Category Archives: Thoughts and Musings

Seasons

TrueTone colors give way

to technicolor and neon

that fades past time bleached

into sepia tones

and finally black and white
with occasional wan water color tint

A lilac sunset the only reminder

of the pencil green shading to come


Some Thoughts on Silence and the First Commandment

Despite my promise almost a year ago to blog more, I clearly haven’t done that. I have a lot of thoughts – more questions than answers, more re-examining ideas than firm convictions these days. I have been asking the question “why do I believe that?” and seeking the answers in the scriptures and the writings of old dead men who knew far more than I do. In all of this, I have maintained an ambivalence to documenting even the common elements of my life, without really knowing why I couldn’t put fingers to keys.

Recently, however, I have found some clarification in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Like the Shorter, the Larger Catechism studies the Ten Commandments in depth, as a guide for holy living. In question 105 What sins are forbidden in the First commandment, I was struck by two points in a litany of ways in which we place other gods before our True God. The answer includes: “using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means;” and “ . . . corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal;“.

I have been guilty of corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal in my life. I once described myself on this very blog as having a theology of mustard. I wasn’t really exaggerating. There have been a lot of things in my life that weren’t necessarily idols, until I began to pursue them with the zeal for which I should pursue the things of God. I have approached everything from mustard and coffee to literature and politics with corrupt, blind, indiscreet zeal, while too often approaching my Creator with lukewarm indifference. That corrupted zeal was also applied, far too often, to blogging and writing. That corrupted zeal would be the definition of false worship was convicting in a particular way, because the reason I had originally been reading the Larger catechism was not to learn more about how I could serve my God. Instead, I had turned to it in a corrupted zeal to prove someone else wrong. My heart was reflected back to me, even as it steeped in violation of the law of God.

Within that realization, however, came another. The things that define my life at the moment – being a homeschooling pastor’s wife – are the subject of much blind and indiscreet zeal themselves, and the subject of much “trusting in lawful means.” I am silent on those points, both in person and online, largely because I don’t want two issues of circumstance to define who I am. I am casting about for a larger definition of myself, and coming up with things that don’t fit so neatly into a blog post. I am weary of corrupted zeal both in myself and in the cyber culture of  blogs and bloggers, and that weariness has led to silence.

I have decided to spend some more time with the Larger catechism, seeking truth, not vindication. In the mean time I am dwelling on Ecclesiastes 5:2

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”


Reflections on the Death of My Mother

Jonathan has been preaching through Genesis in the evening service and a few weeks ago Genesis 46:4 stood out to me.

“I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Our modern world thinks so rarely of the task of closing the eyes of the dead, but it struck me that one of the great promises God granted to Jacob was the promise that his long-thought-dead son would be the one to close his eyes. The intimacy and beauty of that care touched me in a bitter sweet way. I realized that living roughly 1400 km (850 miles) from my parents and 5000 km (3000 miles) from Jonathan’s parents meant that we would likely not have that moment, real or symbolic, of closing our parents’ eyes in death. Three weeks later we received a completely unexpected phone call that my mother was dying of a brain bleed, and there was no way to make it to her side in time to say good bye. The Lord had so graciously prepared me for the situation I could not have known I would face.

There were so many moments of kindness in the journey. Our church session was quick to encourage Jonathan to travel with me instead of sending me alone. Our church congregation, my sister’s congregation (also in our presbytery) and the other churches of our presbytery, and my father’s church all expressed their care and love for us in so many ways. The funeral service was full with people from almost every part of my mother’s life, except her Australia years. We received flowers and phone calls and literally hundreds of emails and Facebook messages with such kind and genuine memories of my mother. The Lord was kind to sustain us, even when we were struck with the stomach flu the night before the funeral.

memorialfrontNow, after seven hectic, but blessed, days of funeral preparations, we are back home, and the chronic nature of grief is becoming real to me. I had not realized how many times every day I think “I must remember that for Mom.” or “Mom would love that story.” or “Take a picture of that for Mom.” I had often joked about hearing my mother’s voice in my head. Don’t we all do that? But I hadn’t realized how very often the every day tasks in my life incorporated a memory of something my mother said, or taught me, or loved, or hated. There are so many irrational moments like seeing my Scrabble board and suddenly feeling overwhelming sense of guilt that I hadn’t replaced the J as I promised her I would before her next visit. There are those gut wrenching moments like being the only member of the family who could disable her Facebook account. There is the reality, as I sit blogging, that I was always certain, no matter what I wrote, my Mom would read it. There is that sense of sadness that I carry with me, inside my chest, without really being able to express it.

My mother loved the Lord and was loved by Him. Her struggles with her health, her body, and her mind are now gone, and she is worshiping in a peace and joy she never knew here. I do not grieve as one with no hope, nor do I grieve as the one who knows the Lord and is certain their loved one did not. However, I do grieve. I grieve in the confidence that the Lord’s promises are true and that my mother is resting in the arms of our Savior just as my first child is. Still, I grieve.  I grieve because I miss my mother. I grieve because I don’t think my youngest daughter will remember her Nana. I grieve because death is the result of sin and corruption in God’s good creation.

People ask me how I am, and I answer “I am doing well. The Lord is sustaining.” It is true. It is not a mindless platitude or the socially expected statement from a minister’s wife. The Lord is kind and is sustaining me in my sadness, just as he prepared my heart for it weeks ago. Blessed is the name of the Lord.


In Which I Call Todd Pruitt an Angry Conservative (on purpose) and Prove Carl Trueman Right (accidentally)

In order for this post to make any sense, you must understand something. I was a rabid talk radio fan for many years and after God shifted my life in a dramatic way, I stopped that nonsense. However, I still prefer to listen to someone talk when I am driving than to listen to music. About a year ago, I started listening to the Mortification of Spin podcast because I had just finished Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative, but I have to admit I mostly keep listening because I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend.

And that creepy note is the point of this blog post.

During my NaNoWriMo writing marathon, I was checking twitter more often than I usually do, because the NaNo crew communicated word challenges and the like through Twitter. I follow Rev. Todd Pruitt on twitter because I listen to the podcast, and one evening he posted an article. I had read the article earlier, and it had struck me as one of those “anger the masses” ad hominem editorials that serve no purpose other than to polarize. Several of my friends had linked to it. I didn’t respond to any of those people. I responded to Todd Pruitt.

Here is the thing. I feel sort of like I know Todd Pruitt. Every Wednesday he and Aimee and Todd show up on my iPod. I plug in my ear buds and have a lively conversation with them. Only, and here is the most important point here, I don’t actually have a conversation. The rational part of my mind knows that they can’t hear all of the witty and insightful (in my ever so humble opinion) comments I add to their podcast. The part of my brain that lives in the real world knows that if they were booked for a speaking gig in Moncton, not a single one would say, “Well, if we’re going to be that close, why don’t we swing up and see how Coralie is doing.” I know that they don’t know me.

I really do know that.

Except apparently I don’t.

In a rash twenty minutes of tweets, I suddenly felt I had the familiarity and relationship with a man I have never met, to try to correct his choices in 140 characters or less.

Interestingly, the Mortification of Spin cast speak often on this topic of celebrity. Dr. Trueman often speaks about the false familiarity that can be created in which people feel that they know someone personally because they have encountered them through varying types of media. I had thought he was talking about other people. Crazy people. The people who don’t have boundaries and think they can respond on twitter to someone they have never met.

Oh. wait.

The issue of celebrity is a complicated one. What gave me the impression that I could respond to Rev. Pruitt in a way and a medium that I wouldn’t with my friends? What makes us think we can pick apart the marriages of people we have never met based on headlines in a grocery store aisle? They are one and the same. The issue of celebrity isn’t that we feel a sense of intimacy or relationship with someone else. It is that we don’t really believe they are real. We create an idol of them in our mind, and mold it in our image. They are not image bearing humans, they are fictional characters in our mental world.

When I say something strange and creepy like, “I want Aimee Byrd to be my best friend,” I am not speaking about a housewife in Maryland who cooks and mops floors and attends her children’s sporting events. I am speaking of the image in my mind of a woman who would sit at my kitchen table at my convenience and discuss only the theological points that I want to discuss and not challenge my mental laziness or personal blind spots. I am not speaking of a real human. I am building an idol. Rev. Pruitt’s posted article elicited a strong response from me not so much because of my personal distaste for the article, but because it did not fit into my mental image of who he was. When I sought to edit him back into my script, he stubbornly refused to conform. He insisted on being human.

While the internet didn’t create celebrity, it, combined with years of self-esteem culture, has built a culture in which celebrity has become the expected norm, not the exceptional experience for remarkable people. Ethan Renoe wrote a fascinating piece about become an overnight internet sensation. He says “It soon felt like little burglars were running through the halls of my cyber house . . .But while I became Internet famous, but what I did not become was known.” In our desperate search for celebrity, too many of us are willing to sacrifice true relationship to become idols in someone else’s cyber-world. Todd Pruitt resisted my efforts to celebretize him into my image, but too many of us don’t. Too many of us would rather have millions know about us than be known by a handful.

I don’t know Rev. Pruitt or Dr. Trueman or Mrs. Byrd. They don’t know me. Their 20 minute podcast once a week is fine, as far as it goes, but if someone told me I could have dinner with them, or with my sister, I’d pick my sister every time. I’d pick Jawan or Becky or Sarah or . . . you get the idea. I would pick real relationship over the inevitable disillusionment of idolatry.


An Unsolicited Book Review: Luther on the Christian Life

One of the hardest things for me about transitioning out of the seminary environment is that I have far fewer female friends who care to discuss theology and the deeper things of God. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until my friend Sarah sent me a copy of Carl Trueman’s book Luther on the Christian Life for my birthday this summer. Opening it was a moment of feeling so completely understood by someone. It was such a wonderful gift.

It was an even more wonderful gift as I read it.

I find Luther difficult to read. His style is bombastic and wordy and he assumes his readers to have his classical education. Carl Trueman, on the other hand, is pithy and entertaining. Reading Luther filtered through Trueman was ideal. Rev. Trueman does a masterful job of distilling a frankly overwhelming body of work and drawing out the essence of Luther’s theology. Rather than taking a single point in Luther’s life and calling that “true Luther,” the author takes the reader through the process of growth evident in Luther’s work. He quotes long passages, instead of tweetable sound bites, and he gives historical and biographical background through which to view the quotes. Rev. Trueman also does an admirable job of mostly separating himself from the work. In areas like the Lord’s Supper and the use of imagery, where a Presbyterian (Carl Trueman is an OPC minister, and professor at Westminster Seminary) would differ from Luther, Rev. Trueman offers those differences in footnotes, not within the text. There were only two places in which I felt Rev. Trueman’s voice rise above the work itself. In both places it was deliberate and added to the point being made about Luther rather than (in my opinion) detracting from it. Finally, Dr. Trueman does not permit himself to fall into hagiography or sensationalism. He is unafraid to mention the times in which Luther was “fundamentally wrongheaded” to quote the author, but he gives those moments the percentage of attention they deserve. He does not deny the later life anti-semitism, but he does not permit it to be the sole lens through which Luther can be seen.

Having completed the book, and now stepped back from it for a month or so, I find three major points have stayed with me.

  1. I found the inclusion and discussion of what Luther called “Anfechtungen” to be extremely helpful. Luther spoke of the essentials of the daily christian life as a. speech, b. meditation (not the eastern idea) and c. emotional distress or Anfechtungen. This idea that emotional struggle was not only a guaranteed part of the Christian walk, but a *necessary* element of it was a brain shifting one for me. Understand that Luther is not suggesting we should foster sinful emotional responses. Instead, Luther believed that if we are reading, speaking and crying out the Word of God (speech) and if we are actively pursuing the understanding of the Word of God (meditation) then we will naturally struggle with despair and hope (Anfechtungen.) The word will reveal to us the nature of our sin, and the holiness of God and that will cause a true believer to despair. Rather than being a downward spiral, however, Luther sees the emotional distress as a part of the sanctification process, that will drive us back to speaking and meditating upon the word of God. Luther believed that the emotional distress caused by the word of God was necessary, but that it was an internal response, and it should drive us away from ourselves and toward the external, objective, truth of God.
  2. That leads me to the second point that has stayed with me. All of Luther’s theology was shaped by his view that truth is objective, and therefore must come from outside of us. Dr. Trueman mentions at the beginning of Chapter 5, “. . . the more we examine Luther on the Christian life, the less he would seem to agree with the classic evangelical models.” (p.117) I had already reached the same conclusion by that point in the book. The idea that we must find truth within ourselves, or even that we are capable of some new understanding of God’s truth was anathema to him. Far from the rebel evangelical nailing the pope to a wall that is portrayed in popular culture and social media every October, Luther was seeking to return the Church of Christ to the objective truth that has been entrusted to her. If someone had said to him, as is the common parlance of our time, “I didn’t take that from the text,” Luther would have reprimanded her. There is the text. You take from it what is there, and you seek that outside of yourself, not from within. I was chastened (needfully) and driven back to speech and mediation.
  3. Finally, Luther’s habit of speaking to the devil when he faced questions was tremendously helpful to me. Whether Luther was actually conversing with the physical accuser of the brethren, or just facing his own sinful nature is of no significance, really. The point is, that when Luther found his mind assailed with doubt, he spoke truth audibly. This is a very practical application of Philippians 4:8 that I had once practiced and abandoned as mystical. Hearing the way in which Luther reminded the devil, and himself, of his standing before God, and the promises upon which that standing rested, gave me a sense of permission to do the same. My having a more robust theology now than then, I suspect has also helped it to be a more effective tool.

There is so much more to be commended in this book than a few hundred words can do justice. I recommend it highly, and I hope that this raving blog post also serves as the thank you card I did not send to my dear friend Sarah.


Reflections on NaNoWriMo

This November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel between the 1st and the 30th of November. I have been wanting to do this for some time, and this year we weren’t moving or renovation or any of the big things that had kept me from it in the past. On October 30 I made myself a profile, named my novel and committed myself to write about a vague idea that had been floating in my mind for a few months. I had no idea how it was going to play out, or that it would end in my writing almost 8000 words on the last day of the challenge.I just said, “Sure. Let’s give it a go. How hard can it be?”

On this side of things, I am left with three general observations.

  1. I need to challenge myself more often. This was a difficult task, but I am telling my children every day that the hard things are the way we learn and the way we glorify the Lord. Homeschooling the children has been one of those hard things in which I am pushing myself, but just as an athlete is always pushing to better their time or go further, I need to do that in the things that I am comfortable about doing well.
  2. I can choose not to feel guilty about doing something I enjoy. Part way through the challenge, my Mackerdoodle (who is 8) asked why it felt like I was spending a lot more time sitting at my laptop. I thought about how that made me feel, and how it was making her feel and we talked about it. I told her that I was still being faithful to the family. I was still doing laundry and vacuuming and cooking meals. I was still tucking the kids into bed most nights and homeschooling every morning. I continued to read aloud and to bake bread and make desserts. I had no reason to feel guilty for also choosing to write 50,000 words in one month, so I chose not to feel guilty for it.
  3. I really love writing. I love the sensation of stringing words together  to make sentences that carry specific meaning. I loved developing the characters and building the events and researching a specific time and place. I really love to write, and I had forgotten how much.

So I am editing the novel I wrote, and I am committing to finish Kissing Frogs (for the two of you who care) and I will be blogging more. If the only thing NaNoWriMo did was remind me how much I love to write, it was well worth a month of my time.


A Break With Tradition

It is the beginning of 2015 and I have been in the habit of ringing in the New Year by posting a retrospective of posts from the past year. This year, however, is better remembered by the things I didn’t post than the ones I did. 

If I were to pick a single post from 2014 to summarize the year, I think it would be this one from last March in which I ask the question “How do homeschooling bloggers do it?” Every church to which we have belonged since 2004 has had a school, so I assumed that the pattern would continue. I never thought I would be educating my children at home, and I think much of 2014 has been a year of adjusting to that new reality, and realizing how often I had assumed I would have more time to write after Jonathan finished with seminary. Turns out that was a flawed assumption.

In the summer there was the garden to keep me busy, and then Jonathan was being examined and licensed by Presbytery and then he was installed as the minister. We bought a house and tore out the carpet and we’re still putting the floor back. More to do. No time to write.

In addition, in September I began working as an evaluator for Tree of Life school. I am grading seventh and eighth grade writing assignments, which is certainly not a stretch for me. Now, often when I pick up my computer thinking that I may carve out a minute or two for writing, I see Mike’s face in my head and hear him saying, in an excellent Ricky Ricardo accent, ” Coralie. you got some grading to do!” To be clear, he has never, ever said those words to me in any accent (including his own), but you get the idea. More teaching. Less writing.

2014 can best be remembered in the silence of the blog and how the Lord has been teaching me contentment with what is, not what I think it should be.