Saturday, May 31, 2014

that our words aren't always the most important thing.

We know the story. Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, oblivious to the vibes of resentment from her sister, until Martha snapped, "Aren't you going to do anything and make her help me?" And Jesus compassionately replied, "You're worried and distracted about many things, Martha, and Mary has made a good choice which won't be taken away from her."

I sometimes wonder exactly what Jesus was saying that held Mary so enthralled that day. Was he giving a wrap-up of stories he'd told all week, in streets, temples and mountaintops? Or was it something entirely new? What if it was some unique story Mary was the only person privileged to have heard. If so, I wish it had made its way into the pages of the Bible. If whatever he was saying had the power to draw Mary in completely, I'm sure it would have done the same for us.

Why did the Gospel authors used the occasion to hone in not on what Jesus said, but on the interaction between him and the two sisters? Maybe they weren't part of what was being said and didn't hear.

What of Mary herself? Even though she was praised by Jesus for making the right choice, what did she do with her reflective nature that we're aware of? There is no recorded result of her pondering, no 'Book of Mary' in which her thoughts are left in print for our benefit.

If she was like me, would that have bothered her? I like the idea of  leaving several solid books and a trail of blog posts so that anyone who may be remotely interested may know my heart. Sharing is what we were made for, right? That makes this incident even stranger. We have no record of what Jesus was saying to her that day, and no record of Mary's words ever. Why is that?

A possible answer came to me this week as I was browsing Facebook. It is the week of Maya Angelou's death. She was a beloved poet, novelist and civil rights advocate, and a few friends shared some of her quotes. Here is the end of one of them. I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

That's it! That's what this story shows. I've been brought up wanting to always read and study things, but that wasn't the point of this incident featuring Jesus, Mary and Martha. Jesus' words didn't need to be recorded every single time. We still get a glimpse into who he was - somebody who could make Mary drop everything just because she found him so compelling and believed him to be the promised Messiah, and God's own Son. It was how he made her feel.

And as far as Mary was concerned, the point of the incident is not that she went off and processed whatever he told her in her own way. It was who she was. A person who sensed the truth about him, loved him and honoured him in a time when local bigwigs were instructing folk to do the opposite. She was a person who later honoured what she knew in her heart by tipping a whole bottle of sweet smelling nard over his feet. We don't remember her for any words she wrote or was recorded to have spoken, but for who she was, and how she makes us feel. She's a person we remember solely for her reaction to who he was.

Mary makes me feel happy and warm when I think of her, because of what she stands for. She had no performance mentality and shows us that we needn't either. She had no agenda to earn herself a following. She was just herself, living her normal life and responding with worship and thankfulness to what she knew was true. When I think of it like this, I'm glad, in a way, that she didn't leave any writing or records of speeches. She reminds us that all that extra stuff is just peripheral in our lives too, because as Maya Angelou said, our legacy is in what we are and how others feel/felt when around us.

Here is another of my reflections concerning Mary and Martha.
And here is a review I've written about a recent novel featuring them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

that people are like spice

I made a batch of biscuits recently. The name was something like 'apple spice biscuits'. Their ingredients included apple puree, ground cloves, cinnamon.... and ginger! As soon as I saw the last ingredient I predicted what would happen. After adding it to the batter, the result might as well have been gingerbread. We couldn't tell the difference. Once it was mixed in, we could no longer single out the flavour of cloves, cinnamon or apple, but we could definitely taste the ginger.

It was the last thing I added. Before its addition, I could taste and smell those other ingredients. They are just as nice as ginger, if not even nicer. I'm a cinnamon fan and also love the smell and taste of cloves. They are really yummy. But as I held the heaped spoon of ginger over the bowl ready to sprinkle, I thought, "That's it guys, get ready to be overpowered."

It's funny how people are pretty much the same as spices and condiments. We all know the ginger (and garlic) people. They are those wonderful, gregarious talkers who we rely on to fill awkward silences at group gatherings. The extroverts, the sanguines and cholerics. The sort who take over the running of meetings. "If John is in charge, it doesn't matter who else is on the committee. He's got such a strong personality, we know how it's going to end. It'd be wise to try to get him on side."

But just as ginger isn't 'better' than the other spices, neither is one type of person better than another. Although we all know this in our heads, it took me a while to get it into my heart. "Only sunny-natured, gregarious people need apply" the job advertisements cried out. My whole life used to feel like a bit of a reproach. On the way home from school, I listened to countless lectures from my mother, who used to try to coach me on how I should behave. "You need to speak up more. People think you're unfriendly when you stay too quiet. If you change the way you behave, they won't pick on you anymore."

The people who wrote the apple spice biscuit recipe must have thought the cinnamon and cloves added something to the recipe and complimented the ginger in some way. The might have given the overall result some edge, so that it's more than just a stodgy biscuit. That's what people of more low-key personalities can do for our ginger friends. It's been great, over recent years, to see the rise of the introvert movement. If you are subtle cinnamon, you can't be ginger, and nor should you want to be. The phlegmatic and melancholic folk, the quiet contemplative, deeply thoughtful ones have their own place in the world.

I only wish it had started while I was still in my teens. It seemed to begin with the publication of the book, "The Introvert Advantage" by Marti Olsen Laney in 2002, which I have on my shelf. Sometimes it takes something new like that for a movement to snowball. It's made me chuckle to see extroverts begin to take notice and complain that they are now being typecast as shallow, rowdy party-animals. I don't feel too sorry for them though, because they'll always have their cheer squads.

Whatever our personality, I think we need to take time to remember to take time to appreciate what we are, because when we don't, it's all too easy to slip into feeling inadequate, for whatever reason. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

There are many misguided teachers

After a library activity learning to draw Pokemon, my quiet little boy came home really hot under the collar. 'A girl asked whether or not some of the Pokemon were boys or girls, and the teacher said they have no gender, but they do! She's a dumb teacher!'

The cartooning instructor was obviously just fielding questions, but I think Blake was indignant because he automatically assumed that those who set themselves up as teachers of any subject should know what they're talking about. I guess we're never too young to find out that's not always the case.

I said, 'You should have enlightened her, then.' The subject is one of his passions.
'But I might've got in trouble. She's the teacher.'
So many times we respond like Blake, doing the polite thing by not correcting those in charge when we are certain of a fact. But now she might go on to conduct other cartooning classes, telling all the girls and boys that Pokemon are genderless, and they'll all believe her, because, 'The lady told us!'

It's sad when somebody whose knowledge is limited takes on the role of 'expert' and gets others sincerely believing wrong things about any subject. I totally understand that when we are in the context of being instructors, an 'I don't know' answer may make us lose credibility. Instead, we choose to field questions, coming up with something that sounds reasonable. Long ago, when I was a student teacher, one of my mentors even told me do this. 'Think on your feet and don't let the little so-and-so's run all over you. They won't know the difference.'

Where might it end, though? Those of us who are Australian will remember the TV ad about the little boy who asks his father why the Great Wall of China was built. The bright dad responds, 'It was to keep the rabbits out.' Later, the little boy stands up in front of his class and teacher to present his report about the Great Wall of China.

I believe this may be what the Bible means when it tells us that teachers have a responsibility which makes them subject to even stricter judgment than others. It's because, left unchecked, leaving others to believe untruths may cause havoc down the track. There's a ripple effect. Wanting to save face on the spur of the moment isn't a good enough reason to be responsible for this.

Not long later, it was Emma, watching a You Tube cooking video and crying out, "These people have no idea how to temper chocolate properly! How can they be left to be up here, leading people astray!' Unfortunately, in these times, anybody can proclaim themselves an expert and post something on You Tube.

My turn came next, and I didn't like it. I was reading one of those 'Law of Attraction' type books which seem to be getting churned out in abundance since 'The Secret' was aired. The author of this one breezily wrote something like, 'Jesus didn't intend for us to worship him any more than Ben Franklin expected us to worship him for harnessing electricity. Never once does the Bible set him up as some type of deity. That's just unenlightened human thinking.'

I wanted to throw the book across the floor, except that it was on kindle. It was a popular selling book and the lady who wrote it may make a large sum of money, but she's spouting stuff that simply suits her train of thought without having done her research. Nobody who has seriously studied the pages of Scripture can possibly claim that the Bible doesn't intend to present Jesus as a deity! Whether or not people believe the Bible's claim is a different matter entirely. She brazenly said that it affirms something it doesn't. Making mistakes is one thing, but presenting something as an established fact without checking, just because it suits you, is a dangerous and misguided thing to do.

No matter what nuggets of truth may have been in the rest of her book, I lost my enthusiasm to go on after that. If she made one bold, but wrong, statement to suit herself, how many others may there be?

I think we must be very careful about what we hear, and also about what we tell the people who will take anything we say on board, just because they think we're probably trustworthy. Some doctor may say, 'There's no way you'll ever recover,' or some beauty pageant judge may declare, 'People with your sort of face or height just haven't got the right look.' Blindly believing them may make their statements true in our lives. The tragic thing is that perhaps they didn't have to be!

I'll finish with the story many of us have probably heard, about the lady who taught her daughter that she must trim the ends of her joint of beef before putting it in the oven to roast. After years of simply nodding, the daughter one day asked why. After a few seconds of thought, the mum said, 'My mother taught me. That's just the way it's done. It won't cook properly if you don't.' The young girl's curiosity was piqued by now, and she decided to ask her grandmother. The elderly lady said, 'Oh, it was just because my oven pan used to be too small to fit the whole thing.'     


Monday, May 5, 2014

Priorities are like water jugs

Not long ago, I was watching a movie which suited my family of keen bird-watchers. It was 'The Big Year' with Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin. Each year, bird-watchers (or 'birders', as the serious professionals prefer to be called) have a contest to see who can record sightings and photos of most bird species by the end of the year. They embark on trips to the corners of the earth, madly studying almanacs to find out where and when the most rare species may be spotted. Needless to say, there is lots of animosity between the contenders, who all want to win. When you look at the main cast members, I'm sure you can see the scope for comedy. (See the end of this blog post for a funny story of our own.)

Yet there are some serious underlying messages. Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, current holder of the world title and desperately trying to defend it. His wife pleads with him to stay at home and leave the accolades for somebody else, for a change. They've agreed to start a family and she needs him to attend medical appointments at a fertility clinic with her. Although he fully intends to comply, the lure of potential rare sightings proves too great a temptation time and again, and he lets her down repeatedly.

I was thinking the same as many other women probably were; that he clearly got his priorities wrong. But did he? It really depends on what his priorities were. If they included being a loving and devoted family man, then it would be true, his priorities got totally skewed. But if his main aim was to retain his title of the world's best birder, then he definitely got his priorities right!

When you think about it, priorities are demanding things that can twist and tug a person until they don't know whether they are coming or going. Depending on the size of each, your life may be able to hold only a couple. If it's a big, grand one, there may be room for just one. I'd imagine if you want to be a world-renowned champion of anything, that priority will have to take first place. It's not surprising to hear about so many celebrity marriages crashing and burning. I feel for them, because it's easy to see why the demands of their occupations make it seem necessary to siphon quality time with their spouses away.

I'm thinking of priorities as several glass jugs, or beakers, of water lined up in a row. We have a set amount of time and energy per day, which represents the water. For example, I want to be a good mother, wife, homeschooler, writer, and Sunday School teacher, but realise what a balancing act it is. To devote time to one, you have to draw from the others. Stress happens when you are devoting a lot of time and energy to one jug, filling it to a healthy level, then looking up to see that the others have got so low, some are down to just a few drops.

I get worn out quickly. This picture analogy helps me see that sometimes, it is wise not to add any more jugs to the line, because too many empty ones break my enthusiasm and health. As I said, I'm sure famous people at the top of their fields must choose to focus all of their attention on just a single jug. I know great musicians keep practising, even when we wonder why they feel the need, since they are already brilliant. Renowned athletes do the same. I'm sure we've all heard stories of how people like Lleyton Hewitt and Tiger Woods have had that single-minded focus on tennis and golf respectively, since they were pre-schoolers. When you think about it, they've given their everything, their life's blood, for an inclusions in the history books. It's a high price to pay.

Rather than wanting to be great at something and then guilty for not making it, it is probably helpful to stay aware of how the world is set up. Keep the lines of glass jugs in mind. Teenage girls should know that the super-models they aspire to choose to forego the luxury (or priority) of having impulsive, tasty treats. Those who think it would be great to be on the Olympic Swimming team should consider that sleeping in at dawn is no longer a priority.  This all goes to show that instead of simply admiring heroes for the obvious reasons of their talent, we should spare a thought to acknowledge the sacrifices they've made. They've pared their lines of glass jars down to one. Some of the things they've chosen to give up to get their positions of apparent success are many times far too high a price for the rest of us to consider paying.

How many jugs, beakers and bottles do you have lined up. Are you racing about, madly trying to scoop water from one to another, so they're all pretty well even by the end of the day? Or are you single-mindedly pouring a neat, strong jet into one vessel, kicking the others aside until they smash. At present, I'm trying to focus on no more than about four or five, as it's easier to race between them, topping them up, than it is with 20+.

* OK, here's our funny true story about bird watching. My nephew and son were walking together through our adjacent wetlands on their way back from the bus stop. They saw a young, well-dressed bird-watcher, squatting in the long grass with a really beautiful, flash looking camera. Jarrad, who is the keen bird-watcher, commented to Logan, "I wish I had a camera like that." Suddenly, the young bird-watcher looked behind his shoulder, saw nobody but the two of them, then got really edgy. He packed his gear up quick smart and hurried away. It took the boys a moment to realise that the poor fellow might have thought the casual comment was meant in a threatening manner, as if they intended to mug him and steal it. And Logan said to Jarrad, "Maybe he thought we were doing the Big Year." I suppose you can't be too careful in a lonely spot. Our Laratinga wetlands at Mount Barker are the perfect place to do a bit of bird watching.
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