A Brave Pen-light in a Dark World

This is one of the few (ever) guest posts that left me in broken, hopeful tears. After reading it I emailed Aleah and said, “dang it girl. dang.”  Aleah Marsden is my writing BFF, but even if I didn’t have the extraordinary privilege of being able to say those things I would still say this: she is an incredible writer. This piece is about how scary it is to write, or to do anything, for that matter, when our contribution is so small and scared, while the world out there is so big and scary. 

God uses our stones, you know. And our

My seven year old son sits before the homework page: knees up, heels resting on the seat of the chair, arms wrapped around his legs, and dark brown, nearly black, eyes staring over his folded arms. Brooding. On the verge of tears. One hundred math facts: ten rows of ten facts, daunting. Overwhelmed and paralyzed, he fights the battle raging in his mind for a place to start. For a foothold. Maybe if he stares at it long enough, looking pathetic enough, I will have pity and excuse him from the work. Or do it for him.

My empathy is touched, but not pushed to interference. This scene plays out at least once a week, whenever the dreaded hundred-fact sheet is pulled out of his folder. He is excellent at math. Rarely do I need to correct his answers, though his spelling is another story. I know he can do this and do it well. I have witnessed him do it before.

However, I know how it feels to be overwhelmed and so stuck up-in-your-head that you can’t take the next step—even and especially the first faltering step.

I look adoringly from my book proposal, that sweet bundle of hope and pixels, to my phone: a picture of 21 brothers on a beach who I will see in martyr’s robes on the last day. I look into the eyes I can see because I want to be sure I recognize them. Oh, God, for the women and children left behind!

I excitedly check Twitter to see if today will be the day I break the magical 1,000 followers mark. I’m far from the majestic blue-check stamp of approval, but still eagerly anticipating this next milestone. Then I click a link and read about human trafficking in such beyond-the-numbers human terms that I’m sick to my stomach. Oh, baby girl. No, Lord, no!

I pray over my possibilities and share my life-giving stories of IF:Gathering last weekend. Of the power of women (and a few brave men) contained around tables in the theater and at restaurants all over downtown Austin. I am challenged to stop insulating myself from the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. To stop counting the cost, as I consider the cost of a little more than a dollar a day to Feed the Children. And I can’t. Because right now that dollar a day feeds my people and it tears me apart with longing for more. I vow to be generous with what I have and not what I haven’t.

I stand in the field, tall grass tickling my exposed calves, with my stone in my sling facing the Giant.

I walk my sixth lap around a fortress fortified up to Heaven and wonder if the marching is making any difference at all.

I look into the face of the Man calling me to drop everything and follow Him, heart beating in my throat.

In reality, I smoosh the words around the screen with the skill of a finger-painting preschooler and a fraction of the confidence. I point my laptop in the direction of the void of cybernetic space and fire off another bundle of words into the darkness.

There is so much more I want to do. If only I had heavier artillery to bring to this battle. I see my brother-martyrs, my sister-victims, our hungry kids and I point a blue ballpoint in my trembling right hand. I thrust it out before my chest against the swords and darkness; impotent iPhone in my back pocket.

My hope looks insignificant, selfish, against this wave. I am swept up in the rush of urgency down the social media rapids, overwhelmed and pulled under the whirlpool of information until I’m washed out on the shore panting, crying, praying. It’s too much. It’s too big.

How simple, how stupid, how selfish, how small this art feels against the looming dark.

I trudge out back to water the damn platform again, wondering as I do if it will ever be tall enough for anyone to find relief under its branches. If it even matters, or if it will just a die a slow death like every other green thing ever entrusted to my care. Truth is, though I sometimes fantasize about uprooting the thing and feeding it to the wood chipper, I believe it contains potential to grow into something beautiful, flourishing, and a tree of blessing for others.

Even though my words possess some intrinsic value scribbled in the margins of my personal space: they have no impact unless I have the courage to fling them. Maybe it’s more selfish to hoard them. I put my whole self of force behind them, trusting the I AM within to provide spark and trajectory for my small stones. God uses our stones, you know. And our steps, our pieces, our art to sum greater than their parts. Every time. He is our only hope against the too much, too big dark because He is the greatest much, the greatest big light. Against Him no darkness can stand.

My sweet boy sits staring. Even this small battle of overcoming addition holds incredible kingdom implications. You can do this. You are enough. You have what it takes. I breathe into the top of his soft dark hair. Start. Just pick one and do it. Then do another. And another. And one more little piece until it somehow in the mystery and solidness of mathematics makes a hundred.

I’ll keep flinging my words. Keep watering and pruning the brambly platform out back. Keep forcing myself to find human faces in the information overload out there. One more post, one more stone, one more submission, one more lap.

One more step forward pointing my pen-light into the darkness.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

Photo credit: Einherjan2k8 – Overgrown Path in the early evening sun (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by Bronwyn Lea

Re-Inventing Christmas

Re-InventingChristmas

It’s “the season” – the time of all things Christmassy. My house is decorated to an acceptably-low standard, my pants are cutting into my cookie-consumer waist, Nat King Cole is crooning a Yule-tide tune on Pandora. It’s beginning to look a LOT like Christmas.

And yet, people are complaining about “the war against Christmas”. Apparently, materialism and Santa are trying to edge in against Christ’s rightful place in the season. They will know we are Christians by the way we don’t say “Happy Holidays”, and all that. As with many of the culturally “big” holidays, I have some mixed feelings about it.

christmasgiftsPersonally, we have not told our kids about Santa. This decision also means I need to give my 6 year old a “don’t tell the other kids that Santa isn’t real and make them cry” pep talk before she goes for play dates at this time of the year. So far though, we are doing okay. Santa stories and Santa hats are fun, but there are no gifts from Santa under our tree. We do have a tree. We will eat ham. We will sing carols and go to a Christmas Eve service. We will exchange gifts. We will read the story of Jesus’ birth out loud to our children, and thank God for the gift of Emmanuel.

But having said all that, I’m still not willing to “defend” the Christian Christmas, because as far as I understand – we kind of invented it anyway. And rather than fight for Christmas “as it used to be” in the beginning, I want to put my energies into re-inventing it in the present.

Before you throw a candy cane in my direction, let me explain.

Believers have a long history of  ascribing spiritually significant meaning to celebrations. We are by nature people who look for meaning throughout the calendar. We celebrate rites of passage and comings-of-age. There are things we are commanded to remember (like taking communion), but there are also things we have the freedom to commemorate and remember, and to invest such acts with culturally significant meaning. Humanity has a history of creating traditions and turning them into “teachable moments” for the years to come. We do it in families (think of birthdays), in countries (think of Thanksgiving), in politics (think of MLK day). And we do it in spiritual communities too.

In his relationship with Israel, God commanded a number of specific “commemorative” festivals in their calendar to focus their attention and center their community. They were to remember the Exodus over Passover. They were to remember their need for the forgiveness of sin at Yom Kippur with the Day of Atonement. There were feasts for remembrance and celebration, commanded by God and commemorated by his people.

purim Over and above the mandated ones, though, the Hebrews also added festivals of celebration to their calendar. Both Hannukah and Purim were established by Rabbinic decree to commemorate significant times of deliverance.   The feast of Purim (for the Hebrew word “pur”, which means “lot”, as in “the casting of the lots”, as in “it was a risky thing”) celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people which is recorded in the book of Esther. While God’s name is not mentioned in the book, it is included in the Canon of Scripture and God was clearly and rightly credited for having providentially raised up Esther “for such a time as this” in order to save his people.

Esther 9:20-28 records how Purim was established:

Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

23 So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. 24 For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. 25 But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. 26 (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, 27 the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.

Purim celebrates God’s rescue, but it was believing Jews who took the initiative to remember it.

I see Christmas as our own kind of “Purim”. God did not command and create Purim – His thankful children did as a way to remember and honor him. And just as Purim was “invented” by the Jews to remember God’s deliverance during the time of Queen Esther, maybe there is space for us to affirm that it is okay to have “invented” Christmas, even though it had Pagan origins. Yes, Christmas has Yule-tide origins around the pagan  winter solstice. Yes, Saturnalia, Juvenalia and Mithra the sun god have longer cultural credentials for the month of December than Jesus, who most certainly was NOT born on December 25th.

But, in a way similar to Mordecai, perhaps, Pope Julius I decreed that once a year, on December 25th, the church should remember and celebrate the wonderful truth that God had come to earth: born of a virgin, born as a baby, born under the law to redeem those who were bound by it.

Christmas celebrates God’s rescue, but believing Christians took the initiative to remember it.

Year by year, following the saints who have gone before us, we choose to invest December with meaning and set aside time to remember the wonder of the incarnation. When we choose a time of year to give gifts (and remember the Gift), to decorate trees (and remember the Shoot from the stump of Jesse), to put up stars (and remember the Star) and hang wreaths – we are not being cheesy cultural plagiarists. Rather, we are doing what people of Faith have done through the ages: using our freedom and creativity to create space for us to remember, to celebrate and to give thanks.

 

(Updated from the archives)

 

That Time My Pot Got Me In Trouble

That Time My Pot Got Me In Trouble

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.*” We pulled over at the side of the road to admire the handmade pottery of a Zulu craftswoman. Her earthenware was rough: clay scooped by the handful from the earth, shaped into a rustic earthenware pot with a sturdy swell at the base tapering into a gorgeous, distinguished neck. I knew we were flying half way around the world just a few days later and that our luggage allowance was limited, but I had to have it.  It was all the rough beauty of Africa in a single urn.

My brother-in-law constructed a custom box for it: repurposing old computer boxes with tape and tenacity. We stuffed its graceful neck with strips of raggedy, old newspaper. I remember brushing away mouse droppings and wondering if they would cause the sniffer dogs at customs any alarm: animal products, and all that. I found the biggest red marker possible, and stenciled FRAGILE! THIS WAY UP!! in alarmist lettering on every side.

I checked my bags through one, two and then three flights, but kept my cardboard box with me on each. I cradled it baby-like through each security checkpoint; held my breath through every bumpy landing. 11,000 miles later, I exhaled slowly as we taxied down the final runway. I was nearly home.

A long, snaking line at Passport Control. Arrivals forms efficiently scanned. A scurry through baggage claim. And finally: the last stop at customs and excise duty – a checkpoint which had only ever required a polite nod and a wave before the blessed reunions of the arrivals hall.

But not this time.

A man in uniform politely waved me to a counter, where I dutifully unpacked all my belongings and watched in fascination as my underwear and toiletries appeared in ghostly X-ray outlines on the screen. My polite chit-chat was interrupted by the customs official.

“What’s in the box?” she asked.

“It’s my pot,” I answered proudly, ready to tell her of the lovely road running from Ixopo into the hills. The expression on her face stopped me short.

What is it?” she snapped.

I pointed to the screen where the graceful outline was clearly visible. “It’s my p…… ”

In slow motion, I realized how incriminating my South African noun sounded to her Californian ears. My scalp prickled.

“It’s my vase! It’s my vase!” I sputtered. “I promise! There is absolutely NO pot in there whatsoever. Just a vase. Made of clay. Nothing else.”

*******

It’s not the only time my words have raised eyebrows. Our first year in the States was replete with moments of social humiliation and hilarity, but slowly our comfort with the local language grew. Our settling into life and community was matched (and facilitated) by a settling into the language of the community. A growing sense of belonging wasn’t just about getting to know people, or being known by them. Grafting into our community included grafting the vernacular into our conversation: once we talked like locals, we began to earn street cred. All our words were still said in a South African accent, but the actual words themselves changed too: diaper, not nappy. Faucet, not tap. Gas, not petrol. Oh for the love: eraser, not rubber.

Accidentally choosing my native words in conversation was like waving an “outsider” flag. Conversation would stall while we awkwardly stumbled to translate our intention. An offer to “fetch someone on my way” was met with suspicion and a shudder of offense. “Fetch” is a verb used for dogs chasing sticks. The more appropriate word here was “to give someone a ride”, or to “pick them up”. We made dozens of these adjustments: taking down linguistic barriers so we could reach across to form deeper friendships.

*******

I noticed it in the church most of all, probably because it was the place I needed to belong most keenly.

The cultural phenomenon of figuring out “who belongs” as defined by their language is a heightened reality within the evangelical church. Aware of theological threats on every side, we parse our words carefully. Some of Christendom’s deepest divides have been chiseled by disagreements over words. Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christendom parted ways over precise words, because of course it wasn’t just about the words – but rather that the particular words represented very nuanced (and divergent) theological views. Church history is littered with word-wars.

And the church today is no different. We think carefully about whether we describe ourselves as reformed, or evangelical. As a Christian, or a Jesus-follower. We choose those terms because they represent something significant about the way we understand our faith. It means something to be a Baptist rather than a Presbyterian. To be an Anglican rather than an Episcopalian.

Beneath the layer of formal Christian titles, there is the second tier of language, in the way we talk about everyday things. Do we talk about being “born again”, or having “come to Christ”, or “becoming a believer”. To move from a culture where people are “born again” into a culture where people “come to Christ” presents some challenges. When you tell the new group that you were “born again” – instead of initially seeing a similarity (yes! you are one of us! you belong to Christ!), the hearers might at first hear difference (that’s not how I would have put it. I wonder if she’s one of those hellfire and damnation folks. They talk about born again a lot. If she says “the blood of the lamb” in the next sentence, I’m outta here.)

It took nearly a year in the US for me to feel I could really trust my new church theologically. They spoke a different dialect of Christianese: similar enough to mine to understand it, but just different enough for me to be on guard. Just in case. Like the maps of yore, the edges of my theological map contains seas marked “here be dragons”. After a year, I had learned enough to know that even though the expressions of faith were phrased a little differently to where I’d come from – we were still kin, and the bedrock of our faith was common after all.

******

Every new believer we meet, whether we intend it or not, faces new customs when they visit our churches, and not unlike the Customs Official I met, we find ourselves wondering: what’s in your box?

Let’s not be alarmed if the answer comes out as something like ‘pot’.  It may well be that they really do love Jesus,  but they speak a slightly different Christian dialect. We have eternity to figure out the details – but for now, let’s give some grace to those who speak with a different faith ‘accent’ before we jump to conclusions.

  • The opening lines from Alan Paton’s most beautiful book, Cry, The Beloved Country.

The Fierce, Strong, Wild Heart of God

If my memory was good enough to write a memoir: a story of spiritual significance and coming-of-age, this is the story I would want to write. It has moved me to tears more often than I can think of. I had heard many people say that having children was a blessing… but what I didn’t know was that for me, the greatest blessing of having children would be learning what it meant to be a most beloved child of God myself. 

When my friend Adriel Booker asked me to write for her series on the Motherheart of God, I knew instantly what I wanted to write. I know God as my Father, but Oh! It’s just amazing how becoming a mother has revealed God’s tender heart to me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Here’s the beginning, and then head over to Adriel’s to read the rest. (And while you’re there, look around. I love Adriel’s blog.)

Exploring-the-Motherheart-of-God-

I went into motherhood with carefully weighed expectations:  I knew there would be fierce joy, thousands of photos too cute to delete, sleep deprivation, tantrum-taming, and way more contact with bodily fluids than I’d ever had before.  I also expected a few years spiritual lethargy.  With less time and energy for church, bible study and ministry, I expected to change gears for a couple of years: from spiritual ‘drive’ to a humming ‘neutral’.

I could not have been more wrong.

Friends, nothing has revealed God’s heart to me like becoming a mother. Nothing.

***

In the early days, there was the taking of pre-natal vitamins, and watching what I ate, of giving up skiing and wine without complaint as I marveled at the tiny being utterly dependent on my welcome. In the minutes of the first ultrasound, tears spilled down my cheeks as I saw a heartbeat flutter on the screen: life within my life, a soul of another already contained within mine. Oh, how I loved! And I shivered when, in that moment, I felt the words settle in deep: If this is how you love the little one dependent on you and completely unaware of it, how much more do I not love you, dependent and unaware and so utterly precious to me? 

(Click over to read the rest, won’t you?)

facebook-gifts

She wouldn’t give up her Barbies or the doll’s bed. Even though she doesn’t play with them. Even though they are dusty with neglect. Every few months we purge the unused, unloved clutter from our house and every few months I asked: “isn’t it time to pass those on?” And every time, she said no.

Just last week I put together another bag of clutter and asked about the barbies and doll’s bed. Again, she insisted they remain.

The day after we dropped off our donations, I got an email from a friend who is setting up a child therapy practice. He will be working with traumatized kids, he said, and often they can’t tell their story with words but they act it out with toys. His start-up practice was pretty empty: did we have any toys that we were done with which we could send his way?

I didn’t expect much from my kids, since it had been just days since our last clean-out, but I decided to ask anyway. “We have a friend who is helping kids who have been hurt and who are scared to feel better. My friend says one of the ways that helps kids is to be able to tell their story with dolls and toys, and he wondered if we had any we could share?” I sat stunned as my 6 year old kicked into high gear. A pile of figurines, finger puppets and Little People grew in the center of the floor. The two Barbies were added to the pile, and then she ran from the room. I wondered where she might have gone to, but seconds later she reappeared lumbering the heft of a dolls bed and adding it to the pile.

“Are you sure?” I said.

“Maybe it will help kids who have had nightmares,” she said. “You know, to have a bed to tell their story.” I hugged her so hard she complained.

* * * * * *

I’ve been mulling over what I learned from my daughter last week. Giving something up is not the same as giving something away. She was not willing to just give up the Barbies, but she was willing to give them to kids who might need them.

Giving things up is hard. Giving things away in love is still hard, but it makes it worth it. There’s a world of difference between sacrifice, and sacrificial giving. My daughter’s generosity reminded me of all the times I have tried to cut sugar out of my diet. My “cold turkey” efforts have seldom lasted longer than 3 days… except for that one time when the doctor told me I had gestational diabetes and I had to quit eating sugar for the health of my baby. That time, it stuck that day, and it stuck for months.

Giving up sugar sacrificially? No way. Giving up sugar to love my kid? Yes.

I am reminded that Jesus didn’t just sacrifice his life. He sacrificed his life “for the joy set before him“, in love for us. I am reminded that sacrifice in itself is not the point, it’s sacrificing in order to better love another. And this, in itself, gives me a little clue as to understanding Lent. Maybe I made a mistake in thinking Lent was just about “giving something up”. If Lent was just about sacrifice, no wonder it has never stuck with me. I always wondered how giving up chocolate could possibly tie to Jesus giving up his life. But if Lent is a season not just to give something up, but to give something away in love, to give something up in order to make space, in order to bless, in order to have reserves of energy or time or money with which to love others – it makes more sense to me.

There’s a white plastic bag filled with toys, two barbies and a dolls bed making its way to a therapy office. I’m thinking about that bag: I’m grateful, I’m challenged, and I might just consider observing Lent next year.

 

It’s your workout

In a moment of madness, I said yes: Yes, I would sign up to ride in a 109km cycling race with my sisters on the other side of the world. Me, who had three children aged 5 and under. Me, who did not have a working bicycle.

But love and sibling-peer-pressure are powerful motivators, and so it was that I found myself pouring my post-baby body into lycra cycling shorts and finding ways to rack up some miles on the tarmac. I shortly came up against two obstacles: 1) it was winter, and 2) the race we were training for was hilly, while our town was F-L-A-T. “You’ll have to do some hill training,” said my Dad. “Try a spin class at your local gym.”

Spinning? Spinning?! As in, an aerobics class on a stationary bicycle? With other people? And loud music? (Did I mention the lycra?)

Aldred spinning bikes

I scoured the class schedule and found exactly one class during the week which would work with our family schedule without my needing to wake up before the sun. It was a Saturday morning 90-minute class, as opposed to the regular 45-60 minute ones. In hindsight, the instructor’s raised eyebrow when I said this was my first time should have been a clue that I was in the wrong class, but there’s nothing like ignorance to fuel one’s bravado.”I’ll be fine,” I said.

I was definitely NOT fine. Shaking and shivering with fatigue and muscle shock, I fell off the bike into the pool of sweat that had been collecting under the saddle after just TWENTY minutes. I limped out, hurting too badly to feel the humiliation acutely.

The next week, I organized child care and joined the beginner’s class. My goals were modest: to stay on the bike for the full 45 minutes, and to make sure I didn’t throw up. I survived that class (barely), and the one after that, and the one after that. By the 6th or 7th class, the danger of emetic eruption had abated, and I was beginning to feel a little stronger.

The next week we had a substitute instructor, and as she explained the basics of beginner spinning to us (how to adjust the tension, what cadence was, how fast we should be aiming to go), she made this comment: “Remember, folks, this is YOUR workout. You’re not doing this for me, it’s for you. You’re the one that gets the benefits of your effort. You can fool me, but you can’t fool your body. It’s your workout – make the most of it.”

Her words installed themselves on a mental billboard in my brain during that session. When I felt tempted to turn down the tension before an exercise was over, so that I could give my legs a break but still seem like I was keeping up – her words flashed in my head: “It’s your workout.” I kept pedaling. When she asked us to sprint for 1 minute, and my heart felt like it might explode out my chest at 26 seconds, I heard them again: “It’s your workout!” I kept pedaling.

Her words stayed with me through every spin class for the rest of the season, and I carried her voice and a backing track from Swedish House Mafia (a Spin class favorite) in my head when the day of the race finally came. “Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child,” sang SHM, and I heard the voice say “This is your workout! This is your race!”

And it was.

****

It’s been a year since that first spin class, but I heard my instructors voice again this week as I faced the bible study homework that I had been neglecting throughout Christmas break. Small groups would be resuming soon, and my pages had great big white spaces between the questions: evidence of my attention being elsewhere over Christmas.

The temptation was this: to set aside half an hour, skim the chapter and fill in a few of the questions – enough to make the page look “full”, enough to have a few answers covered so that if I was called on in group discussion, I would have something to contribute. It wouldn’t take long for me to put in just enough effort so that I appeared to have put in a lot of effort. I could skip the “challenge” and “personal” questions – that would shave off at least half an hour.

An old, dusty mental billboard became visible in the corner of my mind’s eye. “It’s your workout,” it goaded. And I was convicted: yes, I could sit in the class and make the motions of participation, I could make it through the 45 minutes and call it “group exercise”. But it’s my heart that wouldn’t get extra oxygen. It’s my mind that wouldn’t be stretched. It’s my spiritual fitness that would be compromised. Because at the end of the day, I go to bible study for a workout for my soul – and it’s my workout.

It’s always painful to get back into shape. My faith-muscles are out of shape after Christmas, my prayer-joints a little stiff from disuse. But I know how good it feels to feel strong, and I know how a little fitness gives me more energy for everything in my day.

And so I’m going to make the most of it. Because it’s my workout, even when no-one is watching.

Oh autocorrect. Tsk, tsk.

What I meant to say to my newly-moved friend was “I’ll surprise you with some unpacking assistance.”

What appeared on my iPad screen was “I’ll surprise you with some napa king ass.”

Oops.

It’s not the first time the iPhone/iPad autocorrect function has blitzed my intentions. In my experience, about 20% of the time, the autocorrect guesses the word I was aiming for correctly. About half the time, it comes up with something annoying and nonsensical (‘a radium’ instead of paradigm, ‘go goth’ instead of ‘going to’), and the rest of the time it comes up with something hilarious. I present ‘napa king ass’ as exhibit A.

It’s this latter category that fuels comedy websites devoted to autocorrect fails. I confess that reading autocorrect sites is a guilty pleasure – a little like watching the TV Series “Friends”. Some of it is hilariously funny, but I’m also aware that much of it is ribald and distasteful humor. Above-the-belt gems such as this one are rare:

20130823-134157.jpg

To be honest, I don’t spend much time on the sites anymore, because the jokes have become offensive, and the theme of the autocorrects is too often sexual and distasteful.

And yet it’s not just that those websites are collecting the “worst” of the autocorrects. In my own typing, I notice that rude words often appear because I was typing too fast. Body parts and swear words seem to be very quick and easy replacements for regular words. It has almost seemed at times like my iPad really has a mind of its own, and its a very dirty mind at that.

Recently I’ve been thinking though that the default settings on an iPhone are not that different from our default settings as people. Given a slight mistake in communication, a slight error in judgment – I know my default setting is to take advantage of the mistake. I cringe when I think of my college years and how many jokes I made at others’ expenses, at how quick I was to point out others’ weakness and how much I wanted to have the last word. My own internal “autocorrect” was is as faulty as my iPad’s.

Caught in a tricky situation? My instinctive response is to cover my tracks.

Embarassed? My quick draw response is anger or seeking to embarrass another.

In fact, we are a lot like our iDevices. We are iPeople. I am an iPerson. And my autocorrect is horrible.

But the good news is that autocorrects can be trained.

My iPad’s default settings may have sexual innuendo at the ready, but with time the software is “teachable”. After typing a few memos, I can teach it that my misspelled “lasagne” should not be autocorrected to name a woman’s body part, but should in fact autocorrect to describe an Italian dinner dish. It now knows how to spell my children’s (somewhat unusual) names – I’ve “trained” it. It now recognizes (and will autocorrect correctly) to spell South African classic words like “lekker” and “howzit”. It has even learned some Christianese (it no longer corrects “shepherding” to “sherpa ding”.)

And the good news too is that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, my own faulty autocorrects are slowly being trained too. I lose my temper less quickly these days. I can’t say I don’t say mean things anymore, but I do thank God that I can see I say them less frequently than I used to. I swear less (I aim for never, but sometimes when you drop a trampoline on your foot, shoot happens.) My soul is even learning some Christianese – learning to say “thank you” instead of whining. Learning to pray instead of prattle.

It’s a slow process, but it’s hop panning.

Oops: I meant happening.

 

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