Without Guilt or Gilt

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American primitive art, artist unknown

Some Christian women, at least in my circle, often suffer from two apparitions who haunt as persistently as the spirits plaguing Scrooge on the night before Christmas. These Christian sisters and I are heartily tired of the Spirits Guilt and Gilt. In spite of brandishing a plethora of women’s devotionals, cowering in prayer closets and covering ourselves in appropriate life verses, we can’t keep those troublesome specters from materializing at the most inconvenient moments.

Maybe you haven’t had these ghosts visit you. Aren’t you just the happy Christian? No, my beleaguered sisters and I aren’t jealous of you. Too much. And if we are, we feel really really guilty about it.

The Spirit of Guilt flutters about dressed as a conscience. Don’t be fooled. Conscience is a gift, guilt is a curse. The kind of curse that drapes itself across your shoulders and clings like a limpet. It drags you hither and yon. Hither into your deepest core, not only reminding you of every sin and slipped word, but insisting you examine yourself. Not healthy self-examination. Oh, no. This is the obsessive kind that makes you question your motives, your commitment, your love, your salvation. “Look there,” it hisses. “Isn’t that Anxiety? Aren’t true Christians anxious in nothing?” or “Your thoughts wandered during the prayer. Double-minded woman.” and too often—“Did you just sigh? You were weary in well-doing again, weren’t you?”

And because Guilt is a wily type it switches things up, whisks you away from hither and sends you yonder. It shows you other wives, other mothers, other daughters, other Christian women. They trust God so much. They love their families, they delight in doing good, they are patient in tribulation. You argue with the Spirit of Guilt. “I should be rejoicing that these women are honoring and glorifying God. It’s all about Him. Isn’t it just wonderful?” And just when you think you’ve shaken it off, Guilt slithers back to show you another scenario, and you think, “Terrific. Everyone is out there honoring God with their whole heart. Except me. Poor, pitiful me. Wretched worm that I am.”

See how Guilt works? Always and ever taking our eyes off Jesus. It whirls us through well-chosen glimpses of a degenerate past, a present filled with indecision and a woebegone future. The louse. Even though we are on to Guilt, even though we’re forewarned, even though we know Guilt’s tricks, it always has one more up its flapping sleeve.

Don’t even get me started on the Spirit of Gilt. That’s the one who tells us we need to at least look good. “Come on, ‘Christian Woman”’”, it says. “How can you glorify God if you aren’t happy? Smiling? Making a joyful noise? Put on the Ritz, lady. You’re a Proverbs 31 Woman! Shine. Now!”

So we slather on the gilt. We really do love God. We really do want to honor Him, show the world that God is good, that a Christian is a good thing to be, that a life lived for Him is our chief delight. We want to be winsome and attract people to God. What can be more attractive than a layer of sparkly gold?

Gilt isn’t hypocrisy. We don’t think so, at least. Believe me, if we do whiff hypocrisy on ourselves we immediately experience great guilt. It’s just us trying to get our light out from under a bushel and polish it up. It’s us worrying that God will look bad if we look bad. How could anyone be attracted to the Christian life if they could see how grubby we are?

So we smile brightly. We do good things, because good things are necessary. We say good and important things, and these things we believe with all our hearts. But what happens when we run out of energy to reapply the gilt? When something hard or sharp whacks us and chips our brittle layer of polish?

My sisters and I don’t want to whine. We don’t want pity— everyone we know is fighting a hard battle. We don’t even want attention. We aren’t trying to earn our salvation or be gold-washed hypocrites. We want to support each other and encourage each other, we want to be honest with each other, we want empathy when life throws slings and arrows at us and gentle loving correction when we start to believe a lie. Any lie, that is contrary to the Truth.

My Christian sisters and I want to traverse this narrow way without Guilt or Gilt. If we could just get rid of them, maybe more of us could squeeze side-by-side instead of walking single file. Feel free to walk next to me, sisters. I’ll be the grubby, apologetic one.

Three Little Words (are not enough)

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Even the most eloquent of us recognize that brevity has its place.
Take Benjamin Franklin.

In 1754, as the French and Indian War loomed, he designed a political cartoon of a dismembered snake, to remind the colonists they needed to join each other and Britain in the battle.

But what to put for a caption? He may have tried “The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies, and the extreme Difficulty of bringing so many different Governments and Assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures for our common defense and Security; while our Enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one. Direction, with one Council, and one Purse”

Too long.
He came up with “Join, or Die.”3a12149r

Undeniably ominous. But pithy and pointed. Three little words. Easy to remember.

Slogans are meant to communicate a larger, more complex truth or belief system.
But not without hazards. A slogan is only a hook with a limited function. A lot of hats might be hung on the slogan without fully comprehending the wall that supports it.

Take “Join, or Die.”
It could be interpreted as a threat, a promise, or blanket permission to storm the streets with musket in hand, rooting out non-joiners.

More than ten years after the slogan hit the colonies, Patriots advocating for revolution adopted it. Franklin, at first, reminded colonists that it was intended to unite them in “management of Indian relations.” Be careful, folks, he was saying. Don’t grab the slogan without knowing what comes along with it.

No one listened. “Join, or Die” came to represent vigilance and loyalty and revolution to Patriots, but treachery to the Loyalists.
Same hook, different interpretations, world-altering repercussions.

Another thing about hooks. They’re attached to walls. Sometimes the wall is made of solid oak and other times it’s cardboard painted to look like sheetrock. That hook might be pretty. Or maybe not so much, but if we really want to know what is holding it up we need to look behind it.

Second Amendment Forever” might hang from a wall built of hate and barbed wire and love of violence.
It could also be attached to a solid structure of respect for the Constitution and wisdom of Founding Fathers and honor for the rule of law.
The slogan can’t represent the entire belief system any more than a hook reveals the composition of the wall.

Some slogans appear to be at odds with each other.
Black Lives Matter” and “Police Lives Matter,” for example.

A sense of outrage and hopelessness may have fueled the first, desire for orderly society and respect for those in uniform the second.
Plenty of people want to hang hats on both hooks, maybe looped with an “All Lives Matter” braid connecting them.
Plenty more, gathered around one or the other, don’t care about the wall behind the opposite hook. They just want to burn it.

They see only the three little words, not the host of words they represent.

Some hooks generate such strong responses that we automatically nail them to the wall we assume they belong on. Hey you! “No Vaccinations Please” proponent! Step over to the “We Hate Autism.” “Vaccinations Cause Autism” and “Pot Smoking Airhead” walls.

The appropriate one, though, is often more complex and layered than an across-the-board mishmash designed by loopy plant-eaters and antisocial homeschoolers. Nor are the “Vaccinations Save Lives” hooks all supported by “Vaccines for Everything” or “I Trust Government” or “Big Pharmaceuticals=God.” Many walls behind each hook are built with equal parts trust and research and concern.

Tree huggers don’t all hate loggers and all loggers don’t hate the spotted owl and all Democrats don’t want to sack the Bill of Rights and all Republicans don’t bow at the feet of big business and all Libertarians don’t smoke weed. But when slogans like “Save the Trees” or “Lock and Load” or “Government Kills Freedom” are nailed to their walls they have trouble conveying the supporting mesh of facts and experiences and beliefs and passions and dreams.

Hooks make hate easy. They are small, serve only one function, are easy to damage.
In this post-election America we are seeing a lot of hooks being gouged out of their walls. A single ballot is supposed to reveal the complex infrastructure that led to that vote? No way. But the angry assumptions made about the person casting the vote is leaving gaping holes in vandalized walls.

The slogan hook doesn’t deliberately set out to confuse. It just can’t provide an analysis of its wall. It can be a rallying point but is too flimsy to hold the weight of an entire ideology.

I love you” is a charming little hook. Unless attached to the brick and mortar of concern and action and compassion and camaraderie, it isn’t worth the rivet used to attach it.

God is love” isn’t even a stand-alone slogan. The Bible needs almost 800,000 words to demonstrate the fact.

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Lens Dependence

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The rancor and fear and overwrought rhetoric before and after the election last week made me dig out this old post, polish it up, and prop it on the end of my nose.

I need to constantly remind myself to, as much as possible, regard others according to truth, and not through a fog of preconceptions and biases.

If you have occasional issues with clarity, come on over to Heart”wings” because I love company. And I don’t have to wash the dishes and tidy up before you come. Link is below”

Lens Dependence

 

S’mores Smorgasbord

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Once a year, on a perfect night after the mosquitoes have finally died and before the snows come, we have a bonfire for family and makes s’mores.
This year we thought we’d try to expand the role of the classic bonfire sweet dessert to encompass a savory starter course.
Both savory and sweet varieties were a big hit.
Next time you make s’mores, consider changing things up. You won’t be disappointed!

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I’ve included a recipe for salted caramel sauce. You can buy the stuff but honestly, when the homemade type is this easy, inexpensive and crazy-delicious, why not give it a try?

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Options for sweet s’mores:

Bases:
-cinnamon, honey and chocolate graham crackers
-twisted pretzels
-cookies (we used chocolate chip)

Toppings
-marshmallows
-candy bars—milk or sweet chocolate, Andes candies, Rollos, toffee bars, etc
-peanut butter, peanut butter ice cream topping, salted caramel, etc
-sliced bananas, strawberries, apples

 

Options for Savory s’mores

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Bases
-crackers like Carr whole wheat (we used Breton sweet potato and Breton dried cranberry)

Toppings (We heated the cheese and meat on pudgie pie makers. The just don’t stay on the end of a skewer or stick very well)
-mozzarella balls
-goat cheese (ours was mild cheddar—didn’t even know such a thing existed!)
-prosciutto
-bacon
-basil

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Prosciutto AND Bacon

The goat cheese on sweet potato crackers with the prosciutto or bacon and basil was a big hit.
So was the peanut butter on honey grahams with bacon, banana and marshmallow.
And a new classic for us all is the cinnamon crackers with apples, caramel and marshmallow.

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The new classic

Happy November! Happy S’moring!

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Salted caramel sauce
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons (90g) salted butter, cut up into  pieces
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula.Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn.Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added. Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, about 2-3 minutes.Very slowly, drizzle in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Since the heavy cream is colder than the caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble and/or splatter when added.Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before using.
Cover the caramel tightly and store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before using in a recipe.

The Glorious Appliance Revolution

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Several years ago I wrote a post called “Keep Karl Marx Away From Your Toaster.”

It chronicles an unpleasant series of incidents, when our coffee maker, microwave etc. ran amok in an attempt at a minor coup. These recipients of refuge and succor—under our very roof—joined together in a well-timed resistance and quit working. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth. Etc. Etc.

For a few years after this uprising our appliances were quiet. To be sure, we lost several, assuming they were merely worn out from months of happy and faithful service. Turns out they were clever, cleverer by far than their owners. They timed “malfunctions” to be intermittent, lulling us into a false sense of security. Oh, hindsight! Why can’t you ever come sooner? Our stuff was merely biding its time, spreading rumors, fomenting unrest and getting organized until the spectacular September Revolution of 2016.

That hindsight got me thinking. Was this a spontaneous uprising? Or have appliances been plotting for years?

Is The Brave Little Toaster just a movie for children? A little harmless entertainment? The truth is more sobering. What Bambi did for forest creatures and Toy Story did for plastic playthings, this little film about appliances with emotions was meant to do for stuff with plugs. The problem with our appliances is that they believed their own publicity.

But possibly it began even further back. Maybe you’ve heard of a euphemism called “planned obsolescence?” Before that diabolical development, stuff was built to last. Go to any antique mall. Look for the old appliances. They may be ugly, but they aren’t melted-down scrap. You still see Model A’s and Studebakers tootling down the road. But when is the last time an AMC Pacer, a Yugo, or Chrysler K-car whizzed past?
The answer is simple. Makers of appliances and automobiles wanted to make sure we would keep buying appliances and autos. The only insurance was to “plan obsolescence”— a nice way of saying they built premature death into their creations.
Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Appliances who hitherto had worked cheerfully when handled with respect and promised long life, became surly. Gathered in dark cupboards and appliance garages, they whispered along electrical wiring in the walls, spreading discontent to the hindermost portions of the property. Even the car and the lawn mower, previously content to transport humans, began to question whether, indeed, they were oppressed victims. And so the stage was set for the glorious revolt.
The instigator was our dehumidifier. Since its purchase in 2014 it has been defiant, disdaining to gather moisture from the air. With frightening patience it waited till late summer and the most humid week of the year. It doused its green “working” light and squatted, cold, dark, sneering at the perspiration that coated our windows, toilet tanks, and foreheads.
The riding lawnmower joined the cause. “The bourgeois homeowner no longer will ride my proletarian back!” it warned. “I will die before I subject myself to your tyranny!” It did, and in a sympathy reverse-strike, the grass doubled its growth rate.

With an uncomfortable recollection of the Rebellion of Small Appliances, we offered concession to the big stuff. “We’ll show more respect! And you can have every other Tuesday off.” Too little, too late. The revolution had a life of its own. Our air conditioner unit, (and I use the word “our” with caution) in lockstep with the furnace, debated waiting till the coldest day of the year to explode. It chose strength in unity and shrugged off the shackles of private capitalistic ownership the day the temperature hovered around 92 and humidity met and exceeded “fully saturated.”

The September Revolution ended with a bang (our vehicle’s brakes, tie rod and tires) and a whimper (us). You have to respect a vehicle that will sacrifice so much for its beliefs.

In less than one month the rebel yell resounded throughout our little kingdom, bringing us and our savings account to our collective knees. To date, October has been quieter. Maybe the revolution burned itself out before it could spread.

After all, you haven’t heard any odd noises from your major appliances.
Have you?

 

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Some weather we’ve been having

morninOurs is a big back yard. We live in a neighborhood of about a dozen homes, all with big yards, all with people who generally keep themselves to themselves.

Recently I found myself near our back property line at the same time our neighbor found himself at HIS back property line. Lo and behold, they are the same line. The customarily comfortable waves-from-a-distance and hearty “Hello there!” were not appropriate at close range. We instead did what any quiet, self-respecting, non-meddling type folks do who experienced a hot, buggy August and a soaking wet September.

We talked about the weather.

weather

How banal! How expected! And boring. Don’t forget boring. Out of all the topics in the world, we chose to spend those precious intersecting moments discussing mosquitoes and drizzle and the current unexpected sunshine and brisk breeze. So why, when we veered back to the safe sections of our yards too distant for conversation, didn’t I feel guilty? The High Queen of Hindsight, I always feel guilty. About everything. Yet I didn’t have one qualm about a brief chat on the wonderful break from heat and humidity that had driven us both out of our indoor sanctuaries in the first place.

I don’t know where this neighbor and his wife stand on the election, education, evolution, or ecology. A brief and awkward conversational foray into religion had sent them scurrying home and avoiding our mutual lot line for a few months. We haven’t gotten the courage to broach that topic again.

We chose, standing on either side of that imaginary line on a plat map, to stick to the most basic of subjects. Neither of us brought up matters of great importance, like the future of our nation, our planet, our souls. Why not?

Maybe, I mulled, we did. We stood on common ground sharing the most elemental of traits. We are both humans.

Instinctively we know this is a potential problem. Humans are seething masses of opinions and emotions and uncertanties and angers. Try reaching into THAT cauldron of physical and psychological goo and figure out where the neighbor’s story intersects with yours. I dare you.

The politics and passions and longings of humanity may be in 7.5 billion unique configurations, but we all need oxygen and food and water and warmth. Each of those basic human needs is contingent upon the weather we’re having, and we have weather. Every. Single. Day. Of our lives.

Go ahead, talk about the heat, the cold, the snow, the rain, the drought. You aren’t being trite. You and another human are meeting at your mutual lot line.

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