Holy Handbags: Christian as a brand-name

 

It was BIG! It was fancy and it was very, very expensive.

We wandered around with our mouths gaping wide at the opulence of the Opryland Hotel. The ceilings were so high we almost couldn’t see them. Birds flew around us and then flew upwards into the canopy of tropical rainforest palms. While private rooms and suites formed the perimeter of the hotel, inside, under the main roof, were streets and arcades. There were conference rooms among ballrooms, ice-cream parlours next to saloons, beauty boutiques among fashion shops, florists and toyshops.

As we passed by a conference room, we noticed the paraphernalia displayed by sales representatives in the lobby outside. We looked with interest, surprised by the variety of ‘Christian’ items available on the market: stickers, birthday cards, wall plaques and children’s Bibles complete with colouring pencils.

But as we continued to look, we recognised ‘normal’ things that were labelled with ‘Christian’ symbols or texts, with prices to rival any Nike or Billabong product. My imagination ran away with all sorts of other advertising gimmicks: ‘Holy Handbags’, ‘Heaven Scent!’, ’Perfume of Paradise’, ‘Jesus Jeans’.

My eyes opened a little further that day – and unfortunately I think I became quite cynical.

What is a ‘Christian handbag’ anyway?

Does it make me holier if I use a ruler with a cross printed on it, rather than one I bought from the local newsagency?

At which stage does a pencil become a ‘Christian’ pencil? Is it born again when it goes through the printing press?

Obviously, ‘Christian’ sells. We only have to remember Christmas sales and the consumption of chocolate in Australia at Easter.

But where is the boundary between ‘Christian’ as we followers of Christ would call ourselves and ‘Christian’ as a brand-name? Should we trust everything that is called ‘Christian’? Should we distrust everything that is not marketed as ‘Christian’? Should we trust that everything sold in a ‘Christian’ bookshop is good, and reject other products on that basis?

How do we figure out what is good and what is not? It’s called discernment. And where do we get it? Good question.

I was once told about the people whose job it is to identify fake American dollar notes from real notes. What are their instructions? Instead of knowing every type of fake note available, they are to become so familiar with the real notes that any slight variation from the truth is very obvious.

As Christians we have the truth available to us in the Bible. If we become so familiar with truth by knowing the Word and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to spot a phoney a mile off. That is discernment.

As Lutherans, we have the legacy of Luther’s Small Catechism which Luther wrote for parents to teach their children. An added bonus of the catechism is that it teaches us to ask continually: ‘What does this mean?’ It encourages us to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking until we have answers. Searching for answers helps us to find discernment.

We have a banquet of books and other resources available to us. Some are classics, some are fun. Some are religious, some are Christian… Some are rubbish.

Reading, to some of us, is an absolute joy. To some of us, writing, too, is a joy and a privilege. But nothing compares to the word of God in teaching truth.

No books – not even Christian books or bible concordances – should ever take the place of our study of the word of God.

Max Lucado points out that Christians too often rely on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture instead of reading it themselves; and that makes as much sense as eating what somebody else has already half-digested. In the same way, we miss out on discernment if we rely on others to pre-digest our knowledge.

Discernment cannot be passed on: we must grow it ourselves.

Don’t stop reading other books – but remember that God’s word is truth. How does the Christian book you are reading stand up against God’s word? Is it consistent with the Bible’s teachings, and does God’s love and grace shine through? Are the Scriptures that are quoted used ‘in context’?

John MacArthur from Grace Community Church once gave a sermon titled, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. MacArthur strung a collection of Bible verses together, completely out of context. It was the funniest sermon I have ever heard – but he made the point very effectively that words and verses from the Bible can easily be made to say what anybody wants them to say.

Discernment looks at any verse in the light of the whole of God’s truth.

There are plenty of things on the market and even in our churches these days that appeal to ‘good, Christian folk’, and being a Christian does not protect us from sales-pitches. Some marketers actually take advantage of the trusting nature of Christians!

There are some valid questions that may help us learn to be more discerning; before we read a book, get involved in a program, sign up for a new course, a new roof, a diet plan, sponsorship, cosmetics… anything that is sold in Jesus’ name:

  • Does it glorify God or itself?
  • Does it edify (build up) God’s church?
  • What does it cost, and who will benefit from the cost?
  • Where will the money go?
  • Is there any level of secrecy  i.e. do you have to be a member or make a purchase or commitment in order to find out what it’s about, and are you allowed to share or discuss it with others?
  • What kind of language is being used: Is it ‘sales’ talk; does it use big words that you may have heard of but don’t really understand?
  • What are the claims: Is this the ‘only’ way, the ‘best’, ‘God’s way’, the ‘newest’?
  • What is the response if you say, ‘I will need to go home and pray about it’?

Perhaps if something is advertised as ‘Christian’, it may be worthwhile to bring out your cynical stick. But better still…

‘Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won’t stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet.‘ (Proverbs 3:21–24 WEB).

 

 

Originally published as ‘Holy Handbags’ in the Heart and Home column in The Lutheran, 2008, September Issue.  

www.thelutheran.com.au

The As You Go Quilt: A Quilt Adventure In Tatters

2012Ruth&Norm2 - Copy (2)Ted and Mae’s plan was already in tatters—and Ted hadn’t even begun the first step. At 22:10 he was supposed to have secured the quilt—folded like a road map under his left arm—and strolled into the darkened corridor. But it was already 22:25. South Wing was still lit up and the last of the nurses on the late-shift were only just leaving, almost half-an-hour late.

In a lot of ways it would have been more logical for Mae to make her way to Ted’s room, instead of the other way round. Her night vision was better and so was her health. But Ted’s rapport with the nurses in the rest home was more likely to get him out of trouble if he was discovered.

In Room 3 East, Mae waited…and waited.

She had purchased a new night-gown for the occasion. And she made sure she was wearing a tiny bit of the pink lipstick Ted said he liked, that first day she’d felt alive again— the first time in forty-four years that a gentleman had been kind to her, or had taken any notice of her at all.

Their friendship blossomed almost from the beginning – when Ted first noticed her ‘gardening’ in the courtyard shared by the South and East wings.

‘You’d better not let Fred catch you stealing his flowers,’ he said.

‘Oh, I’m planting, not stealing. See?’ Mae held up a tiny trowel and a packet of poppy seeds.

But the next day, and the next day… and the next, Ted noticed her doing the same thing, though in a different place each morning. It was a week before he realised that she was indeed ‘planting’— but the poppy seed packet was a cover-up for the pills she refused to swallow.

While the nurses thought she was sweet, if a little eccentric, Ted found her delightful. The more he got to know her, the more he liked her. They discovered a mutual love of gardening, history and reading.

Before long, they were sharing all of their meals and spending much of each day sitting together in the garden or, on rainy days, in the sunniest spots by the windows. Ted read aloud while Mae stitched.

Two weeks ago, Ted proposed an after-hours rendezvous. Mae responded that she was ‘a bit-old-fashioned that way.’

‘Well marry me, then,’ he said.

‘Okay, I will. Thank you for asking.’

Ted announced it to his family the next day. They could not have been happier for him.

It was good that he was here, well cared for and with great medical facilities nearby, in case his heart skipped a beat again. Best of all, he was close enough that his daughter and the grand-kids could walk there to visit.

Yet he hadn’t really settled. Until recently.

They had noticed something about him was different. There was a new spark; something that had been missing since their mum died … it must be Mae.

But Mae’s son Eric, ever-protective of his inheritance, threatened to stop her from seeing her two grandchildren if she went ahead with the marriage.

Mae’s sweet demeanour always disappeared after conversations with Eric. This conversation was rowdier than usual – heard all the way down the corridor. Ted fully expected Mae to stay in her room for days afterwards.

Yet she surprised Ted the next morning by greeting him at the breakfast table and announcing, ‘I had forty-four years of being bossed around by his father. I’m bothered if I’m going to be bossed around by him.’ Then she whispered, ‘Let’s not allow anything to get in our way. I have an idea.’

Ted leaned over and listened as Mae revealed her plan. ‘Whether or not it’s true is a bit contentious,’ Mae explained, ‘but the story goes that during the time of slavery in America, women stitched secret codes into quilts to guide the slaves to safety. I’ve decided to sew a quilt so you can find me in the middle of the night.’

Mae couldn’t sit still. She sat on the edge of her bed. Then she sat in her arm-chair. She turned her main light on and off and on again. She smoothed out every wrinkle on her bed, pressed and re-pressed the folds of her quilt, and adjusted the pillows… again.

Nurse Rosie noticed the light going on and off and went in to check that Mae was okay. Mae made up a story about needing to mark the page in the book she was reading, climbed into bed and asked Nurse Rosie to turn the light off, please.

‘Dear ol’ thing,’ Nurse Rosie said to the other nurse when she returned to the desk. ‘I saw her doing some embroidery the other night – the most unusual stitches I’ve ever seen. Said she was making a ‘quilt-as-you-go’ quilt. I’ve seen some of her other work – very intricate and detailed. This was more ‘folksy’. You know, thick wool, coarse and lumpy stitches. Not my cup of tea. But each to her own, I s’pose.’

It was now 22:45 and still, no Ted. It was unlikely he would be able to make it in the next half hour because the nurses tended to do another round between 22:50 and 23:10.

A tear dropped from Mae’s face onto her pillow. She had not cried for twenty years.

A scream shattered the silence of West Wing. Three nurses rushed to Room 3. One turned on the lights. Another raised the security alarm. They found Mrs Campbell attacking an intruder who was now cowering under cover of a grey-brown quilt.

A nurse yanked off the quilt.

‘Mr Collins! What on earth…?’

Another nurse steered Mrs Campbell to an armchair as nurses, guards and available staff appeared at the doorway. Nurse Rosie arrived last – just in time to see a security guard manoeuvring Ted out of the room, and carrying the quilt.

‘Hold on,’ said Nurse Rosie. ‘I recognise that quilt. What are you doing with it?’

‘I…I can explain,’ said Ted, but not quickly enough to stop Nurse Rosie from grabbing the quilt and returning it to Mae in 3 East.

‘Oh dear,’ said Mae as spread the quilt out on her bed. Then, out of her sewing basket, she took a hand-drawn map. Mae traced the map with her finger; then matched it, block by block, against the stitches on the quilt.

‘Oh no!’ she said. ‘It’s all my fault. Here! Block 3D. I’ve turned it left instead of right. He’s gone to the right room in the wrong wing!’

 

 

The Should Depot

All I wanted was toothpaste!

Something to clean my family’s teeth and freshen our breath.

It should have been simple.

But at the local supermarket I was overwhelmed by the different sizes, shapes, colours and flavours; of the many varieties of toothpastes.
73! Yes! I counted them–much to the bemusement of the woman who was stacking the shelves.

Seventy- three different toothpastes to choose from, each with a perfectly valid reason why I should purchase that particular variety:

‘a whiteness you can see’,‘ice sensation’, ‘extra bright’, ‘stages for children’, ‘herbal’, ‘no added sugar’.
I am sure that advertising agencies play on the minds of shoppers by creating a special compartment in our heads: the ‘should’ depot.

Should I worry about too much fluoride, or too much artificial sweetener? Was it accidental that the denture tablets were at eye level, reminding me why I should buy certain brands of toothpaste?

Whether or not I was worried before I made my purchase, the ‘shoulds’ certainly got to me by the time I nervously passed my chosen variety to the checkout operator:

Would she notice my smile?

Did my breath smell like last night’s lasagne?

Should I have gone for the herbal blend?

 

Quite frankly, I’d like to ban the word ‘should’. 

If I listen to my head on days when I am particularly overwhelmed by life, there are a multitude of ‘shoulds’ that flood in and swamp me:

I should get up this morning and go for a walk. I should not eat that last piece of chocolate cake, but I shouldn’t let it go to waste. I should get outside and do the weeding. I should be more diligent with composting and recycling. I should use a timer for the shower. I should be a better parent.
 I should …
I’m not sure when it crept into our vocabulary so prolifically, but I think ‘should’ has become one of Satan’s sneaky but effective ways of creating false guilt and unnecessary anxiety in us.

After all, what am I really saying when I say ‘I should …’?

Am I saying, I feel guilty because there is so much to be done?

Or am I imposing guilt on others, because, even if I didn’t do something, if I thought I should have, I have gone one better than someone who had not even thought they should have?

If I take on the guilt for what I should have done, does that absolve me?

There almost seems to be a hierarchy of holinesses associated with ‘shoulds’. If Monty Python were to perform a skit about ‘should’, I imagine it would go something like:

Guilty Person (GP) 1: ‘I should have taken a meal around to the family who was struggling.’
Guilty Person (GP) 2: ‘You think that’s bad! I should have spent time with the person with cancer and I should have given to the charity, whose blind representative was at the door of the supermarket.’
GP 1: ‘Luxury! I should have offered to babysit for the family with 23 children, served at the local soup kitchen eight days a week, mown the lawn for all the elderly folk down the street, assisted the frail woman across the road, hemmed all the trousers in the local Goodwill …’
GP 2: ‘And if we told the younger generation of today what we should have done, they’d never believe us!’

‘Should’ does not motivate us, encourage us or equip us. It confuses us, tempts us and lessens our effectiveness.

‘Should’ uses energy we don’t have in order to worry about things we probably won’t do anyway.

We spend more time worrying about what we think we ‘should’ be doing than on doing what really needs to be done, what we are capable of, or what there is actually to be done after all.
What would happen if we used the energy we waste on ‘shoulds’, for the ‘Coulds’ and ‘Let’s’ and ‘Why don’t we?’

Just thinking about the possibilities makes me smile.

It opens up a rainbow of opportunities: our minds to the creativity that freedom brings; our hearts to the warmth of really understanding what we were created to do; our hands to the doing; and our voices to singing God’s praises so that everything we do or think about actually glorifies God.

Imagine a world in which we replace worry about what we ‘should’ do with a prayer to the creator of our days, followed by a desire to do his will.

Imagine a world in which we leave the ‘shoulds’ of today’s society behind us and take up ‘We can!’ as our catch-cry.

The late missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot once included the following words in her radio program Gateway to Joy: ‘I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and he will enable me to do it!’

Life might look less depressing and more achievable if, instead of being ‘burdened again by the yoke of slavery’ (Gal 5:1) of the ‘shoulds’, we replaced ‘should’ with ‘can’.

If we are parents, we ‘can’ get on with cleaning up after the 19th spill for the day, and play with our kids once it’s done.

Or we ‘can’ sit and listen to our teens as they tell us about their horrible day.

If we are students, we ‘can’ study diligently to equip ourselves with the knowledge we will need to apply later.

If we are employees, we ‘can’ work conscientiously for our employer.

If we are employers, we ‘can’ assign tasks fairly and reward appropriately for effort.

If we are leaders, we ‘can’ serve those we lead.

If we are senior citizens, we ‘can’ share our lives with those who don’t yet have our experience.

Let’s spend our energy on what we ‘can’ do.

No ‘shoulds’ about it!

 

Originally published as:

‘Canning the Shoulds’, in The Lutheran, October edition, 2008.

Today was one of those days I should have stayed in bed.

Today was one of those days I should have stayed in bed.

I took too long to wake up, so my coffee intake was late.

The kitchen was full of people,

and I was full of caffeine-withdrawal shakes.

That was easily remedied with a quick coffee.

 

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of a walk each morning.

So I set off – with my phone, a drink, pens and a notebook in the quilted bag I’d machine-embroidered – custom-made for walking and writing.

Usually I walk about one kilometre, then turn around to walk in the opposite direction. But this morning I felt that I should cross the main road, sit by the duck-pond and spend the morning in quiet contemplation.

Last week I bought new walking shoes to go with my new orthotics.  I decided to break them in…this morning. So my feet hurt.

The opportunity to sit for a while before the return trip home seemed to be favourable both to my head and my feet. So off I toddled.

Soon I reached the board-walk by the duck pond and found a bench. I checked the bench for tell-tale signs of early morning dew. I’d had wet pants from wet benches before. There were no dew-drops on it. So I sat down upon it.

It wasn’t until sometime later, after I’d been contemplating the ducks, the skeletons of dead trees, and a magnificent river red gum on the bank of the creek, that I decided to do some writing in my notebook.

As I began to write, I noticed that my fingers were green. I looked inside my bag, knowing that in it was a green fluoro-pen, and it would not have been the first pen to leak in my bag.

So I dug it out.

Aha! I thought as I turned the pen around in my fingers, not realising that my fingers were making the pen green as I turned it over and over.

I looked into the bag. There was no evidence that anything had leaked. I emptied the remainder of the contents of my bag onto the bench, then picked up my notebook. It too was green.

This is really strange,  I thought – as I stood up to survey the bag more closely.

Then I happened to look at the seat again.  Graffiti on the seat shouted at me in bright fluoro green.

Very strange. I thought. I didn’t notice that before.

I looked closer.

The shape of my bottom and thighs encircled the graffiti; the knit pattern from the back of my jumper patterned the backrest. And a little further up the bench, underneath a pile of stones to keep it in place, a scrunched paper sign warned

“Wet Paint!”

It was then that I realised the enormity of what I’d done.

My backside was green

and my face was red!

Today was one of those mornings I should have stayed in bed.

A true story – it happened to the friend of a friend of mine…me!

(Facebook Post by Julie Hahn, June 11, 2013)

 

The Possum Diaries (From Facebook posts)

EEEK!@!!!!
A week or so ago, we discovered a new possum hole in the wall behind my quilting cupboard. This morning I decided to check whether they had left it alone – and especially that they hadn’t decided to nest in my stash.
There was a 6″ x 6″ hole (twice as big as last time) and inside was/is a sleeping full-sized possum.EEK!@!!! Visions of Colin Thiele’s books coming to life .Do any greenies have any ideas how we can evict probably up to 5 families of possums from our house? There are already 2 possum boxes in the trees within 20 metres of our house, … We have poorly fitting concrete tiles which shift – or get shifted by the possums. All the neighbours have the same problem.If they don’t move out, I might just have to
Oh Poo!
RIP possum which has decided to die in our bedroom wall .
And RIP another one – perhaps the one I was laughing at a couple of days ago because its backside was sticking out into my sewing room, has died in the sewing room wall – or just left a dreadful smell…..Chris’s gyprocking skills will be used to their utmost today I think – as will our paint matching skillsWe can’t see where they are getting in! And the Possum man requests aren’t getting through. He might be a bit busy methinks.Memory Lane candle place at TTPlus will be getting a visit from me today for de-stinking the house.

 I have an addendum to the book…

“the very hungry possum” who ate the walls of the Hahn house.

How can a day be so full of contrasts?
Possum mischief and yukkiness
to one of my favourite things – Singing and playing piano for a bunch of people at Strathmont with the Salisbury Lutheran Ladies Guild. I had a lovely time…hope they did too! I hope they’ll have me back!
NIMBY – I have always tried to resist being a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) – BUT as of today, I’m becoming a NIMRAP (Not In My Roof Anymore, Possums). Hope the neighbours don’t mind too much – or should I take out shares in the company who are sealing our gutters?
24 hours without the sounds of possums in either the roof or wall cavities. Hoping the whiff of something I smelt yesterday was the result of the dog’s belly-ache, and not something stuck inside the roof…If this gutter-sealing works as a possum antidote, the 2 companies will be getting referrals here

Julie Hahn was feeling annoyed.

Apr 15, 2015 12:18am

Well the possum saga continues…Now in Noah’s wall
Dear fellow possums, The renovations are going splendidly. After months of hard work, our outlook suddenly grew from dark and dingy, to expansive, colourful – and, unfortunately, noisy. The humans do not take into consideration our sleep requirements, and bang on the walls during the day.
Today, the humans added an extra room to our palace. It is quite decorative, though not very private. We believe it must be a particular eating place since they have kindly placed an apple into it. We actually preferred the extensions with sky-lights that they had in place last week. But they were faulty – and only allowed us to go out at night. Somehow we managed to lock ourselves out of our own apartments.
Never mind.
We made alternative arrangements and our kind neighbours showed us other entry points which we have been utilizing since then. We’ve begun working on another section for Mama possum and her little baby.
Unfortunately, the humans keep thumping. So much for the sleep. Oh well. It’s time to go out to meet the other neighbours. Good night.
2015-04-18 23.07.07
Dear Possum friends, The humans have been very kind. The latest addition to our room was furbished with lovely fresh apple which was delicious. While I was eating, one of the humans popped up to say hello.
I didn’t realize until then that the new room was indeed a possum gymnasium, complete with obstacle course. The degree of difficulty factor was not too much for me on the first attempt.
Having decided to abandon the second attempt when the human shone his shiny bald head into our apartment I waited until the noisy humans had settled for the night before I made the third attempt to retrieve the apple. To my great delight the human head had rewarded me with more apple. However, my gymnastic ability had gone and I discovered that I was stuck. So I made an enormous racket and woke the humans. I didn’t expect that they would transport the entire gymnasium out to my favorite tree and release me. Freedom! If you’d care to join me, try for some of that lovely juicy apple! It gives you quite a trip! Bon voyage!
All clear! No possums and no health worries either! Thank you AquaGuard for sealing our gutters with extra-tough anti-possum stuff, and Thank God for Doctors and medical treatment.
Update on the pitter-patter of little feet. Having hired a very expensive possum removal company, and having installed much more expensive (but evidently effective) gutter guard (Aquaguard), Chris made a friend by giving some lovely fresh apple, then removed the cage from the house and opened it on the back-lawn.
The possums have not only stayed out of our roof, but there is no current evidence that they are coming into our yard at all. It seems that if our roof is no longer a holiday destination, they’re not interested in visiting at all.

You can probably see that the possum who took longest to depart from her luxury upstairs apartment was not at all shy. She came right up to us as if to say
“So long – and thanks for all the (apple).”