in Big Baby a being that just wants to be loved. Maybe I'm over-identifying with metaphors about inanimate objects!!! I guess I leave that for you to decide. Whatever you think, I pray for you, your children, and all of our world's children, that there comes a time where not a person every has to be Big Baby

What Did You Dream When You Ate a Spider While Sleeping?

I dreamed that I could now sew all the disparate parts of me together and make a beautiful web, so that when the morning sun shone on the dew caught in my web, all would say, "Look! If God can create beauty of her, God can surely do that and much more for me."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kicked Out: A Parable

A young couple came for pre-marital counseling with their pastor as was required. The pastor warmly welcomed the young people into her study and began to chat with them about the matters related to their upcoming wedding. The bride-to-be, who was a member of the church, shared from their dating history, shared her own ideas of what marriage would be and why it was the right choice for them from her perspective, how they had grown through ten years of dating, and of their decision to pay for the entire wedding themselves. The groom was coaxed into sharing his simple story of being a hard-working and fiercely dedicated small dairy farmer with 60 head of cattle, and new small business co-owner, (and apparently a committed reader of TIME magazine, as was offered by the prospective bride). As the conversation unfolded, the bride was comfortable, chatty and at ease, but the groom was morose and answered only in the most basic terms the questions put to him.

After an hour and a half of conversation and sharing, as the couple got ready to go after a departing prayer, the pastor suddenly realized, she had never asked the prospective groom about his religious affiliation. She corrected this error and received the response,"none." But then he paused and added. "I was kicked out of the church."

The minister curiously inquired how such a thing could be... teasing that HAD to be a good story, but when the young man opened up and shared his story, the teasing stopped. Three generations of his family had faithfully attended a small, main-line denomination congregation near their rural, mountain home. Since his Grandmother had been a little girl, she and her children and subsequently her grandchildren had all attended, been baptized, married in, and buried from that same little church. The life of a dairy farmer is not conducive to frequent worship attendance, and they were not regular in their participation, but did give readily whenever they could.

The congregation decided to hold a financial campaign for a new furnace in the church, soliciting the financial support of all of their member families. The groom-to-be's family gave what support they could afford as farmers, and Grandmother gave a bit more, a gift totaling $350; significant for them. The project was completed, and the furnace installed. Exactly three weeks after the unveiling of the new furnace, another letter came in the mail, this one informing the family that they had been "removed" from the rolls of the church.

The groom-to-be, suddenly animated, shared: "We were 'thrown out'. After giving that gift, we were removed from the church for not being in attendance often enough. And what's more, when the next capital funds campaign came around, the church sent us a letter for another donation." The grandmother subsequently died, without being reinstated in the church of her baptism, and was buried out of the local funeral home, instead of her beloved church.

An embarrassed silence descended on the pastor's study. Then the pastor said the only thing that seemed possible to say: "I'm sorry. On behalf of the [mainline denomination] church, I apologize for the treatment you received"

The level of tension in the groom's face and across his shoulders and in his muscular forearms gradually relaxed. The cross that this quiet dairy farmer's family faith had been hung on by the church they loved, had been lowered to the ground and offered back for possible resuscitation. The bride-to-be quietly thanked the pastor, and said, "That means a lot to [the groom]."

When the church of Jesus Christ stops seeing the names on its membership rolls as being individual people's lives on their own journeys of faith, and see them as numbers only... 2,000 worshiping; 3,300 in three services; over 12,000 members... we have chosen an accounting model of ministry, instead of the ministry of sharing of the promise of love in Jesus Christ. And we wonder why mainstream denominations are declining in attendance to near oblivion.

Who are "those people" who are calling you and your church to give them back their faith, small though it may be compared to yours? Who will look past their poor attendance? Who will look at their hearts and struggles at faithfulness in a world that fights them every step of the way to be anything but faithful to their love for Jesus? What crosses are we erecting that establish barriers between the Christian "extraordinaire" and the Christian "inadéquat"? I'll warn you they may not be the ones seminary and progressive education have taught us they are. The gift of love in Jesus Christ may have been denied to someone who looks and acts and sounds and lives a lot like you. Do you have any idea who they may be?

Faith is a fragile thing until it is given good ground in which to grow. Or in the case of this parable, new milk cows don't give birth to themselves. It takes a birth mother, a sleep-deprived farmer, and a whole lot of daily feeding, nursing, cleaning, pasturing, hay-mowing, field inspecting, animal doctoring, medication administering, and time, time, time to produce a calf that will become a milk-producing cow. I wonder what it takes to plant the seeds of faith in a Christian and prayerfully, patiently, with care, love, joy and anticipation bring forth a "Christian extraordinaire"? I wonder?