My friend Heather wrote this blog post today about taking a break from going to church, and how it helped her evaluate her spiritual condition and renew her relationship with God.
I cannot begin to express how much it resonated with me. Because I stopped going to church about five years ago, and every time I have tried going back, something has happened to make it clear that I wasn’t ready to be there again. Yet.
Like Heather, I wasn’t obnoxious and obvious about my disappearance. I even had a convenient excuse in the serious after-effects of the car accident I’d been in—a wreck in which I sustained minor physical injuries along with a major traumatic brain injury that went undiagnosed until eight weeks after the collision (because I didn’t go to a doctor until the headaches refused to let up). By the time I went to a doctor, the damage was done.
And that damage has been pretty permanent. I stutter now, especially in noisy, chaotic, or “performance” situations. I have panic attacks when in large, noisy, or chaotic crowds, especially if I’m “trapped” and have no easily accessible, unobtrusive exit path. And I struggle mightily with migraine headaches—they have gotten better, almost gone away, over the years, but they still hit occasionally, and they are much worse than they used to be: crippling me with nausea, blinding me with scintillating scotomas, making me violently averse to noise of any kind, and reducing me to a quivering, helpless jelly from the excruciating pain. So yes, I had a ready-made, very convenient excuse that was a lot more socially acceptable than “I hate what has happened to the worship service.”
But let me be brutally honest: Heather nailed it. The service is no longer rich, wholesome, nourishing food for the believer’s soul. It’s sweet, and fluffy, and creamy-smooth— and it’s giving the Church (or at least many, many local congregations) spiritual diabetes. The last time I heard a sermon about sin was when I visited my old church and got to hear
an hour-long rant a sermon about how divorce was the worst possible sin you could commit.
Now, don’t get me wrong here: we need to hear about sin and we need to define and confront sin. And the divorce rate in the Church is scandalous. But divorce is no more unforgivable than lying or stealing, and it’s time we stopped treating it as some sort of spiritual leprosy. Heck, adulterers get more of a break than divorced people in the Church. But I digress.
At my church—where I remain a member because I love the people, even if I hate what’s been done to the worship experience—the first indication that we were abandoning traditional worship for a more contemporary service was that we stopped saying the creeds and the Psalter.
Then the sermons bore no relation to the lectionary … at all.
Then we changed the liturgy of the communion service and exchanged a new Doxology for Old Hundredth.
Then came the highly repetitive songs that were easy to learn, but that I didn’t like because they were like cotton candy—sweet fluff without substance. The doctrine-rich hymns became rarer and rarer.
And then there was the sermon about how original sin was not such a bad thing, because Adam wasn’t fully human until he sinned. (What?!) After that, the sermons got fluffier and fluffier, until there was not even a shred of meat to sink my teeth into.
And then they installed big screens with pretty slideshows running through the service.
And it suddenly dawned on me that church was more like a sports bar now than a worship retreat. I was already very sick physically, and the spiritual diabetes I was being lured into was just more than I could handle. More than I wanted to handle. I needed to touch God on a regular basis. And it just wasn’t happening any more.
So I walked away. Mostly.
Please understand that I’m not saying any of those things (except maybe the bankrupt teaching) is necessarily wrong. And I suppose you could make a case for “it’s just that you miss what you were used to.” But I submit to you that the whole point of worship is finding a place to touch God. And there is a significant element of custom and tradition in that concept. C.S. Lewis said, in his Letters to Malcolm,
I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.
To judge from their practice, very few … clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain — many give up churchgoing altogether — merely endure.
…. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, … to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best … when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. … The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshiping. …
A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. … Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste….
I’ve quoted this passage before, and my thoughts still hold true. If the channel markers in my river of worship are constantly being moved about, my frail little boat is going to run aground. And that just defeats the whole purpose of going to church.
I’m looking, now, for a new church. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I need to feel refreshed and renewed in spirit when I leave. I need to be able to love the people and feel that they are truly seeking God, not playing a numbers game or compromising truth while trying to be all things to all people. Most of all, I need a sacred rhythm. A predictable, comfortable order of worship that allows me to focus on God instead of being distracted by the next innovative thing.
With all the stories of people fighting for towels in the Wal-Mart aisles, trampling people to death to get into the store for a $98 television, and trying to commit vehicular homicide when the cops intervene, I thought it might be nice to share a story of Thanksgiving weekend shopping that will warm your heart for the right reasons.
I don’t venture out on Black Friday, but I sometimes do go out on Small Business Saturday. This year, I went to a couple of small, local places. One of them was the local consignment clothing store — I was hoping to get a beaded lace capelet to wear to my company’s holiday party. Alas, the cape I was looking for had been sold. (One day I will learn that if I find it at this store and like it, I need to buy it then.) But I saw a couple of sparkly stoles that were just as pretty. Since my blouse for this party is red and sparkly, I thought the silver would be the best choice and bought it. But when I got home, well, it didn’t look as good as I’d hoped.
So I went back to the store, this time taking my red blouse with me. It had been a while 90 minutes since I’d left the store. When I got there, I went straight to the hook where the sparkly red stole had been hanging. It was gone. (Like I said, one day I’ll learn…)
The store’s owner, whom I have known for more than a decade, was standing nearby and heard my strangled wail of disappointment. So, as we were talking, a lovely lady said, “Red sparkly scarf … is this it?” And pulled the very scarf out of the pile of items she was about to purchase!
Now, I’m not one to take items out of other people’s hands. I protested. She’d found it and it should be hers. She insisted. “I know what that’s like, to decide you want something and find that it’s gone. Take it. Take it. It’s yours.”
I went into the dressing room to see if the shirt and stole actually looked good together. They did. When I came out, I asked again if the lady was sure. She smiled, put her hand on mine, and said, “Take it. And have a happy Christmas.”
Not everyone out there will trample you for a towel. Some people will even take the $7 scarf out of their own basket and hand it to you with a smile. And that, my friends, is the true holiday spirit.
I have a lot of friends who are wait-staff. They frequently tell me how much they hate working Sunday lunch, because the church crowd are bad tippers. They speak of people who eat a nice meal, pay the bill, and walk out of the restaurant without leaving a tip. Or, worse, they leave only a gospel tract or a pocket Bible as the tip. Or, worst of all, they leave only a note with some judgmental nastiness about the server’s appearance or lifestyle. We’ve all seen several such cases in the news or on social media in the last several months.
Listen up, fellow Christians. This is not what Jesus would do. Jesus was all about meeting the needs — physical and spiritual — of the people He met. And this message echoes through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation: care for the poor, don’t mistreat your servants, meet people’s needs.
You must not cheat a hired servant who is poor and needy. It does not matter if he is an Israelite or if he is a foreigner living in one of your cities. Give him his pay every day before sunset, because he is poor and depends on the money. If you don’t pay him, he will complain against you to the Lord, and you will be guilty of sin.. (Deuteronomy 24:14–15)
It doesn’t say to give them a Bible or a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws. It doesn’t say to leave them a note about what a miserable sinner they are; how disgusted you are by their obvious homosexuality, Goth appearance, tattoos, the enormous holes in their earlobes, or the bone in their nose; and how it wouldn’t be right for you to tip them because then you’d be condoning their lifestyle. It says to give them their pay, to make sure they have food and proper clothing.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15–16)
When Jesus met someone, He didn’t insist that they meet all of his needs and then give them a lecture about how sinful they were and how much they needed to get right with God. He met their needs, and then, sometimes, He didn’t have to tell them about repenting at all. His care for them spontaneously generated a desire to do right. Or, if He did have to preach them a sermon, He didn’t make their physical healing or provision for their needs dependent on their repentance. It was “Hey, you’re healed. Pick up your mat and head home. And while you’re at it, don’t sin any more.”
So what does that have to do with leaving a tip? Well, it’s about your witness and what kind of impression of God’s people you are leaving with those you meet.
The expectation (at least in America) is that when you eat a meal at a restaurant where you are served by a waiter, you will leave a minimum of 10 percent of your total bill (before coupons and discounts) as a tip. You can leave it in cash or you can scribble it in the appropriate place on the credit card slip. But you leave your overworked, underpaid server a monetary acknowledgement of his service.
In my circle, leaving a 10 percent tip signifies that the service was dreadful and you’d like to kick the waiter really hard in the hindquarters, but since that’s illegal, you’re kicking him in the wallet. A 15 percent tip generally signifies that the waiter did a decent job, and didn’t insult you, ignore you, or pour coffee in your lap. A 20 percent tip means the waiter did great, you’d like to be in his section again, and you are well-pleased with the service he provided for you. If you leave anything more than 20 percent, either the waiter went well above and beyond to perform some spectacular feat of serving, or you’re showing off.
Now, if you want to leave something in addition to that monetary gratuity, you are welcome to do so. Slip the bills inside a tract, a pocket-Bible, a copy of the Upanishads, a jewelry box with a pair of diamond studs, whatever floats your boat. But whatever extra you do, leave some money. As beautiful as they may be, those diamond studs won’t pay the rent. (And the gospel tract certainly won’t.) A server’s salary is usually less than minimum wage; you were sitting at their table for at least half an hour (probably more), and you have no idea what they might have been dealing with behind the scenes.
The worker deserves his wages. (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18)
If you can’t afford to leave a proper tip, don’t go there to eat. If you can’t have compassion and show kindness to those who serve you, do us all a favour and stay home. If you are a habitually poor tipper, repent and go and sin no more. But for heaven’s sakes, if you are going to leave a poor tip or no tip, do not tell your server that you are a Christian, or that you just came from church*, or that their tip is this tract or gospel booklet. Because you give those of us who take our religious responsibilities seriously a very, very bad name. And you cause the heathen to blaspheme.
*This reminds me. If you are eating at a place that gives you a discount for bringing in your church bulletin (or, for that matter, if you are using a Groupon, a Restaurants.com voucher, or any other discount certificate), you tip on the amount of the check before the discounts are taken. Tipping on the discounted check is stingy and mean.
Doug Phillips, founder and president of Vision Forum ministries, resigned his position today in a public post on the Vision Forum website. His reason for stepping down is “serious sin” in his life — specifically, “… a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman.” He goes into detail about his own shame, the damage to his wife and children, the greater damage to his ministry, and the dishonour to the God he claims to serve.
I hope that the words are true. I hope that Phillips truly is repentant over his inappropriate behaviour. But I have struggled all day with the written announcement of his resignation. While part of me wanted to be impressed, admiring the courage and humility required to publicly confess this sin, another part of me was screaming, Edna Mode fashion, “… words are useless! Gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble-gobble! Too much of it, dahling! Too much!”
I spent much of the day wrestling with my skepticism. Why could I not accept this abject admission at face value? Why did I feel that it was spin? An attempt to garner sympathy. Insincere. I could not believe that I would be so unmerciful and unforgiving as to reject what seemed, on the surface, to be a true admission of failure in leadership and of remorse for sin.
In the end, I came to understand that my skepticism was borne of my own experiences with patriarchal leaders, and the sociopathic traits that many of them exhibit. Including Doug Phillips. I have never been a supporter of Phillips or his teachings, because many of them contradict my most fundamental understanding of God’s work among His people. And, having experience with more than one leader who lived a hypocritical life, not following his own teachings while harshly condemning those of his followers (and outsiders) who failed to do so, I am suspicious of all of them. No matter how sincere they may seem.
But, in the end, it is immaterial whether I believe that Phillips is sincere in his repentance or whether I believe he is a sociopath trying to charm his way back into the good graces of those whose approbation he relies on. God knows Doug Phillips’s heart, and God will judge Phillips’s sincerity or lack thereof. God, and God only, can exact justice for sins committed and offer forgiveness for sins confessed. Those are God’s prerogatives, and not mine.
No, as a Christian, I am required to pray for this man and his family. And that I shall do.
For Doug Phillips, I pray that he is sincere. That this is not just “spin” or “damage control” to save his ministry. That he does truly repent and that he will learn from this situation the lessons that God has for him. The foremost lesson I would like to see him learn is that women are people. Not chattels. Not playthings. I would also like him to learn some humility and compassion. To learn that no one is immune to failure, and that no one is above the rules — not even the guy who makes them. But mainly, I just want him to be open to God’s spirit.
For Beall, I pray for strength as she faces the inevitable storm that will wash over her family in the aftermath of this situation. I pray for courage to confront and reject sin. For wisdom to recognize and confront insincerity and lack of humility. For wisdom, discernment, and compassion as she copes with Doug’s betrayal of her and of all that he has taught so adamantly and vociferously over the years. For the ability to forgive. Not for Doug’s sake, but for her own.
For their children, I pray that God will give them peace and stability through the ugly days ahead. I pray that God will protect them from the worst of it, and that they will be able to forgive their father for the wrongs he has committed.
For the person or persons whom Phillips wronged, I pray for healing and the ability to forgive. Not for Doug’s sake, but for their own. Forgiveness has a healing power for the victim. I also pray for these people to have the strength to demand reasonable consequences for this sin. Forgiveness does not do away with the requirements of justice. We, as Christians, are able to claim God’s forgiveness because the requirements of justice were met through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus paid our debt. His life was forfeited in substitution for ours, and God accepts that payment on our behalf. But God’s forgiveness of our sin does not mean that we are free from the legal and moral consequences of our sin. And if a crime has been committed, those legal and moral consequences must be paid.
For his employees and church members, I pray for a spirit of compassion and forgiveness, but also for strength not to compromise. When an admired leader fails, it is tempting to accept token apologies and minimize the need for substantive change in that leader’s life and character. I pray that the community surrounding Doug Phillips will have the wisdom and courage to hold him accountable for his actions and for the change that needs to take place to ensure that he does not fail in this way again.
For the Christian community, I pray that God will use this failure as an opportunity for us to examine our own hearts, confront our own sins, and pray for mercy for all of us — men and women, leaders and laypeople alike. For we are all sinners, and we are all vulnerable. There, but for the grace of God, go we.
The decision earlier this week by the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council to accept openly homosexual boys as Scouts has raised a lot of anger and vitriol across the country. The BSA has been warned to expect a mass exodus of boys and leaders from the troops. I’ve seen Facebook posts from many who say that their sons will no longer be scouts. I have also received emails from people who plan to take their sons out of Scouting. My ex-husband has told me that he will be leaving his leadership roles in three different troops just as soon as he has fulfilled certain agreements that he has committed to. And that he would like it if I would take our sons out of scouting as well.
It’s been a hard decision, but I’m not going to do that. And I want to appeal to other parents and leaders to rethink their stance, if they were planning to pull out. For several reasons.
First, removing a large number of good leaders will be very bad for the boys. The purpose of Scouting is for capable, mature men to mentor — to serve as role models and to pass on important skills and abilities — boys who are making the transition to manhood. If you have a young man who believes that he is gay, and you take away all of the men who might be able to influence him to be “morally straight,” you eliminate any chance of his discovering that his sexual preferences might be more changeable than he thinks. You also send the message that, because he is attracted to members of the same gender, he is not a fit person to associate with. This is not a message that we need to send to teenage boys. Ever.
Second, removing our sons from their troops isolates them from anyone who is different from them. We lose the opportunity to teach our sons how to respect others, despite their differences and even when we don’t agree with them or like what they do. The Scouting program has long been known for its ability to take young men of different classes, ethnic backgrounds, races, and religions, and meld them into a cohesive unit. Why should our sons not learn that sexual preference is an area of life in which we have to learn to work with those who are different from us? They go to school and play sports with homosexuals every day, and they will have to work with homosexuals when they enter the workforce. So how does isolating them from homosexuals in their Scouting endeavours benefit anyone?
And what of the benefit to the boys who are gay? They, too, must learn when and how to share the details of their lives with others. How can they learn wisdom and discretion if no one will work with them? A homosexual boy who is isolated from his heterosexual peers cannot learn to communicate comfortably on a deep level with heterosexuals if he doesn’t have a safe place to test his communication skills. And if all that he meets is rejection and derision, he’s going to develop a fear and distrust of all heterosexuals — this is not an outcome that benefits anyone in the long run.
I am a Christian. And while I do believe that engaging in homosexual behavior is wrong (a sin), I don’t believe it’s the only sin out there. And if we are going to ban homosexuals, how about thieves, liars, fornicators, gluttons, and supercilious prigs? After all, the Bible clearly states that God hates a proud look, a lying tongue, mischief-makers, and sowers of discord. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
When I became a Christian, I was making a commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ’s example in ordering my life. Jesus did not isolate Himself from the wicked of his day. In fact, He made Himself so available to them that He got a bad reputation among the “good people” of His culture. They said He was “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34) It was not by refusing to eat with Zacchaeus (a thief by virtue of his profession of tax-collecting) that Jesus influenced him to repentance. It was by publicly and openly announcing, “I’m staying at your house for dinner today.” (Luke 19:1-10) And then by sharing a meal and making it obvious that He valued Zacchaeus despite his character flaws.
Jesus’s example was one of compassion, kindness, and care for those who were hurting and for those enmeshed by sin. If I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, then the last thing I should do is start hurling epithets at homosexuals, telling them that they are horrible sinners who are going to Hell, and refusing to associate with them. Jesus’s example proves that I will have more chance of influencing them if I establish a relationship with them, show them that I care about them as a person and not just as an evangelism project, and tread very carefully when dealing with the issues upon which we disagree.
It was only believing Christians who were to be isolated if they persisted in unconfessed sin. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) It was of sinning Christians that Paul wrote “don’t even eat with them.” Not of those outside the faith. Those who were not yet believers were to be treated with compassion and love, that they might be won to righteousness and the Christian faith. Read what Paul says: “… I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother [that is, a professing Christian] if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler. It’s not my business to judge those outside the church. It’s God’s.” (I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t mention homosexual behavior here, though he does elsewhere. The closest he comes is “immoral person.” And there’s no hierarchy here. The immoral are put on equal footing with those who are covetous, idolatrous, verbally abusive, drunk, or dishonest. Is anyone talking about throwing the drunks and the envious out of their troops?)
I am commanded to treat sinners as Christ did. And the only time that Christ was nasty to people was when they were self-righteous and when they falsely represented God the Father. In every other instance, we see Him acting with patient kindness. With the woman caught in adultery, with the Samaritan woman who’d had five husbands and was living with a man she wasn’t married to, with Zaachaeus the dishonest tax-collector, with a Roman soldier who was one of the oppressors of Israel, even with the inappropriately ambitious Boanerges, Christ was patient and forgiving. He established relationships with them and then gently pointed out the error of their ways. “You are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”
Were I to show less compassion, were I to teach my children to show less compassion, I would be sinning. So they will stay in Scouts.
So, my property is being reappraised for tax purposes this year, and the mayor (probably guessing that property values are going to go down, since the last reappraisal was in 2009, before values here really started declining) wants us to approve a 28-cent tax increase. NO. Just NO.
When I moved into this house in 1997, my combined city and county taxes were about $800 a year. Last year, my combined city and county taxes were almost $1800. The house hasn’t changed; the property hasn’t changed (except to lose $40K in value thanks to the economy), and you want to make my tax bill higher?! NO.
For those who don’t know how it works, that’s not 28 cents per property. That’s 28 cents per $1000 of the assessment value, which, in TN, is 25% of the fair market value. So for someone with a house valued at $100K, that’s an extra $70 a year. I don’t know about your house, but my house is just 1000 sq. ft., and it is currently appraised right at $100K. Would you want to pay nearly $2000 a year (in addition to your mortgage payment) to live in 1000 sq. ft.? Could you afford that? I almost can’t. And what for? To live in a house that I bought and paid for. How many people will lose their homes if this is approved?
Those who rent and think “oh, a property tax increase doesn’t apply to me because I don’t own a home,” YES, IT DOES. Because your rent includes ALL of the costs your landlord incurs to provide your home, including property taxes. And most leases include a clause that the landlord can raise your rent if property taxes go up. Just remember that when you are asked to vote for a property tax increase.
And you want to know what? The budget that this increase would support includes a 2.3% raise for city employees. Now, I’m all about paying people a fair wage. But city employees ALREADY earn significantly more than private sector employees in comparable positions, and they have significantly better benefits, too. *I* haven’t had a raise since 2008. Why should city employees, paid with MY tax dollars, get a raise when I don’t?
I don’t know if they will put it to a vote. I think they have to. But I DO know that if Memphis homeowners and residents will bombard the city council with protests [perhaps pointing out to them, again, that Memphis has THE HIGHEST property tax rate in the state of TN — even Brentwood and Franklin (Williamson county suburbs of Nashville with a large percentage of high-value properties) have significantly lower rates than Memphis], the council will listen.
So I’m starting now. VOTE NO! Write and email your city council person. Go to city council hearings (pdf) and meetings and let them know that a property tax increase is not acceptable. Memphians are taxed enough, and it’s time that the city and county governments were made to understand that.
This past week has been a very hard one. About ten days ago, my office was rocked by the shocking news that a former coworker had taken his own life. And on the day when I found out when my coworker’s memorial service would be, I was told that a very dear friend had died from complications due to illness.
So I had two funerals and a visitation to attend this week, one a day starting on Monday. It was … heart-wrenching.
But the harder of the two was the suicide. Not because I cared less for my friend than for my former coworker. Far from it. But my friend had been ill for a long time, and, as we are both Christian ladies, I know that she is now with our Saviour in Heaven, well and happy and no longer in pain. And I know that I will see her again when I make my own trip through the valley of the shadow and across the final river.
No, the suicide was harder because my coworker was only a year older than me. He left behind five children, a wife, and an ex-wife. And his parents. And his siblings. And the man had so many people (non-relatives) who cared about him. If only he had reached out and been vulnerable, transparent with just one of them. If only he had sought some professional help when things began to feel overwhelming.
I have a long familiarity with the effects of suicide on those who knew the person. When I was 18, a woman whom I thought of as almost a second mother killed herself. I’m sure that lady never dreamed that her suicide would touch someone unrelated like me. But it shadowed my life for years. And now, in the past two years, I’ve had three more friends or acquaintances commit suicide. In every case, they have shut out those would would have been honoured to help them bear their burdens.
Suicide is horrible. But some of the things that people say about people who commit suicide are, in my opinion, much more horrible. I understand that they are angry and hurt. But I think back to my own suicide attempt at the age of 16, and I know that the person who commits this act is desperate. They are so deep in despair, they are in such a dark pit of pain and hurt, that they see nothing but their pain. They can’t see the way out. They can’t see anything but the endless pain, whether it’s physical or psychological, and they just want to make the pain stop. Suicide seems so reasonable.
To those who would say that suicide is “selfish,” I can tell you that the whole time you are making your plans, you are thinking of how much better everyone will be without you. Of how your being “out of the way” and “no longer a bother” will benefit everyone. If your problems are compounded by financial stresses, you may even think “when they get the insurance money, everything will be okay for them.” So in the mind of the suicide, it’s the ultimate altruism.
And while my own attempt was fueled by what I can now see as utterly trivial adolescent foolishness — though it has value, as it has fueled my attempts to protect my own children from bullying — the fact is that my pain was excruciating to me. I hurt so bad, and I could see no way out. (How do you escape when the problem is that you are completely unlikeable and socially worthless? If people hate you that much, wouldn’t the world be a better place without you?) Had that pain been combined with financial stresses, job stresses, family worries, or any of the myriad other concerns that an adult faces … well, had it been compounded by any of that, I probably would have made sure I succeeded.
The suicide of my “second mother” showed me the cruel pain inflicted on even the most distant acquaintance by the loss of a friend. Last year’s suicide of an online friend, a young man who was just at the beginning of his life, reinforced my understanding of the hurt suffered by those left behind. And the more recent suicide of my co-worker reminds me yet again.The real victims of suicide are those left behind by the person who takes his own life.
Today, I read that Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. I weep for that family. Because their path over the next several years is going to be an extremely difficult and painful one. They have lost someone they loved. And the “why,” even if you are privileged to have it shared with you, is never enough.
Being a poet, I wrote a poem as I processed all the difficult emotions of this week — and all of the emotions from the past that this week dredged up. It is a sonnet about suicide and what drives those who commit it.
Surrounded by the tragedies of life
And sinking underneath the painful load
Of death and pain, frustration, fear, and strife
Sometimes it seems a weary, lonely road.
And some there are who cannot bear the strain,
Whose hearts and minds are broken by their cares;
Consumed by burdens they cannot sustain,
Their courage withers and their soul despairs.
Succumbing to temptation, they give in
To death’s false promises of easy peace
They seek their own destruction as an end
A way to make their agony to cease.
But suicide is not an easy end;
As mourners, left behind, will comprehend.
May God bless and keep us all. And may we remember to share each other’s burdens.
It seemed a simple task, really. Spend $50 or thereabouts at a couple of local small businesses on November 24 — Small Business Saturday. I’d won a $25 American Express gift card for the purpose from FedEx, and I’d registered my own American Express card as well, so that I could receive the $25 reward credit that they offer for supporting small, local businesses on the day after Black Friday.
I’d checked my list of “stuff to get” both for home and on family members’ Christmas lists, and I’d checked the stores I thought would be eligible on the Shop Small website‘s map of participating stores.
I was disappointed that some of the ones I’d especially hoped to find didn’t show up on the map, but happily surprised to find others that I hadn’t expected.
My first stop was my favourite little liquor store. I wanted a bottle of red and a bottle of white for making my favourite lamb stew and the kids’ favourite chicken dish. As I was checking out, I mentioned to the clerk that I was there because it was Small Business Saturday and I was happy to see that they were participating in the promotion. He looked confused, and said that he didn’t even know what that was.
I was a little worried as I walked back to the car. According to the Shop Small website, you get the $25 credit on your card once the merchant reports to AmEx that you made a qualifying purchase on the appropriate shopping day. But I figured I still had three or four more stops I’d planned to make, so if that one didn’t pan out, I had backup.
My next stop was to one of my favourite little used book places. While I was actually looking for a couple of specific things, I always love to browse through this shop. While I often come up empty-handed, I occasionally find a treasure. Today, I found five! A couple of first editions by one of my favourite authors (John Hersey), a couple of Dame Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer, and a Chaim Potok that I didn’t have in my collection. Along with a couple of fun little things that looked interesting. Again, while chatting with the clerk, I mentioned that I didn’t usually venture out on Thanksgiving weekend, but that since I would get $25 as a gift from AmEx for supporting small business, and since I’d seen that they were participating, I’d made a special trip. The clerk says, “That’s really nice that you get $25 … but do you have to use your American Express card? Because we don’t take AmEx here.” (Yes, I bought the books anyway.)
As it was now suppertime and one of my favourite little local sushi places was both on the way home and on the Shop Small map, I stopped off for dinner. Everything went smoothly there, so I feel fairly certain that that transaction, at least, will earn me the $25 credit on my AmEx.
But I still had the FedEx card to spend. I stopped by the house to drop off the books and the wine, and I checked the Shop Small map again to see if my second-favourite local independent bookseller was on it. (I’d already checked for my first, which wasn’t there. Big disappointment.)
I was glad to find that the second-favourite shop was participating and headed out again to see if I could pick up some Christmas list items and a couple of things on my list. Alas, only one of the things I wanted was in. But I did find the sequel to a favourite humour compilation (I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar — the sequel is More Badder Grammar! ), so I picked that up. The kids and I will have fun with it; I think they’ve read the first one three or four times, laughing hilariously all the way through every time.
So it was a strangely frustrating but also satisfying Shop Small day for me. You see, while I do appreciate what the big retailers can do for the community (and my community benefits immensely from several of them), I also have great affection and loyalty for the local businesses. And I’ve watched far too many of them close their doors in recent years. I found myself remembering two of them, Mantia’s and Crema, while I was out today, and wishing that I could spend some money with them today. I know that the little I did today probably isn’t a drop in the bucket for the shops I went to. But I feel like I did something useful today. And I did get a nice dinner, a few good books, and a couple of nice bottles of wine out of it.
This year, the boys and I are trying out what may become a new Thanksgiving tradition for our family. The “big family” — my grandmother, my parents, me and my brothers, their wives, and all of our kids — got together for Thanksgiving dinner last weekend at Mom and Dad’s. I spent Saturday acting as Mom’s sous chef, and we all spent Sunday eating lunch, playing games, and enjoying the family.
So today it’s just me and the kids. We decided to have a “little Thanksgiving.” We slept in this morning and then had French toast and sausages for breakfast. Now we’ve got a semi-traditional Thanksgiving meal in the works. There’s an 8-pound turkey roasting in the oven, but no stuffing. The kids wanted wild rice pilaf instead. So we’re having wild rice pilaf, fried kale, and pan-fried brussels sprouts with parmesan cheese for lunch, with peach cobbler for dessert. And for supper, we’ll have my special “poor man’s steak” with onion gravy, kohlrabi and mushrooms, roast beets and carrots.
The rest of the day, chores, i-devices, and single-person computer games are banned. (I’m writing this on my computer while we watch Disney’s “The Swiss Family Robinson.”) We’ll play board games, watch DVDs, and generally goof off until their dad picks them up tonight to spend the rest of the weekend with him.
Food, fun, family, and no chores or distractions. If we decide we like it, I don’t think it’s a bad tradition to start.
Dear Restaurants: I like to eat out. I’m told that I have a sophisticated, well-trained palate. And rather high standards. Many of my friends consider me the go-to girl for eatery recommendations. So I’m going to tell you what I like to see, just so you know.
- Fresh, high-quality ingredients. Preferably seasonal, local, and organic. But at least the first two. Brown, wilted lettuce, gristly steak, and tasteless, sponge-like tomatoes are a BIG turn-off.
- Consistent menu. I’ll give you a pass on this one only if your menu changes with the seasons. Otherwise, don’t constantly change what is on the menu so that I never know what to expect. And don’t disappoint me when I come in for my favourite dish by telling me it’s no longer on the menu.
- Attentive service. I need to have confidence that I’m going to get what I ordered and that it’s going to be delivered with a smile. I should never have to request a drink refill. And I should never wait more than ten minutes for the check once I’ve asked for it.
- Choice. PLEASE have more sides than potatoes prepared six different ways. Some of us can’t eat potatoes. Or bread. Let me choose among some green things, some starchy things, and some other colourful vegetable things. There’s a lot out there to choose from. And please allow me to substitute one thing for another without excessive upcharges.
- Transparency. I’m not asking for a cookbook with all your recipes, and since you’re not a fast-food joint, I don’t even expect nutritional information. But disclosure of known allergens would be nice. It would also be nice if servers could answer basic questions like “Is there sugar in that?” and “What kind of oil do you use in this dish?” (Just for the record … some of us are allergic to canola oil. I want to know so I can avoid it. Thanks.)
- Cleanliness. You would think that clean dishes and tables would be obvious, but you’ve no idea how many times I’ve sat down to a meal and had to ask for a clean fork, or sent my water back because there is dirt on the outside of the glass — or, worse, flotsam in the water. Ugh. But it’s not just those obvious things. I also look for clean, uncluttered tables and clean, sanitary bathrooms. Oh, and if I want my feet to stick to the floor (or make crunchy noises when I walk), I’ll go eat dinner at the movie theatre.
- Originality. If I can make it at home, why should I pay you $25 a plate for it? If every steak house in town serves garlic mash, maybe you should offer something different?
There are other things, of course, that will get you a recommendation from me — absolute first being well-prepared, tasty food. But if you pay attention to these things, you’ll have a good start at being on my recommendations list.