Thursday, September 27, 2007

Plucking the Stray Grays

Holly's latest blog entry on Today's Christian Woman magazine's website is now up:

Will dying my hair affect future generations' self-image?

To ponder:
1) Do you (or will you) dye your gray hair? Why or why not?

Do you consider this issue to be on par with the debate over working mothers?

Do you think there's a double standard when it comes to the perception of men with gray hair?

Is discussion about this topic--to dye or not to dye--overblown?

Pictured: Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada; author Toni Morrison; singer/musician Emmylou Harris.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

REWIND: Are You Smart Enough?

I have a prayer journal that sits on my nightstand. It's usually pretty dusty. That's because I rarely write in it. I only pick up a pen when something is pressing on my heart and head so much that it's literally causing heartache or a headache. When I need a reminder of God's presence in my life, I'll re-read what I've written in my journal. It reminds me God both listens and responds to my deepest concerns.

I recently read some of my old posts here on H-n-T, and realized it's good to remind myself of what God's taught me, too. In January 2006, I wrote, "Are You Smart Enough?" It's personally poignant right now because I'm applying to a Christian grad school program. I'm praying that--if I'm accepted to the program--God will use the experience to make me "wiser or saner or more truthful," and not just a "smarter" kid who knows a few more facts and figures. Check out this H-n-T REWIND, along with some new thoughts to ponder at the end.

From January 2006:

Time magazine recently dedicated a huge amount of space to a special section on maximizing brain power. There were articles on keeping mental performance peaked through exercise and healthy eating. Articles on how to mentally exercise your brain. A piece on the controversial future of nootropes--so called "smart drugs"--that enhance mental performance. Of course, I ate up every word. Doesn't everyone wish they were a little smarter, a little quicker with the poignant example or snappy retort?

As I flipped through page after page of advice on getting smarter, I noticed a one-page essay, "What's So Great About Acuity?" by Walter Kirn. I decided to read it last--if at all. How could editorial blather make me any smarter?

After I read it, I wished I'd read it first. It made me realize I put too much value on mental prowess (and the success--and worth--I often associate with it). Kirn observes:

"... people dream of aping their computers, which grow measurably more agile every six months. Not wiser or saner or more truthful, those immeasurable human qualities that are extolled by priests and poets, but just better at handling elaborate graphics, say, or performing multimillion-variable calculations."

His last line hit me between the eyes: "... it's not what one can do that matters but what's worth doing."

And I realized, smart doesn't equal wise. Or trustworthy. Or compassionate. If all I'm doing is seeking to fill my head with facts and figures, am I missing out on God's purpose for me--doing the things that are worth doing?

To ponder:
1) Consider these two definitions:

Smart: Characterized by sharp quick thought.

Wise: Having the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.

Which one do you think most people desire? Why? Which one do you think is more important, or are they equal? Why?

2) What are some things you consider truly "worth doing"? When you do these things (or if you did them), how does it make you feel? Does a task need to make you feel happy or better about yourself in order to be worthy?

3) What's the difference between seeking knowledge for knowledge's sake, and seeking knowledge for a specific purpose? Which do you tend to do? What has your purpose been?

4) Holly sez: "Most people can become smarter by reading, studying, discussing, etc. But, while studying might aid wisdom, it seems wisdom itself can't be obtained through our own efforts." Do you agree or disagree? If you agree: Is there any point in pursuing wisdom? If you disagree: How does one obtain wisdom?

Monday, September 03, 2007

It's Judgment Time!

A new game show, Without Prejudice?, seems to encourage that we judge quickly, lest we be judged first. It began airing a couple months ago. I try to keep informed about pop culture and was intrigued, but this was one of those times when I had to question, Is this show gonna mess with my head a little too much? So I didn't seek it out, until this week, when the Game Show Network held a Without Prejudice? mini-marathon. I decided to watch the last 15 minutes of one show, just to take a peek.

The show’s suggested premise is: Can regular people suspend their prejudice long enough to judge others fairly? But, of course, this is reality TV. The actual motive is more like: Let’s incite emotion by having everyday people share the most prejudice beliefs they hold!

Five "regular” folks are selected as judges. Then five "average" people are selected as contestants. As you know, reality TV has a different concept of what constitutes regular and average. There's a transgender contestant, one judge who repeatedly insists everyone loves porn, an early-twentysomething who's been married three times, and an aspiring musician who plans to legally change his name to "Penny Arcade." The judges decide which of the five contestants they'll award with a prize of $25,000, based on the contestants' comments about their upbringing, jobs, personal relationships, and beliefs on pre-selected controversial topics. The judges sit in a seperate room from the contestants. (Hmm ... being judged from a distance ... by a force that can reward you or give you nothing ... and this force doesn't have a relationship with you and doesn't interact with you ... .)

Homosexuality and gay marriage are among the favorite discourse on the show. Of course, I use the word “discourse” loosely, too, since discussion never probes too deep or runs on for more than a minute. The show does devote plenty of time to guessing “Who’s gay?”—this seems to be a side game within the game. Both contestants and judges are questioned about their sexual orientation, as if this should provide an explanation for every thought and opinion they express.

In one episode, a judge who identifies himself as a Christian says he won’t vote for a gay contestant because he doesn’t agree with the homosexual lifestyle. The Christian expresses his beliefs well enough, in a matter-of-fact manner. He’s not sipping on haterade in the judges’ box. Still, the image of a Christian judging a gay man, telling the contestant he’s not good enough for the reward … . I feel for both men. How is the Christian supposed to communicate God’s plan for marriage in an eight-second sound bite? How is the gay man supposed to take away any idea except, Christians hate me because I’m not like them?

I’m repulsed. And yet, I’m hooked. I end up watching more episodes for nearly three hours. I feel disgusted when one judge says he doesn't like black people and won't vote for a black contestant. Then, the self-proclaimed racist ends up selecting a black man as the prize winner. Am I supposed to cheer, believing deeply held racist attitudes have been changed thanks to a 90-minute game show? Don’t think so. I'm instead left feeling this racist judge has insinuated the black contestant is the rare exception within the black community—that most others would indeed live up to the bad qualities that "cause" his racism. It's like receiving the undesirable comment, "I don't see your skin color," which, unfortunately, usually translates to "I like you, so I'll ignore the color of your skin because I can't deal with it."

(Gotta say I’m shocked groups like the NAACP and YWCA have partnerships with this show. I could be wrong—and hope I am—but seems that rather than promoting discussion, Without Prejudice? will encourage people to air their judgmental views publicly. One judge proudly states that he’s just voicing publicly what others are too afraid to say. Does society really benefit from a public podium where people judge one another?)

This also reminds me of friends who’ve said, “Holly, you’re not like most Christians.” When I ask them what they mean, they explain, “Well, you’re not judgmental. You seem open-minded.” This always makes me wonder, Am I wishy-washy on my beliefs? Am I soft peddling Christianity? Rational thoughts take over and I realize my friends probably have met a Christian or two who hurt them. Or, perhaps, they expected some Christian to live up to high standards, then felt letdown when the Christian failed. Or, perhaps, a Christian said something completely true and tried to do this with love, but it was taken with offense. Discovering the source of a friend's frustration with Christians takes effort, time, candidness, and honesty. I’ll never know what caused my friend to have negative feelings toward Christianity unless I continue the conversation.

Real conversation doesn’t happen on Without Prejudice?—in fact, judgment begins even before a word is said. At the beginning of each show, the judges must eliminate a contestant based on how they say their name, age, and current residence. The show's host refers to this as first impressions. One judge chose to off a contestant from Texas because, the judge reasons, Texas is a judgmental state. I want to jump out of my seat and yell, “How on Earth can you judge a state? That’s ludicrous!” I suddenly want to audition for the show, if only to say, "My name is Holly. I'm 33. I live in California. What part of that statement makes you want to hate me?"

Then it hits me: I'm now judging the judges on this television show. I've become the one who, from a distance, passes judgment on the lives of people I've never met. And that was the idea all along, wasn’t it? I hit the off button on the TV, disgusted by the ugliness of my own judgmental heart.

Me, Prejudiced? A Game Show Plays Jury (The New York Times review)

To ponder:
1) Do you believe you judge others? Why or why not?

2) Why do you think we tend to judge each other?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

More Thoughts on Faith (Or Lack Thereof)

As promised, here are some verses and some thoughts I've had about faith, in light of last week's post:

1) Jesus was amazed by profound faith.

The Roman Army Commander (
Matthew 8:5-13)

A Roman army commander went to Jesus because his servant was paralyzed. He asked Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus told the army commander he would go heal the servant, the commander basically replied, "Jesus, all you have to do is say the word and my servant will be healed."

Matthew 8:10:
"When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, 'I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.' "

Holly sez: Sometimes, I assume my faith must be super strong and unwavering if I'm a "real" Christian. And when I don't trust God or question him, I start to think, "Hmm, maybe I don't have a legitimate relationship with God. Maybe I'm a phony." This verse is encouraging to me: It leads me to believe profound faith is indeed a rarity. Jesus--the son of God, who is deity--is astonished at the depth of this man's faith.

It also indicates my faith doesn't need to be the most profound in town to be real. Jesus compared the Roman commander's faith with all the people in Israel, but didn't condemn Israel. He didn't reply, "This Roman commander is the only one I'm going to favor--the rest of you suck." Like the Israelites Jesus encountered, I have a relationship with God even though my faith isn't equivalent to that Roman commander's.

The Israelites were supposed to be God's people, the ones who recognized God and worshipped only him. God was their God. Yet, Jesus observes that none of God's worshippers (including Jesus' closest followers: his disciples) had as much faith as this Roman army commander. The army commander wasn't one of God's people; he was an outsider who, amazingly, recognized God's power in a deeper sense than God's own people. Similarly, I may meet people who aren't Christians who deeply believe God is real and powerful, and are eagerly waiting to learn how to connect with him.

Great faith is a gift from God.

1 Corinthians 12:7-9:
"A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. ... "

Romans 12:3b:
"Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you."

Holly sez: Ouch--that second verse is an ego buster! I’m not so great when I think about my life in these terms.

The remarkable thing here is that great faith is deemed a gift from the Holy Spirit. It isn't something we earn after so many years clocked as a Christian, or for so many service hours doing good works.

I should obey God and serve him simply because I recognize he is deity, and I'm not. Then, if God chooses, maybe he will increase my faith in time. Or maybe I'm meant to continue depending on the great faith of others. Maybe my lack of faith is a constant reminder I must value each person's place in the
body of Christ.

3) Sometimes, those seemingly closest to Jesus lacked faith.

Jesus Goes to Nazareth (
Mark 6:1-6)
When Jesus visits his hometown, he couldn't do many miracles there because these people--who knew him as a neighborhood kid and had watched him grow up--couldn't believe he was deity.

Jesus Calms the Storm (
Mark 4:35-41)
The disciples are in a boat with Jesus when a fierce storm kicks up. They're freaked out, and they wake Jesus, telling him they're about to drown. Jesus tells the storm to be quiet, and instantly, it stops. the disciples are still afraid--even after Jesus calms the storm

Mark 4:39-41:
"[Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?' They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Holly sez: Sometimes, I view God a little too much like a human buddy or confidante. That familiarity makes me forget he is deity, the Creator of the universe.

I love these stories because there have been moments when I knew God had done something amazing, yet I still had doubts about his role in it. Remember the "
box of faith" I wrote about? Even as I saw God fill that box with one CD after another, I still doubted he would do what he'd promised me.

A few years ago, an agnostic friend told me he'd believe in God if God would just do something miraculous in his life, like give him a vision or speak to him directly. I questioned my friend, "Would that really make you believe God was real? Or would you think the voice or vision was your mind playing tricks? Even if you got a physical miracle, would you pass it off as good fortune or coincidence?"

I do believe God uses miracles to draw people to him. But, as demonstrated by the disciples' behavior after watching Jesus calm the storm, seeing isn't necessarily believing. Rather than proclaiming, "Jesus really is the son of God!" they questioned, "Who is this guy?!?"

4) Faith isn't just a product of circumstances.

James 1:2-4:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."

Hebrews 11:6:
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Holly sez: Prosperity and security don't necessarily build faith. Nor do adversity and trouble. Both, at times, caused the Israelites to turn away from God.

I see some great faith in churches in Africa, where food is scarce and life is brutal. And in the persecuted churches of countries like China and Iraq, where people are murdered because of their faith. But, lest we believe faith only grows in times of trouble, consider the rapidly growing churches of South Korea. The government is tolerant toward Christianity. The South Korean economy is booming, yet prosperity doesn't seem to have lured Christians there into a false sense of self-reliance like us Americans. And there is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work: divine healing, stories of miraculous protection, large numbers of church members speaking in tongues. (Not that Christian life there is all roses, as you may have gathered from the
kidnapping of South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan. The last of these missionaries are returning to their country tomorrow. Two had been killed.)

While God has used both good and bad events in my life to strengthen my faith, it isn't the event itself that's changing me. I think my faith is strengthened when I simply recognize God: "God, I know you're there, and I know you are good."

In either good or rotten circumstances, I'm tempted to say, "I can rely on myself. I don't need God." This is where I think both prosperity gospel and those who overemphasize poverty can get it wrong: They get too focused on circumstances. Our focus should be on our relationship with God. In marriage vows, the line about "for better or for worse" illustrates how the relationship is the focus. All types of events may occur in a couple's life together, but if they remain focused on the relationship, they will remain strong in spite of everything around them.


1 Thessalonians 3:10:
"Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith."

To ponder: How often do you look to others for strength when you lack faith? How often do you offer the comfort and support that comes from your faith (your belief and trust in God) when others falter?

Romans 14:1-3:
"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

To ponder: Does this verse mean we should "live and let live"? Read all of
Romans 14. Pray for discernment between "disputable matters" and important issues where God would have you speak up.