3 Stories Completely Ended: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (2)

My faith unraveled at a Christian college. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and I can remember wishing that a hostile, atheistic professor had bludgeoned me into my doubts with brilliantly irrefutable arguments.

It would make for a much better story.

Instead, the truth is I just got numb. The constant barrage of meaningless requirements that were, somehow, mysteriously related to Christianity: plowing through a three-inch thick commentary on Romans with no specific assignment in mind (other than to reach the back cover), fending off the desperate and over-bearing overtures of my “dorm mother” who wanted to befriend all “her girls,” and trying to stay awake while the combed-over, suited-up preacher-of-the-day got carried away and stole time from the class that followed our mandatory chapel.

One day it all got to be just too ridiculous.

Eventually, of course, I realized the problem was localized and what I had been objecting to was not “Christianity” itself, but a mindset that existed on a particular campus in a specific zip code.

Perhaps if Jayber Crow could have reached that conclusion a bit sooner, he would have been able to finish his education and then take his questions and his refreshing insights into ministry instead of just out the door and down the road with no clear destination in sight. Later in the book, we’ll see that he does eventually patch things up with organized religion, but even then, his musings about faith often sound as if they are coming from an outsider.

Living the Questions:  Calling

Since Jayber ended chapter three with the observation that Aunt Cordie’s death made him “the survivor already of two stories completely ended,” I’ll add that his departure from Pigeonville College made for number three.

This week’s discussion of Chapters 4-6 covers the bulk of the twelve year period in which Jayber lived away from Port William.  During those important growing-up years, the foundation was laid for Jayber’s understanding of what it means to be “called.” He starts out hedging his bets with a decision that it would be wiser to “accept  the call that had not come, just in case it had come and [he] had missed it.” I’ve heard it said no one should go into professional ministry if they can be happy doing anything else. Maybe that advice would have helped young Jayber with his sorting process, but Dr. Ardmire helps Jayber turn a corner with this wise and wonderful conversation:

“I had this feeling maybe I had been called.”

“And you may have been right. But not to what you thought. Not to what you think. You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out — perhaps a little at a time.”

“And how long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”

“That could be a long time.”

“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”

Maybe, like me, this conversation brought to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s words about living the questions.  Just in case it did not, I’ll share it here:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I think we will see that Jayber Crow gave the questions his best effort throughout the seventy-two years of his recorded ponderings.

Living the Questions:  Dualism

Unfortunately, The Good Shepherd with Brother Whitespade at the helm practiced a kind of dualism which gave the Apostle Paul plenty to write about 2,000 before, and which the church is still battling today. Jayber remembered it as a “divided world” with an “ideal world of order” there within the safe and secluded boundaries of the school and the “real world of disorder” which was forbidden . . . and therefore, very attractive to the students. His description of localized naughtiness brought an understanding smile to my face:  “They would not have been easy in their minds if there was something they could have got away with if they had not got away with it.”

(I think there’s a warning here for those of us who are parents and want to shelter our children from all the evils of this world.)

The same rift between body and soul showed up at Pigeonville College, but this time, Jayber recognized it for what it was.  Do you ever see this same contradiction in your own Christian circles?

“Everything bad was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins –hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust — came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world.  And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.

Living the Questions:  Power

I was disappointed with the way Brother Whitespade handled names at The Good Shepherd, effectively un-naming every student who walked through the door. Although his affection for Jayber was increased with Jayber’s “call,” even this is a form of un-naming him, for although Jayber had not changed a whit in his inclination to become a better student (or a deeper Christian), the notion of his calling was perfect camouflage for his lackluster performance and somehow made him more valuable or worthwhile in the headmaster’s estimation.

Living the Questions:  Home

Home is more than a place. It’s the people who live alongside us, and all this was lost for Jayber when Aunt Cordie passed away. He was made to feel the weight of his “homelessness” with continual reminders that he was counting on someone’s good graces to feed, clothe, and educate him at The Good Shepherd.

Isn’t it wonderful that Jayber felt at home in The Good Shepherd’s library?

Jayber held himself separate and “solitary” during his time at the school, and I wonder if his loyalty to “home” — even though it was a place that no longer existed for him — was what allowed him to retain his personhood in the midst of pressure to become a cookie cutter boy in the image of Brother Whitespade.

We’ll see as we continue reading that “place” is a huge influence in Jayber’s story.  But, then, it’s true for all of us, even though we are sojourners on this planet.  God’s story began in a garden, and one day it will end in a city, so just as our bodies are not incidental to our salvation (sorry, Brother Whitespade), place is not unimportant either.

And as God’s children, we are never homeless.

//

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and criticisms of my conclusions in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 21) having read Chapters 7-8.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
SEPTEMBER 14………………CHAPTERS 4-6
SEPTEMBER 21………………CHAPTERS 7-8
SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

//

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“Laundry Is My Overflowing Inbox”: Working within the Home

Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.  The laundry is never done — even though we are down to a family of four these days.  How in the world did I survive eleven years of cloth diapers?  Apparently, somewhere along the way I have discovered that there is Glory in the Ordinary, that there is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  So when Courtney Reissig compared her laundry hamper to her husband’s overflowing inbox at work, I stopped and underlined, and nodded, “yes and amen.”

My soul resonated, too,  when she argued that in our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God.

“You and I were created to work because God Himself works.  It is a function of being image bearers.”

Organizing a cluttered closet, mucking out a nasty refrigerator mess, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.

Go Back to the Purpose

Courtney’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question:  “Why?”

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?  To love God and to love my neighbor.  And sometimes the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones that share my last name and my DNA.

While Martin Luther made it clear that the works of our hands are not meritorious for our salvation, he wrote decisively that “one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even one’s enemies.” (Kindle Location 871)  Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing the dishes and the bedding they besmirch.

Mother’s Little Helpers

The whole family is invited to experience the “glory in the ordinary” that comes with the work of home — not only because of the “many hands make light work” principle, but because of the soul-shaping nature of chores and collaborative effort.  With sweet reasonableness, Courtney shares this gracious logic (Kindle Location 923):

“The home we all live in is for us all, and therefore, requires that we all contribute to it.”

She traces the history of housework through the the subtle transition in terminology from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mum,” and examines the impact of cultural context on the believer’s theology of work.  For instance, missionary and author Gloria Furman is a mum and keeper at home in a middle-eastern, community-oriented culture, while those of us in the West tend to have a go-it-alone mentality which can lead to the isolation, loneliness, and burn out that has given motherhood a bad reputation.

Toward a Sound Theology of Home

Since God is relational Himself, and since He ordained (Genesis 2:18) that his creatures would fare better in company with others, even the introverts of the world (I’m looking in the mirror here), need to consider what part community should be playing in our work at home.  Hannah Anderson says it well:

“God did not intend for families to be islands; they are part of the continent.  This is why multi-generational communities are so important to the work of home.”

I enjoy covering the nursery in church these days so that young mums can get a break from little children, but I am on the receiving end when a dear friend in her eighties washes all my dishes whenever she attends a big gathering in my home.

“Home here on earth is a microcosm of the heavenly reality that awaits us, [and] so is the church.”  (Kindle Location 1134-1143) Good theology and its practical application should lead to a connectivity and a “my life for yours” mentality as we serve one another.  This glorious truth gets lived out whenever Titus 2-truth sees daylight in a discipleship relationship between older and younger women or whenever men and women of “grandparent age” step into a situation where are there are no grandparents nearby to help and encourage.

“Community done among women commends the gospel to a world that breathes isolation and loneliness.” (Kindle Location 1151)

The God-Designed Gift of Rest

If God rested (and He did), if Adam and Eve in their perfect prelapsarian bodies needed rest, it stands to reason that my own post-Genesis 3 life will be better if I submit to a pattern of work followed by Sabbath.  J.I. Packer speaks wisdom into this subject (Kindle Location 1276):

We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own.  Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road . . .”

Our prideful rearing up against the rest we need and the fact that work exhausts, depletes, and frustrates us are both factors attributable to our fallen-ness.  So is the idolatry that makes work into a god and permits it to supersede in importance even the people we are called to love and to serve.

When my children were all small (in the pre-homeschooling days), I gave myself the weekend off from cooking by preparing meals ahead every Friday.  Courtney shares an idea from a friend who depends on leftovers and PB&J for the weekend.  Regardless of how we accomplish it, we ensure that the Sabbath is honored in our homes by “working hard at rest,” investing the effort up front and employing some carefully chosen “no’s.”

 Enter into the Joy

The job description driving the work of home is an unwieldy thing, shifting daily and expanding and changing as our families grow.  While this is unavoidable, we can lighten our own load with some purposeful choices and a Christ-shaped mindset such as steering clear of comparison; resisting the urge to audition for the role of Super Mum; and encouraging our husbands to fulfill their own God-ordained roles as workers at home — without feeling threatened or “less than” because we are unable to shoulder the work of two single-handed.

Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste.  Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.

//

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Regular readers will recognize that the theme resonating throughout Glory in the Ordinary has shown up in these parts quite a bit in recent days.  I recently reviewed Jen Pollock Michel’s excellent book (Keeping Place) that also touches on the work of home.  Click here for part one of my review which deals with a theology of home.  Part two parallels Courtney’s thoughts and gives additional perspective on the work of home.

Melissa Kruger blogs for The Gospel Coalition and has interviewed Courtney at their website.  Click here for further insights behind the scenes of Glory in the Ordinary.

//

And . . .

. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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The Work of Home

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention.  Of course, at the far right side of this equation of work and home, there’s a family that knows they’re loved and a home that is well-lived in.

The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and it is one of the most startling discoveries of my life that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

The importance of home and the words of Scripture that shape a right understanding of home are reason enough to spend two weeks pondering Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place.  Last week in Part I, we laid the foundation of God as Homemaker and the Bible as a story of homecoming, welcome, and longings fulfilled.  In Part II, Jen lifts her eyes from her own lunch-packing duties and makes this stunningly succinct observation:

“To love is to labor.”

She goes on to trace the connection between the routines of domesticity and the “quotidian mysteries” of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God.

In the parlance of Keeping Place, “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures:  ‘avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

Labors of Love

It is, therefore, possible to draw important conclusions about the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Just as Jesus is portrayed as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, the believer is called to a life of “two -dimensional” servanthood, directed toward God and offered to our neighbors.

2.  The “yawning attention” (131) paid to the details of tabernacle construction in Exodus also points toward care and provision for worship — a house for God.  In referring to my “home church” for the past twenty years,  I have spoken truer than I realized.  The welcome and belonging that my family has appreciated there has strengthened us, and, furthermore, we do our fellow parents a huge favor when we reinforce the same messages that they are speaking to their young charges at home.  In fact, research is revealing that “the most important predictor of whether children from Christian families keep their faith into adulthood is the number of multigenerational connections they enjoy at church.”  This statistic should be on a billboard at planning meetings for youth ministries.

3.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.  In the early church, one sure sign of a conversion to Christianity was a commitment to generosity and mission.  When Jesus put the spotlight on acts of service performed by the Good Samaritan, He underscored the truth that “a neighbor is the one who takes up the housekeeping.” (142)

4.  With marriage rates in the U.S. falling (In 2015, only 50.5% of adults were married), it’s time to look at the reasons why people marry and to equip prospective brides and grooms with tools for doing the routine work of marriage — frequent application of the words “I’m sorry” alongside the daily willingness to “keep choosing love’s bearing, love’s believing, love’s hoping, and love’s enduring all things.” (155)

5.  Keeping Place is a matter of being willing to welcome others into “our place.”  Gathered around the welcome of a prepared meal, no matter how simple, “the table is a burning bush.  Around the feast we are enflamed with the presence of God.” (163)  And is it not God’s way to spread a feast before His people?  We meet around a table and “the feast preaches” the gospel to our hungry and thirsty heart.

6.  The idea of Sabbath precedes the Ten Commandments in Scripture, and is connected from the outset with housekeeping: the provision of manna in Exodus 16 is scheduled to make room for Sabbath rest.  As the Author and Finisher of Home whose Son bore our homelessness, God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God.
Amen.

//

This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Last week I spent time interacting with Part I of Keeping Place (click here to catch up) in which Jen laid a foundation with the history of home and the place home plays in Scripture and in our understanding of the gospel. I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that it’s been a delight to linger over her words for two weeks.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Theology of Home

Rootedness was always the thing that both repelled and intrigued me.  I left my parents’ home at the age of seventeen and pictured a life unleashed — no commitments.  I copied all my record albums onto small and portable cassette tapes (dinosaur alert!) and prepared for the unencumbered life.  With that resolve in my rear view mirror, no one is more surprised than I am to have lived (happily) at the same address for 23 years, making a home and being re-made by the challenges and joys of home.

In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel examines her own history of home and the continual need to cherish change which her life circumstances have fostered.  She ponders the beauty of place, emphasizing that Scripture is “a home story” and that the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings.

History and literature attest to humanity’s desire for rootedness, and even the biblical narrative opens in a garden paradise and ends with the permanence, rest, and refuge of The New Jerusalem.  The journey from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wandering, of nostalgia for a settled place . . . until God enters history at a particular time in a particular place so that He could “seek and save the lost.”

“According to Scripture, home is shared human work.”

Church leaders, then, become the managers of God’s household.  Both male and female parents are given a role in the hard work of child rearing.  Routine chores become an offering and a valued means to the greater end of fostering a sense of security and belonging.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  He finds lost things, He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places, He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party.  Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.

Homemaking is a work of welcoming and provision.

Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.

“Stability” is a term that occurs early and often in Keeping Place.  Presenting as a spiritual discipline and as an opposite to rootlessness, it signifies a commitment to make a difference in a specific place and time.  The paradox of the Christian life is this need for full investment, wherever we are, whatever our calling — in stark contrast to the need to also hold it all loosely.

“There is no controlling what we keep or for how long, and an earthly home is no measure of stability and safety, not really — not when lurking in the background of every day is the possibility that the phone will ring and life will lurch toward death.”

To be human is to long for home.
To be mortal is to be plagued by the impermanence of all that we hold dear.

The truth of resurrection, expressed in the language of Home,  is that all the perished things will one day be restored, our need for belonging will be fulfilled at long last, and, in the meantime, the Word of God speaks truth into all of our longings and our losses, into all of our dreams of Home.

//

This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jen goes on to explore in more depth the shared labor of housekeeping and the truth that God’s welcome inspires our work.  Next Tuesday, I will be reviewing Part II of Keeping Place — The Work of Home.  I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that I’m going to linger in this place for another week.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

Photo credit:  Gina Butz

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Love Them Into Being

For the past twenty-one years, my designated occupation on our tax forms and all official (and unofficial) documents has been “domestic diva.”  Given the flashy title, my house should look a lot better than it does, but my fierce and steadfast focus within that job title has been to raise four young men to love God, each other, and the values we cherish as a family.  Therefore, I’ve been occupied, primarily, with the who and the why of making a home much more than the how, what and where.  And it shows.

In Making It Home, Emily Wierenga asks the question that has played like a steady drum beat in my mind for two decades:

“What if home is more about who you are than what you do?”

She answers her own question with a brilliant road map, leading to a destination where “home is not the house we live in, but the people whose pictures line the walls.”  For Emily, home is the place where she “loves people into being,” so in chapters that are measured off with delicious epigraphs like road signs pointing to truth, Emily traces her journey toward that place of peace and identity and purpose.

With two active little boys, a patient husband, and a desperate grasp of the truth that it is God who determines the settings on her compass, Emily chronicles days of doing life and finding Christ to be sufficient in the midst of daily brokenness, generational dysfunction, and an eating disorder that has become so much a part of her story that she mentions it casually, almost like a hairstyle:  “I was starving myself when . . .”

Although Emily Wierenga is a published author and founder of a nonprofit, she has not larded her memoir with lists of honors, successes, and the names of famous people she meets for lunch.  Making It Home includes vignettes of the train wreck collision between cancer and Christmas, the unflattering admission that mothers have temper tantrums too, and the crushing workload that lands on the open-hearted mum who welcomes foster children into an already full life.

If is from this continual pouring out and the parched desert of dependency that the power of God is most clearly seen.

10 If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.”  (Isaiah 58:10-12)

These verses from the Old Testament are a timeless reassurance that amidst the Lego obstacle course and the crumbs on the dining room table, in spite of the imperfectly executed birthday parties and the missing library books, mothers are building something important and something that lasts — a path toward home.


This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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