Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Discipline & Punish v. Sanctification

Why do bad things happen to good people? Even the most secular person, I believe, is disturbed by what they cannot help but perceive is in the innate lack of justice in this situation. For Christians, who believe in a just God, and yet recognize that there is great wickedness in the world (evil which He is allowing for a time), these episodes can still be hard to bear, particularly when the innocent inexplicably suffer.

On Sunday night, Audrey and her children and I were on an island off Savannah, at the evening service at her church’s summer campground, which is situated on a marsh among trees draped with Spanish moss. The guitar-accompanied singing was rich and enthusiastic – we got to sing all the verses in the hymns, and there were some great, great old songs including the famous words by John Newton: “Amazing Grace.” We read through the Old Testament 10 Commandments, and then the New Testament pair whereby Jesus summarized the old: First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength. Second: Love your neighbor as yourself. The sermon series was on God as our Father. The text was from the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus had already instructed his disciples how to pray at that point, and he was talking about anxiety – “Don't worry about what you're going to eat or drink, or what you were going to wear.” The preacher (the church’s senior pastor) laid out – in appropriately Presbyterian fashion – three points, though they were not all alliterative. The first two observed that God provided for us and that God protected us. The last point was that God the Father disciplines us. All of these things are fully scriptural. The preacher solidly supported the first two points, and his remarks made me think about some aspects of my relationship with the Almighty that I had not considered—particularly on the second point, where he talked about the example of Job, around whom God had set a protective spiritual boundary which Satan could not cross without permission. Then, midway through the last point, the sermon veered off into what I understood to be dangerous territory: the pastor concluded with the statement that if we experienced suffering as Christians, God was disciplining us.

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights” (Hebrews 12:6). God wants his children to mature. We want our children – and our friends’ children – to grow up to be good folks, not only with good manners and able to care for themselves properly, but also exhibiting care and compassion for other people. Sometimes they do something wrong and it is necessary to correct them. Sometimes they simply need to be prompted to an action in a given situation where they don't know what to do. However, the English word “discipline” is often twinned with the word “punish,” and in human practice the rod of correction seems to be applied as a cane to the back as much as it is used as a pointing tool to steer in the right direction. Thus, the term discipline has gotten a bad reputation because of its frequent association with punishment. And we do know that God punishes sin. So is punishment, and more broadly, discipline, the sole reason for Christian suffering? Discipline implies only a person’s learning what to do and what not to do, it does not does not express an appreciation of what Someone Else has done and will do on humanity’s behalf. Therein lay the source of my disagreement with the pastor.

I am a historian. I think in terms of historical examples, and of suffering there are many. I know that there are frequently things in a person's lifetime that he or she cannot understand, that can be revealed to be part of a larger pattern when considered retrospectively. I also know that historians cannot comprehend the entirely of God's final tapestry of history as viewed from eternity. But I do believe, and have seen, that on a personal and on an historical level, we can see portions of His grand design which imply the intricacy and beauty of the whole. In my own life, I can look back to observe how some extreme periods of suffering were more revelatory of how God loved me (despite all I had done) than the episodes were indicative of anything I should do or punishment for something I should not have done. Too, the Old Testament saint Job was someone of whom God Himself said to the very critical enemy, "Have you considered my servant Job?" Job was a person who was *doing* everything right, who sought after God, who realized his own fallibility and that of his children and asked God to forgive them. Was he really caused to suffer for discipline!?

After the church service, while people swarmed around us getting barbecue, I accosted the pastor to ask. He responded, “No, Job was not being disciplined.” Huh? Didn’t that preclude the final point of the sermon? I tried and failed to follow up on this disconnection, telling him that discipline frequently implied (in many people’s minds) punishment. He firmly dismissed that idea, saying that the two were not the same. I agreed with him there—as aforementioned, punishment can be part of discipline but discipline is not limited to punishment. But—I’m so bad debating people, and I really couldn’t think to ask—what was the role of suffering in Job’s life? I told the pastor that I really felt like he needed to be far more specific, and define his terms, because of the common conflation of discipline and punishment. The conversation ended, leaving me quite unsatisfied. I had proven once again that I was verbally incoherent in pressing my (legitimate) point: the implication that the role of suffering was only to better/correct the behavior of the person who was suffering wasn’t resolved, and I was nonplussed at the pastor’s curt responses to my requests for clarification. Audrey told me later, “He’s not a people person.” No. (She said that he had made noticeable efforts to improve). To be fair, I’m not sure I would have been all smiles if some random person had begun barking questions at me after I’d preached for 40 minutes (!) either.

I discussed my frustration at length with Audrey on the drive home. The pastor’s summary of the role of suffering was incomplete, I knew, and to limit its work to “discipline” wasn’t accurate. Audrey soon found the word that I was searching for: Sanctification (which is a much more grace-filled comprehension of the fatherly role of God, and in keeping with the notion of God as provider and protector, than the pastor indicated).

Sometimes, in our suffering, we are punished for something we have done wrong. Oftentimes, we are taught what to do. However, in all suffering, Christians are always shown what God has done for us, and how much he loves us. And sometimes, that realization is the sole purpose of the experience. When at the end of the book of Job, the title character declaimed "I repent in dust and ashes," it was because he had seen God's glory. In suffering, the Holy Spirit supports the Christian’s despairing soul – occasionally, the individual may not feel this or see this care, being so overcome by what seems to be insuperable sorrow (witness martyrs and other victims of gross injustice or natural disaster)—but in them, God is showing His glory and giving other Christians an opportunity to serve and praise him. Suffering is ever always a process by which God teaches us, individually and collectively, about Himself: what He Himself suffered in the person of Jesus, and thereby how He loves us, and cares for us, even in the deepest, darkest nights of the soul. That is how suffering works in the process of sanctification.

A loved one dies. We suffer from a major mental illness. Dear friends lose their livelihood. An innocent person is condemned. An earthquake shatters a community. All these situations are part of living in this fallen world. God promises us in the Bible that this suffering will ultimately end. But in the meantime, he uses it to make us more like him, if we are his children. Enduring suffering makes us sensitive to others, and to consider where we might have misplaced our priorities or misrepresented ourselves. God is not vindictive, but parental towards those who call to him. Although certainly there are many aspects of Christianity that resemble soldiering, from the admonition to wear “the full armor of God,” to the lifetime training godliness requires, there are periods in which God just “leads us by still waters” like a bunch of helpless livestock, and restores our soul. When we are too weak to fight, He pulls us into His arms, whether we are aware of it at the moment (or even in our lifetime). Ultimately, everything points to the cross and the resurrection.

Suffering has a purpose in the life of someone who follows God. Without God, ordinary miseries are pointless. As this blog testifies, I don't yet handle trouble (real or imagined) gracefully, particularly when it’s “unfair.” As I learn to suffer appropriately, I understand it is not some sort of masochistic “I'm only happy when I'm miserable” mentality, but comprehension that in the normal course of life, the rotten bits (that all endure) will eventually work out for my good. I hope I will gain the courage to shed my very American addiction to comfort and cease insulating myself from the suffering of others—and fight injustice as I can. I hope too, that whatever difficulties face me and whatever callous and boneheaded things I do from moment to moment, that as a whole, my life will testify to God’s progressive sanctification of me, a sinner. I think in that aim, Audrey's pastor and I would certainly agree.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Go Away, Mr. Migraine!

Well, my long weekend plans have been temporarily derailed. After spending 2 1/2 hours chitchatting with the voluble wheelchair-bound lady who wants us to do her estate sale, I came home to pack, only to have developed a migraine on the short drive. Nausea, light sensitivity, the whole bit. I sent Audrey a text, explaining my predicament, took some heavy-duty painkiller, and went down for a nap. And I still felt lousy after I got up. Theoretically, according to my revised itinerary, I'm supposed to get to Savannah by 1 PM tomorrow, so that I can spend the afternoon with Audrey and her children, so I dearly hope that I wake up to find the discomfort and queasiness has finally passed. On the bright side, I didn't have to drive in the rain this afternoon--the clouds rolled in from the southeast while I was unconscious on the couch. The change in barometric pressure with the arrival of the storm may have contributed to my misery, come to think of it.

There are tiny cucumbers on my cucumber vines, peapods on my pea vines, and blossoms on my tomato plants. My lettuce is slowly coming up, as is my parsley. My onions never sprouted. I think I recognize a couple of tiny bell pepper plants amongst a thicket of volunteer tomatoes (Really, why did I buy tomato seeds? The compost was full of them, so I could've saved myself $1.50.), but they are not robust, and I doubt anything will come of them. My blueberry bushes are laden with pinkish berries, and the new broccoli I put in has sprouted, though something appears to be eating the leaves already. I found an almond--or at least something that very much resembled an almond (I researched the leaves and they look the same)--rooted in some compost, and have given the tiny tree (it's only 6" high at the moment) its own pot. My banana tree remains in a pot too,  since until I can create some sort of large area of well-drained soil, there's no point putting it in the clay-heavy ground, where its roots will rot and it will die. When I grow up and have money, I would love to have a greenhouse.

I've been catching a toad almost every evening the last week. I like toads. I pick them up gently, admire their plump wartiness, and then release them into my flowerbeds. One that lives in the vines around my broccoli is the size of my fist, and a handful of smaller ones traipse nightly through my front yard. And there's a whole daytime crew of little lizards and skinks that leap away in terror when I walk down the hedge with my watering hose. I haven't seen my wee garden snake again--perhaps it was so traumatized by the experience of being caught twice in one day that it slithered into a neighbor's yard, preferring harassment by one of their hyperactive bedroom slipper-sized dogs to being photographed by me.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Climbing The Walls

I am desperate to go to the beach. I need to be in a wide-open, sunny space where there is soothing natural noise, clean air, and fresh seafood. You wouldn't think with all the driving that I have been doing that I would be stir crazy, but I think Spring fever has arrived for me at the beginning of summer. I want to be away from all digital devices and all carbohydrates, with nothing but a paper-printed book and a glass of juice, and relaxed interpersonal contact. It's been so long since I had a decent conversation with a dear friend face-to-face, not just short chitchat at work or telephoning during my commute, or grousing to family while I or they are  otherwise preoccupied. Getting to sit down and be a slug for a while would be terrific. The three day weekend is a Godsend.

This will be the very first time in my entire life that I will be paid for a holiday. I've never gotten paid time off before – and in fact, in the past, I often had to work on holidays, what with the need for efficient estate sale setup and such. I intend to drive to Savannah tomorrow to visit my friend Audrey. go to church with her and her two children Sunday, and *maybe* go see Grandmommy on Monday--it depends on the weather and how exhausted I am.

I'm looking further ahead to a major jaunt in the fall. I've bought my tickets for travel within Korea in September, but I haven't found tickets yet for travel to and from! This is partly due to waiting for several people I know in that general part of the world to get back to me about whether I might see them... I figure if I'm going to be traveling halfway around the globe, I should visit as many people thereabouts as I can, and also see the major sights, and in consequence I don't know yet whether I will be going through Tokyo or Beijing. I have an old college friend in Hong Kong, but no way of getting in touch with her, which is a bummer considering I've been thinking about her a lot lately.

Ideally, I'd like to spend half a week or more in Japan, if I can only find someone there who is willing to show me around on a local level. I have asked a former fellow student from Georgetown – he got his PhD, and is now a Professor in Kyoto – to put feelers out for who might be able to do this, but I don't know how much historians and literary specialists interact thereabouts. For my job and my own personal enrichment, I want to get a literary insider's look at the land of the rising Sun, as I've been responsible for editing biographies and lists of published works of several famous Japanese authors, and it would be nice to see where they lived and worked and what inspired them. And I know there are many more Japanese authors that I need to know! But, I really need someone who knows the local area quite well and can speak Japanese, as it will be truly foreign territory for me, and unlike Europe or Russia, I can't puzzle out the signage and confidently go exploring on my own.

I'm much less worried about Korea, since I've (mostly) learned the alphabet and a lot of the signs are also in English, and there will be at least two people I know in the country. I have been looking at sleeping bags and slim foam mattresses on Amazon, as I expect I will be camping out on my friends floors. I want to travel light, but be able to cope with less than extravagant accommodations.

My stepuncle Gilbert called me out of the blue on Tuesday to see if I would be interested in joining him in setting up an estate sale. He's a former antique dealer, and used to own an estate sale company in this area until the bottom fell out of the market a decade ago. We found out we had similar interests and experiences when we chatted at Thanksgiving – or was it Christmas? – three years back. We were both entertaining everyone with our stories of crazy discoveries and crazier customers. So, tomorrow morning, we are supposed to meet at the house of a potential client, to check out the prospects for evening and weekend work at our shared avocation. If this worked out, it would be grand.

Friday, May 20, 2016

One Wife, Two Wife, Dead Wife, New Wife

Dr. Seuss had an affair. His wife Helen, who was suffering from cancer, was so distraught over this that she killed herself. He married the other woman shortly thereafter. I still love Green Eggs and Ham, though.

This has been a rough week. Through Thursday morning, I was convinced I was about to be sacked at any moment. This paranoia was partly due to hormones, partly due to insomnia, and partly due to the fact that though I’ve been asking for feedback on my performance, my boss is a man of few words, and the egregiousness of my efforts didn’t actually push him over the edge to fulsome “this wasn’t a good job” commentary until Monday and Tuesday. And, he could have been having a bad week himself.

I don’t do silence well—either being silent or enduring it from others. Since except for my art dealer boss (who can talk a blue streak—I love that he still calls me occasionally), all of my superiors to this point have been female, this usually hasn’t been an issue. Learning not to freak out when someone’s quiet about my performance—that’s a lesson I’m finding hard to learn. It’s not like I need constant “atta girl!,” but I am fueled by casual interaction. And my boss is up to his eyeballs in other responsibilities in another part of the building, so I don’t get this regularly. Truly, this is an adjustment.

I am also slowly discovering that editing for academia, at least under the contract that we have with the textbook company, is as much a science, perhaps more so, than an art. It demands a clinical approach to the material, as the textbook people are not so much concerned with elegance of language as with stern parameters of form and the authoritative expression of verified data within them.

Sleep has eluded me this week, and panic over what I feared was my eminent firing seized opportunities to set in at every second. There was silence in the morning meeting, except for a discursive vignette about the infield festivities at the Kentucky Derby, where tens of thousands devote 8 hours of the 2.5 minute event to heavy drinking without sufficient port-o-lets. Upstairs, huddled in my chair at my desk, a continuous nervousness wrecked my concentration with the thought that at any moment, one of my colleagues might round the corner with the flat announcement “[The Boss] wants to see you,” or that the black phone on the 2-drawer filing cabinet (where we crowd our international assortment of candy) might ring, and the boss’s voice would command, “KYP, I need to see you in my office.” And I would stumble downstairs, while everyone else stared studiously at their computer screens, deliberately ignorant of my impending doom.

But early Thursday, I got a short message from The Man, telling me that I was a good editor, I just needed to slow down and be more careful. Since speed was paramount in most of my previous positions, from estate sales to assembly-line work, this is also a practical adjustment. My cousin pointed out that it usually takes 6 months or more to really feel settled in to a new job, so I shouldn’t be frustrated—poor woman, she had to listen to my miseries three evenings this week, since Tuesday I didn’t come home, but stayed in Columbia for a work outing to a local minor league baseball game.
The Columbia Fireflies (which my cousin refers to as the “Lightning Bugs”) were playing the Macon Braves. My company paid for a carb and carnivorous buffet before the first pitch, and there was much discussion of the creepy characteristics of the team mascot, a frightening mutant greenish-blue cross between the muppet Elmo and a dirty old man with vestigial fairy wings. It’s named Mason (after a Mason jar, which traditionally was the death chamber for many thousands of unfortunate southern fireflies). A solitary can of hard cider set me back six bucks. I left at the beginning of the fourth inning, as it was already getting dark, and I was going to try (in vain, it turned out) to get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

On Monday night, I had had a nightmare, elements of which were directly traceable to the essay with whose editing my boss had not been happy. It was on the subject of a certain foundational science fiction writer, of whom the person who penned the essay was clearly worshipful. I pared down some of the more effusive commentary, but clearly not enough—when TBM (that’s The Boss Man, henceforth) returned it to me, my copy was covered with the digital equivalent of red ink. MS Word Track Changes had left digital footprints all over the text. It had been disemboweled. And that night I dreamt that a girl was beheaded, and her skull was mounted on the body of a robot—a rudimentary robot, with just thin pipes for arms and legs. Sometimes interpreting dreams is ridiculously simple.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


My memory continues to get worse, and rotten nights of sleep don't help it any. I've been planning to call my friend Anita for a week. But last weekend, her little boy – like all small mobile petri dishes of about his age – managed to infect her with some sort of germ,  and so she wasn't available to talk. So, we scheduled for Tuesday evening, when I was supposed to call. But I totally forgot about it. Then, I had all day Friday to phone her, but I'd had such a horrible night's sleep Thursday night, it slipped my mind that day too. If we hadn't known one another for so long, I do believe she would think that I was one of those faux friends that a recent news article claims many people you suppose are friends to be. Crumbs.

I forgot to go to a wedding shower last night. Whoops. I hope I remember to send the bride and groom the gift card I had planned to give them. My mom and I drove to Charlotte, NC, yesterday for a surprise birthday party for my aunt. It was nice seeing a goodly portion of my father's side of the family gathered for such a happy occasion. But I was so exhausted that I slept all the way home, and shortly after walking in the door, I went to bed for the night. The upside was, for once, I was on time to both Sunday school and church this morning, since I woke up early.

I had been texting with a friend in Thailand during my sleepless Friday night, and Mona, who just moved to South Korea, has phoned a couple of times since arriving in Jeju, so I don't feel completely marooned (and hopefully she doesn't, either, what with being many miles from home). The girl in Thailand is the goddess from CELTA last summer--one of the best language teachers I've seen or heard. If I can be, someday, as half as good as she is at spawning student discussion and explaining grammar in clear, concise terms, I think I will consider myself to have arrived. Our former classmates are spread out all over the world – one is in Vietnam, one remains in the Czech Republic, one is in Spain, one is in Canada, one is in Brazil, and one is dividing her time between Istanbul and Italy. Theoretically, I'm supposed to start a Masters in teaching program this fall (I postponed it twice while getting acclimated to my new job), but we'll see if that actually comes to pass. If I were to become a certified teacher, I would learn much more than I do as an editor, and also have health insurance, which is something to consider at my middle-age. However, as with most things, I may have already priced myself out of the education market, because considering my degrees, a state school system would be required to pay me more than they would the average young person straight out of college with a bachelors in education.

Friday, May 13, 2016

I Hope I Am Wrong

I met a frightening man on Wednesday night. He was a white guy, perhaps 5'6" or 5'7", not particularly broad shouldered, wearing a dark blue security company uniform. He came in to the pizza place where I was waiting to pick up two pies, said he had a military discount.  I looked at him for perhaps a split second – I was busy putting my receipt in my purse – as the manager observed that he also got a policeman's discount. Gesturing to his breast badge, the man said he was just a security guard, but that he planned to enter the state highway patrol training program in the summer. There was just something about him that sent chills down my spine, and made my stomach contract. As I said, he was not physically imposing, but he nonetheless silently exuded a bully air, giving me a gut feeling that if he hadn't already abused someone, it was only a matter of time until he did. To me, he seemed humorless and vicious in the completely casual atmosphere of the pizza kitchen. I've not had such a strong sense of revulsion in seventeen years, and it was weird, and upsetting.

I never heard from the literary agent in New York with regards to the Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands manuscript, so a couple of weeks ago I approached a reputable Midwestern publisher directly, and an editor there asked for several sample chapters. I'm not getting my hopes up, considering that I have been trying to get this accepted for five years now with no success, but despite the regular disappointment of outright or silent rejection, it's hard not to dream. I wonder if all aspiring authors automatically cast the movie version of their book in their head before it is even in print? Ambitions tend to run far ahead of reality.

My brother Bob is staying with me for a couple of weeks, consolidating his worldly goods in my garage preparatory to packing them in PODS and having them shipped north to Virginia, to his new house. At first he thought about renting a trailer, but the size of the necessary trailer, and the sheer irritation of having to maneuver with it on the road persuaded him that PODS was the best option. My other brother has gotten an offer on his Atlanta house, and so will be moving soon too, but to where I don't think he has yet decided.

My job continues interesting, as I learn more about poets and playwrights, short story scribblers and erratic novelists (hard-working and yet difficult to pin down). I really love editing.  Because the writer doesn't see the material again after he or she submits it, I can rephrase, reorganize, and rewrite with impunity–though, of course, I'm always happy when I don't have to! I devoutly hope that I will soon be permitted to telecommute two days a week, as gas prices rise and I get so used to the road between here and Columbia that I could almost drive the route blindfolded. And sometimes traffic is terrible – Wednesday morning, it took me an hour and 54 minutes door to door. On Tuesday, I bought two 23" monitors – I frequently forget that it's no longer necessary to designate that they are flat screen! – so I can work more efficiently from my laptop, on whose single small screen it has been difficult to juggle multiple open documents at once.  I don't know that I'll have a chance to set them up before I begin to work tomorrow – they are in a large box in the middle of my living room.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Retrospective On Easter

I was moved Easter Sunday evening to write a letter to the editor. I emailed it off to the local paper, but as I am not a subscriber, they seemed to have deemed it not fit to print (I never got a call from them asking, "Is this really you who wrote this?")--then, my mom (who has faithfully subscribed to the paper for more than 30 years, mostly for the obituary section) messaged me out of the blue that they'd featured it, and that I should not bother to read the online commentary in response, which was uniformly hostile. Mine was a curmudgeonly sort of epistle, born out of irritation at unprofessionalism and an upsetting Easter morning which ended with me decamping the choir loft in tears less than a minute before the beginning of the 11 AM service, tearing off my surplice and cassock and hastening for my car and the gym. 

The 8:30 Easter service was beautiful, and the sermon was solid. But in the hour break between services (Sunday school was cancelled because of the holiday), my emotions--already pulled thin over my expanding waistline and the fact I hadn't exercised in over a week--received several additional burdens that sent the fibers snapping in rapid succession. 

First, I congratulated a fellow choir member on her son's engagement. She responded, "He's my nephew!" And went on to inform me that I'd made the same mistake the previous week, and that I'd confused her with her sister. I was mortified, the more so because she's not Caucasian, and she was implying that I was committing the notorious White Error ("Ya'll all look alike to me"). It wasn't that--it's just my terrible memory. I tried to explain, but the damage was done. 

Second, the only eligible single guy in church was standing out in the hall with his arm around the waist of a tall young blond. So, I made a beeline outdoors for fresh air and cool water, and encountered one of the only other two single men in the church (in a congregation of more than 1000) who are about my age, and chatted with him for a bit--and was again reminded how kind and sweet he is, and how we have almost nothing to talk about. We stood and watched as the locusts--a scrum of forty or so small children equipped with baskets--suddenly swept at a signal across the pink egg peppered lawn, picking up every object in their path in less than four minutes. Near the fountain on the other side of the sanctuary, smiling, freshly-dressed families were getting their pictures taken. I was alone, and conversation was lacking. Couples were hugging and toddlers were bouncing around in pastel outfits. 

 Feeling ever lower, I gradually wended my way back to the choir loft, where the musicians were assembling, thinking to myself that the only rotten thing that hadn't happened was that the woman who accused me three months ago via text of selling her fake Polish pottery hadn't mentioned it. And within twenty seconds, that very person rounded the corner by the pulpit, and announced to me that she still had to send me pictures of the pottery. "I didn't sell it to you," I said. "Yes, you did," she responded. It took about twenty seconds from that point for me to realize that I just wasn't going to be able to handle singing. I know, the show must go on, and so forth, and if I were one of just a handful of singers, of course I should have gutted it out, tears and all. But the loft was packed--people without places to sit were standing in front of both sides of the risers--and I am a weak reed to lean on for vocal support, and so I knew I shouldn't be missed. 

 I was ashamed of myself later for abruptly abandoning ship, but another factor was that I was seated right behind the pastor in the camera frame during the sermon (so my mother, who'd come to the early service, texted me--she'd had to sit in the overflow room, because she and John arrived at 8:30, and by that time, the sanctuary was full), and I didn't want to ruin a reverent Easter for those present and for future YouTube viewers--it didn't occur to me until hours later that I probably wouldn't have done this anyway, because the choir was vacating the loft before the sermon, and they wouldn't have "close upped" on me during the earlier songs! Crap. 

 On the way to my car--my eyes were all red, and my pupils looked a peculiar neon green because of the tears--I ran into the "He's my nephew" woman and told her, in a simple (but not "look what you've done" fashion), that she'd contributed to my upset--that I truly had a lousy memory (which is steadily getting worse, though I didn't admit that). She apologized, which was great of her--I hope she understood how sorry I was to have been stupid. 

But I prayed all the way to the gym that God would cause that dotty pottery woman to remember that she hadn't gotten those bloody bowls or plates from me! I thought about contacting her and telling her to come to my house and go through all the boxes of pottery in my garage, promising to give her, free, any piece she found that had MADE IN CHINA on it (there wouldn't be any), but truly, I do not want to see her ever again on this earth. I've found my copy of the sales receipt for the event where she says she bought the bowls, and so there's physical evidence to support my claim, but if she doesn't believe me when I say the truth, this isn't likely to convince her, either. We can laugh over the silly non-consequence of dishware in heaven, but right now the thought of encountering her--even remotely--makes my stomach hurt. Totally hypocritical, right? To hurt someone's feelings because of bad memory and then be so upset by someone else's poor recall? 

 I was so glad to get a good workout. I'd already been soaking with sweat in the choir loft--two layers of robes on top of a regular church outfit, under a crowd of spotlights and pressed shoulder to shoulder with fifty other overheated people had sent saltwater running down my spine twenty minutes into the service. We were all painfully thirsty. But 2000m on the rowing machine, and then another 40 minutes pedaling on stationary bikes did wonders for my morale. I hate that I am so bothered by what people think of me, that I am so overcome when someone challenges my honesty, but it's particularly wounding when it comes from a Christian sibling, who, by definition, is supposed to stick with you come hell or high water. 

My new job permits and requires me to learn a lot about an enormous variety of writers and literary works. Of a seventeenth century Spanish clerical poet, a rigid misanthropic fellow sketched as "an austerely self-righteous intellectual," a contemporary complained, "If he's not even a human, why are they calling him a divine?" I've summarized criticism about a modern British writer whose specialty is lesbian fiction set in meticulously-researched neo-Victorian contexts--one academic celebrated her challenge to "heterocentric time" (naively, I'd thought the earth turned on its axis and revolved around the sun irrespective of the gender of its inhabitants). I've learned a lot about other Calvinists, and those who came from Calvinist stock--an impressive number of eighteenth and nineteenth century English-language writers, really, were either composing within that worldview or in grim opposition to it. And then there was John Henry Cardinal Newman, who started off as a devout Reformed theologian and became an even more devout Roman Catholic clergyman. 

 I've read of poets and playwrights, mothers and murderers, the enviably happy and the resolutely miserable. The once hilarious Mark Twain became bitterly, evangelically anti-God in his later years, not so much atheistic as loathing the divinity whom he blamed for all ills. Twain organized at least one of his last short stories as an unremitting attack on the niceties of polite hypocrisy, his characters weak in well-doing and strong in manipulative maliciousness. Contrast William Cowper, who lost hope after writing some of the most beautiful, emotionally rich hymns in the classical Christian tradition, but was not abandoned by those who loved him, even as he fought debilitating depression time and again. I specifically requested to edit the piece on Cowper--he and I are much alike, his memoirs recording symptoms exactly those I suffered, and we have been similarly blessed with faithful friends in extremity. Again, and I cannot repeat (happily, in well-treated OCD fashion) too often how profoundly grateful I am for modern psychiatric medications--fighting through darkness to sunshine, constantly struggling to remind yourself that the "clouds ye so much dread are big with mercies and will break in blessings on your head" is a position of emotional debilitation I never hope to revisit. Many Christian biographers, knowing how hopeless he felt in his later years (convinced in a hellish melancholy that he was destined for damnation), recognized Cowper's pitiable, yet redeemed condition, but several recent secular scholars have seemed perversely to relish what they perceive as a permanent loss of faith. But logically, this doesn't compute, because if Christianity is all about positive thoughts, and Jesus wasn't who he said he was, we're hopeless anyway. If Jesus did come back from the dead, even the tiniest shred of hope in him is worth a ocean of tears, and it's his work to save us, not ours.