Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Little League Mom Confirms Own Idiocy

I've done it again, friends: I've shamelessly humiliated myself over at The Little League Coach with my latest post. It once again addresses the topic of athletic cups, and specifically, the placement of said cups.

For the rest of the hilarious story, you'll have to go and visit Rick and read It's Official: I Am An Idiot.

Capital Punishment and the New Covenant

In light of the Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of capital punishment, I thought I'd reprint here an essay I wrote ages ago for our church newsletter:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also..You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:38-39;43-44

Murderers deserve to die. So do adulterers, liars, gossips, thieves, selfish people, parents who yell at their children, inconsiderate drivers, and everyone else who breaks God’s law.

So that’s not the issue. The question is who gets to decide when somebody dies. The answer is God alone.

Throughout the pages of the New Testament, foreshadowed in the Old, the Bible turns our hearts toward redemption and reconciliation—and allows opportunity for rehabilitation. The first person to receive mercy instead of death for a capital crime was Cain: the Lord put a protective mark on him so that he would not be put to death (Genesis 4:15).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned civil and personal ethics on its head. When the Author of life talks about the sanctity of life, we all stand convicted.

The Sermon—and, by extension, all of Jesus’s teaching—“raises the ante by radicalizing the demands of the Law” (R. Hayes, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 1996). We are called to a counter-intuitive and paradoxical lifestyle of meekness, mercy, peacemaking, and non-retaliation.

Not only his words, but also Jesus’ example of non-violence and mercy preclude capital punishment. Jesus didn’t call for the execution of his own executioners, but instead called out for his heavenly Father to forgive them.(Luke 23:34) He did not condone armed resistance at his own arrest, but told his disciple, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

Consider Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery, which was a stonable offense back in the day (John 8). First, He reminds the self-righteous tattletales of their own hypocrisy: Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. And instead of calling for the Old Covenant penalty, Jesus demonstrated a dramatically different New Covenant response. He told her “Go, and sin no more.”

Paul reiterates the radical instruction to forsake self-protection in Romans: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:19-21)

Abandoning violence and retaliation on both personal and civic levels does not mean abandoning all forms of societal justice, punishment, and restitution—just the violent ones.

Why is it better to kill murderers than to imprison them for life? Incarceration provides an appropriate and just punishment for capital offenders. (As Christians concerned with justice, we still have to deal with the fact that human justice systems are skewed by politics, race, and economics. It’s not possible in a fallible human government to execute justice perfectly. But in the absence of capital punishment, if we make a mistake, it’s reversible. It’s better to let 10 murderers go free than to execute one innocent man.)

Ultimately, we are to be lovers of people, letting God use us as messengers of redemption and reconciliation. Killing someone, even a confessed serial murderer, is not compatible with loving him. When we allow the state to execute him, we cut off the possibility that he will find peace with God.

And only God has the right to say “time’s up.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Home Invasion, Part I

A crazy long time ago, Mr. Peevie and I lived sweetly together in brick Georgian on a tree-lined street in the Windy City. Our time and our money were our own; we didn't have any children yet, and we were enjoying our lives and each other.

And then, one day, a stranger entered our home, and our peaceful lives were interrupted, changed forever.

I know what you're thinking. A baby. But you would be wrong. Can I finish telling my story, now?

We had gone away for the weekend--which used to be uncomplicated, relaxing, enjoyable, and affordable. We came home late on a Sunday evening. As we carried our weekend bags into the living room, and walked through to the dining room, Mr. Peevie and I both started getting a creepy feeling. Things were a little off.

There were smears of dirt on the window sills, for example, that weren't there before. And the lid had been removed from the box of chocolates in the middle of the dining room table, a couple of chocolates were partially eaten, and the remains scattered around the table.

"Somebody's been here," Mr. Peevie said nervously.

"Somebody might still be here," I replied. We both froze, looked around, and listened for the footsteps of an axe-murderer. Either he was very, very quiet, or he'd already left the premises.

We called the police, and five minutes later about six huge cops were stomping through the house, checking the doors and windows, shining flashlights into closets, and examining the smears on the window sill.

"Do you have a dog?" one officer asked.


"Do you have a friend with a dog, who might have come over while you were gone?" he pursued. "It looks to me like someone came over with an animal." We were pretty sure this was not the case.

"Well, then," the cops agreed, "it looks like an animal got in somehow." They suggested that we check the chimney in the morning, because sometimes animals got in that way.

We climbed upstairs to our bedroom, feeling tired but safe, happily reassured that we wouldn't be bludgeoned in our sleep by a stealthy serial killer.

I threw my PJs on and stretched out on the bed, while Mr. Peevie started to unpack his bag. I got into my comfort zone, lying supine and curling my arms under my pillow for head support--my favorite, non-approved sleep position. My hands encountered something unexpected, and I lifted my pillow to check it out.

"Eww! Mr. Peevie, look!" I yawped. "I think a squirrel made a nest under my pillow, for crap's sake!" A nesty-looking circle of dustbunnie-gray fur circumstantially testified against the formerly white sheet. "That's so disgusting!"

Mr. Peevie agreed, and suggested that I change the sheets so that we wouldn't have to sleep in squirrel grit. Meanwhile, he slid open the mirror-covered sliding door on the wall-to-wall closet--the glory of our bedroom!--and reached up to put a sweater on the shelf.

Suddenly, a ball of gray fur shot off the shelf, right toward Mr. Peevie, who screamed like a pack of little girls and leaped like an Olympic gymnast up and back away from the closet. The furball flew over his right shoulder, landed on the floor, and rocketed right out the open door, with Mr. Peevie yelling for his momma the whole time.

I hadn't moved from the bed; I sat, stunned, not so much by the appearance of a squirrel in my boudoir, but by the dramatic display of athleticism and phobic mania from Mr. Peevie. I had never seen that man move so quickly or leap so powerfully. Nor had I any idea, after 10 years of marriage, that he was deathly afraid of tiny rodents with fluffy tails.

This story is not over. You'll have to tune in tomorrow for the big finish.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Squirrels and the Bees

"Mommy, Mommy!" M. Peevie called to me from two rooms away, as per usual. "Two squirrels are fighting!" She was watching out the picture window as the drama unfolded on the neighbor's front yard.

"They're probably mating," I said. Urban squirrels are fluffy-tailed rodents the color of dustbunnies. There are so many of them living in the tree in our front yard that I assume they reproduce constantly.

"But they look like they're wrestling," she said. "Why are they rolling around like that?"

"It's probably part of the mating process," said Mr. Peevie jealously.

"How do they mate, Mommy?" asked M. Peevie.

"Well, it looks to me like the male squirrel gets on the back of the female squirrel," I said.

"Why does he get on her back instead of on her front?" she persisted. I really don't know why she would ask that question. I kind of don't want to know.

"That's how mating works for squirrels," Mr. Peevie said. "Different animals have different ways of mating."

"But what happens when he gets on her back? Why is getting on her back called mating?" said M. Peevie, who might be aiming for a career at the Kinsey Institute.

Are seven-year-olds too young for discussions of animal reproductive behaviors? Kids on farms are conversant with this sort of stuff--so why not our city kids, too? I had a conversation about the anatomical differences between bulls and cows once with a five-year-old who lived on a dairy farm in Oklahoma. So I plunged ahead.

"Well." I took a deep breath. "The male squirrel has a penis"--I was leveraging two years of high school biology here, and nothing more; I could be totally wrong about squirrel anatomy--"and he puts it in the female. That's called mating." Phew. Done. Can we stop now?

Of course we can't. The girl does not quit. "But why are they mating now?" she asked.

"It's that time of year," I told her. "Time for them to make some baby squirrels." Then I made a strategic move. "Do you ever see baby squirrels running around outside?" I decided I was done with the s*x talk.

"I don't know," M. said. "How big is a baby squirrel? This big?" She held up two chubby fingers.

"I really don't know how big a squirrel is when it's born, M.," I confessed.

"Well, how big is a teenage squirrel?" She made the chubby finger gap wider. "This big?"

"M. Peevie, I really don't know," I said. "Can you please go and play now?" If you let her, this tiny interrogator will ask more questions than a prosecutor. It can be quite exhausting, and I think my brain was starting to bleed.

I'd love to hear your stories about conversations with your kids about the birds, or squirrels, or bulls, and the bees.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Little League Mom Humiliates Self Again

I forgot to mention that I have a new post on The Little League Coach.

This post is a continuation of my series of posts about cup-related humiliation. Check out Cup Stories: The 40-Year-Old Cup Virgin when you have a chance. Leave a comment so that Rick McBride gets an idea about how powerful and influential I am.

Weird Things Moms Save

Moms save weird stuff. Some of the cherished items that my mom-friends have saved as mementos of their offspring's sweet-smelling, cooing, portable baby days include the following:

1. Teeth. Moms have baby teeth stashed in sock drawers and shoe boxes, double wrapped in Kleenex® and zipped into sandwich bags. What are they going to do with them? Did they wash the dried blood off first? One mom told me she once admired the tiny pearls in another woman's brooch, and then learned it was made entirely of her children's baby teeth. Doesn't that remind you a tiny bit of Silence of the Lambs?

2. Hair. OK, maybe it's not weird to save a curl from baby's first haircut. (My kids were so bald that they were practically in sixth grade before their hair was long enough to cut.) But it is kind of weird to save the trimmings from your son's first haircut, and then to give them to his daughter 40 years later. This actually happened.

3. Hospital cap. Come on. This is weird because it's so generic--every baby in every hospital gets the same cap! It's different than saving the tiny, adorable, monogrammed blue-and-pink hat that your Great Aunt Blanche crocheted with her own blue-veined hands.

4. Baby ID label from the hospital. You know--the one that they tape to the plastic bin-on-wheels that they cart your baby around in, that says "Baby Girl Jolie-Pitt" or "Baby Boy Lopez-Anthony." Actually, come to to think of it, maybe it's not so weird. If your baby grows up to be the next George Clooney or Venus Williams, you could maybe sell that ID label on E-Bay for a chunk of change, and finance your retirement.

5. Umbilical cords. I am not even kidding you. My friend admitted that she still had her child's umbilical cord. This does not have any potential future medical benefit, like cord blood; it's just a nasty, dried-up piece of rotting flesh. With sentimental value.

6. The plastic ring from the circumcision. Go ahead. I dare you to make jewelry out of THAT. Stick a diamond on it, maybe, and give it to your son when he's ready to get engaged to a girl who's not good enough for him. Tell him you had it made especially for this day, and you'd be so proud if he'd give it to his best girl. Then later, you can tell her where the band came from. Hee.

7. The positive pregnancy test. OK, people, this is going too far. This is a stick with pee on it. What exactly do you plan on doing with a urine-soaked popsicle stick? Who are you saving it for? I am all in favor of sentimentality--even though I rarely indulge in it myself--but seriously.

What do you think? Is it just me, or are these things weird?

What have you saved that I neglected to mention here? Do you have a zip-lock bag filled with your child's scabs or toenail clippings? Have you hoarded ancient, moldy bath toys to someday bequeath to your hypothetical grandchildren? 'Fess up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Latest Addiction

I have a new addiction: Pandora radio. OMG. This site is so fun and addictive. If you like music, and if you spend any time at all in front of your computer, check out Pandora. She will play the music you want, when you want it.

I spent two hours yesterday creating my very own personalized radio stations:

  • Hymns Radio plays traditional church hymns, plus a few select contemporary hymns and worship songs. (I’m not really a fan of contemporary Christian music, so when one of those songs pops up, I click the “I don’t like this song” button, and Pandora apologizes and promises never to play it again. Pandora is very polite.)
  • When I’m in the mood for some folksy rock tunes, I switch over to E. Peevie Radio. It’s generated from a Jack Johnson starting point, and includes songs like “Hey There, Delilah” by the Plain White T’s, classic tunes from Simon and Garfunkle and Fleetwood Mac, and of course "American Pie" and other favorites from Don McLean. Awesome.
  • And then there’s Dee Dee Radio, in honor of my big brother who is a sentimental softie with a preference for the music of his lost youth. It plays classic popular tunes from the 50s, 60s, and a few 70s, featuring bands like The Dave Clark Five, The Spinners, and Franki Valli.
  • I love musical theater, so one of my stations is Sound of Music Radio. I can sing along to "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story; "Seventy-Six Trombones" from Music Man; and "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma.
  • Most of my life I have despised and disparaged country music. But now I find myself creating Willie Nelson Radio, a station that plays classic country hits like "Folsom Prison Blues" by Merle Haggard, "Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash, and even some not-so-classic-and-a-tiny-bit-queer-but-I-like-it-so-there John Denver songs.
  • Oh, and I almost forgot: Water Music Radio brings me compositions like Handel's "Water Music Suite No. 2", "Sonata in D Major" by Telemann, and of course, the ubiquitous Pachelbel's "Canon in D".

Just what I needed: another time sink. My life is one time-sink addiction after another.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Adieu, Sweet Innocence of Youth

M. Peevie lost one of her front teeth recently. Finally. That thing had been hanging on like a Chicago winter.

With the confident innocence of a seven-year-old, M. Peevie put her tooth under her pillow that night. The next morning she was disconsolate.

“The tooth fairy didn’t come last night,” she said. Oh crap, I thought.

“I’m sorry, honey,” I said. “Maybe you got to sleep too late. Or maybe she just had too many pick-ups last night.” She soon smiled again.

The next morning, M. Peevie checked optimistically under her pillow. Again she found the tooth and no dollars.

“I don’t know, honey,” I said guiltily. “Maybe she took a day or two off. Maybe she went out of town to visit relatives.” She smiled again, eventually.

The next morning I remembered that the tooth fairy had still not visited my daughter’s room. (What is the matter with me?!) I hurried downstairs.

“C. Peevie,” I said, “Can I borrow a couple of bucks?”

“Sure,” he said generously, “What for?”

“The tooth fairy. I don’t want M. Peevie to be disappointed again.” He just looked at me knowingly, and shook his head. “Uh, huh,” he said. He gave me two dollars. (Why do children always have better cash flow than their parents?)

I crept into M. Peevie’s pink room and felt around under her pillow. I removed the envelope containing the tiny tooth, slipped the money in its place, and crept back out.

Later, I went in to wake up my morning sleepy-head. When she found the money, she smiled a wide, gap-toothed smile. But seconds later, she frowned.

“Mommy,” she said, with a serious expression on her face, “Tell me the truth. Are you the tooth fairy?”

“What do you think?” I hedged.

“I think you are. I think you come in here at night and take my tooths and put dollars under my pillow. Fairies aren’t real, so I don’t think the tooth fairy is real.”

“Ahhh,” I said, avoiding giving an actual answer. Of course, she noticed. Girlfriend should be a lawyer.

“You didn’t answer my question, Mommy,” she cross-examined. “Tell me the truth. Are you the tooth fairy?”

“Do you really want to know the truth, M. Peevie?” I asked, because I did not care to be the shatterer of sweet childhood dreams.

“Yes, I want to know the truth,” she insisted.

I really didn’t have a choice, now, did I? “Yes, M. Peevie,” I said reluctantly. “I am the tooth fairy.”

Her face fell. “I thought so,” she said glumly. She was quiet for a few seconds, and then she said, “You’re probably Santa Claus, too.”

I did NOT want to go down that road, so I tried to distract her. “M.P.,” I said, “It’s time to get ready for school.”

“Wait just a minute, Mommy,” said the future District Attorney. “Are you Santa Claus, too? When there are presents under the tree and they say, ‘Love, Santa’—that’s really you and Daddy, isn’t it?”

“The truth?” I asked.

“The truth,” she said.

I hated to do it, but I didn’t see a way out. “Yes,” I admitted. “Daddy and I play Santa.” I could see that this was really hard to take, even though she already knew the truth. Her beautiful brown eyes filled with tears.

“But M.,” I said, “I still love to pretend that there really is a tooth fairy! I love the idea of Santa Claus! I love to pretend to hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh at Christmas!”

Not good enough, when pretty much all your best childhood fantasies have been crushed into oblivion. M. Peevie, at age seven, already knew the truth about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. What was the point of going on?

She was still melancholy when she came down for breakfast. Nothing could break through cloud of woe. Nothing, except possibly the delicious sweetness of a cheese streusel muffin.

“M. Peevie,” I said, “Do you think a muffin might help you feel better?”

She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, and looked up at me mournfully. “I don’t know,” she said. “But I’ll try it.”

It was only later that I realized that offering food to help with emotional pain was not an excellent parenting technique. Great. Not only did I crush her childhood innocence, but I have started her on the road of lifelong eating disorders.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Remembering Caitlin

Tonight after dinner, the kids and Mr. Peevie and I will eat chocolate cake in honor of what would be our daughter Caitlin's 14th birthday. We'll each say something about Caitlin, even though we never knew her.

One time six years ago, we were having this same little memorial event. C. Peevie said, "I miss you Caitlin, even though I never got to meet you."

And A. Peevie, who was four at the time, was not to be outdone. "I miss you, Caitlin," he said, and continued happily, "You poo-poo head."

I don't know if this tradition is weird, or nuts, or psychologically damaging--but it feels right for our family. I'm pretty sure that it arose out of our children's unquenchable desire for cake, rather than from their feeling of loss for their sister.

Remembering Caitlin didn't always involve cake. In the beginning, Mr. Peevie and I would just quietly mention our little girl's name to each other, and futilely wonder what our lives would be like with her in them. We wonder what color her eyes were, and if she'd be a gymnast, or a tennis nut, or a piano player.

We still cried, back then; occasionally, we still do. Not so much because the feeling of loss is still painful--but because we can clearly remember the pain of losing her. (I read somewhere that our brains do not have the capacity to "remember" pain. I call bogus.) I remember the strong urge I felt for months, when I would see people going about their normal lives, to shout at them, "I had a baby, and she died!"

Telling Caitlin stories brings tears to my eyes, but they're good tears, if you can understand that. Caitlin is a part of our family, just as much as if she had lived. Losing her is no longer the most important part of my identity (as it was for many months), but it will always be part of who I am. To not talk about her is to deny her, and to deny a part of me.

Shortly after Caitlin died, I read an essay about grief in the New York Times by Anna Quindlen. She was speculating about why grief "has the power to silence us." Here's a slice of her beautiful, powerful words:

Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within. More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death, grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.
Maybe we do not speak of it because death will mark all of us, sooner or later. Or maybe it is unspoken because grief is only the first part of it. After a time it becomes something less sharp but larger, too, a more enduring thing called loss.
Perhaps that is why this is the least explored passage: because it has no end. The world loves closure, loves a thing that can, as they say, be gotten through. This is why it comes as a great surprise to find that loss is forever, that two decades after the event there are those occasions when something in you cries out at the continuous presence of an absence. "An awful leisure," Emily Dickinson once called what the living have after death.
"The presence of an absence"--if you've lost someone, you know what that means, what it feels like.
Yesterday I was wearing my "Caitlin necklace"--an April birthstone pendant on a slim gold chain. My friends gave it to me for my birthday, six weeks after she was born. It was a beautiful, touching, sensitive gesture, from gentle friends who understood that even though remembering might bring tears, it also brings healing.

M. Peevie noticed my necklace, and I asked her if she knew why I was wearing it.

"Because Caitlin died," she said matter-of-factly.

"Yes," I said, "That's part of it. But also because tomorrow is Caitlin's birthday."

"Oh, mom," M. Peevie said, "Let's have cake tomorrow night, and remember Caitlin together as a family!"

Great idea, little girl.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Time for Italian Ice!

Good news, everyone! Lisa's Homemade Italian Ice in Park Ridge is open for the season! (I blogged about Lisa's last year, in case you missed it.)

I took the kids for ices after school on Friday. M. Peevie had been asking me for weeks when Lisa's would reopen, because we all really missed it over the winter. And trust me, it's been a reeeeeeeaaaally long Chicago winter.

We all tried samples of a variety of homemade flavors--and again, for me, the mango took the prize. It's unbelievably mango-ey.

M. Peevie went with straight chocolate. A. Peevie split his $2.50 small cup between chocolate and mochaccino. (Yes, the boy loves coffee, and coffee-flavored everything.) C. Peevie ordered half triple berry, half lemon-lime.

Everyone was happy.

I'll bet if you called Lisa and gave her your email address, she'd email you a coupon for 50 cents off each Italian ice purchased in the month of April. Or leave me a comment (and your email address if I don't already have it) and I'll forward the email coupon to you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Six Word Memoirs

Have you heard of Smith? It's is an online storytelling community. I can tell it's going to be a huge time-sink. Excellent.

Smith offers writers and storytellers a place to, well, write and tell stories.

For one exercise, Smith assigns writers to compose their memoir in six words. Six words! This idea germinated from the legend that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story using only six words. He wrote, "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

Some of the six-word memoirs on Smith are funny, even hilarious:

"Slightly psychotic, in a good way."

"Six sisters. So you can imagine."

"God, I am such an idiot."

Others take your breath away with horror or sadness:

"I found my mother's suicide note."

"I'd never heard of autism before."

"Womb betrayed me, stilled my baby."

And many of them make you want to know the rest of the story, like this one: "One time, an emu bit me."

Here are my own six-word memoirs, so far:

After depression, sun is out. Grateful.

Three kids; time not my own.

Not six words; just one: Love.

If I’m not, no one is.

Grateful: Jesus, Kevin, kids, friends; life.

Bad mom says wait for commercial.

Jesus loves me; this I know.

Irreverently loving God; imperfectly loving you.

If I didn't laugh, I'd cry.

Please forgive me. I was wrong.

So much television, so little time.

This is a fun way to spend six minutes or six hours. Try it--I'd love to hear your six-word memoir.

(Hat tip to Zzilda for pointing me to this way cool website.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poem in Your Pocket

I'll bet you didn't know it was National Poetry Month, did you? Put a poem in your pocket today in honor of Poem in Your Pocket Day.

(Since I didn't give you much notice, you can do it tomorrow, too.)

Take your poem out throughout the day and share it with your colleagues, your neighbors, your family. Come on, do it. It'll be fun.

I chose the poem I'm putting in my pocket in honor of my mom and in memory of my grandmother, Libby. This might be my mom's favorite poem. She had a copy of it on paper that had turned brown with age, in a tarnished frame, hanging on the wall in her kitchen. I think it used to belong to Libby.

Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918

119. Trees

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Let me know what poem you put in your pocket, and why you chose it. We all need a little more poetry in our mundane lives, don't we?

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Avon Lady and Jesus

I love the story in Luke about the sinful woman who annointed Jesus' feet with ointment and her own tears in the home of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). This story has three main characters: a religious host with an impeccable reputation; a woman with a reputation as bad as reputations come; and Jesus, with a reputation as a troublemaker or a teacher/prophet, depending on your perspective.

The woman--I like to call her the Avon Lady, because she arrives with perfume samples--behaves in a shocking and scandalous way toward Jesus, but Jesus accepts and defends her. Simon silently wonders how Jesus could allow her to have such intimate and inappropriate contact with him. Jesus takes this opportunity to tell a parable about faith, and to clearly claim divine authority to forgive sin.

The story is filled with irony, and as the vast readership of The Green Room knows, I heart irony.

Who is Simon?
Simon the Pharisee was a religious, temple-going guy. Maybe his dad was a Pharisee also, and his parents brought him up strictly, going to temple on Saturdays and Wednesday nights, and going on Pharisee youth group outings when he was in high school. They observed the feasts, fasts, and sacrifices; they tithed their dill and shekels precisely; they counted their steps on the Sabbath so as not to break the fourth commandment.

Simon's identity was wrapped up in his religious faith, and he took it very seriously. Maybe he invited Jesus to dinner so he could get to know him better, and decide for himself whether this controversial troublemaker was a real prophet, or a fraud. Either way, Simon would be the go-to guy with 411 on this crazy Jesus character.

Simon reminds me of me sometimes.

Who is the Avon Lady?
What about the woman who had lived a sinful life? Somewhere she had heard Jesus teaching about God's mercy and forgiveness. Maybe she followed him around for a few days or weeks, so she could hear more about God's willingness to forgive any who would come to him. She had never heard anything like this before, and only knew that everywhere she went, people knew her reputation.

I can imagine that she began to weep, standing on the edge of the crowd, hearing the parable of the prodigal son, and feeling forgiveness and acceptance for the first time.

When she heard where Jesus would be dining, she sought him out. The text doesn't indicate that anyone expressed surprise that the woman entered the Pharisee's house uninvited. The shocking scandal is that she goes right up to Jesus, and he allows it--in direct, ironic contradiction to the separation enjoined by Simon the Pharisee.

The Avon Lady anoints Jesus' dusty feet with her tears. She kisses them, pours perfume on them, and wipes his feet dry with her own hair. She is expressing a shockingly inappropriate intimacy, and the dinner guests were horrified. This woman was oblivious to what others thought, or else she didn't care. She had forgotten everyone except Jesus, and she was boldly compelled to show her love and gratitude to Jesus in the most lavish way she knew how.

Why? How did she reach this point of such deep love for and gratitude to Jesus?

Who is Jesus?
Simon doubts that Jesus is a prophet when he doesn't send the woman away. Ironically, Jesus reads his mind, and tells him a parable in response to his unspoken criticism. The parable is simple:

Two men owe a debt to a moneylender. One man owes about two months' income, the other owes ten times more. Repayment was possible, eventually, for the lesser debtor; but the second man knew he'd never be able to pay his debt. The moneylender freely forgives, or cancels, both debts.

Which debtor, Jesus asks Simon, will love the moneylender more?

Simon, who had been reluctant to give Jesus even the smallest and most common courtesies normally shown to a visitor, was also reluctant to believe that Jesus was a prophet. Now he's reluctant to give Jesus the correct and obvious answer to the question raised by the parable, and does so with indifference: "I suppose the one who was forgiven more."

He's also reluctant to acknowledge the depth of his own sin. He had shown very little love to Jesus, in comparison to the woman, who had shown great love--because he did not grasp the nature of his own debt, or the depth of his own sin.

It is a mistake to think that in telling this parable, Jesus was suggesting that the sinful woman was more sinful than Simon the Pharisee. It's a mistake to think that the sinful woman was sinning worse sins than Simon.

The point that Jesus wants Simon, and us, to understand, is that the woman showed
extravagant love to Jesus because she understood the depth of her own sin.

Jesus makes an astonishing statement to the woman: "Your sins are forgiven." Simon did not even believe that Jesus could possibly be a prophet--but now he's hearing that Jesus is claiming to be much more than just a prophet.

Don't let anyone tell you that Jesus never made a claim to be divine. By accepting worship and
reverence from his followers, and by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, he was announcing his
own divinity. You may choose to believe that Jesus was not God, but don't kid yourself that he didn't claim to BE God, as some false teachers will have you believe.

Do you see this woman?
This is what Jesus says to Simon. He wants Simon to take a closer look at this woman he had judged so harshly. When Simon looked at her, he saw a woman who was not only not as righteous as he, but who was much more of a sinner than most.

But what did Jesus see? He saw a sinner, for sure; he said, "...her sins, which are many..." He knew that her sins had separated her from God.

But he also saw a contrite heart, a forgiven woman whose freedom from guilt and shame compelled her to love lavishly. The irony is that Simon saw a sinful woman, but he himself was the one who still remained in his sin, unforgiven; and he loved little.

Her sins, which are many
I want to be known, like this woman, as a sinful woman. I want people to know that when I walk into a room, sin has entered that room--and not just a little bit of sin, but a great big steaming pile of sin.

And guess what? I don't have to be an embezzler, a prostitute, a child molester, a murderer, or even a Republican! I can just be me, with a deep and realistic understanding of my own capacity for idolatry, anger, selfishness, laziness, gluttony, and pride.

I don't need to go out and find new ways to be a sinner, because sin always finds me. But I want to be like this woman, who poured expensive ointment from an alabaster jar because she knew the depth of her own sin so intimately that she gained a deeper appreciation for forgiveness and an
unselfconscious, extravagant love for Jesus.

Believers--maybe we need to be more transparent about our dirty little secrets, because that's the basis for the Good News in our lives. God didn't choose us because we were already great
people. Rather, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

What a debt we owe! What a vast forgiveness we've been given! And what a price was paid. Where is our extravagant, unselfconscious love?

The Avon Lady is my hero.

Happy Blogiversary To Me

Today marks the first anniversary of my virgin blog post.

Since then I have written 140 posts about fruit flies, my garden, books you should read, books you shouldn't bother reading, hilarious movies, confusing movies, really bad housekeeping, my first husband, impassioned parents, memes, language, plucky people, faith challenges, heroes, and glorious food.

My 100th post was about one of my favorite writers, Roger Ebert.

I've written more posts about my above-average kids (18--posts that is, not children) than anything else. Second place goes to life anecdotes.

The post that got the most comments was Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama. Surprise, surprise. That's Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at its best.

My most frequent commenter was the self-appointed president of my non-existent fan club, Jeanie, followed closely by HPaul and Boy George.

I think this is my favorite post , but this post written by a local princess is a close second.

To all six of my faithful readers, thank you for your support. Stay tuned for more blogging fun.

And, as always, remember that I am a comment whore. This means that the more comments you leave, the more I love you.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stumped by a Cup

I am a girl jock--or at least, I used to be. (Lately I'm a slug.) I've had experience in my years with all sorts of sporting equipment: bats and rackets; balls of every shape and size (get your mind out of the gutter); court shoes, running shoes, and cleats; baseball pants, tennis skirts, volleyball shorts, and the infamous "shiney hiney" basketball uniforms we had to wear in junior high; sports bras; goggles--you name it, I've participated in the sport and I have at least passing familiarity with the equipment.

Having a boy in Little League changed all that. I had to buy a cup for the first time. You can read about my humiliation in my guest post in The Little League Coach, entitled Cup Stories.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mr. Peevie's Peeve

"You know what I'm tired of?" Mr. Peevie asked me last night, with a hint of quiet desperation in his voice. There are so many possible answers to that question.

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "Having your sentences finished by a 7-year-old?"


"Being contradicted by a 12-year-old?"


"Having a 10-year-old in bed between us every night?"



"No, although last night I was helping three kids with homework at the same time--and one of them wasn't even mine!" (That's another blog post for another time.)

"Picking up my underwear in the bathroom?" I asked reluctantly.

"Well, yes, but that's nothing new," Mr. Peevie said.

"OK, I give up. What are you tired of?" I said.

"I'm tired of flushing other people's poop," he said, shaking his head like a man who is slowly letting go of his dreams. "I just flushed two different poops in two different bathrooms, and I just wish that people would learn to flush their own shit."

I do not think that is asking too much.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nepotistic Nonsense in Cook County

Patronage sucks, both literally and figuratively.

I am chafed and incensed that Cook County officials get away with this kind of nepotistic nonsense: a 12 percent pay hike for the CFO--who happens to be the first cousin of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. She'll make $160,000 after the $18,000 raise.

In a CBS2 news video, Donna Dunnings defended her exorbitant increase, saying, "I work 12- to 17-hour days...the employees of Cook County see me more than my two children...I do have 20 years of experience, and I am the first African-American as well as the first female" to hold the job.

If Dunnings really does consistently work 12- to 17-hour days it doesn't mean she should get a raise--it means she should take some time and personnel management courses. The woman needs to learn to delegate!

And I don't even believe that she works those kinds of hours. A 17-hour work-day leaves seven hours for sleeping, eating, peeing, transportation, and everything else. I call bullshit.

A county government official doesn't deserve a raise that's nine percent higher than her subordinates unless she can point to prodigious accomplishments and documented improvements in county government. Working hard doesn't cut it--she's supposed to work hard. Nor does having the right amount of experience; again, that's a given. And especially not having the right race or gender! Some of those qualities might help her get the job--but they have nothing to do with deserving a massive, disproportionate raise.

Dunnings' defense of her inappropriate, selfish, excessive raise smacks of entitlement, which of course is the sleazy, insubordinate stepchild of patronage. This is just one example of patronage sucking resources out of the county budget, which has already gained national notoriety for having the highest cumulative sales tax rate in the U.S.

In general, the art of government consists of taking
as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to

Ms. Dunning, Mr. Stroger--Voltaire was being sardonic! He didn't intend for you to take it to heart. Can you re-think your philosophy of government, please?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Is Anyone Still Talking About The Golden Compass?

It's kind of tricky writing a review of a book that's been out for 12 years already, has been reviewed a jillion times, has been made into a movie, and has raised the hackles of the religious right, left, and middle. But I promised, so here's my take on The Golden Compass:

It's good. It's a good story, fantastically imaginative, with complex, believable, sympathetic characters. The action and adventure scenes were particularly taut and gripping. I haven't seen the movie, but the story definitely has potential for transfer to the big screen.

If I hadn't been aware of all the religious ruckus that the trilogy (His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman) has stirred up, I would not have made any connection to issues of faith. This might be different in the later books--Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College and Jeffrey Overstreet of Christianity Today definitely think so. Overstreet says, " favorite characters began to lose their personality and color, as Pullman’s agenda became more important than characterization."

The first book has the power to pull you into wanting to read the next book, and the next--except for one thing: somewhere around chapter 21, with about 40 pages left in the book, I started to get confused about the story and the characters. The story-telling seemed to shift somehow, and suddenly I wasn't sure who was good and who was evil.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, the emphasis on exposition in these last three chapters seems forced, seems to break the "show, don't tell" rule of story-telling. To tell the truth, this annoyed me enough that I probably won't read the next two books, unless I need to in order to have conversations about them with my kids.

And that brings me to my final point about the Dark Materials trilogy: I agree with Overstreet that believers need not fear or boycott these books--but it's always a good idea to talk to your kids about the ideas and messages that they're taking in, and to help them think critically.

This is true whether they're reading articles in Ms. magazine, a health textbook at school, or popular fiction by a talented atheist with an agenda.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Little League Mom

Hey gang, guess what?! Rick McBride, the talented owner of the up-and-coming sports blog, The Little League Coach, liked my post about the heroes of summer so much that he invited me to guest post once in awhile.

Here's a link to my very first guest post, entitled The Call.

Practice on our swampy Chicago fields begins this Wednesday, and C. Peevie cannot wait to begin testing the limits of my laundering skills by sliding in those pristinely-white-for-twelve-seconds baseball pants every chance he gets.

Let the games begin!

How Many E. Peevies in the U.S.?

There are 19,746 people in the U.S. with the same first name as me.

There are 51,644 people in the U.S. with the same last name as me.
LogoThere are
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

How about you?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Finding Happiness

I'm always skeptical about social science research. Or should I say, social "science" research. I'm even more skeptical of news reports about social science research. It seems that editors care more about the catchiness of a lead sentence than about its accuracy. For example, these widely divergent and occasionally misleading lead sentences all introduced articles covering the same topic: a research study published in the March edition of Psychological Science:

"You can't buy happiness, but it looks like you can at least inherit it, British and Australian researchers said on Thursday." (Reuters on Yahoo News.)

"Though most of us spend a lifetime pursuing happiness, new research is showing that that goal may be largely out of our control." (Time Magazine.)

"People tend to be hardwired for happiness, and new genetic research may help explain why." (WebMD Medical News.)

"If you think a new car or the perfect partner is going to make you happy think again, as new research says this is only possible with the help of your genes." (ABC News Australia.)

And somewhat shockingly, "The right genetic mix might lead to a lifetime of happiness, a new British study suggests." (The National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus.) It does?

I don't have access to the full published report, but I assume these reporters did. It's interesting, isn't it, how they all have a slightly--or in some cases, widely--different take on what the researchers actually concluded? Depending on your preferred news source, you might develop unrealistic expectations about a "lifetime of happiness," or you might decide to drink the special Kool-Aid.

The researchers concluded that half the differences in happiness levels among pairs of identical and fraternal twins were genetic. This conclusion, from what I can tell, arises from the fact that fraternal twins were only half as similar as identical twins in "personality and well-being," according to the Reuters article; and the researcher suggests that this difference "strongly implicates genes."

Researchers say, first of all, that personality traits like "being sociable, active, stable, hardworking and conscientious" are genetically determined. They've also concluded from studies of identical twins that these traits have a causal effect on happiness; ergo, happiness is at least partially genetically determined.

The reports all mention that happiness seems to be inversely related to anxiety or worry. Well, duh. What will they reveal next--the shocking connection between happiness and gratitude? Oh, wait--they already confirmed this: "Count your blessings" in order to be happier, researcher Timothy Bates advised.

Interestingly, findings suggested that circumstances did not alter the happiness curve. Income, marital status, education--even devastating life events like the death of a spouse or the loss of a limb--didn't have long-term effects on happiness levels. Rich people and married people are not necessarily happier than poor people or single people.

I'm still trying to figure out what this research means to you and me. What's the big "so what"? Are you doomed to a lifetime of glumness if you're not naturally outgoing and conscientious? Can you learn optimism? Can you cultivate calmness?

Just to indulge the tiny preacher inside me, I'll leave you with two counter-intuitive passages from the Bible about finding happiness, one from the Old Testament, and one from the New:

Blessed [happy] is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.(Psalm 1:1-2)

Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)