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Archive for June 3rd, 2008

Redemption

I love the gospel of John. One of the most beautiful exchanges contained therein pertains to Simon Peter and Jesus Christ. It begins at the Last Supper, when Christ is teaching his disciples before he leaves.

Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. (John 13:36-38)

And as we know, that’s exactly what happens. After Jesus is taken, Peter and John wait at the palace of the high priest.

But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter. Then saith the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples? He saith, I am not. (John 18:16-17)

And Simon Peter stood and warmed himself. They said therefore unto him, Art not thou also one of his disciples? He denied it, and said, I am not. One of the servants of the high priest, being his kinsman whose ear Peter cut off, saith, Did not I see thee in the garden with him? Peter then denied again: and immediately the cock crew. (John 18:25-27)

John does not record this, but one of the other gospels reports that Peter “wept bitterly” upon realizing that he had in truth thrice denied the Saviour.

After his resurrection, Jesus shows himself to the disciples several times.

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith unto him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Thrice Peter denied Christ. And thrice Christ gave him the opportunity to assert his love, and instructed him on how best to show his love. Feed his sheep. And who are his sheep?

The man who cut you off in traffic when you were late to work. The tired-looking woman pushing the grocery cart with three kids at her heels. Your boss. Your newspaper carrier. Your brother. Your sister. Your parents. Your next-door neighbour who doesn’t like your dogs, and the guy down the block who comes by every few weeks to ask if he can cut your lawn. Your best friend. Your worst enemy.

Feed his sheep.

  

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I’m still on my Elsie Dinsmore binge (she says, blushing with slight embarrassment). And I’m on book 4, Elsie’s Womanhood, in which she marries the inestimable Mr. Travilla. I chuckled when she calls him Edward for the first time in front of her father, and blushes at her father’s disapproving look (it reminded me of Emma’s referring to Mr. Knightly as “my Mr. Knightly”).  I’ve laughed more than once at some turn of phrase that has completely changed in meaning since the books were written. And I wonder, as I have wondered every time I’ve read the books (yes, I’ve read them multiple times. Hush, now!), how these incredibly pure Christians can uphold slavery.

In the fourth book, the Horace Dinsmores and the Edward Travillas are fortuitously in Europe when the Civil War breaks out, so the reader hears snippets about the war in the form of letters from home. On the day that they receive the fateful news of the Emancipation Proclamation, Mr. Dinsmore (Elsie’s father) remarks that it will take a good deal out of their pockets, several hundred thousands from Elsie (who has inherited her late mother’s estate).  Elsie’s not worried about the money, and says that if she “were only sure it would add to the happiness of [her] poor people, [she] should rejoice over it” (chapter 25).  The husband of Elsie’s mammy is overjoyed to hear the news, as he has been praying for freedom for quite some time. Elsie’s mammy, Chloe, on the other hand, is distressed at the thought of having to leave her beloved family, and doesn’t want to be free. Elsie quietly assures her that she shan’t have to leave them at all, and it would break her heart if they had to part.

This dilemma isn’t, of course, confined to old novels. The other night Joe and I watched part of a PBS documentary about Thomas Jefferson. One cannot talk seriously about Jefferson’s ideology (“We believe that all men are created equal”) without talking about the fact that he was a slave-owner.  He did, in fact, propose numerous times while a member of the Virginia House of Burgess that slaves be emancipated, with no success. If he believed slavery was immoral, why did he own slaves? Why did he not emancipate his slaves? Without talking to him one on one, there’s no way to definitively answer that question. That issue alone does not negate all the good he did.

It’s a common mistake, I believe, to judge the actions of others in different eras by our own cultural mores. For someone in this day and age to own a slave is unthinkably appalling, yet it happens even now. Is it right? No. Not at all.  The fact remains that I am not an 18th century plantation-owner. I’m not an ancient Roman landowner (yes, they had slaves). If a person is taught from the time of birth that slavery is not only an acceptable institution, but the normal order of things within one’s society, then the likelihood that the person will even think to change it is small indeed.

Obviously even in the times when it was common to own slaves, there were were those who understood it to be an immoral thing. They freed their own slaves. They helped others escape to freedom. They spoke out against slavery. They wrote against it. They pledged their lives and their sacred honour to ensure that it was brought to an end. In the Civil War, I had kinfolk on both sides. A something-great granduncle enlisted in the Union Army and died when he was quite young on the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. I’m proud of him, even though I’m sorry that his life was cut off so young. And yes, I’m proud of my something-great grandmother, who taught her slaves to read, even though it was illegal (if I’ve got the story straight). She was something of a firecracker, and I have immense respect for her.

There are so many questions that appear to be perfectly straightforward on the surface. Then you begin digging and they’re not as easy as they first seem to be. I think my grandmother was a good woman; I think my uncle Alexander Waller was a good man; and I think Thomas Jefferson was a good man.

I’m not sure I’m doing such a good job of making my point. I just know that as I myself have more knowledge and understanding than I did as a child, so that I could not judge my youthful actions based on the knowledge I now have, no more can I judge honourable righteous persons of another era based on knowledge that is common in my own era.

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Tightening the Belt

We’ve had to take a hard look at our finances lately. Paying down the credit cards involves a lot more than just making the minimum payments each month, and we’ve successfully paid them down quite a bit. But that’s not good enough. We want them gone. So as we looked things over, we realized a lot of ways that we’ve been wasting money and decided to tighten things up.  None of them is majorly earth-shattering, but the results are nice.

  1. I’ve been cooking a lot more than usual. Joe’s gone so much of the time, and I got into the lazy (and fattening) habit of eating take-out all the time. I could easily drop $15-20 a day that way. I’ve been designing meals around our food storage, and we’ve cut back on our grocery needs as well that way. And if I make a dish or casserole, we/I eat on it until it’s gone. For example, I cooked a roast in the crock-pot on Sunday afternoon. It would have been 2 meals’ worth had Joe been home yesterday. As it was, we had Sunday dinner; I had it for dinner last night; and I’ll finish it off tonight. And it’s good, doesn’t have any mystery or unpronounceable ingredients, and is a lot more healthful than the fast food I was in the habit of eating.
  2. Along the same lines, I’m eating breakfast & lunch at home or at work, as the case may be. I keep a box of cereal, a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a bottle of agave nectar at work. If I don’t have leftovers to bring from home, then I have a peanut butter-agave nectar sandwich (the agave nectar has a nice flavour and isn’t as rich tasting as honey). If I don’t have time to eat breakfast at home, I pour some milk into a juice bottle and bring it with me and have a bowl of cereal while I pull reports in the morning.
  3. We got rid of cable TV. I wasn’t watching it often at all; Joe was rarely home to watch it but easily got sucked in when he was home; and it’s an energy vampire. We kept our high-speed cable internet, but Joe’s company reimburses us for that since he uses it for work purposes.
  4. Instead of using central air (because we still haven’t replaced the compressor), we have 3 window units. We only cool the parts of the house that we need to cool. I keep the one in the living room set at 72 deg. during the day so the dogs will be comfortable, and when I get home I’ll turn it up a little and turn on the bedroom unit in whichever room I’ll be working.
  5. I unplug things like the microwave, computer, etc., when we’re not using it. I don’t know how much of a difference it makes in the actual cost, but it’s saving some energy nonetheless.
  6. I didn’t do this for financial reasons, but for health reasons: I quit drinking caffeine. It’s contributing to the money savings, though. And when I’m tired of water, I’ll have a tisane or I’ll mix juice and water (equal parts). I find that to be a lot more refreshing than straight juice, and it doubles the shelf-life of the juice. Joe, much to my surprise, has started doing that as well. It definitely makes the juice go a lot farther.
  7. The Dollar Store is my friend. Some of the piddly little things one needs from time to time (a dish towel, for example) are easily available on the cheap. I buy most of my cleaning supplies there now, with the exception of our laundry soap. I’d much rather pay $1 for a bottle of Rinso than $3-4 for the same thing by a different manufacturer. The Rinso works just fine, and I buy the lavender scent, so it smells good as well.
  8. I virtually quit buying books. When I decided last winter to start using the library, I was worried that I’d soon fall back into my old habits of not taking back books and thus ending up with fines as high as if I’d just bought the books. I’m extremely pleased to report that I’ve paid no more than $2 or $3 in fines in this whole time. That’s partly due to my habit of keeping all the library books together, and partly due to Library Elf, this handly little system that sends me e-mails in advance when I have library material due. I heart Library Elf! And when I know I’m not going to get something back in time, I get online and renew it via the library’s website.
  9. I carry reusable bags around with me so if I decide to stop in at the grocery store at the spur of the moment, I don’t have to make the “paper or plastic” choice. Two of the stores I shop at give me a 5 cent credit per bag, which doesn’t add up to much money. However, those two or three nickels go into my change box, and I don’t have plastic or paper bags taking over my house.
  10. We’re getting our house cleaned and de-cluttered. How is that saving money? Well, books I no longer need to have around (e.g. books that I can get for free online or at the library) go to Half-Price Books, where I sell them. Any too battered for Half-Price Books go to Goodwill.  So there’s one way. And then by getting rid of the clutter, I can actually find the hammer, or the tomato corer, or my black pumps. That eliminates trips to the store to buy something I already own but can’t find. (I can’t believe I’m admitting to having done this here, but Joe and I have at least 3 hammers, if not more.) That’s another way cleaning and de-cluttering saves us money. And last, by getting the house cleaned and orderly, we’re a lot more likely to spend the evening hanging out at home, cooking a nice meal, talking, watching a dvd, instead of going out to dinner and the movies.
  11. When we do go out for a meal, we split. Automatically. That’s something we’ve talked about for years, but it usually hasn’t happened because we’ll want different things. But we decided that restaurant meals are so large that there’s no reason to not share a meal. That saves us the money we’d spend on the second meal; since I don’t order sodas, I don’t have to pay $1.95 for a cup of soda that cost the restaurant 5 cents; and we’re eating less and not taking home styrofoam containers that will end up in a landfill.
  12. When we go out to a movie, it’s normally during the matinee hours, to save a few bucks.

See? Nothing extraordinary or unusual, just things we hadn’t been doing that we now are doing. It’s improving our bottom line, improving our health, and doing at least a little bit to help the environment.

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