Friday, December 31, 2010

Out With the Old...

As the year draws to a close, I would like to continue with a few thoughts on simplifying and ordering our lives and spaces. This post is devoted to the idea that you cannot have it all... or more accurately perhaps, you cannot KEEP it all. Unless you live in a huge house, with tons of closets, an attic and basement, and maybe a barn or two, you cannot hang onto everything that makes it way through your doors. Even if you do have that place, it is remarkable how quickly you can fill up even the giant house. If you are like me, you may live in smallish homes, with less than adequate storage space, and awkward configurations of rooms. Many of you have expressed your frustration with the overflow of stuff that seems to have taken over every nook and cranny of your homes. To this I say, you must be ruthless. There is no other way but to get rid of a good deal of it.

For me, there were several issues in play. The first issue was my lack of maturity. I hadn't had the chance to try a million things and discover what I was truly passionate about. I was young, and full of energy. I wanted to be passionate about gourmet cooking, and heirloom sewing and quilting. I wanted to grow my own herbs, and raise chickens and goats, and make my own cheese. I wanted to scrapbook all my photos, and play the guitar, and learn to cane chairs. I wanted to homeschool my children, and use cloth diapers, get the idea. Now I am old and mature, and I realize that I cannot be passionate about everything. I certainly can't use my aptitude as a measuring stick for what I should be passionate about, because I can do many things well. Far too many things to have passion for all of them. Over time I have winnowed down the list to a few things I really love or need to do. All the rest have gone away, and with them, all the gear and geegaws needed to perform them. The few things I really DO, I let myself have the good stuff, like a really nice sewing machine, which has earned its bit of real estate inside my teeny bedroom closet. Or the bins of excellent quality fabric stored under my bed. Like the chocolate molds that eat up the whole cabinet over my refrigerator. Like the books that line soooo many of my walls. But so many other things have disappeared. Some things I have sold, some given away to a friend who would use it, some donated. I don't miss the things that are gone.

Maturity and experience have also taught me that I do not need many of the things I once thought I did. Neither do my children. We live with far less clothing and linens. I do laundry every single day. We do not need one of everything for every child. They can learn to share. I do not need to own things I can borrow or rent. The list goes on and on, and applies to nearly every area. But in the beginning I thought I had to have it all.

I have a system for ongoing purging. Usually I purge the house deeply, twice a year. One of the best times is right before the holidays, but after the New Year will work too. Pre-holiday is ideal, because I clear space for incoming gifts, and mentally tally who has what, and make mental notes of what they may want or need. The whole rest of the year, I do constant maintenance purging. I cycle through the whole house, room by room, cupboard and drawer, closet and bureau. I always have a donation bag or box set up, and am constantly adding to it. Anything beyond repair goes into the trash immediately. Outgrown clothing, unwanted books, unused toys get dropped into the donation box. Another bag or box is set up for "things that don't live here". This is for items that belong to other people...things that got left behind, or borrowed items, or things we plan to pass on to a specific person. When I plan to pass the thrift store, I drop off the donation box. When I plan to see a person who owns something in the other box, I try to remember to give it to them.

I have other boxes too. I have a "wait and see" box. This is where I store things I am unsure about. Things I think I want to get rid of, but still have doubts. If I don't go back for it in a few weeks, it's probably safe to let it go. At times I have had "yard sale" boxes. Right now I live in the sticks, so it is not practical to have yard sales. If you really will carry through and have the yard sale, and you have the space to store the stuff until you do it, by all means, have a yard sale. We have made lots of vacation spending money this way. Currently I have E.bay boxes, because I have had success selling certain items using that forum. Another tip I would offer, is that I put my boxes out in a visible, and mildly annoying location. This inspires me to keep the stuff moving out the door, rather than sitting buried and forgotten somewhere. (Kind of like the laundry baskets in the middle of the living room floor inspiring me to fold it and put it away.)

Another sticking point to paring things down, is the children. Children and their stuff take up a lot of space. Especially if you homeschool them. In some ways you have to relax a bit about this, because everything about them is always in a state of flux...a messy state of flux. They are always growing, and so their closets and drawers need constant supervision, rotating out that which is outgrown or worn out. If you are passing clothes along to younger siblings, you must decide how much you can reasonably store. In the past, I found myself storing everything, in fear that I would "need" it. I stored ugly clothes that I did not like. I stored very specific clothing that had nothing to match it, or would hardly ever be worn. I stored clothes that suited one child's body type, but would never suit their younger sibling. In other words, I wasted a lot of precious time and space, because I was afraid I would be found lacking later on. Now I only save that which is in top condition, that I know for a fact will be used. I am also constantly sorting through their toys and books, weeding out the ones they have outgrown. I only save that which is classic and beloved. Things that they have passed over for newer pursuits go into the donation box. I used to save every homeschool book and teaching aid. Those things are crazy expensive, and what if I find myself teaching at that level again? But as that has happened again and again, I have found myself not returning to the materials I had previously used because I found something that worked better for me, or for a different learner. Now I use the materials, and if I don't have specific plans to use them again soon, I pass them on to other homeschool moms.

I have only touched on a few areas, and made a few suggestions. You must figure out what works for you. The most important thing I have learned along the way, is that it is an ongoing process. You will purge, and it will feel good. Then you will purge again, more deeply, and it will feel even better. Spaces will open up, and you will feel freer. Eventually it will become routine, and you will feel as though you are just skimming bits off the top. But you will never arrive at some place of perfect order. There will always be things you are toying with getting rid of, things you are aware will need replacement soon, things you wish you had. For me, it has been getting to a place of calm and contentment about this ebb and flow. I feel like I am controlling it to some extent, rather than being washed away by it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Place of Your Own

It's hard to decide where to begin, when you feel as though everything needs to be done, but a beginning must be made. I can't really remember where I began, but I am certain it is not where I am sending you first. That is because I can learn from my mistakes. I strongly suggest you begin in your own bedroom. This may seem crazy when the rest of the house feels like it's in shambles, but trust me. You need a quiet place, away from the clutter and noise. You cannot easily gather your strength each day, if your own space makes you cringe. I am sending you to your own bedroom (and bath and closet) because this is where I should have begun my journey.

I would suggest a day just for stripping the room down and deep cleaning. Consider paint, curtains, and bedding later. A clean room is instantly more lovely, and you will have time and peace to ponder making changes or purchases over time. Take separate days for the closet and bath. But keep forging on. As you strip the room down, area by area, pluck out everything that does not belong in your room, and put it outside the door. Set up bins or boxes if need be. Let me suggest a few items that do not belong in your room. Outgrown children's clothing does not belong in your room. The ironing or mending pile does not belong in your room. Children's school work has got to go. Piles of miscellaneous junk definitely do not belong. Last year's taxes and Christmas ornaments from a year and a half ago? Come on! Be ruthless, and don't worry about the growing pile outside the door. As Scarlett O'Hara says, you can worry about that another day. I have rules for my room, and perhaps some of them may work for you. Here's a listie!
  1. Every morning I make my bed. I do it for me, and no one else. It instantly makes my room look neater.
  2. I always fold/hang my laundry neatly in the closet. I never leave laundry piled or laying about my room. Ever. Actually, I pile all my clean laundry in the middle of the living room, because it inspires me to fold it and put it away. When I carry the piles into the bedroom, I place them on the (made) bed, because I cannot go to bed without putting them away.
  3. I do not allow anything related to the children to migrate into my bedroom. In fact, I don't allow the children to migrate into my bedroom. They may knock at the door, and only step inside if invited.
  4. We don't generally eat in the bedroom, though we do occasionally snack. All garbage and dishes are cleaned up promptly in the morning when I make the bed.
  5. All clutter is picked up and put away each morning, the shade is pulled up to let in the sun (or not), and the rug is gone over with the sweeper.
  6. Nothing distracting is allowed in my room. Nothing stress inducing is allowed in my room. Nothing messy is allowed in my room. Nothing stinky is allowed in my room. No half done projects or "To Do" piles are allowed in my room.
I think you get the idea. And yes, I do allow my husband in the room, though he has been known to be messy, and even stinky on occasion. But not in our room. You see, back in the old days, I used to allow my bedroom to be a dumping ground from elsewhere in the house. If I didn't know where to put it, it went in my room. If I couldn't get around to it, it went in my room. If I hated it, but felt too guilty to pitch it...into my room. When I cleaned up the house, my room was the last room on the list, and I hardly ever got there. I had pregnant dust bunnies. I never got around to making my bed. I hated my room.

Then I read something somewhere, about how your bedroom should be a restful oasis. The author even advocated that there should be no photographs or book shelves to intrude. Just clean, comfortable, spaces. I tried the no photo/book thing for awhile, and decided a few small photos and piles of books did not detract from my restful I put them back. But I learned my lesson about the distracting, stress and guilt inducing clutter. And about putting my room first. Amazingly enough, when I made time to clean up my own space, I was more inclined to keep after the other spaces. But above all else, if the other spaces (or people) got overwhelming, I always had a refuge to retreat into.

To be honest, I could cheerfully make my room with nothing more than a mattress on the floor, and piles of books, but over time I have collected bits and pieces that make me happy. We sleep on my great-grand's antique bed, and I lay there and wonder who may have been born or died in it. There's an antique shelf that came from a barn we once owned. Most of the furnishings have been collected over the years, from consignment shops and yard sales. The accessories are gifts. I made curtains, and covers, and pillow cases. The books just find me. I say all of this because you need not break the bank "decorating". Cleanliness and order add grace and beauty to any space. Take time to actually live in it, and decide what you would really like to have, and then wait for it to come to you. When you know what will be just right, you will come across it and know. Don't worry if you have to wait some time. It will be worth it.

One final note. Always look on your closet and bathroom as extensions of your bedroom. Keep them with the same care and attention as your sleeping space. My closet has a place for everything, and so I always put it back in its place, and I never lose anything in there, though it is a cramped, wretched little space. I rarely leave my bathroom without picking up any misplaced item and putting it away. Consequently, it never takes more than a moment to make it perfect. I scrub the whole thing down only weekly, with little touch ups as needed, and it never gets too horrible. But the cupboard is always tidy, the trash emptied each day, and everything is in its place. Lest you are picturing a luxurious master bath, let me say no. Picture a postage stamp, that I share with Beloved Husband, Hippie Boy, and Baby Boy. Make no mistake, I am not whining about my small bedroom, smaller bathroom, or teeny closet. I have come to love them, as I have worked hard to make them work for me. It takes time, thought, and work...and it is so worth it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Holiday Mess

'Tis the season for many things, and from what I gather, one of those things is despairing over the chaos and mess inside one's home. I am not picking on any of my dear friends. This is a theme I hear, read, and even see commented upon in Facebook photos of Christmas carnage. I think there are several issues in play. Let me enumerate, in list form, because I loooove lists.
  1. The holidays are a busy time, thus we have less time to devote to cleaning and organizing.
  2. The children are everywhere, all the time.
  3. We tend to have company, which also adds to the chaos.
  4. There are piles of presents to and from loved ones, plus wrappings galore.
  5. We also engage in other messy projects like baking, cooking, writing cards, etc. This equals projects spread about our spaces.
  6. It's wintertime, which means coats and snow pants, boots and hats, mittens and scarves.
  7. It's wintertime which means being cooped up inside four walls a lot.
  8. Did I mention the kids are on vacation and are underfoot all.the.time?
This can lead to ugliness, I am here to tell you. It may mean you find yourself laying on your bed having a good cry instead of a long winter nap. It may mean you see this transformation from "carefully and lovingly chosen gifts" to "all this crap overrunning my house". It may mean you end up yelling at those children that are in the house, under your feet...did I already say this? ALL THE TIME.

Now I don't mean to gloat, because I have had my share of trials this past week (not limited to a poodle who tried to kill herself with fudge, and the resulting mess and vet bills), but I think after twenty-four years of marriage, I am finally getting the hang of this thing. My house is fairly orderly, even in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, and I don't feel superior. I feel relieved. The hard work and discipline is all worth it.

If you are a person who makes New Year resolutions, and sincerely means to follow through... if you are a person who chafes against the structure needed to whip your house into order, yet hates the chaos too... let me encourage you to stop rebelling against your own best interests. Button yourself down to the task of setting things in order, and discipline yourself to make new habits. Force structure upon your reluctant self. Your weary self will thank you all through the New Year.

By all means, if you are completely happy and relaxed in relative disorder, don't let me boss you around. I actually have secret envy for people who don't feel the need to alphabetize their DVDs or organize their sock drawer by style and color. I've had friends gently tell me, "They have medication for that." But when all is said and done, my sock drawer makes ME happy. I have no desire to mandate sock drawer protocol, or judge you for tossing them all in a basket, unmatched no less. It's about comfort level. And I'm hearing a lot of people saying their houses are making them very uncomfortable right now.

A lot of people look at me, and they think, "Oh well of course. You are THAT SORT of person." You know, the person who is super organized, always thinking and planning ahead, scheduling and making lists. But I wasn't always like this. It has taken years of practice, and mostly self discipline, to transform myself and my thinking. In the past I thought of myself as a creative person, thus excusing my creative "stuff" being scattered all over our living spaces. I also used this excuse to "create" during times that I should have been caring for my children, cooking meals, and generally keeping up my home. I would always, always choose a good book over my domestic duties. This was before the days of computers, with email and Facebook and blogs. Thank goodness, I might never have come up for air.

We also had young children. I homeschooled, and had school "stuff" everywhere. I crafted and sewed, and cooked and baked. We had small spaces and a small income. All of this is to say, I hear you. I hear every excuse you are spitting at the screen right now. They are all the reasons I fought getting organized myself. But in the end, it was the most gentle, kind, loving thing I have done for myself. Yes, for me. It isn't drudgery and the death of my creativity. It has been freeing, the lifting of a huge weight. I have slowly found ways to pour my creativity into the process, and I do it with my own sense of style. The careful keeping of my home and family employs all my imagination and personality. I enjoy it, and I'm not ashamed to say so... though I do get some funny looks at times.

Check back in the next few days, and I'll share a few ideas that have been extremely helpful to me. It's too big a subject to address in one post. There are great books and websites devoted to the subject. I'll be sharing the ideas that really made huge changes for me. The important thing is finding the ideas that resonate with you, and implementing them to improve the quality of your life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why I Go to Church, Part 2

In my last post I was thinking aloud about the church. I said a bit about kitchens and bathrooms, that probably would sound pretty funny out of context. I also said I would get back to my thoughts about the church building and its important function. I will say again that people are the core of the church. All Christians are connected, whether they want to believe it or not, all part of the Body of Christ, all "the church". No particular building houses God, or any object that gives us a direct line to Him. But today I am going to discuss the local church building, the individual group of people that gathers there, and some of the reasons we show up on a Sunday morning.

I'm going back to my bathroom analogy, not that it's perfect, but it works for me. I said that relationships with people are the kitchen. Sometimes hot, sometimes messy, sometimes frustrating and even a little dangerous. But it's where you get fed when you are hungry. When people are needy, they need other people. Even when they aren't in a particularly needy place, they still need people. The Bible teaches us that the way people get fed, and clothed, and cared for rests on what people do. It's true that God can do miraculous things, and it's true that all good things ultimately come from God's hand. I believe that. But God has never physically cooked me a meal, taken me shopping and bought me underwear, carried out the trash, or given me a hug. God has always used the bodies of living people to do those things for me.

The problem, in my humble opinion, is setting up shop in the kitchen. People are awesome. They are the very best gift God has created on this earth for us people. The Bible tells us that they aren't just awesome, they are made in God's image. I can't even begin to see what that means...but I am certain it means something really good. We have something in us that is like God. It is so easy to fall in love with people, and spend our lives pouring ourselves out for them, and soaking up the awesomeness of them, that we could forget God altogether. To continue with my analogy, we might be tempted to sit around that big ol' kitchen table, warm and full, and with a contented sigh say, "It doesn't get any better than this."

Can I take a small rabbit trail here? When I was growing up, I was taught that Jesus was THE WAY. I was further taught, that anybody who wasn't living this reality was miserably unhappy. Of course they were probably sinful and bad too. If they didn't look miserably unhappy, and sinful and bad...well, they were just really good actors. Except I knew people who were not Christians, and they were genuinely moral, compassionate people. They seemed happy. They didn't seem like they were faking it. I just could not make sense of this. I think my kitchen theory might account for this. To be honest, I have been tempted at times, to discard everything else in favor of the kitchen.

So if people are what it's all about, and the church is really just people, why not discard the church building, and start hanging out in some awesome person's kitchen? Why not throw away the whole rest of the house, and just make one huge kitchen? Well, partly because I will not buy a house that doesn't have a bathroom. Call me American, but I do love me some white porcelain fixtures. I like the fact that I can go into that quiet room, all by myself, and take care of my private business. I can dispose of waste, that isn't good for me to hold onto either inside or outside my body. A quick flush of water and it's gone. I can wash up in the sink if I'm only partially dirty, or I can take a shower or a tubby if I need a total cleanup. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to live in the bathroom, but I need and want to visit the bathroom with regularity.

Maybe it's a bit irreverent to liken the church building we visit each Sunday to the bathroom. I'm going to take a chance on it. Think about it for a moment. Why do we go to church in the first place? Let me preface my answer with a list of all the reason I do NOT believe we should go to church on a Sunday morning. I do not believe we go to church to get things. One of the biggies that I hear all sorts of rumblings about is "fellowship". And what most people mean by this is socializing. I love to socialize. I love food and coffee. But if I couldn't get any of it, I'd still go to church. I do not go to church to get feelings, blessings, fillings up, etc. Sometimes it happens, and it's nice no doubt. I don't go to church for teaching. I really appreciate a good sermon. I even appreciate a bad sermon that a pastor has clearly labored over. But if there was no sermon, I wouldn't feel as though the filling was left out of my sandwich. I don't go to church to be entertained. I don't have the right to critique anyone's "performance". I don't have the right to decide if the room is too bright, warm, clean enough for my liking. I don't go to church to judge or be judged by other people, whether they are in the pew next to me, or at home sleeping in.

For me, going to church is somewhat paradoxical. I go to be part of something that is communal in nature, yet it is solitary as well. In the kitchen we are shoulder to shoulder, and face to face. In the pew we are all facing toward something other than ourselves. We come to church to worship, which is kind of an alien concept in itself. I read some definitions, and it all seemed to boil down to a sort of adoration for something that is elevated far above us. It is very true that we can worship privately. Nature can cause us to spontaneously worship. Private devotion and prayer can lead us to worship. Communal worship is just downright hard for me.

Think about the rituals we observe. Confession. I sit next to my neighbor, and I confess that I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. I have not loved my neighbor. Yes, that person sitting next to me. I have been negligent. I have not done the things that I know I ought to do, yet amazingly I have found time to do things I know I shouldn't do. Communion. I sit quietly and examine myself. I find myself sadly deficient. "This is My body, broken for you... this is my blood, shed for the remission of your sins..." These are not comfortable thoughts and actions. If I could avoid them and remain in the kitchen, it would be more to my liking.

But I need to take my waste somewhere. I need to clean up sometime. I'd prefer to do it in private, behind closed doors. Experience teaches me, it is better for me to do it quietly beside my brothers and sisters. In a sense it is private. In a sense it is communal. In every sense it should humble me. If there is a humble room in our homes, I would say it is the bathroom. If there is an actual, real, literal humble place to go to in our faith, it should be our church building.

Going to church should empty us out, make us cleaner and freer. When I am cleaner and freer, the songs I sing feel more uplifting, my prayers feel as though they soar straight to God's ear, and I feel so much more love for my neighbor. God makes me this beautiful gift of feeling, even when I come dragging my feet (and my feelings) sometimes. Most times. It is alien and mystical. It's probably a whole lot better than a bathroom.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why I Go to Church, Part 1

I've been thinking lately, about some things that I've read, or heard said, about how the church "does charity". Now this is a pretty broad subject, since there are all sorts of churches and parachurch organizations that administer charity. When I say charity, the verses in Matthew 25 come to my mind.

"For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me."

I hear a lot of people complaining about how the church deals with the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. Sometimes the complaints are directed at the institution of the church, and sometimes at the individual members. And heaven help us, many of the complaints are completely valid.

There's an old Keith Green album from the seventies that rolls two songs, one into the next. The first is a dramatic retelling of the above passage of scripture, concluding with the thought that the only difference between the sheep and the goats (righteous and unrighteous) is what they "did and didn't do". It rolls directly into the song "Asleep in the Light", which describes a church paralyzed by its own prosperity.

"Oh bless me Lord, bless me Lord!"
You know it's all I ever hear.
No one aches, no one hurts,
No one even sheds one tear,

But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds,
And He cares for your needs,
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in.
Oh, can't you see it's such a sin?

'Cause He brings people to your door,
And you turn them away
As you smile and say,
"God bless you, be at peace"
And all heaven just weeps
'Cause Jesus came to your door.
You've left him out on the streets.

Heaven help us if this is how we do charity. I have heard the cries of people who have been turned away at the door by people who say "God bless you, be at peace, and here's the numbers of some government agencies that might be able to help you". I have heard the cries of people who have been turned away at the door by people who say, "God bless you, be at peace, come back at Christmas and we'll have a toy for your baby and a holiday food box." I have heard the cries of people who have been turned away at the door by people who say "God will bless you and give you peace, but only after you clean up the mess that is your life."

The church, as an institution could do better, but we need to cut the church some slack. It is an awkward thing, trying to administer charity to strangers through the church as an institution. The government does it, and maybe does it better. The government has programs that we are compelled to fund through our tax dollars. The government expects to be defrauded. They set up all sorts of protocols for a needy person, to prove that they are indeed needy. The American tax payer does not expect the government to be frivolously handing out cash and goods to anyone who has their hand out. They expect the government to screen people, and determine if their need is real. And so needy people are served, and still the government is defrauded as well.

The church sits in the shadow of the government. No one is compelled to fund the church. People always talk about how all the church ever does is scrounge for money. I have been in the church for my entire life, and I have never experienced this. If anything, I have often heard the church apologetically asking for money to fund worthy endeavors. People give, and proportionally, the people with the least give the most. The church as an institution holds that gift carefully, and labors over where it will be best used...where it will best serve to feed, clothe, heal, and comfort. In fear of being defrauded, perhaps we guard the gift too closely. Do we become the man who buries his talents in the ground, for fear of being robbed? In fear of enabling the very behaviors that cast people into poverty of body and spirit, we are afraid to give liberally. In fear of being impoverished ourselves, we hang onto the lion's share to feed our own.

This is the struggle of the church as an institution. We have this idea that if we find ourselves cast upon hard times, we can find a church door, and knock there. Maybe we can find help. The reality is, you will probably find the door locked. If you are lucky, you will find a friendly pastor or priest, and they may be able to offer some suggestions and assistance. They will invite you to come back and worship together with their congregation. They will express an interest in getting to know you. This will feel weird and invasive, like there is a price to be paid for help, or a screening process to determine whether you are deserving. If the pastor shares your situation with the congregation, it will be awkward. People will treat you like you are special, but it will feel forced and strange. If the pastor does not share your situation, it will be awkward as well. People will treat you like nobody special, and you will feel hurt because they didn't see your need and minister to it.

I think it's kind of like being hungry, and going to the bathroom looking for food. Over and over, you feel the hunger pains, and you get up and trot to the bathroom for a snack. But there's no food to be found. There's water and a cup. That helps. There's vitamins in the cabinet. That helps too. There are magazines on the back of the toilet. Some of them even have pictures of food in them, and recipes for how to prepare it. But no matter how often you head to the bathroom, you still end up hungry.

I think that going to a church building when you are in need, is like going to the bathroom when you are hungry. It's not really what it's there for. The church building has her own purposes, and I'll return to that another day. I don't want anyone to think I'm saying that the church building is useless, or cold, or empty. I just want to spend this post sending hungry people to the kitchen.

The kitchen is people. The kitchen is community. The kitchen is relationship. The kitchen is also the church, but it can exist with or without a building, a pastor, or even a Bible. Not that it throws these things away. They are good and necessary things that help the church grow...but if it has to, it can live and even grow without them. But without people, the church is dead. The church can have a beautiful building, a well trained staff, and shelves full of Bibles and hymnals...but without living breathing people in relationship with one another, it's dying.

Oh, but the kitchen is a sloppy place. It gets uncomfortably hot at times, especially when something is cooking. The sink is full of dirty dishes, and the counters are covered with crumbs. The cooks bustle and squabble, sometimes self important in their aprons. Sometimes they yell at you to get out of the way if you're not doing anything useful. The kitchen can be a scary place, with knives and hot pans. The kitchen can be a wonderful place, full of delicious smells, and happy chatter. The kitchen is people, and it feeds you.

I think that when people come to a church building, genuinely searching for help, they are often let down. Because when people come searching for food and drink, clothing and warmth, healing and human companionship...they are searching for relationship. And when we tell people that God loves them, that He will meet all their needs, that He is the solution to all their problems...we're speaking the truth. But if we don't speak it from the context of a genuine relationship, it sounds like "God bless you, be at peace" as we turn them away from the church door, still cold and hungry.

I don't pretend to know the answers. The physical church building is often the most visible representation of the church body in the community. It is natural that people in need would want to see that steeple as a beacon. In the old stories, people left babies in baskets on church doorsteps. Is this because somehow, magically, the church building itself would save the child? No. The hope was that the presence of the church building indicated the presence of a community of people that were knit together in love. Such a community of people might take in a stranger's baby, and bring them up in that environment of love.

I think babies on church doorsteps are mostly confined to feel-good fiction. The reality was the same then as it is now. The church doors were locked for the night, and everyone was gone home to their own families and firesides. Baby would freeze on the doorstep of the church. If you didn't know of a warm, welcoming kitchen somewhere, you were out in the cold for the night. In other words, if you didn't have genuine relationships, and you found yourself in need, you had few options. I guess what I'm getting at, is that some of us need to stop checking the church doorstep for baskets, and start checking our own back porch. And some of us lingering on the church doorstep, need to find the kitchen and ask to come in. Maybe you're hungry. Maybe you know a bit about cooking. Maybe you can help with the dishes. On a cold night, we might all be surprised to see who gathers around the table.

Continued here in Part 2.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Sing the Blues

I found this on Dee's blog and it made me laugh out loud. Enjoy.

1. Most Blues begin, “Woke up this morning.”

2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the Blues, ‘less you stick something nasty in the next line, like “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.”

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes … sort of: “Got a good woman – with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Mick Jagger – and she weigh 500 pound.”

4. The Blues are not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch; ain’t no way out.

5. Blues cars: Chevys and Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don’t travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft an’ state-sponsored motor pools ain’t even in the running. Walkin’ plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin’ to die.

6. Teenagers can’t sing the Blues. They ain’t fixin’ to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, “adulthood” means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in St. Paul or Tucson is just depression. Chicago, St.Louis, and Kansas City still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues in any place that don’t get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain’t the blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg cuz you skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg cuz an alligator be chomping on it is.

9. You can’t have no Blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10. Good places for the Blues:

a. highway
b. jailhouse
c. empty bed
d. bottom of a whiskey glass

Bad places:

a. Ashrams
b. gallery openings
c. Ivy League institutions
d. golf courses

11. No one will believe it’s the Blues if you wear a suit, ‘less you happen to be an old ethnic person, and you slept in it.

12. Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if:

a. you’re older than dirt
b. you’re blind
c. you shot a man in Memphis
d. you can’t be satisfied

No, if:

a. you have all your teeth
b. you were once blind but now can see
c. the man in Memphis lived.
d. you have a retirement plan or trust fund.

13. Blues is not a matter of color. It’s a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods can now can sing the blues. Gary Coleman could. Ugly people automatically get to sing the blues.

14. If you ask for water and Baby give you gasoline, it’s the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are:

a. wine
b. whiskey or bourbon
c. muddy water
d. black coffee

The following are NOT Blues beverages:

a. mixed drinks
b. Red Bull
c. Snapple
d. sparkling water

15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, and dying lonely on a broken down cot. You can’t have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

16. Some Blues names for women:

a. Sadie
b. Big Mama
c. Bessie
d. Fat River Dumpling

17. Some Blues names for men:

a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Big Willie

18. Persons with names like Sierra, Sequoia, Auburn, and Rainbow can’t sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

19. Make your own Blues name (starter kit):

a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.)
b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime,
Kiwi, etc.)
c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore,

For example, Blind Lime Jefferson, or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc.
(Well, maybe not “Kiwi.”)

20. I don’t care how tragic your life: you own a computer, you cannot sing the blues. You best destroy it. Fire, a spilled bottle of Mad Dog, or get out a shotgun. Maybe your big woman just done sat on it. I don’t care.

[Dang, and I had the perfect blues name picked out: Exzema Pear Cleveland...]