having no more than we can love

As we lean into the third week of Advent, let’s think about the stuff with which we surround ourselves, our attachment to that stuff, what it says about us, and what Advent’s call to preparation and peace might mean in that context.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Driving downtown in Nearest Big City recently, I found myself behind a shiny gold Lexus with this license plate: THX GOD. (Apologies to you if this is your license plate and I have now outed you.) I was indignant and offended and upset and frustrated and, okay, a bit self-righteous about it all, too. Maybe it’s the “X” there that bothered me, making it not “Thank God” (which is still somewhat questionable) but “Thanks, God,” as if God’s job here on earth is to reward us with fancy cars when we do what we’re supposed to do. (In case you weren’t sure, that’s not the case.)

Because I’m on an anti-consumerism and anti-capitalist kick, this story and my reaction to it won’t surprise you. I am sensible enough to say that I was being uncharitable (this person may very well give away more to charity each year than J’s and my combined income), but I do feel rather strongly that God doesn’t reward us with Lexuses, and to say otherwise, I will offer, is not reading the Gospels very closely.

Still, is a Lexus any different than stuff that I cling to? What is most important to me? What do I think of as a “reward” from God? Maybe I don’t tend to speak in those terms, but I am not sure my heart (or yours) is in a much different place than “THX GOD for all the awesome things that prove I’m doing exactly what you want me to be doing.” We’d never say that, would we? Of course not. We’re better than that. More humble and all that jazz.

On that note, here’s some food for thought, sent to me as “an advent thought” from J last week.

“It is crucial to have no more than we can love, for without love the claim to having becomes void. Loveless having, possessing in the purest sense, remains illegitimate, a theft.”  — Erezim Kohak, The Embers and the Stars, quoted in Norm Wirzba’s The Paradise of God (Oxford, 2003).

[This post originally appeared on December 5, 2010.]

Dinner Tables: Food and Community, part 3

For pretty much as long as I remember, the dinner table in my house growing up was always a place of conversation. Long after the plates were cleared, the leftovers were dished out into individual portions, the pantry was raided for some kind of dessert, even if it ended up being a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie, we’d sit and talk and talk and sit.

Then I went away to college.

On breaks, when we’d sit down for a meal together, the sitting and the talking got even more involved. Of course I had to find out what was going on in every branch of the family, every long-lost friend’s life; I had to hear every “you’ll never believe when I tell you this” incident.

Now, in my grown-up life, I still like to sit and talk after meals. J likes to get the dishes done. This used to be a point of contention between the two of us until we worked out a compromise: I sit and talk; he clears the table and does the dishes. It might sound like he gets the rough end of the bargain, but the truth is, (a) it makes him happy to have the dishes done and (b) it makes me happy not to have to move after I’ve eaten (and (c) I do get up and help after awhile–goodness gracious). It’s not just about sitting after I’ve eaten, though I suppose there’s something about good digestion in there, too, but the real “work” of the sitting is the conversation. So for us the conversation continues as he stands at the sink in his food-and-dish-soap-splashed apron. (This has gotten slightly more difficult in the new house, since the kitchen and the dining room are separate, but we’re managing.)

And I really like this time we have together, talking and sitting, doing dishes and talking.

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Farewell to Facebook?

I had a light bulb moment the other day.

I have been considering saying “farewell” to Facebook for quite some time, but I wasn’t really sure why I was feeling unhappy with it. After reading a blog post that someone shared on, wait for it…… yep, Facebook, I realized the problem: it is not a reflection of real life and it’s having a negative impact on my self-esteem.

In the past, I have been one of the biggest supporters of Facebook: “You can connect with old friends! You stay up-to-date with dear friends who live far away! Everyone can look at photos of my cute kid! I can see photos of everyone else’s cute kids! It’s so much easier to distribute information to large groups of people!” All of those things were, and mostly still are true, but before you stop reading because you still like Facebook, hear what I have to say. Or better yet, read the blog post and decide for yourself.

Part of my frustration with Facebook is the superficial nature of the community. I know everyone uses it for different reasons and shares different levels of information, but I hope we can agree that it’s largely posts and photos of only the positive aspects of people’s lives. For example, I might post a photo of my daughter having a blast at Hersheypark (an amusement park in the town that chocolate built, if you’re not familiar). But what you didn’t see was her having a meltdown in the water park because she’d rather ride the other rides or me wanting to tear my hair out because I can’t believe she’s not having fun surrounded by millions of square feet of pure pleasure!

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Truth with a Capital T

You may have seen the viral short video made to accompany the commencement speech given by the very talented late David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College. (If Googling this speech, be aware that it has been removed from many sites due to copyright issues and may now be hard to find).

In his speech, Wallace describes a higher education graduate, now working at a challenging job in a large city, who is now officially a part of the rat race, whose principal challenge is not so much the exhaustion of a demanding job, but the tedium of daily existence.

(I’ll qualify here by inserting that I live in a very small town and am a homeschooling stay-at-home mom of three young children, so my daily struggles with finding meaning in tedium look different than those described in Foster’s speech; but nevertheless, I can relate to the frustration of monotony and seemingly small, though necessary, tasks.)

In the slow and maddening check-out line at the store after a long day of work, our graduate is surrounded by overwhelmingly annoying people talking loudly on cell phones, staring into space, screaming at their kids. The way to wake up and arrive at a better existence, Wallace tells us, is just this: to reject our “natural default setting” that the whole world and everything that happens is about us, that we are the center of the world.

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Aluminum Foil, Carnations, and the Hard Work of Being Valentines

I’ve never been one to make a big deal about Valentine’s Day.

Okay, maybe not never.

I do remember making decorative boxes for exchanging valentines in elementary school and secretly hoping  the various boys I had crushes on would leave me some sort of clue that they also liked me. It never happened because, of course, everybody in elementary school is required by their parents to give a valentine to everyone else in the class.

In junior high, you could send carnations to your special someone or just your friends, which is what most people do. I remember, though, getting one from this boy I kind of knew, and his message said, “I think you’re pretty great.”

It made me feel pretty great.

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Advent 4: A Sabbath Meditation

Come and behold him, born the king of angels. Speak to him or be silent 
before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, 
come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come 
to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within 
ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, 
than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.

— from “Come and See,” in Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark.