• For All Your Dream Needs

    Your old men will dream dreams ~ Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17

    We moderns are too sophisticated to put much stock in the idea that God would communicate with us through dreams, but dream interpretation has a long and storied history in scriptures. There are numerous examples of dream interpretation and messages being sent via dreams through out the bible. Including the dream that solid, respectable Joseph had which convinced him to go through with his marriage to Mary.

    Even today, odds are good that you’ve occasionally run into people claiming to have dreams about the future or which contain messages from God. For the rest of us it’s not uncommon to have the same dream repeatedly or which for whatever reason seem important and wondered why. And we’ve probably all heard some radio show where a person who is supposed to be an expert in dream interpretation blows callers away with insights gleaned from strange dreams they have had. So, although it’s not spoken about much or given much credence in “respectable” circles, dreams and their possible meanings continue to fascinate us.

    Personally, I used to be prone to repeating dreams. One in particular involved tornadoes and various family members. I finally went searching for what it could mean and found an explanation of the symbolism of tornadoes in dreams that made perfect sense to me. Once I figured out what they meant, I stopped having the tornado dreams.

    After that, I would frequently try to find explanations for what my troubling, repetitive dreams might mean. So I could stop having them. But most dream dictionaries were either so incomplete or so far fetched that they weren’t any help. They’d have entries with ridiculous things like, “snakes are a sign that someone is going to betray you” or “dreaming about the color red means that you have hidden sexual desires for frogs” or whatever.

    A few years ago I stumbled across what is, without any doubt, the best, most complete, most helpful dream dictionary in existence. It’s the creation of a man named Tony Crisp and you can find it at his website Dreamhawk. An expanded, more complete version is also available on Amazon.

    What sets Tony’s dream interpretation apart from others I have seen is that it’s grounded in reality rather than woowoo mystical ideas or Freud’s extremely questionable ideas about what’s lurking in our subconscious minds. Instead, Tony looks at the way a subject matter is used in our language, our common stories, archetypes we’re all familiar with and the like. For example, here’s part of an entry about cooking: Continue reading

  • Parenting Genius

    Honest to goodness, there’s nothing that makes me happier than some good parenting. Those times when you or someone else says something to a kid that is honest and real and makes the world a little more manageable for them to navigate. The things that they’ll repeat to themselves when they need some wisdom or encouragement or a kick in the pants later.

    If the world worked the way it should, the news would include highlights of parenting genius that anonymous parents spouted off that day rather than reports about celebrities boinking and abandoning each other. But I suppose the logistics of such a thing would be a nightmare. Which is why we all know that J Lo and Casper just broke up, but have no clue that this afternoon a woman down the street said things that helped her child be less afraid of dying one day.

    This is why I’m a big fan of Shit My Dad Says. I think I mentioned it once before, but for those who missed it, Shit My Dad Says is the creation of a writer with a sharp eye about his great, foul mouthed dad. It’s funny and wise and much more profound than anything with that much swearing and crude humor has a right to be. His father is a parenting genius, if you ask me.

    Anyhow, GQ has a Shit My Dad Says post up for Father’s Day that I loved and wanted to pass on to y’all. The dad talks like I do if I’m not careful, so there’s lots of swearing involved. But if you mind that, you probably aren’t reading my blog. Anyhow, the context is that the son froze up during a big baseball game and lost the game for his team:

    My dad walked down two rows from the metal stands and tossed a soda he was drinking in the garbage. He headed toward the parking lot a hundred feet away and I followed him in silence until we got to the car.

    “You pitched well,” he said.

    “I lost the game for us,” I said, then burst into one of those cries where all available tears and mucous shoot out of your eyes and nose at once.

    “Now hold on,” he said.

    “Don’t try and tell me I didn’t lose the game for us,” I said, as a snot bubble formed in both nostrils.

    “Shit, I was there son. That ball flew out of your hand like you were setting a fuckin’ dove free. You got no argument here.”

    “Then what are you gonna say? I know it’s just a game, okay?” I said, trying to calm my heaving breaths.

    “What I was gonna say was, your coach is full of shit. It ain’t ‘just a game.’ This is a big goddamn deal,” he said, leaning his back up against the passenger door.

    Continue reading

  • Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    It makes me sad/angry to see what you’re going through. You deserve better.

    It won’t always be like this.

    It’s OK to be broken sometimes.

    Not everyone could handle this with as much grace/bravery/whatever as you.

    Sometimes all you can do is get through the day and that’s enough.

    I know it’s overwhelming right now, but I believe in you.

    Tell me how bad it really is.

    What do you wish someone would say to you right now?

    Can I pray for/over you?

    Obviously, use discretion, but these are all things that you can say to someone going through the worst life has to offer. When dealing with someone in that position, resist the urge to try to convince them things aren’t so bad, to look at them more positively or to practice gratitude. Sometimes life really is that bad and your efforts to convince them otherwise will only highlight how hopeless they feel and make them feel even more isolated by their pain. Pep talks and positive thinking have their place, but in a society where everyone’s supposed to be happy all the time, it’s a gift to demonstrate loving acceptance of someone’s pain.

    If you want to lift their spirits, distraction is your best bet. Crack jokes, tell a funny story, let them reminisce about better times or share a bit of harmless gossip.

    For more ideas on how to be there for someone going through a terrible time, check out my post What To Do When Someone Starts Crying In Front of You.

  • korean women

    And Now For Something Weird in the End Times

    In today’s edition of signs of the end times, we’re going to talk about vanity, the anitchrist, lion’s teeth and Marian apparitions. Among other things. Because part of my calling is to make your brains hurt. But don’t worry, it’ll be fun! And fun is good until somebody pokes an eye out. But I promise I’ll be careful not to poke your eye out.

    So, about 10 years ago, my dear Catholic mother sent me a book called For the Soul of the Family. It’s the story of a woman named Estela Ruiz, a woman who began experiencing visitations from Mary back in 1989 and her family. Marian apparitions are one of those things that I deliberately choose to neither accept or reject. They could be true or they could be false, who knows?

    Over the years, I’ve read accounts of quite a few Marian apparitions and come to the following conclusions:

    1. Like all mothers, Mary repeats herself a lot. Seriously. Her motto might as well be “if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”

    2. Like all mothers, Mary is really worried about her kids and absolutely certain that terrible things are going to happen to them if they don’t stop what they are doing and start listening to her.

    3. Mary thinks we need to spend a lot more time praying.

    So, one of the things I remember from this particular book that my mom sent me is that Mary supposedly told Estela that TV was the antichrist. And I think she said movies are too. Which sounds crazy, of course. But consider this; there is a long tradition in Christian thought which says that Jesus is the model of the true man. Like, if we want to know what human beings are meant to look, act and be like, we should look to Jesus.

    Media, on the other hand, has long presented us with a false, often idealized, exaggerated picture of how human beings look, live and behave. And it does affect how we think about ourselves and each other. It’s a powerful force in shaping our ideas about what is normal, desirable and acceptable. You could say that where Jesus is a picture of man as he truly is, media shows us a false picture of who mankind is. Which you could say makes it the anti (as in against or opposed to or opposite of) Christ.

    So, the claim that TV is the antichrist is crazy, but not entirely implausible. I’m not saying you should all go throw out your TVs, except it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea. :p

    Anyhow, one of the most problematic aspects of TV and movies is that the people they show us are tend to all be very attractive. Which is nice to look at, but in real life only about 1 in 5 people is actually all that good looking. Once upon a time it, there was nothing particularly wrong with being plain or dowdy or even just ugly, but today pretty much every ugly woman in America has been told at some point that she should not be inflicting her ugliness on the rest of us by going out in public. I have heard people say that they were too ashamed to go shopping or to meet new people because they are fat.

    Of course, being attractive doesn’t make you good, kind, loving, generous, clever, creative, interesting or any other worthwhile thing. It doesn’t even mean you’d be particularly good in bed, for pity’s sake! It just means your features grew in a symmetrical way. That’s it. But we are obsessed with it.

    I know, I know, people have always been obsessed with beauty, right? Sure. Except here’s a coin with Cleopatra’s face on it:

    Here’s what Hollywood said she looked like:

    Notice the difference? Because it’s not enough to be powerful, charming and intelligent. A woman worth admiring must first and foremost be stunning with high cheekbones and purple eyes. Or how about this picture from South Korea where plastic surgery is the #1 graduation gift year after year:

    Those are 18 different women. They all look the same because there is one ideal look for women in South Korea to have and since you are expected to send in a picture with your job applications, you may be unemployable if you don’t look like that.

    Perhaps you don’t view this as particularly alarming because humans have always gone to extremes in order to be attractive. The Chinese deformed their daughters feet. Some South American tribes wear spikes through their faces. There’s that one African tribe that puts giant plates in their lips and ear lobes. Which is all true, except none of those practices required you to be born looking like that. If you were a Chinese woman with a face like Methuselah and teeny, tiny feet, you were hot. We, on the other hand, aren’t just going to extremes to adorn ourselves with beauty. We have basically gone to war against our bodies for daring to grow with bumps and lumps and eyelids.

    At this point, some of you are thinking, “OK Rebecca, our fixation on looks is unhealthy and unkind. And I promise to never again walk around Walmart offering paper bags and tent sized mumus to the ugly people I meet there. But what on earth does all of this have to do with the end times?!?!”

    Well, I’m so glad you asked. And here’s where I’m going to get extra weird with you. If you go to the book of Revelation, in the middle of all the seals being broken and disaster being unleashed, there’s one particular pit that spews forth an unusual hoard of locusts. These locusts are described as having the shape of horses and as wearing what appeared to be crowns of gold on their heads. Further it says, “their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”

    In addition to their peculiar looks, these locust could only hurt men, not any other part of the earth. And they couldn’t kill men, but instead caused a painful sting like that of a scorpian that went away in time, but was bad enough to make people wish for death.

    Admit it, those are some mighty fine teeth.

    Now, I readily admit that this is an entirely speculative reading of the passage, but I believe that this is a figurative description of the destructive vanity which has overtaken mankind. The long hair and the lion’s teeth. Do you have any idea how much we spend on cosmetic dentistry, teeth whitening, hair care and the like? Billions. And those things on their heads that “appeared to be like crowns of gold” sound an awful lot like the figurative halos we see our favorite Hollywood golden girls and boys wearing.

    Plus the effects of these locusts fit. The only part of creation affected by our fixation on looks are human beings. And it’s not fatal, but the rejection people experience when they are judged by themselves or others as not attractive enough hurts. Sometimes it hurts because of eating disorders or the pain of plastic surgery. But sometimes it’s just the pain of being rejected. Did you know that the same parts of our brain that process physical pain also process  pain from being rejected? When we insult someone for being unattractive, we might as well just walk up and slug them as far as our brain’s concerned. And even Americans know that it’s not OK to punch people for not looking like Brangelina.

    Now, in Revelation, people are protected from the sting of the vanity locusts if they “have the seal of God on their forehead”. So that means no credit cards. No wait, that can’t be right. OK, so it means you shouldn’t let President Obama give you an obamacare RFID chip implant. No, no, that can’t be it either. Wait, I’ve got it! How about we assume that it means having a mind set on the things of God:

    For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . . ~ Romans 8:5-7

    There we go. That makes more sense. If you are concerned with the things of God, you will not be affected by the torments which come with having a mind set on the flesh.

    So, today’s lesson is that in the end times, our vanity will be used to torment and torture us and everyone else, unless we refuse to play along. So, let that armpit hair grow, ladies. Embrace your moobs, fellows. And maybe, just maybe, you should pay a little more attention to your mother Mary. She’s worried about you. :)

  • Sleep Tight Under the Stars

    The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Psalm19:1

    See that? It’s a picture of a tiny patch of empty space taken by the Hubble Telescope. And all those things are galaxies. Galaxies! Not just one star, but bilions in each one. Can you imagine?

    I look at something like this and wonder,”what in the world is this all about?” What is God doing, creating so much? One galaxy would seem to be enough. Or 100 or 1000. But that’s tens of thousands of galaxies and there are billions more. Why? What is God doing? Is there a reason for all of this or is the reason just the joy of creating and exploring creation that God desires? Is it a desure for beauty or a complex puzzle to enjoy? How many children does our God have? It boggles the mind.

    And how absurd that anyone who would attempt to claim to understand God. Looking at just a small glimpse of what God has made, how can we even understand man? What can it possibly mean to bear the image of the one who has created all of this? What is life in the middle of all this?

    After a while, the little girl in me can’t help but turn to her daddy and say, “look what you did! It’s so beautiful! I can’t believe you made all that! You did so good, Pappa!”

    (You can read more about the technical aspects of making this picture and what you’re seeing here.)

  • Jesus and the Rich Young Man

    Jesus’ Gift to a Young Rich Man

    As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

    I remember years ago hearing someone say that morals are for rich people. Which I didn’t understand. I mean, I can understand how a lack of money could drive you to stealing or fraud. But otherwise, why would morals be optional for people just because they didn’t have money? You don’t need money to be a good person, after all.

    I, of course, still don’t think that poor people don’t have morals and that morals are for people with money. But what I have come to understand two things. First, that having good morals does not make you a good person. I know plenty of people who never break any of the 10 commandments and are terrible people. The second thing I’ve learned is that it takes much more to hang onto morality when you are already depleted by a ridiculously stressful life.

    When there’s no comfort or pleasure in your life, it’s much harder to turn away from the comfort found in the arms of someone you are not in a covenant relationship with. When your mother and father were so desperate and depleted by the time that they came home, that they lashed out at you, it’s much harder to honor them than it is when you have a mom who greets you after school with a plate of cookies and a smile and a dad who wants to play catch in the yard after work while you tell him about your day. When a shady mortgage broker has defrauded you and you’ve lost your home and are living out of a cheap motel room, it’s much harder to convince yourself to stick to the rules just on principle. Life’s just different when you’re just struggling to survive.

    While we may admire the upstanding, morally sound, financially comfortable person, the truth is that many of those people wouldn’t have held up any better under trying circumstances than anyone else. Which is part of why we can’t judge people. Only God knows the heart. And sometimes even a good heart gets overwhelmed, depleted and despairs. Which isn’t an excuse for immorality, but it is an explanation. God knows this.

    The thing is that while we see morality as something that is just expected of us, it was given as something to struggle with. We’re actually meant to fail at it. In Romans, Paul says, “through the law we become conscious of our sin.” If we can follow the law, without fail, then the law is not having the effect God intends it to have in our lives.

    Now, does this mean that God has set us up for failure so that he can then show up and play the super-hero who graciously saves us? I can certainly understand why someone would think that. However, this isn’t the case. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains about the law, “therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

    As Brene Brown says, “we are wired for struggle.” The law was meant to cause us to struggle. It is in struggling that we learn, grow and change. Struggle is like weightlifting for the soul. It tears us down and builds up back up, shaping us in the process. By placing demands on us that we will struggle and fail to meet, the law becomes our teacher, showing us the way towards Christ.

    If we never fail, we don’t need forgiveness. If we never rebel, we don’t need grace. If we never fall under our heavy load, we don’t need our burdens lifted. If we never rail against an unfair world and a seemingly uncaring God, we don’t need comfort. If we have no need of forgiveness, grace, burdens lifted or comfort, then we have no need for God. We all need God. But without struggling, we will never know just how much. Nor will we understand the value of what God has to offer us.

    When Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he’s not saying that rich people are worse people than everyone else. That they love money more than everyone else. Or that they care less about other people than everyone else. He says that it’s harder for rich people because the whole point of wealth is to protect us from struggles. The whole point of the law is to cause us to struggle. Which is why money and following God are so often in conflict.

    Now, consider what Jesus does in his interaction with the young rich man. When the young man approaches, Jesus starts by disarming him. “Only God is good.” If the point of the law is to follow it, then those who are good at following it are completely justified in thinking that they are themselves good. But if only God is good and even Jesus refuses to accept that descriptor, then this young man knows he cannot stand on his own goodness. We are not good because of our morality, but any goodness we have comes from our connection with the one who is good – God alone.

    Jesus then brings up the commandments in order to draw out the young man’s relationship with them. When the young man responds that he has kept to them from his youth, we see the problem; he’s never struggled. Sure, he may have faced temptation. But he’s never had to struggle with the law to the point of failure. Which means that the law has not had the intended effect in his life.

    The story says that Jesus looked at this young man who has sought righteousness the only way he knew how and loved him. Jesus loves us all, of course. But he looked at this young man in particular and saw something in him that he loved in that moment. I suspect that what he saw was a young man who had done all of the right things and yet knew somehow that it was inadequate. Something in him knew that he needed more than to keep to the commandments in order to attain what he sought.

    He could have gone to the Pharisees and asked them what he needed to do and explained that he kept to the commandments and always had. They would have been happy to tell him that he was right with God, especially in light of the financial support his family provided to the religious establishment. But he didn’t. For whatever reason, he sought Jesus. Which, oddly enough, is exactly what the law is supposed to do – lead us to Jesus.

    So Jesus looked at this young man and loved him for whatever was in him that knew he was lacking. And he says, “sell all you own and give it away.”

    Jesus knows perfectly well that he’s asking this young man to do something he cannot do. It wasn’t just love of money, comfort and security that made it impossible for this young man to do as Jesus instructs. It would have been terribly destructive and irresponsible for him to sell everything and give it away. It would have meant casting his entire family into the streets, for one thing.

    Jesus had other followers who were wealthy. He never asks any of them to sell everything to follow him. But he loved this young man and so gave to him what the law could not – something to struggle with.