She strains upward,
purple tails like stars
trailing behind.
Underneath, threads
of roots

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 3:20)


On Realistic Caricatures, Charlotte, and God

For The High Calling book club (led by Cheryl Smith this week):
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me
by Karen Swallow Prior
This week we’re discussing chapters 4-6. Join us! Christian Blog Network

I couldn’t believe what I read.

“You must never set up a wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build for the Lord your God.”
(Deuteronomy 16:21)

They needed a command for that? Of all kinds of idolatry, that one has got to be the worst. To put an Asherah pole right beside the altar for the Lord?! Such insolence! How audacious!

Those guys I read about in the Bible are grossly idolatrous. It’s ludicrous. I thought of when, under Aaron’s leadership, they melt all their earrings to make a golden calf and then declare it worthy of worship, even saying it led them out of Egypt. Then when Moses calls Aaron on it, Aaron raises his palms, shrugs his shoulders, and says they just threw in the gold and, whaddya know, “out came this calf!” I read a story like this and think, Really?

I thought of King Jeroboam who, similarly, made one golden calf to put in Bethel and another to put in Dan. He, too, told the people these golden bovines are the gods who delivered them out of Egypt.

But most of all I thought of the verse above. How could anyone insult God to His face by worshiping Him on one hand, and on the other hand and at the same time, worship an idol or do something God doesn’t want?

These thoughts came in the space of two or three seconds. I wonder if the Holy Spirit was setting me up, in a way. Because after thinking of Aaron, and Jeroboam, and all those unbelievably idolatrous Israelites, I thought of me.

How many times, and in how many ways, have I done the equivalent of setting up an Asherah pole right next to the altar of God? Have I claimed to love Him above all and, at the same time, desired the love, affirmation, and companionship of people to the point of idolatry? Have I claimed growing intimacy with God as my deepest desire, and yet nurtured greed (which is idolatry)?

What seemed ridiculously ludicrous was actually a lot like reality. What seemed like an unreal exaggeration was a lot like me.

Karen Swallow Prior says about Charles Dickens’ characters in Great Expectations:

They are, paradoxically, realistic caricatures. Dickens’ characters are fanciful and at the same time just like someone you probably know. . . . Wemmick might be said to be the quintessential modern man, and, with closer examination of a character that on the surface seems utterly riduculous, we realize that perhaps he is not so ridiculous after all.

—Prior, pages 59-60.

Caricatures are defined by exaggerated features, yet those exaggerations make the caricature recognizable.

When I read of people whose actions seem ridiculously off-course, I should recognize when they are “just like someone [I] probably know”—just like me. I need the constant realization that God has shown His grace to me, most of all.

And then I can move forward in the hope of that very grace. Last week we talked about Charlotte’s Web in chapter 2:

As she weaves words about Wilbur in her web, Wilbur tries to live up to the meaning of the words. . . . [T]he power of giving something its proper name, in turn, empowers it to become the name it is called.

—Prior, page 42

To me, this sounds a lot like many parts of the Bible. For example, I’ve heard it taught countless times that the biblical meaning of “justified” is “declared righteous.” Here’s another example from Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

(Ephesians 5:8)

At the same time God says I already am light, He also calls me to live like it. God calls us what we are still becoming. There’s no exaggeration in that.

Train of Thought

Steaming locomotive painted
black like the smoke it was blowin’,

that train of thought gathered too much
momentum. Unable to stop, it ran

over another bound with her own
chain of thought.

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent
or praiseworthy—
think about such things.
(Philippians 4:8)

(This poem was inspired by this one here.)

Satisfaction Guaranteed

It seems too simple.
Could this be—
that my every craving
will be satisfied
if I go after
the right hunger?

Craving righteousness guarantees
Craving sin guarantees …

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
(Matthew 5:6)

… their desire for sin is never satisfied.
(2 Peter 2:14)

Related: Who Fills In the Blanks?

“What do you like about your mom?”

While we’re not who we want to be,
we’re not who we used to be,
and so we thank You for Your faithfulness . . .

Jean Fleming

God is faithful to grow me, and in this is great hope.

My family sat around our friends’ breakfast table the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We passed two pancake-piled plates, honey, syrup, and a bowl of yogurt mixed with fruit from the freezer. The syrup, like the hospitality, was very warm. I preferred my pancakes plain and kept passing the syrup (but soaked up the hospitality poured so liberally). I served myself generous scoopfuls of the peaches and blueberries, their summer sweetness frozen into them. The cold in my mouth startled me a bit, like the question the pancake-maker asked my sons:

“Boys? I have a question I’d like each of you to answer. Tell me—what’s one thing about your mom that you like, and what’s one thing about your dad that you like?”

I froze colder than the peaches by my pancakes. Wondering if my sons would have anything to say, I glanced at this woman who dared ask such a question while I was present. I considered locking myself in the bathroom until the conversation was over, but instead I slowly lowered the edge of my fork down through my pancakes, plain and bare as the question made me.

All three boys were silent. No answer was ready at their lips. Their mouths were empty of words, so they (and I) kept filling them with pancake bites.

Finally, Titus spoke. “My mom gives us BIG dessert servings.”

Byron, the youngest, followed with, “I like how Dad gives little dessert servings.” (I still don’t understand this.)

Silly answers continued for a bit. During silent lulls the questioner made some suggestions—things she liked about us as parents. Her prompting worked, for more answers came.

Titus said, “I like how Dad invents toys,” so the conversation turned to Charles’s toymaking.

Eventually, our eldest gave his answer. “I finally thought of something,” he began. (That “finally” rung loud in my spirit.) “I like how my mom cares for us and educates us, and she even spends her own money on it!” (I did smile at that. Who else besides their parents would pay for our school materials and books?)

Then came the big hammer. Derek continued about Charles: “And one thing I really like about Dad is, he never yells. I mean, not ever.”

My mind replayed twelve years of parenting. Derek spoke truth; Charles had never (really, never!) yelled at our children. But my mind replayed another version of those twelve years: I did yell at them. It wasn’t hard to recall the times I raised my volume or turned on that ugly, harsh voice.

Derek’s answer was not only about Charles. It was about me. I can’t really call it a revelation, for I already knew this truth. This one thing he likes about his Dad is the same one thing he dislikes about his Mom. This son never spoke it, but I’ve known since he was a toddler that he can’t stand when I yell at them.

Breakfast went on. The conversation turned to other things. But the conviction about yelling remained with me all morning, all that day, and even now. Not only did the Holy Spirit convict me that yelling at my kids is still a problem, but He also assured me that He cares about me and my spiritual life. After all, I have been pleading for God’s help in this particular weakness. I am thanking God because I recognize that, through this breakfast, God once again demonstrated His love for me. He doesn’t want me to retain that part of who I am, and He is answering my prayer with this gentle reminder.

So, I’m encouraged. God heard my prayer and granted my request. He is helping me, and I will keep praying.

Father, please keep helping me to be the mother You want me to be. Thank you that, because of You, I am not the mother I once was.

Make me know Thy ways, O Lord,
Teach me Thy paths.
Lead me in Thy truth and teach me,
For Thou art the God of my salvation;
For Thee I wait all the day.

(Psalm 25:4-5)


(Posting here until I can figure out why I can’t log in at my other place.)