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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Chapter 7: 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-three, 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 only with permission from the author.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Chapter 6: 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 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 and didn’t.  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 shown to be in Genesis 18 should have made Jasmine’s task easy.  The lesson began the usual way with all students pulling out their BE Bibles 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 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 only with permission from the author.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Chapter 5: Thinking at Odds

            Lacing her shoes for Thursday night’s Mixed Doubles Night, Jasmine let 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 wondered 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 did the elders tell him and order of him?  
            Glendale Racquet Club was Davie’s escape.  Naïve 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 and let him actually “go bonkers”?
            Jasmine formally met Davie the day Pres. Obama announced he’d just had Osama bin Laden assassinated.  Gabbi had been prodding Jasmine to join Mixed Doubles Night, which needed more women, and she finally did that night.  Among the regulars, Jasmine spotted one she recognized, but she doubted but he would recognize her.  Not so.  When she introduced herself, Davie asked, “You attend Quail Canyon, don’t you?”  Jasmine nodded, and for that, 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, 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 wondered about her evening’s tennis partner who was also her own church’s youth pastor.  Could he also be a closet progressive?
© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Chapter 4: 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, 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 wondered, “What do those kids eat in the summer?”  And, as one with a big drive, he decided to do something about it. 
            Jasmine learned of his vision from her third grade Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Watson, just after receiving her third grade BE Bible.   Racing with even more excitement over Mr. C’s newest idea than over her new Bible, after church, Jasmine breathlessly told her mother all about FILL.  “He already has a name for his idea? Splendid!” her mother replied.  “For Food Increases Life Lunch program,” Jasmine replied.  “He likes how his two program acronyms go together.”
            “BE Filled!” exclaimed her mother.  “I’m voting yes and think FILL might just pass.”  Jasmine was curious.  Did her mother already know about the program?  “Did you know I’m a deacon and on the committee that decides projects like this?”  Jasmine glowed at her mother’s support, but she also wondered, “Why would anyone vote no?” 
“A ‘no’ vote doesn’t mean objection to the idea, Sweetie,” replied her mother.  “FILL is a big project for a church our size.  It means offering our kitchen, raising funds for equipment, recruiting volunteers, engaging the community to help, and rallying the entire church to get involved.  Most people voting ‘no’ like the idea, but aren’t sure we can pull it off.  They’re worried we’ll get families excited and then let them down.” Jasmine nodded.  Hopes given and then dashed could be even worse than never getting hope. “But isn’t that why we’re taught to pray and trust God for help to do His work?”  Her mother smiled, “That’s why I voted ‘yes.’”  Then, a month later, her mother
announced the church’s approval of FILL, for the upcoming summer.  Smiling and winking at Jasmine, she added, “We’ll need some volunteers – both big and little.”
            That’s where Jasmine and her mother spent every Thursday for the next two summers.  The first year, 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 only with permission from the author.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Chapter 2: Does a Beer do Anything to Tempt a Guy?


The Alley, at Glendale Racquet Club

            “Do you think a beer does anything to tempt a guy?”  Jasmine is wistful, looking at the next table over.  Mindy, Jasmine’s tennis partner, sitting next to her, looks over to the small round table with three twenty-something racquetball players drinking beer, and teases, “Sure!  It begs, ‘Drink me, please!’”  Jasmine rebukes herself for asking such a curious question.  She’s been so careful, especially at church, and, even more especially, at Glendale.  Until now.  What if they figure out what she’s referring to?  Or, worse, whom?  Their laughter, thankfully, suggests they haven’t.
 “’Drink me now!’” Mindy continues, “It cries out from the bottom shelf in the refrigerator!”  “Next to the orange juice!” Gabbi pipes in.  “That’s exactly it!” Kristina exclaims, “I even ask my boyfriend, ‘why isn’t the orange juice begging you to drink it?’ ‘Nah,’ he says, ‘Only the beer can talk to me!’”  As her three friends break into peals of laughter, Jasmine sighs relief they don’t appear to be on to her.  “And nothing’s ever their fault!” Gabbi continues.  “No, of course not,” says Kristina.  “Can I tell you my latest with my boyfriend?”  Please.  Jasmine hopes her face won’t show her urgency to change the subject.  As Kristina begins to share a story about her cat and her boyfriend, the waitress arrives with their pop, ready to take their lunch orders. Whew!  That was close.
Gabbi and Kristina are Jasmine and Mindy’s favorite opponents.  The foursome can usually be found at The Alley, Glendale Racquet Club’s sports bar, for brunch on Saturday, after a close match of tennis.  All four joined Glendale the same year, quickly discovered they make an ideal competitive match, and became fast friends.  None of Jasmine’s tennis friends attends Quail Canyon Community Church, nor for that matter, does anyone that she or her mixed doubles partner Davie know of.  They had both agreed to be on the look-out at Glendale, and at church, for anyone who might frequent both places.  Amazingly, as far as they knew, they were the only two who were members of both Glendale and Quail Canyon.  Jasmine prays this is still the case, or she’ll surely be found out -- especially with mistakes like that.  She wonders if it’s okay to make such a prayer.
Mindy attends a Methodist church; Gabbi calls herself a “typical Catholic,” meaning she never goes to Mass; and Kristina keeps her distance from all things church.    Reflecting on Kristina’s anti-church views, Jasmine is almost tempted to make another “mistake.”  Early in their friendship, when Jasmine first mentioned her attendance at Quail Canyon, Kristina replied, “I like Jesus.  But I don’t like church.”  She discounted her need to attend with a cliché phrase Jasmine had heard before: “My relationship with Jesus is a personal thing.”  Whenever Jasmine hears people say that, she rolls her eyes, thinks it’s a cop-out, and isn’t about to trust their “relationship with Jesus” could be too “personal.”
But Kristina’s story is complicated.  She had probably caught Jasmine rolling her eyes, so she took the chance to share her story.  Kristina was raised in what she calls “an ultra fundamentalist church,” strict home, and was homeschooled through elementary school.  She’d have been homeschooled all the way, just like her two older siblings, had she not “taken the matter into her own hands.”  For middle school, she had made up her mind: either she would refuse to do any of the homeschool work her mother assigned to her, or she would attend a regular school and work hard for good grades.  To her parents’ credit, they agreed to the latter and enrolled her in a private Christian school.  Kristina would have preferred the local public school, but the compromise was fair, and she more than kept her end of the deal, graduating Salutatorian from The Springs Christian High.  As proud as she was of her academic achievement, Kristina says she’s more proud of her real challenge: pretending all through school that she gave her whole heart to Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior. “If church makes me ‘love him with my whole heart,’ he won’t get my whole heart.”  At that, Kristina looked up to the sky and said, “Sorry, Jesus!  Hope you understand!”  Jasmine smiled, “I bet He does.”  “Thanks,” said Kristina, “Too bad my parents don’t.”
Jasmine knew Kristina would understand her story too.  Maybe too much.  Wishing not to get scarred by Kristina’s cynicism, she resisted her temptation to spill the beans.  She pondered whether she could still “love Jesus with her whole heart” and not go to church.  She had been willing to trust the possibility for Kristina, but for no one else, least of all herself.  Now she was seeing it in a new way.  Could it be possible for her too?  Could she hold a strong bond with Jesus away from church?   
Jasmine found herself surprisingly pleased that she was about to find out.  Even her husband Tim had taken the news admirably.  Sure, he was dismayed, and she was working to regain his trust, but Jasmine was grateful he was secure enough within himself he wasn’t letting her indiscretion ruin their marriage.  Nor was he even upset with Davie.  He admitted he was a little flattered the youth pastor had taken a liking to his wife.  When she reported to him the order of her exit, he replied, “Isn’t this between us?  You, me, David, and his wife Pam?  Why does the church have to get into  it?” 
“Because David’s on their staff.”
“OK, so they can check in, but they don’t have to kick you out, do they?” 
“I don’t think so.”
“Her I’m the one who should be mad, and they’re the ones over-reacting.  I didn’t know our church was run by such jerks!” 
Jasmine was startled.  She had never heard her husband talk like that about anyone, least of all church leaders.  He had always respected them, and now he was red in the face and calling them names.  She had been sweating over what his reaction to her news would be, and she had imagined anger like that, but directed at her, not them.  Now she was silently smirking that he was instead enraged at the church.  Could the church’s harsh treatment have helped to deflect her husband’s anger against her?  If the eviction had been a favor, a chance to find out first hand if she could “love Jesus without going to church,” and even a deflection of her husband’s anger, then why was she still so bothered by it? 
It really wasn’t the blackball that mattered.  It was the implication gushing out of the elder’s words, tone, body language, and aura.  It was his “prayer” that wasn’t in any way a real one.  That prayer disturbed Jasmine so much she replayed it like one of those unshakable radio jingles, and she had the interaction and the prayer fully memorized.
“Don’t return to this church or contact Pastor David ever again,” commanded John Prager, the head elder.  Jasmine could almost hear his thoughts: How does this happen and why am I stuck with the job of dealing with it?  She was tempted to reply: Because you signed up to be an elder?  And accountability is what elders are called to do?  Instead, Jasmine took the safe road: “I came here to ask for accountability.  I thought I would be receiving prayer.”   The elder smiled, “Don’t worry.  We’ll keep you accountable.  You did the right thing by coming to us.  Just stay away from church, make no contact with David, and you’ll be just fine.”
Then, to placate her, he put his hands on her and prayed.  But in place of a prayer of thanksgiving for taking a wise course to move forward in truth, love, and purity, it was quite a different sort of prayer.  “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, help her to flee youthful lusts.  Cleanse her heart, purify her mind, and transform her by the renewing of her mind.  Thank You for your great mercy upon this repentant sinner, Lord.  Amen.”
Mr. Prager – she had always known him as “John,” but Mr. Prager seemed more appropriate now – shook his head, sighed, shook his head again, and muttered, “Women.  Always the thorn.  Always the tempters.  I'm sure that was St. Paul’s thorn – women.”  Why was he assuming she had tempted him?  Does a beer do anything to tempt a guy?  If a guy’s tempted to drink, do they call up the beer can, look sternly in judgment at that can, and tell that beer can where it can no longer go? 
Why hadn't she had the courage to ask that question of the church elder?  No, like a wimp, she stood there silent.  The elder then looked at her and spoke the last words she had heard spoken by anyone at Quail Canyon:  “You’re just like Eve.”  
© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Chapter 3: He's betting on your passion


I hadn’t set out to teach fifth grade.  It happened like everything else in my life: by following a detour sign.  I followed a detour sign to my husband.  I followed a detour sign to Davie.  I followed a detour sign to teach fifth grade.

My dream was to teach high school drama and direct the high school’s show.  Of course, most high schools offer only one or two theater or drama classes, so the drama teacher also teaches English.  I thought I had hit Lady Luck with a high school gig of drama, musical theater, three sophomore English classes, and Theater Director.  Theater Director came with a little extra pay.  But that was just for the two main performances.  Little did I realize how much more it involved.

Overwhelmed with grading essays proving the cliché true – Johnny really can’t write – running the theater program, and taking on an abundance of “optional” extra performances, I finally had a face-to-face with our Principal.  “You could skip the cameos at the middle schools, the community centers, and even the Performing Arts Center your predecessors so diligently worked to set up,” he said, “but you might not recruit enough students and you might lose funding for the drama program.” 

“That doesn’t sound ‘optional.’  Can my pay be increased for this not-quite-optional ‘optional’ work?” 

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Greene, it can’t,” he replied.  He never calls me “Mrs. Greene.”   “We welcome and encourage your choice to continue the extra commitments developed by your predecessors, but we don’t require it, and we don’t have the funding to pay for it.” 

“So let's say I skip the optional extras and we lose students and funding?”  “You need at least fifteen students in each drama class to keep it.  If you fall below that, we’ll cut the drama class, and if you lose funding, you either work on an extra low budget or do some fundraising.” 

“Doesn’t the school want to make sure that doesn’t happen?” 

“We hope not, but don’t worry, you’ll still have a job with us if it does.”  He added with a smile, “we have plenty of English classes that need a teacher.”

Then it came.  A whisper of mystery.  On occasion, and never when I’m expecting it, a whisper comes – one not from my own mind with a message from a frequency off my radar.  The voice is soft and feminine, but who, I know not. When one comes, I call it a “whisper of mystery.”   I’ve learned not to tell too many people about them.  Even Christians who should believe in the Holy Spirit sometimes don’t trust my whispers.  They can’t discern the Holy Spirit from less trustworthy voices in their own heads, so they think I can’t either.  The Bible gives us a clue, though, in I Kings 19:11-13, when Elijah needed to discern the voice of the Lord.  The Lord was not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire; He was, instead, “in a still small voice.”  Those loud, commanding voices we sometimes hear in our heads are probably not the Holy Spirit.  But if we hear “a still small voice” that is loving and nudges us into a loving direction, then we should do what Elijah did: wrap our face in a mantle and come listen to the Lord.  Some people would still say, “Well, that was Elijah, a great Hebrew prophet.  You’re not Elijah.”  So I’ve learned to keep the whispers of mystery to myself and share them only with people I can trust.  I hope I can trust you because my story’s not the same without the whisper of mystery that arrived in my conversation with the principal at that moment:  He’s betting on your passion.

I knew this was a whisper I should trust.  They’ve come since I was a little girl, and one of them saved my life.  I was eight.  My family and few other families from our church went camping by a lake.  A few people brought inner tubes and we took turns riding in them along the lake.  Off a ways, the lake narrowed and became more like a river, but it was still a gentle river, still safe, or so I thought.  When it was my turn, I was with two other kids, both older than me, twelve, and friends.  So I was a tag-along, and they left me trailing behind them.  I thought I was still following them when I reached the part that narrowed into the river. The water was so refreshing, the sky so blue, and the air so fresh from last night’s rain, I didn’t mind they left me alone.  I stretched out in my inner tube floating down the river.  Then a whisper of mystery came: Hang off to the right.  Get out by that tree.  By then, I knew the whisper and she was already my friend, but she irritated me with this instruction.  I didn’t want to get out yet.  I wanted to keep floating, but I thought since no one knew where I was, I could get out and then take my inner tube up a bit and get back in, so I obeyed her.  When I made it out and to the tree, I saw what lay before me about thirty yards ahead on the river: the start of a rocky, whitewater adventure I would never have been prepared for; then, another eighty to hundred yards beyond that came the nightmare scene: a waterfall.  Why hadn’t they told me there was a waterfall?! 

“Jazzie!  Jazzie!  Where are you?!”  I turned back and saw my dad racing toward me and I called back, “I’m here, Dad!  I’m okay!”  He raced to me like a sprinter at the finish line, picked me up, twirled me around, hugged me so hard I almost lost my breath, planted a big kiss on my cheek, and then hugged me again.  Then he let the two twelve year olds give me a hug too.  Their faces were pale, ghost--like, and one of them, head bowed, croaked, “We are so sorry,” and the other one nodded, head also down, eyes big, and face white.  I nodded, “I’m okay.”  Dad looked at them and said, “I hope you two have learned a lot from this,” and they both nodded back.  The first one spoke up again, “Jazzie gets our s’mores tonight. We are really sorry.”

I ate four s’mores that evening.  Then, lying in my sleeping bag, listening to the crickets and reviewing the image of the waterfall, I prayed thanks all night long to my whisper of mystery.  “I promise,” I vowed to her, “I will always listen to you.”

I’ve kept my promise too, and even if that was the only time she actually saved my life, she’s saved me in lots of ways lots of times.  So I knew I needed to listen to her.  What did she mean? He’s betting on your passion?  Like most of her messages, I was mystified by the meaning and had to puzzle it over.  The principle’s last words were expressed with simple objectivity and a smile, “We have plenty of English classes that need a teacher.”  He spoke it as if he didn’t care one way or another if we lost the drama program.  So, whisper, are you telling me he does want the drama program?  Anytime I call for the whisper, she doesn’t come.  She comes only when I’m not expecting her, and whenever she feels like it, so I knew she wouldn’t answer my question, but that doesn’t stop me from asking.  I turned it over in my mind again: He’s betting on your passion.  He must want the drama program, and he wants me to do everything in my power to make it strong.  He’s “betting on my passion" that I will do just that.  He doesn’t want to pay me.  He wants my passion to pay me.  Maybe my passion should say “no”?

A week later, my husband came home from work where he works as a Child Protective Services case worker, across the street from Jefferson Elementary School.  He often joins some of the teachers at lunch at the Crescent Café next door.  “Do you think you’d ever like to teach fifth grade?” he asked when he arrived home.  Where did this question come from?  “Fifth grade?  You know I’m endorsed for secondary.  I don’t have an endorsement to teach fifth grade.” 

“That might not matter.  Jefferson Elementary just lost all of its fifth grade teachers, and quite a few of the other teachers too.  Eight teachers, including all three fifth grade teachers, started the day together with a joint proclamation that they will not be renewing their contracts for next year at Jefferson Elementary.” 

“You’re kidding?  Are they that mad about the fence?” 

“They’re that mad.”

We turned on the local evening news and one of the fifth grade teachers was being interviewed: “We’ve been calling for a reasonable plan to prepare for terror emergencies, but the school barricaded our grounds like a prison.”  Then the Principal was interviewed: “We understand the teachers’ concern in light of last month’s shooting threat, but this is the most ‘reasonable’ solution we have right now.  We hope they’ll change their minds.”  “And if they don’t,” the reporter asked, “will you be able to hire eight teachers by August?”  The principle nodded, “We have a beautiful school; we have wonderful children; and we feel confident we can recruit strong, qualified teachers."  

Standing in front of the fence for an ironic jest, the reporter closed the story, “If you are looking for a teaching position, beautiful Jefferson Elementary is hiring.  I’m Rachel Snowden reporting to you from Colorado Springs.”

Rachel Snowden.  I knew a Rachel Snowden.  In fifth grade.  I looked at her again.  No, she couldn’t be the same one.  But it was a sign -- a neon, blinking detour sign.

© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Chapter 1: Why did Noah let God Drown the World?


Big news!  After four years of putting my husband through Grad school for his advanced degree, I now have time to re-activate my blog!  Bigger news: I'm now writing on the same themes as fiction.  Here’s my first snippet:

“Don’t return to this church or contact Pastor David ever again,” commanded the  head elder, shaking his head and letting out a sigh.  I had just been blackballed.  He then "prayed" for me and closed with the last words I heard spoken by anyone at my church: “You’re just like Eve.”

Just like Eve.  I had heard those words before.  I was eleven.  Our Sunday school class was studying the story of Noah’s flood.  “You see,” the teacher said, “The entire world was filled with wickedness.  The scripture records that ‘every intent’ of every person on earth – except for one – was full of ‘only evil’ and that every human, except for one, had corrupted the earth.’”  He then asked us what may have made Noah different, unique in the human race of his generation as a good man.  One of my Sunday school classmates said that maybe he wasn’t selfish; another said that he may have been willing to share his things with his friends; another said that maybe Noah didn’t litter all over the earth and pollute it like the others. 

The teacher nodded at all these responses.  I was unsure whether Noah really was unique, even whether he really was good.  I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, but I somehow felt that he wasn’t good. 

Francine raised her hand and offered her answer: “Noah was obedient.”  To this, my teacher grew a wide grin, and said, “Exactly, Francine.  The scripture records this is exactly what made Noah so special: He obeyed God.  Let’s look at what the Bible says in Genesis 6:22: ‘Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.’  While every other person on earth was disobeying God, Noah obeyed him.” 

So the teacher encouraged us to obey God and to memorize two scripture verses about Noah for the following week: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8) and “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:22).

It was then that I understood what disturbed me about Noah: he obeyed God.  That was it!  So I raised myy hand and asked, “If Noah had found favor with God, why didn’t he use his favor to ask God to save the world?”  The teacher looked at me stunned, even disturbed.  But I didn’t know I was stepping out into dangerous, inappropriate territory by asking questions in Sunday school.  I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong by wanting to know why Noah obeyed, so when the teacher remained silent, I thought I’d better clarify my question, you know, make it blunt: “Why did Noah let God drown the world?”

The entire class went silent.  Each student looked at the teacher with eager eyes for an answer.  Each wanted to know the same thing: why had Noah let God drown the world?  The teacher was flummoxed.  The lesson that he had intended to instill upon his class was the lesson of obedience, but now my insolence was about to undermine the entire lesson with its opposite: disobedience.  I was suggesting that it would have been better if Noah had disobeyed God!  That it would have been better for Noah to supersede God and put forth Noah’s own, human notion that the evil world should remain.  The way I had phrased my question dug deep with prickles under the teacher’s skin: “Why had Noah let God drown the world?”  The question suggested that little, human Noah had authority over God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  How insolent of me to think that Noah “lets” God!

“Who created the heavens and the earth?” teacher asked me.  “God,” I replied.  “Why was Noah special,” teacher asked Francine. “Because he obeyed God,” replied Francis.  “Right,” said teacher to the full class.  Then, without answering my question, he turned to me and said with tinge of scorn, said, “You want the knowledge of God, and the power of God, and you want to disobey to get it.  You’re just like Eve.” 

He took a deep breath with the resolve to salvage the lesson I had fairly well bombed for him and asked us all to recite the memory verses: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . . Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:8 and 22).  After we obediently recited these verses, he took another breath to keep as calm as he could and then closed: “Now, everyone, keep reciting these verses for next week, and we’ll begin next Sunday with each of you reciting the verses.  Most of all, remember to be just like Noah and not just like Eve.

I felt the pierce into my heart at those words “not just like Eve,” that pierce of condemnation, condemnation I couldn’t even grasp or understand.  Why had I been so condemned?  What had I done wrong?

I did not know.  And, yet, I felt fully condemned, and ashamed, and I buried it.  I buried my condemnation, my shame, and my memory.  And I had forgotten this moment in my fifth grade Sunday school class -- until now.

© 2018 by karina.  All rights reserved.  Please use only with permission from the author.
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