Unknown source. Please e-mail me if you know the artist.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

11: You Complete Me

Jasmine would not expect a disc jockey of a secular station to seamlessly segue to its music format from a pre-taped radio preacher, but she was amused by the choice of the first song after the sermon, Bruce Springsteen’s 90s classic, “Secret Garden”: 
"She'll let you in her house
If you come knocking late at night
She’ll let you in her mouth
If the words you say are right”
            “If the words you say are right.”  Jasmine had never caught that line.  The song featured in Jerry Maguire, and the words the hero said were right, exactly right: “You complete me.”  Jasmine’s mind raced back fifteen years, as Jazzie at sixteen-going-on-seventeen, and feeling those words reverberate through every part of her body.  Maguire, played by Tom Cruise, spoke the line when he returned to his girlfriend after their separation.  The film writers brilliantly expressed what every girl longs for: to be “completed” by her man.
            Jazzie watched the film in the theater with her two best friends, Jill and Stacey.  They were Juniors in high school, and, a month earlier, Jazzie had broken up with her boyfriend and heart-throb, Steven, because he wanted sex and she didn’t want to give it.  Except – she didn’t know she was breaking up with him.  She thought she was giving a mindless threat, not actually breaking up.  The couple had been arguing, not even about sex, then he said something absurd: “You’re really cute when you’re mad.  Makes me want to quit talking and see what’s behind your shirt.”  Later, she scolded herself for not taking a different tact, something like, “Not funny.  How about a hug instead?”  Why, she wondered, had she flown off the handle and yelled back, “If that’s all you’re after, we’re through!”  She hadn’t really meant it, but he had taken it literally.  To her horror, he suggested that was all he was after. “If that’s how you feel, I guess we are,” he replied.  “I guess we are,” said the angry Jazzie, and he turned and walked away.
            For the following month, Jazzie discovered what a broken heart feels like.  She also learned something no one had ever warned her about: a broken heart comes with a tortured mind.  Hers was obsessed with questions about their final interaction.  In the heat of the moment, Jazzie believed Steve took her comment literally, and she also took his literally.  What if one of them had misunderstood the other?  What if he misunderstood and thought that she really wanted a break-up and was just using his silly comment to do it?  Or what if she misunderstood him?  What if his reply, “If that’s how you feel” was a reaction not to her words, but to the anger in her voice?  Desperately wanting Steve back, she wanted more than anything to believe that one of them had misunderstood the other. 
When her mind was not obsessed with questions over their final argument, it was instead torturing her with fantasies of their reunion.  She imagined it many ways, all, of course, clearing up the misunderstanding.  Just in case she had to be the one to initiate clarity, she imagined a few different settings, mostly at school, and a few ways she could break the ice.  Unless another, more brilliant option presented itself in the moment, she decided upon the simplest: “Did we misunderstand each other?”  Still, no fantasy at her initiation turned out as beautiful as any when he initiates the reunion.  Her favorite image had him approaching her at school, during lunch, when she is sitting with her best friends, and he sits down next to her, and whispers in her ear, “Jazzie, I just want you to know, it’s not your body I want.  It’s you.”  In this fantasy, she asks her friends if they’d be willing to excuse her, to which they smile and nod, and then she and Steve walk off together, holding hands, to their favorite spot on campus, the pole vault.  As a Varsity pole vaulter, Steve had a special place in his heart for this place on campus, so Jazzie always felt extra connected to him when he shared the spot with her.
            How similar -- yet better – was Dorothy’s reunion with Jerry Maguire, who knocks at Dorothy’s door, walks into a home filled with women complaining about their ex-s, and says to her, “You complete me.”  Jasmine felt heat spreading through her chest, up her neck, down her arms, into her face, down her abdomen and even into her legs.  Chills tingled all up and down her spine.  “You complete me.”  Jasmine now had a new fantasy.  She wanted Steve to knock at her door and say, “You complete me.”  Nothing could better capture her deepest desire than to be “completed” with her man, and – even better – for him to be “completed” by her.
            Walking out of the theater, Jill quoted the line, “You complete me,” sighed, swooshed down, and pretended to faint.  Jazzie and Stacey both laughed and mimicked her fainting spell.  Stacey proposed a friendship vow: “We will only date a guy who ‘completes’ us.”  All three girls cast their right hand into the center, clutched them together, and popped their hands down, then back up, and then up to the ceiling.  It was a done deal.  Jazzie, Jill, and Stacey had vowed to one another to seek out only men who “complete” them.  If he doesn’t complete her, or if she doesn’t complete him, the relationship is a no-go.
Jasmine turns off the radio and lets her mind return to 2012.  She had long since forgotten her first boyfriend.  Horrified, she wonders how she would have survived that break-up had it occurred now.  She and her boyfriend would have cell phones, and they would be used to non-stop texting when they are not together.  They would be not only “friends” on social media, but “in a relationship.” Publicly, they would be known by all of their friends and friends of friends to be dating.  Should they have a change to their “relationship status,” they would have to make that public.  And, would a “relationship status” change also mean that one would “de-friend” the other?  And, if they did not do that, would she have been “spying” on Steve every moment she could – and sometimes when she shouldn’t have been – and scheming, all the time, to clear up the “misunderstanding”?  Her tortured mind would have also questioned whether the “misunderstanding” get cleared up personally, or by text, or by a social media message, or by publicly hinting at it on social media?  Taking a deep breath, Jasmine prays a very big “thank you” that she had been spared from an even more dreaded first break-up in the social media age.
Looking down at her Bible, Jasmine sees again what sparked her astonishment just before hearing Springsteen’s song: the three curses of Eve, the familiar first of childbirth, the chilling third, and the curious second, “Yet your desire will be for your husband” (Gen 3:16).  In an instant, the passage speaks to her: “You complete me.”  Another synchronicity.  Are these the same?  Does a woman’s longing for “You complete me” equal “your desire will be for your husband?”  If they are the equal, then why would the desire for completion be a curse?
 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.
Continue to The Ancient Obsession
Return to Synchronicity
Start at the Beginning: Why did Noah let God drown the World?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Outer experiences/Inner Discoveries Whisper

Life on Earth is a remarkable interplay
between outer experiences and inner discoveries.
The purpose of life is for the inner discoveries
for which the outer experiences are merely catalysts.

~ whisper of mystery, 8/19/18

 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

10: Synchronicity

            Jasmine didn’t know it yet, but she was about to discover a pattern within the kingdom: when one embarks upon a spiritual quest, synchronicities appear to guide the pilgrim upon her path.  Was it merely coincidence that a few days ago, a whisper of mystery had prompted her to find out who Eve is and, today, the radio preacher Jasmine turned on had chosen for his topic “The Fall”?  Carl Jung would say, “No, not ‘coincidence,’ but ‘synchronicity.’”  Jung defined “synchronicity” as “meaningful coincidence,” but it could be further defined as “divine coincidence”: those connections that are divinely ordained to help guide a seeker upon his path.
            Cast from her church, Jasmine decided that Sunday morning she would “do church” by listening to one of the popular radio preachers.  She had never heard of this preacher, but she found one whose voice didn’t scream.  Given Jasmine’s stereotypes of radio preachers, his voice and tone sounded unusually rational.  Little did she expect him to spend much of his sermon on Eve.
            Having been carefully taught from her childhood church’s “BE” program to always bring her Bible to church, Jasmine had her Bible opened to Genesis 3 to follow along.  Unlike the pastors at the churches she had always attended, this one did not begin with the scripture passage, but bounced all over it, reading the passages relevant to his message, so Jasmine opted to multi-task reading the chapter and listening to his sermon.
            “Men, do you know why you toil at work?” the preacher asked.  “Do you know why you are getting interrupted by people calling you to sell stuff you don’t want nor need?  Or why you are finding your e-mail inbox overloaded, much of it with spam, while the messages from your boss get hidden in the inundation?   Or why you find yourself unable to discreetly take leave from the office gossip when you just wanted to warm up your coffee?  Or why you knock heads with your supervisor who insists on the most inefficient way to get the job done?  Or why you’re fighting viruses on your computer, battling red tape in your bureaucracies, or getting earfuls from clients who blame you for their mistakes?”  Jasmine could resonate with all of his examples, and her mind added more of them, not only from the businesses where she had worked, but also from the school where she was now teaching.  The preacher continued, “Do you want to know why you face all of these seemingly unnecessary pressures?  It’s the thorns, men, the thorns you toil at work.”
            Jasmine’s mind stopped at the word, “men.”  She knew all of those thorns and more, as did every one of her female friends.  What century, Jasmine wondered, is this radio preacher living in?  Since he had perfectly nailed what “thorns” are like in today’s society, his internal clock couldn’t be too far off.  Perhaps that single word was an unconscious slip from his early days as a pastor.  Jasmine decided to let it go and keep listening.
But she felt another sting when he blamed the women for the “men’s” toil.  As Eve had been the “first” to “fall,” the preacher accused her of “tempting the man to join her as an accomplice in their crime.”  He added in a pre-caution: “Be careful, men, not to heed bad advice.”  Reading along in Genesis 3, Jasmine smiled at the irony.  The preacher seemed to be doing the same as Adam: “She made me do it.”  Had he caught Adam’s words?  “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it“ (Genesis 3:12, NIV).
            The preacher seemed not to have caught the irony, but, at least, he included women in his following admonishment: “This pertains to all of us.  We each need to heed good advice, as King David taught: ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked’” (Psalm 1:1).   Naturally, the preacher put in a plug to honor one’s leaders and accept the sound counsel of those in positions of authority, presumably, of course, his counsel and that of other church leaders. 
            Cynical though Jasmine may have been, she was grateful she didn’t turn off the preacher mid-sermon, because he closed with a disclaimer showing he did not believe Eve was all bad, nor did he place full blame upon her alone.  “Perhaps we place too much blame on the woman for being the first to fall, when she was deceived by a seemingly divine and, as the text states, ‘cunning’ creature.  Adam fell fully upon the prompting of another human, but Eve followed a ‘cunning’ creature she may have thought she could trust.”  Jasmine sighed some relief the preacher admitted this.  He continued, “She should have known, of course, to trust God.  But we should not over-criticize her for falling for a deception.  Instead, we should take precautions ourselves to be awake and alert, ever following Christ, our Master, so as to avoid falling into the traps of the Enemy.”
Jasmine had heard many such messages; at this moment, the preacher was speaking her language.  She was glad he was not the all-blame or Eve-is-all-black type, recognizing in her some understandably human traits and giving her the benefit of the doubt as one who was, at heart, neither “disobedient,” nor “a temptress,” but “deceived.”
Then, in order to warn against the “cunning” ways the “Enemy” might deceive today, the preacher added another precaution that caught Jasmine’s attention: over-trusting one’s perception of seemingly divine guidance that is, in fact, deceptive.  He gave examples of visions, dreams, and messages that could appear to be from the Holy Spirit, but, could in fact be from the darker side of the heavenly realms. 
Would this include her “whispers of mystery”?  How could she be sure these messages were not from the dark, but from the Light?  She prayed the Spirit would help her to answer this question, and, in the meantime, she would be cautious, not taking them fully at face value, until she was sure they were from the Light.
The preacher moved to conclude his sermon, having never quite touched on Eve’s curse.  And it was quite a curious one.  Though he had skipped around the passage and not read it, BE Bible-trained Jasmine had, of course, opened to the passage in her Bible.  To her astonishment, Eve was cursed with more than just pain in childbirth: 
“To the woman, He said,
‘I will greatly multiply
your pain in childbirth.
In pain you shall bring forth children.
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you’”
Jasmine marveled over the final statement.  The Bible really says that?     
 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

9: Always the Thorn?

 “Now flee from youthful lusts
and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace,
with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart”
(2 Timothy 2:22) 

            “Is it an insult?”  Until now, Jasmine had forgotten the surprising whisper.  “It is, My Child.”  “Why?” she asked.  “Centuries of misunderstanding.”  Sitting on her bed after the Sunday school lesson when Abraham stood up to God, eleven year old Jasmine wondered what it meant that Mr. C thought she was “just like Eve.”  To herself, she thought, she asked if the comparison was an insult.  At that time, she should not have been too surprised.  In childhood, whispers of mystery came to her from time to time, but by the time she was eleven, they were quite rare, and by her teens, they had disappeared completely.  In adulthood, Jasmine could think of only one: when a whisper nudged her out of her position as a high school English and drama teacher.  It wasn’t until then that Jasmine even remembered she had received any such whispers in childhood.  Now, she had merely a faint memory that they had come, but she couldn’t recall more than one or two, nor was she sure whether any were to be trusted.  Mysteriously, the memory of this one had just suddenly returned.
            When she had received the whisper as an eleven year old, the only part Jasmine took seriously was the affirmation of the insult. Much of Jasmine’s fifth grade year was a battle between the numerous questions overtaking her mind and her commitment to prove the insult wrong.  Today, Jasmine muddled over the “centuries of misunderstanding” part.  At eleven, Jasmine wished to disprove the comparison.  Now, at thirty-one, she wondered whether she should disprove the insult itself.
Racing through Jasmine’s head now was Head Elder John Prager’s “prayer.”  It sounded so biblical, but felt so wrong, and repeated in her mind like an ad jingle refusing to go away.
“Our Father in Heaven, thank You for bringing this young lady to us.
We pray You will forgive her.  In the Name of Your Son, cleanse her heart, purify her mind, transform her by the renewing of her mind, and help her to flee youthful lusts.  Thank You for your great mercy upon this repentant sinner, Lord.  Amen.”
The biblical references were clear: “cleanse her heart,” “transform her by the renewing of her mind,” flee youthful lusts.”  One at a time, she entered each of them into her Bible reference software.  Psalm 51:10 popped up: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”  Jasmine prayed the verse, repeated it, and prayed it again.  Next, the program presented Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Jasmine prayed and repeated that one too, and sighed.  Hadn’t she already been trying to do that? 
The complete verse for the next reference stopped her in her tracks: “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Jasmine stared at the scripture, astonished.  Could the full verse really say that?  Jasmine had heard the first part of 2 Timothy 2:22 many times, but she didn’t know the scripture had a second part.  Shaking her head, stunned, she pulled out her own Bible, looked it up, and confirmed the full verse said exactly that.  Nothing could describe better what she had been trying to do than “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness . . . with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.” 
            The elder’s order was the opposite.  It forbid contact between those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.  Jasmine wondered whether the elders had ever seen the full verse.  Were they, like her, only familiar with the first part?  Or, if they did know the full version, did they think she and Davie were not calling on the Lord with a pure heart?  They must not have, she reasoned, as they had ordered no contact between them, the opposite of the scripture’s command.
Then the elder’s final words to her also re-emerged: “Women.  Always the thorn.  Always the tempters.”  Always.  Jasmine’s heart stopped with the revelation: the church elders trusted Davie was calling on the Lord with a pure heart, but they did not trust the she was.  They had not paused to hear her story.  They had asked no questions.  They had never fact checked their assumptions.
“Always.”  Definitively black and white.  Eve.  Also definitively black and white.  Or, more to the point, black.  But why?  The elders were not alone in seeing Eve as black.  Even her beloved teacher, Mr. C., had perceived Eve as black.  She liked him so much that it pierced her heart and troubled her deeply when she let him down, which, given her persistent questions, was often.  Still, Jasmine reflected, she had had the courage to ask Mr. Casey her questions.  If her question was pressing upon her too doggedly, she asked him in spite of his likely reproach.  And she was only eleven.  What happened?  Where had her courage gone?  Why was she now such a wimp that she lacked the courage to ask the elder her questions.  The list was growing:  Does a beer do anything to tempt a guy?  Did the elders know the second part of 2 Tim 2:22?  If so, why not find out if she’s living it?  Do they not wish to hear her story? 
Then, of course, she still had her biblical questions.  Even now, two decades later, Jasmine still wanted to know why Noah let God drown the world, why God commanded Joshua to commit genocide, and why God would harden a king’s heart and then punish the king’s people for what was between the king and God.  And now, she added another truly personal question: Who, really, is Eve?  What does it mean to be just like her?
Suddenly the second whisper of mystery of Jasmine’s adulthood’s arrived: Find out.   What was that?  Find out.  Who is Eve?  What does it mean to be just like Eve?  Search out your questions, and I’ll guide you.”  
 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.
Continue to Synchronicity

Friday, September 14, 2018

8: Standing up to God

“Far be it from Thee to do such a thing,
to slay the righteous and the wicked,
so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.
Far be it from Thee!
Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

(Gen 18:25)

Jasmine didn’t discover herself to be progressive until her sophomore year of college.  In fifth grade, she was simply a curious kid in a conservative Christian family attending a conservative Christian church.  No one at that time, least of all Jasmine herself, perceived her to be odd in any way other than inquisitive.  When her mother couldn’t answer one of Jasmine’s tough questions, she’d say, “I don’t know, Sweetie, but you’re a smart cookie, so go find out.”
Trusting other adults would feel as her mother, Jasmine did.  That usually meant asking them, especially the Sunday school teacher she adored.  But by the time her Sunday school class made it to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jasmine had already learned that Mr. C. was particular about which curiosities he did and did not like.  Questions, in general, he wanted, but some were off limits, and Jasmine began trying to keep off the off limits questions.
A hero shown to be as thoroughly great as Abraham was in Genesis 18 should have made Jasmine’s task easy.  The lesson began the usual way with all students pulling out the BE Bibles, standing for Bibles for Everyone, they had received in third grade.   Mr. C. offered John, the first in the class to recite his memory verse, the chance to start the scripture reading from Genesis 18.  Such an offer is usually an honor, but on this day, John appeared to be only modestly in the mood to read.  “Read as far as you like,” Mr. C continued, “and then I’ll take it from there, ok?”  John nodded, read the first two verses, then looked up to Mr. C.  “Verse 3,” nodded Mr. C, “He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.”  Mr. C emphasized the words “found favor” and paused before continuing.  He gazed through the room, looking at each of his students to telepathically remind them of the previous lesson that Noah had “found favor” with the Lord. His eyes sparkled as if to say, “Do you, too, wish to find favor with the Lord?”  Jasmine caught no look of scorn or contempt from him, and he gave Jasmine the same warm-hearted gaze that he gave to the other students.  Everything will be okay.
            Mr. C continued to the verse he had selected for the week’s memory verse, Genesis 18:18-19: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
            “Teachable moment,” Mr. C interrupted, applying one of his favorite phrases. “What have you learned so far?”  “Abraham must have been a very great man!” Francine declared.  Jasmine’s heart was bursting to share her answer: “Abraham’s going to become a nation!  That’s cool!”  But, still too timid to speak up, she remained quiet.  She wished later she had spoken up.  Mr. C would have approved.
            At verse 23 Jasmine’s heart stopped.  The class had just read that Sodom and Gomorrah and sinned greatly and that the Lord was about to punish them just as greatly.  Then, in verse 23, Abraham stood up to God!  “Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (Gen 18:23-24).  Jasmine’s heart was bursting.  Go Abraham!  She stood breathless, waiting for Mr. C to pause, to take a moment to capture this amazing teachable moment.  Abraham truly did deserve to become a nation!
            But he didn’t pause.  He continued, and the story got even better.  “Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from you!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”  Wow.  Abraham really spoke up to God!  Tingles ran up and down Jasmine’s spine with excitement that this great hero of the Bible, who “found favor,” who was promised to become a “nation,” stood up boldly with the Creator of the Heavens and Earth!
            Now Jasmine was bursting for him to pause.  This moment was much too “teachable” to miss.  Abraham was showing himself to be a very great man.  He was standing up for the people to God Himself.  All for the sake of righteousness.  He was even calling God into righteousness.  Abraham was her new hero.
            Mr. C still didn’t stop, and the story kept getting better.  God listened to Abraham!  Mr. C continued onto verse 26: “The Lord said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”  Wow, Abraham had just bartered with God, and God had agreed.  Jasmine would have stopped right there, soaking in her victory.  But Abraham didn’t.  Abraham was really bold.  He asked if God would spare it for forty-five, and God agreed He would; then Abraham asked if he’d spare it for forty, and God agreed He would; then Abraham bargained for thirty, then twenty, then ten.  God even agreed to spare the city for ten righteous people – because Abraham asked him to.
            Jasmine sat in her seat wide-eyed and stunned.  What if Noah had done that?  Would God have refrained from drowning the world if Noah had asked God to spare it for a few righteous people? 
            Throughout the remarkable conclusion of the chapter, Mr. C never paused, never took a “teachable moment.”  Now with the chapter read, the time had come to discuss it.  Mr. C began with boring questions: Who were the characters involved in this passage?  The students filled out the cast: Abraham, Sarah, the mysterious three men, and all the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Then he asked about the sinful people.  What might have made them sinful?  Jasmine was impatient.  When would they talk about Abraham standing up to God?  But her classmates played along and cited some ways the cities might have been sinful: greedy, drinking too much, being lustful, stealing, and so forth.
Finally Mr. C asked a real question: “What made Abraham different from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?”  Still silent, not wanting to make any mistakes before the teacher she so admired, Jasmine couldn’t wait for one of her classmates to answer this question.  But their replies were mindless.  “He gave hospitality,” said Francine, “by treating those three mysterious men to a meal.”  “Very good, Francine,” replied Mr. C, “I bet many of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wouldn’t have done that.”  “He washed their feet!” added Rachel.  “No one in Sodom and Gomorrah would have done that!”  Again, Mr. C smiled and nodded.  “Good point, Rachel!  Washing feet was considered a very special blessing, and in those days, people’s feet were very dirty, so many people did not offer a service so special.”  “They didn’t have shoes like ours!” cried John, “and they didn’t have showers like we have.  Think how stinky their feet were!”  Then all the kids started laughing, thinking about the stinky the feet.
Jasmine laughed too, but she was still bursting.  What about Abraham standing up to God?  None of them said anything like that, and Mr. C. wrapped it up.  “On that note of stinky feet,” he clapped, “let’s remember the story by drawing a picture.”  Pulling out paper and colored pencils and suggested the scene of Abraham showing hospitality.  Jasmine couldn’t stand it any longer.  “How about Abraham standing up to God?”  Mr. C looked at her quizzically, and she added, “Isn’t that what really sets Abraham apart from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  He stood up to God?  He asked God to be righteous?”
Mr. C was flummoxed.  Jasmine had just single-handedly ruined his lesson.  Again.  She had been silent throughout the entire lesson.  And now she had just ruined another lesson.  “No, Jasmine, Abraham was different because he was righteous and the people of the two cities were sinful.”  He shook his head and then walked to pick up some colored pens.  “Now, why don’t you draw the scene of Abraham giving hospitality to the three men?”
Jasmine couldn’t bring herself to draw that scene.  There was only one scene that made her burst with excitement: Abraham negotiating with God.  She drew God as a great, big fluffy cloud and Abraham looking up to him with one of his arms raised up. She added a speech bubble with Abraham saying, “How about 10?” and a speech bubble from the cloud that said, “OK.”  Mr. C looked at her picture and shook his head.  This time, at least, he released a thin smile when he said, for the second time, “Jasmine, you’re just like Eve.”

 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.
Continue to Always the Thorn?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

4: Thinking at Odds

            Lacing her shoes for Thursday night’s Mixed Doubles Night, Jasmine lets out a sigh, certain that Davie would miss the night.  The elders could ex-communicate her only from church, not a private club, but what about Davie?  Could they order him away from a club none of them attends?  Or even from just Mixed Doubles Night?  
            She wonders whether the elders were made aware of the connection she and Davie have at Glendale.  If so, it wasn’t from Jasmine, who had never been given the chance to share her story.  But what might Davie have said?  And what might the elders have ordered of him?  
            Glendale Racquet Club was Davie’s escape.  Na├»ve people think pastors have it easy.  They’re working in a Christian environment, serving Christians, and reporting to Christians. What, they ask, could be sweeter than that?  Jasmine knew better.  Just two weeks ago, during a water break between sets, Davie asked, “What would I do without you guys?” then he smiled at Jasmine, adding, “and gals!”  Just as he began the next line, “I’d –,“ the group finished it with him: “go bonkers!”  They’d heard him say it plenty of times before.  Sweating out a fast-paced match of tennis with plenty of overhead slams was Davie’s way of letting out his steam, releasing his stress, and keeping him sane, so he could return to work the next day and be the loving, caring, thoughtful, and patient pastor the church needed him to be.  Could the elders foresee the impact on their church if they stripped him of his outlet so he'd “go bonkers”?
            Jasmine formally met Davie the day Pres. Obama announced he’d just had Osama bin Laden assassinated.  Gabbi had been prodding Jasmine and Mindy to join Mixed Doubles Night, which needed more women, and they finally did that night.  When the regulars discovered Davie had recognized Jasmine from his church, the group gave the newbie to Davie as his partner for the night.  Neither had seen the other play.  Jasmine took a breath.  What if she didn’t know where to position herself, or which shots to take and which to surrender, or when to race to the net and when to protect back court?  New partners, even strong ones, usually have to lose a few games before they can gel enough to win.  And what if she didn’t play up to his standards?  To her relief, her worries were unfounded.  From the start, the two knew exactly where to be, what to poach at the net, how to support each other, and how to set one another up for the winning shot. 
            That first set was close.  Jamine and Davie were up 6-5 against Theresa and BD, Davie’s standard Men’s Doubles partner.  But they were receiving serve, and no one had yet broken serve, so they expected to go into a tie-breaker.  Unless Davie and Jasmine could break serve, right here, right now, at ad-out, set point.  BD served to Davie, who returned it back court to Theresa’s backhand, fast with heavy top-spin, then Davie rushed the net.  Theresa sent it down the line to Jasmine, who pulled BD over with a tight cross-court shot to the front alley.  BD raced forward, opening center court.  But Davie and Jasmine’s center left was also open. BD seized the window, bypassed Davie at the net, and sent his shot to the ad court’s center back line.  Jasmine raced back and to the left and made it in time for her two handed backhand to send a straight low one, passing BD, to the center deuce court back line.  Davie, at the net, ran center, seeming to switch court sides.  Theresa, seeing Davie move right, hit a drop shot short to the ad court.  But Davie had tricked her and side stepped back to the ad side just in time to volley a winner, a short fast one to the alley in the ad court.
            Exhilarated, Jasmine decided to finish off the night with the Mixed Doubles Night tradition: drinks at The Alley.  Glendale’s own sports bar, The Alley, was all prepped for the players with tables combined to form an extra long one, seating 16.  The full group went that night and Jasmine sat between Gabbi and Mindy and across from Gentry, who sat next to BD, who sat next to Davie.  When the group had ordered their drinks and it was time to toast, Steve made it easy: “To a great night of tennis and to the death of America’s Number One Most Wanted Terrorist.”  As they toasted, Jasmine noticed she and Davie were the only two of the sixteen who toasted with a pop, not a beer.  Thankfully, she appeared to be the only one who noticed, as no one seemed to pay any mind to one another’s drink orders. 
After toasting, Gentry asked Davie, “So is murder okay as long as it’s to a terrorist?” Davie smiled and teased, “Better than if it’s to a non-terrorist, right?”  After a moment, Davie shook his head and admitted, “I really don’t have an answer about what to do with a man like Osama bin Laden.  Other than stay away from him!”  “And hope he stays away from you!” BD added, to everyone’s laughter.
Theresa looked serious.  “What about criminals in our own country, really bad ones – murderers and serial rapists – do you think we should put them to death?"  “I oppose capital punishment,” Davie replied.  Jasmine looked up, interested.   “A lot of Christians cite ‘an eye for an eye’ to support their favor of it,” Theresa said.  Davie nodded, “To them, I cite the Sixth Command, ‘Do not kill,’ and the higher law of Jesus to pray for our persecutors.”  Jasmine nodded, “Shouldn’t ‘pro-life’ mean ‘anti-death’?”  Davie smiled at Jasmine.  “I like how you think.”
Trying to hold back her blush, Jasmine mused that she also likes how Davie thinks.  Growing up in an evangelical church in Colorado Springs, Jasmine hadn’t found too many within her own Christian community who do.  Her own family found her to be an odd duck.  Despite her insistence that her politics were informed by Jesus’ compassion for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, and despite her endless citations of Jesus’ teachings like the beatitudes and the separation of the sheep and goats, her family continued to berate her for what they called “thinking at odds.”  She had never asked them what they meant by that, but she was certain that whatever it meant, it wasn’t true.  And now, she had just found another Christian who, at least in one way, thinks like her.  Together, perhaps the two of them could be “thinking at evens.”  Most stunning, he was on the pastoral staff at her own church.
At home, Jasmine usually kept her politics to herself.  Her husband Tim, a loyal Republican, didn’t know Jasmine votes Democrat more than she votes with him.  She considers her marriage like her town: at odds, with closet progressives.  Those who have never been to Colorado Springs might think it’s a cozy little mostly white homogenous town.  It is mostly white, but it has its share of Hispanics, of which Gabbi is one-half, and African Americans, like BD.  Jasmine would love to see her hometown more diversified, but she wouldn’t call it homogenous.  Not with two military bases and the Air Force Academy, headquarters to numerous Christian groups, a smattering of hippies and environmentalists, and all the techies and average folks that make up the town.  No, Jasmine smiled, this city that’s red turning purple in a state that’s purple turning blue is surely less “homogenous” than it is “thinking at odds.”  Maybe she’s right where she belongs.
And, maybe, she also found herself right where she belongs at Glendale’s Mixed Doubles Night.  Driving home that night, she wonders about her evening’s tennis partner who is also her own church’s youth pastor.  Could he also be a closet progressive?

 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.
Continue to Coaching from the Sidelines

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

3: The Introduction

            The Image flashes.  That one that comes fifty times a day, every day, tormenting Jasmine with ecstasy and agony. It’s the image of her first official introduction to Davie at Glendale Racquet Club that Thursday night when, upon Gabbie's encouragement, insisting the group was seeking more female players, Jasmine and Mindy joined Mixed Doubles Night.  

            When the two friends arrived, they saw a gathering of players between Courts 1 and 2 by the net.  Gabbie hadn't yet arrived.  A young African American in his 20s was stretching, two players were pulling out racquets, a blond female in her 40s was teasing one of them while bouncing a tennis ball, and two others were standing, waiting for the rest to get ready.  All chatting and laughing, the players were plainly good friends.  Would Jasmine and Mindy fit in, or would they be invading a tight-knit clique?  Jasmine found herself curiously transfixed by one of the male players, roughly 5 foot 10 with a modest build, the type Jasmine finds especially attractive: muscular in the upper arms and thighs, without the bulging calf muscles or the shine of overdoing it.  To Jasmine, weight lifting is good until it reaches that perfect plateau, before it’s more ego-building than body-building.

He stood clutching his racquet head with both arms around it, like it was a faithful friend.  Standing firm with his racquet clutched gave him a sexy edge, but professional-sexy, and definitely athletic.  Did he know that if she were to pull out her cell phone and capture him on her phone he could pass for some tennis pro posing for a photo op? She felt this impulse within her to pull it out and snap a shot, but her better mind stopped her.  Awkward.  Instead, she tried to capture it indelibly in her mind.

            Mindy moved quickly from back court to the net, while Jasmine found herself in slow motion, wishing Gabbie was on time and could do the introductions.  She wasn't good at these.  Especially when she was transfixed with something forbidden.  The Image continued, like a short video, and the best part comes next when she’s about eight feet from Mr. Almost Tennis Pro, when he looks over to her.
Did he know she had been looking at him, admiring him?  He seemed not to notice Mindy, his gaze fixed upon Jasmine.  For a heartbeat that felt like Eternity, their eyes locked.  In that instant when time was stopped, Jasmine felt that she was watching a high speed train pass in warp speed.  The train whisked with countless cars, each car carrying volumes of books, each volume carrying memorials of some faraway place and time, each memorial shared by Jasmine and this young man with whom her eyes were locked.  Did he see the train too? 

            “I know you,” he said.  He did see the train.  He knows we know each other.  He gazed again into Jasmine’s eyes, searching for the where, when, and how.  “Not high school,” he said.  Of course not.  Go deeper.  Further.  “Not college either,” he continued.  You’re nowhere near warm.  I don’t know how, but we know each other.  “Do you attend Quail Canyon?”  That’s it?  We “know” each other from church?  From passing in the hallways between services?  Just an ordinary acquaintance from church?  She looked again at him, this time at his full face and features, his oval-shaped face with distinctive dimples, straight eyebrows, and deep, dark brown eyes, all sitting under a generous head of dark brown hair, not quite curly but with wavy whisks.  Then she knew: the youth pastor at her church.  Looking straight into her was Pastor David standing buff, athletic, and perfectly beautiful in his shorts.   Never before had she noticed how muscular he is, especially in his thighs.  Of course, never before had she seen him in shorts.

            A confused mixture of emotions circulated through her system, none of them willing to dominate and take center stage and none of them willing to exit: flattery that he recognized her, let down that their acquaintance came from a place as mundane as church, and relief that their acquaintance was mundane, for, after all, she was married. 

            At each flash of the Image, Jasmine marvels and thanks her angels she managed the right reply: “Yes, I do.”  He grinned wide, looked again into her eyes  -- did he know she was married?  Had he seen her at church with her husband or only when she was alone?  He held out his hand for a shake, “Call me Davie.”

 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Context: Jasmine's 3rd to 5th Grade Sunday School: BE FILLed Forever

            Rachel Snowden. She was the one who had fought with her brother one Sunday and forgot her Bible, but got a starring role in spite of it.  All because her name was “Rachel” and the story was about Jacob and Rachel.  That must have been more important than breaking Mr. Casey’s number one rule: bring your Bible.  After all, he was the one who had started “BE,” short for Bibles for Everyone.  Mr. Casey took delight in that acronym, which he punned with the project’s motto: “To BE, you need a Bible!”  Every few years, the church held a benefit to raise funds for Bibles for the sanctuary, the classrooms, and every member, third grade on up, who didn’t already have one.  Mr. Casey’s love for kids and his commitment to projects like BE made him so popular everyone called him Mr. C.  Jasmine couldn’t wait to join his fifth grade Sunday school class.
How could Jasmine have forgotten fifth grade?  Not just forgotten it, but buried it.  Now the memories roared back to her like a waterfall.  The year had started out on a low note when Jasmine wanted to know why Noah would let God drown the world, and then it raced up and down wildly like a roller coaster for the rest of the year.  Some weeks, Jasmine was very good and Mr. C very pleased.  Like the week when God asked Abraham to sacrifice  his son and Jasmine did not say Abraham should have refused.  She did not say the order wasn’t fair because Isaac was innocent.  Why should Isaac be killed?  Tortured, even, for doing nothing wrong?  No, Jasmine was a good girl that week, and she didn’t say any of that.  Instead she said, “Abraham must have been very brave.”  Mr. Casey smiled at Jasmine, gave her his glimmering eye, and said, “That’s right, Jasmine, he must have been very brave.”  On weeks like that, Jasmine  found herself at the top of the coaster, elated on her high.  Other weeks, she came crashing down again -- like that week when she wanted to know why God commanded Joshua to commit genocide, or that week when she asked why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart and then send ten horrifying plagues -- ending with the deaths of innocent children, no less – to the people because their leader’s heart was hardened, and hardened by God Himself?  On weeks like that, Mr. C gave her the “just like Eve” scowl.  Some questions, pure and simple, were off limits.
            Perhaps Jasmine could have coasted through the ups and downs more easily had she not liked Mr. Casey so much, even almost worshipping him.  Not only had he been the one to start BE, but he was also the mastermind behind Jasmine’s favorite program, FILL, short for “For Food Increases Life Lunch Program,” her community’s summer lunch program for low income children.  As a social studies teacher at the middle school, Mr. C knew many of the middle schoolers were on the free lunch program.  He then learned a third of kids at the church’s neighborhood elementary school received free lunches at school, and well over half qualified for either free or reduced lunches.  As one with a big heart, he worried over them, and aas one with a big drive, he decided to do something.  Mr. C. loved how his two acronyms went together: “BE Filled.”
For a modest church, FILL was a big project, but Mr. C. was persuasive, and the congregation voted to try it.  That’s where Jasmine and her mother spent every Thursday during the summer.  The first year, the summer before Jasmine entered fourth grade, they served food, and the following summer, they graduated to what Jasmine considered the best job of all: baking bread and cookies.  Each Thursday that Mr. C came, at the end of FILL, he passed Jasmine his signature smile, eye twinkle, and wink.  Code for “Excellent work.”  Sometimes, he even added, “Nice going, Jazzie!”  Mr. C was the only adult to use Jasmine’s favorite nickname.  Other adults called her Jasmine, and only her very best friends called her “Jazzie.”  When Mr. Casey used this name for her, she knew she must be, to use his favorite phrase, “in his favor.”
            The first time Mr. C called her Jazzie in fifth grade Sunday School was the week the class dramatized Jacob and Rachel’s courtship.  That morning, Rachel Snowden’s little brother had thrown a fit, and she and her family raced out quickly to make it to church on time – but without her Bible.  Mr. C started with his distinctive scowl: part scowl with head set away, nose crunched, forehead wrinkled, eyelids squinted, and his eyes cast to the side, and part tease with a faint smile.  Since he really liked Rachel, his faint smile turned to a wide grin while he pulled out one of the classroom Bibles and gave it to her.   Then he gave her an extra twinkle and said, “But you won’t need it yet, Rachel.  Today, you’ll need this script.”  Handing her the first script, he added, “And you have one of the important parts, the part of Rachel.”  
Conveniently, the class also had a Jacob, who was given the second script.  These two might have begun with the starring roles that day, but it was Jasmine who ended as the star.  After playing out the courtship drama, Mr. C asked the class what they had learned.  Remembering Isaac’s courtship of Rebekah, Jasmine compared their stories. “If I love someone, I want to catch him quick like Isaac.  I don’t want to wait forever like Jacob!”  The class laughed.  Mr. C nodded, “Jacob waited very a long time.  Did any of you catch how long he had to wait?”  Eager to please him, Jasmine piped in, “Fourteen years!”  “Right!” he affirmed.  “He didn’t wait quite ‘forever,’ did he?  He waited fourteen years, which, to Jacob, was ‘but a few days.’”  “That’s forever!” John objected.  Jasmine spoke up again, “He served but a few days equaling fourteen years equaling forever!”  The class cheered.  Mr. C smiled.  To his class of eleven year olds, fourteen years might as well be “forever.”  “You have me there, Jazzie!” he replied, elating her with her favorite nickname.  Then he praised her even more when he added her time-frame into the memory verse: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed but a few days because of his love for her, and then he served another seven years, equaling forever!”
             Now Jasmine was a fifth grade teacher herself.  How could she help her students feel as elated as she felt on that day?  She could follow in many of Mr C’s footsteps -- his heart, his drive, and the twinkle in his eye -- and she could throw in a love of curiosity.  No off-limits questions.  She and her fifth graders, she vowed, will BE FILLed forever with curiosity.
 © 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use with permission or a citation that links to this blog.

See 3: The Introduction
Start at Beginning: 1: Why did Noah let God drown the world?