Monday, April 22, 2013

Allegra - Freeskate 1

This was Allegra's first time out of the Basic Skills class and she did great.  She's a natural performer and you can totally see her hours of ballet training.  She skated to a selection of songs from The King and I.

Hero - Pre-Preliminary

The Boise Ice Classic this past Saturday (4-20-13) was Hero's first "big" competition where she competed outside the Basic level.  Apparently the first competition you have where you have to land an axel is a big deal!  She was nervous but she stayed up on her feet and made a respectable showing.  In being on the competition committee I discovered that I really enjoy the sport.  It was a lot of fun (although I still don't know half of what I'm supposed to be watching for). 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Our Newest Addition

This was one of those "investment" parenting moments.  We tell our kids no a LOT.  I don't want them to grow up to think that their folks never let them do anything fun and slightly crazy.  So, hopefully we'll earn some interest on our investment years down the road - we have a new pet.  James was working onsite on Saturday, and had brought Ian along to get him out of the house, and in the sprinkler box he found a curious creature.  The homeowner was grossed out and did not want it in there.  So, the logical choice to do with an unidentified, slimy, underground creature is apparently to put it into an Eggo box and bring it home.  When I walked in the door from skating and was told that there was a "thing" in a box, I thought it was a joke.  James can be a bit of a jokester.  But, no, no they were not kidding at all.  In a box on my stove was a very strange-looking creature.  James and I were promptly informed by Hero that that was a newt - thank goodness for recent biology lessons in science class, I guess.  After a bit of research, we found out that we were the new foster parents for a tiger salamander.  Tiger salamanders are pretty popular pets, because they are very easy and very safe.  We needed time for a "mom and dad conference" and took a drive to talk about what we should do with him (we have no idea if it's a him or a her, so we went with him).  Said drive ended up at the pet store and $60 later we were the proud owners of a terrestrial salamander set-up (basically a really long 20 gallon aquarium, a soaking bowl, coconut fiber bedding, and refrigerated wax worms).  As we drove up to the house, there were literally twelve sets of little eyes staring out the window at us, to see what we'd decided.  Even Hero dropped her normal teenage nonchalance when we walked in with the supplies.  So, Augustus (affectionately called Augie) the tiger salamander has officially been adopted into the Merry Band of Fife.  Because we were running a bit low on the crazy, of course.  What a life! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

About Me

When my mom passed away last year, I wasn't sure what to do with my blog.  My blog was started as a way to keep a long-distance Grandma who was passionate about her grandkids in the loop.  I mostly recounted family activities and special days, with lots of pictures.  Now that's she no longer with us on this earth, my blog has evolved into something different.  I still share stories of major family events and pictures of my kids (lots and lots of pictures), but this blog has become more of a personal outlet, where I share my reflections on modern life and spirituality.  Because our personal experiences and circumstances are partially responsible for our opinions, getting a window into a blogger's life is very interesting.  Sometimes I'm prone to "Wizard of Oz" syndrome.  I enjoyed writing academically when I was in college, so sometimes a narrative, personal touch is missing from what I write and it can become pedantic.  And that's no fun, so, here's a look behind "the curtain". 

My name is Melissa and I am 34 years old.  I grew up in Wisconsin and still identify strongly with my roots there, as well as my upbringing in the Lutheran church.  I was so blessed to grow up in a Christian home that was shored by my parents and blessed with three children, myself and two younger brothers.  I met God's life-partner for me, James, when I was 18 years old and preparing for college.  In a scene that was completely out of character for steady-and-responsible me (which is no surprise, because it was surely God who brought us together), I agreed to marry this 21 year old man on our second date!  Six months later, on May 23rd, 1998, we tied the knot - just a couple of crazy, madly in love kids.

My "first" family - Mom, Dad, and two brothers.  This picture was taken at my mother's surprise 50th birthday party in February 2012 (I flew out as an additional surprise) - two months before she unexpectedly went home to Jesus and the last time our entire family was together

We moved out to Idaho, James' home state, shortly after getting married in order to buy a home and finish college at a less expensive state university (my private school tuition, even with a hefty scholarship, was out-of-reach for two kids working entry-level jobs).  We've been mightily blessed, throughout our time here, with six children.  Had someone asked me, as a newly minted high school graduate, what my life would look like 15 years after graduating from school, it probably wouldn't have been further from what it actually is!  But God knew exactly what we needed (as he always does, even when we think he's made a mistake) and our family just never felt complete and we always had room in our hearts and our home for one more.  Our eldest daughter, Hero, is 13.  Our second child, Allegra, is 11.  Ian, our firstborn son, is 9.  Colin, our second son, is 5 (soon to be 6).  Cecily is our third daughter and is 3 (but eagerly counting down to her birthday next month) and Elinor (we call her Elle sometimes) is our current caboose at 2.  I love my large family!  It's a conversation starter and, at its best, a positive testimony to a Christ-centered marriage.

My six beautiful blessings from the Lord on Christmas 2012

Spiritually, James and I were weak in our first decade of marriage.  We both certainly professed belief, but the fruits that that faith bore in our life were puny and anemic.  God worked through personal and financial trials to bring us closer to Him, and, for the last three years, we've become true Christ-followers.  We attend an amazing bible-following church that believes in the Baptist distinctives.  Every day we pray diligently to find ways in which we can lay down our life and pick up His cross.  The Word is our sustenance and our delight.  We strive to be a Godly couple with a God-honoring marriage.  We've learned so much from the fine example of mature Christians, and as we grow we hope to provide the same kind of model for new believers.  For me, a shy introvert in person, blogging has been the most amazing gift to use my God-given skills in outreach and just plain old personal growth. 

So, I'd like to thank you for making it through my little autobiography of sorts and I'd love to have you join me in the journey of following Christ in heart, mind, body, and soul.  Comments are such a blessing to me, and I appreciate them so much - sometimes they serve as a gentle correction, and other times it's an encouragement to know that others feel the same way I do.  Go with God today, and always!

My beloved and I, on our 14th anniversary May 2012




Monday, April 15, 2013

The Christian Straw Man: Modesty

In my introductory post, The Christian Straw Man, I opened up a discussion about the ways in which Christians are manufacturing a culture war that is unnecessary and counterproductive in our efforts to bring light to our specific corner of the world.  Now I'd like to talk about how this phenomenon plays out in very specific areas, and what impact it's having on our witness. 

I'd like to open with the subject of Modesty in Attire.  Modesty is a broad concept that touches all realms of life: spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical.  There definitely should be discussions about spiritual modesty, emotional modesty, and mental modesty, but I'm going to focus on the aspect of modesty that I think is most closely aligned with The Christian Straw Man - modesty in dress and, to a lesser degree, behavior.  From the get-go, there's going to be issues.  Christianity is not a monolithic religion.  We all (I should hope!) rely on the Word to guide the choices we make.  And there are a few mentions of modesty in the New Testament.

           Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 NASB

           Your adornment must not be merely external-- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NASB
You see the emphasis, in the scriptural discussion of modesty?  While there is a component of physical dress, it's greatly overshadowed by the workings of our heart and mind.  I think that holy "imbalance" is important.  If you tilt too far in setting up your own standards of modesty as tests to "true Christianity" and proudly judge everyone by your own standards, attempting to shame those who dress inappropriately (whether it's categorically inappropriately or a matter of small differences), perhaps you are not following in the Word. 

I often see blogs from Christian sisters who are considered leaders, proud to call themselves Titus 2 women.  And, in those blogs, they use the most disgusting language to vilify women who dress inappropriately, language that I don't think is appropriate for any Christian to use when describing one of God's beloved children, lost or found.  I'll never forget a casual discussion I had with my mother when I was a young teenager.  I attended a Christian school and my entire Christ-following family was heavily involved in church.  I referred, rather off-handedly, to the clothing that a particular girl was wearing as slutty.  My mother was not prone to anger.  But that was one of the few times that she was filled with fury at my self-righteousness, pride, and lack of a proper perspective on my own sinful nature.  You see, she had a difficult upbringing, ruined by an extended period of molestation by a neighbor, that led to a young girl who turned to drugs to numb the pain, and eventually had premarital sex that resulted in a pregnancy at 16.  She, a scared, lonely, and damaged girl, was shamed and described as "trashy", a "slut", a "whore" and all sorts of other unspeakable insults.  None of those people were interested in helping her - they couldn't see beyond her visible sins.  Her words were gentle but firm as she reminded me that words carry incredible power - the power to lift up, and the power to condemn.  I've never felt so ashamed in my life as I did that moment at the age of 14 or 15, when my mom taught me that lesson that's stuck with me my entire life.  No Christian brother or sister should ever let those insults come from their lips when they are making a statement simply about what a girl or woman is wearing.

My mother, in a family portrait circa 1988, who taught me my earliest lessons about modesty of dress, and, more importantly, gentleness and beauty of spirit

Frequently I hear mothers complaining that they can't find anything appropriate for their daughters to wear.  Being a mother for almost 14 years now, and having to shop for four daughters, I say what you have is a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.  People WANT so badly to believe that The Christian Straw Man is real, that they see things selectively.  They see the short shorts, and the tee shirts with snotty sayings on them, because that provides ammunition for the culture war they think they are righteously fighting.  They simply fail to notice that there's a plethora of other options, because that doesn't fit well with their preconceived notions.  I remember reading once that, when people have strongly held opinions on a subject, it's been researched and scientifically proven that they filter facts accordingly - choosing to only absorb that which supports their currently-held opinions and ignoring that which contradicts them.  I can't walk into a store and guarantee that you will not find something that is inappropriate for a girl to wear.  In fact, it's probably likely that you WILL find something.  But there's also plenty of modest girls' apparel (unless you prefer an ultraconservative standard of modesty, closer to Amish than Duggar).  If shorts and pants are an option, bermuda-length shorts and/or capris are pretty much a staple in any store.  If you are skirts only, I've seen longer skirts available from places as varied as Walmart to Gymboree (I'm a big fan of Gymboree clothing for little girls, because I love the sweet "little kid" look and I can't fight my urge to be very matchy-matchy).  I shop a lot, between my own household needs, and supplying my online clothing store.  I shop at thrift stores, resale shops, big box stores like Walmart, Target, and Fred Meyer, department stores like Kohl's, Macy's, H&M, and Dillard's, children's stores like The Children's Place, Gymboree, and Justice, and catalogs like CWD, The Wooden Soldier, Chasing Fireflies, Mini Boden, and Hanna Andersson.  There's always options at some, if not all, of those places for modest girl's clothes.  But I suspect that's really not what people are trying to say when they bemoan the "fact" that they can't find appropriate girl's clothes.  It's another symptom of misplaced and dangerous nostalgia.  As if the fact that people used to wear more extensive clothing meant that the world was safer, more pleasant, and more godly.  During the Industrial Age, the fact that women wore long skirts and layers of undergarments was cold comfort for children forced to work, not infrequently to the death, in factories.  At the last midcentury, the fact that women didn't wear short-shorts or tube tops in public didn't offset that men (often self-identified Christian men) lynched black men in order to hinder their fight for civil rights.

Buttercup BabyDazzling Dots
Gymboree 2013 - I actually have the yellow apron dress for my littles, and the tiered cotton dress is from the older girl's line, and would be super cute with a cardigan over or tee underneath it.

Floral Chevron-Pleat Dresses for BabyGirls Slub-Knit Maxi-Tank Dresses

Old Navy 2013 - the sweet red toddler/preschooler dress is vintage-sweet and would look super cute with a pair of yellow cropped leggings underneath, and the older girl's knit maxi dress could work all year-round with proper layering.

George Girls' Printed Poplin DressChild of Mine by Carters Baby Girls' 2-Piece Modern Floral Tunic and Legging Set
Walmart 2013 - The monochromatic mixed media on the orange dress appeals to the older girl and tunic tops and leggings are so practical for active little girls who like to be outdoors (mine!)

I grew up in a modest household.  My mother was a stylish woman, but always on the side of elegance (permed hair aside - what can I say, it was the 80s). But any lessons I learned in what type of clothing I wore was always in proper proportion to what I learned about where our true value as women of God lied, and never at the expense of cursing or belittling others.  It would be nice if the Bible outlined a very specific list of the "Christian uniform".  But it doesn't and so we humans are left with modesty as an issue of discernment (which hopefully involves seeking and allowing the guidance of the Holy Spirit).  There are certainly some things which Christians, nearly universally, agree are immodest.  But, as soon as you start eliminating obvious choices like nudity and bikini-tops and miniskirts in inappropriate venues, the more variation you will see in what constitutes modesty.  For some, their dress will reflect American culture, just avoiding problematic extremes and excessive vanity.  Others will shun anything that seems to be fashionable and stick to long skirts and loose blouses.  And there's lots of lots of folks who fall somewhere in between.  The desire to beautify our environments is a very common feminine trait, so it's entirely natural (and fun) to talk about what we like, how we dress, what we like to improve in our dressing habits, and so on.  But when it leaves the realm of "this is how I've felt led by the Holy Spirit to dress my family" and enters into hyperbole about how there's no modest girls' clothing available and people start making character judgements of complete strangers, posting pictures of them on the internet, and tearing them down for sport amongst Christian sisters, I'm concerned that we've really succumbed to nostalgia - for the days of the Jesus' contemporaries, the Pharisees.       

My two oldest daughters, who are competitive figure skaters, in typical competition attire.  They wear short skirts over tights.  This Christ-following family has determined that this is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord.  While I think it's fine for another family to feel led differently, I would be appalled if they posted a picture of my daughters like this and proceeded to impugn their character based on their sports attire.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reading List Update

It's been a while since I've updated, so I have several new books to add to the list.  There's another one that I just finished last night, but man oh man, the things I have to say about THAT book necessitate an entire post dedicated to it, so I'll save that one for later. 

I finished two secular books (both happened to be from my mom's library) - the first was A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein.  I was not a fan.  The writing was taut and engaging, but it felt like it was trying too hard.  It also had a bit of a complex that I couldn't move past; was it trying to be a version of The Cider House Rules or of  Misery?  It also relied on typical archetypes in which religious folks are crazy whack-a-dos who just don't get it.  That's intellectually lazy and a huge pet peeve of mine. 

After that I finished Anita Shreve's The Pilot's Wife.  I call her work "literature lite".  Her actual writing certainly holds some literary value, but her plots seem made for light entertainment.  This was an easy read and would make a good summer book for Mom while the kids are at the pool. 

I also finished a pair of Christian books - the first was a loaned copy from our pastor of Christ in the Passover by Ceil and Moishe Rosen.  This served as a nice accompaniment to our Passover festivities and our deepening interest in Jewish festivals.  And then I had a copy of Angela Thomas's 52 Things Kids Need From A Mom that I picked up from a sale table at my local Christian bookstore because it was inexpensive and looked like it would be perfect for my short snippets of reading I do at the table or while cooking.  I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  There were some great tidbits in there, and they were shared in a way that were never prideful or overbearing (how hard it is to accomplish a balance between sharing tips and not appearing like a know-it-all, but Mrs. Thomas manages to carry it off).  This is a short snippet that especially spoke to me (and a trend I notice amongst Christian women), in her chapter titled To Teach Them to Not Be Easily Offended.

Every weekend I have the privilege of meeting women from all over the world.  Several years ago, I realized that too many of the women I was meeting were living in ongoing bitterness.  I understood why they felt entitled to bitterness because of divorce, health issues, or the loss of career, opportunities, friendships, and children, but at the same time, I kept asking myself, Aren't we supposed to life differently than this?  The Bible says:

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

According to the Bible, bitterness is dangerous because it can take root deep inside our heart and grow, spreading its poison into our minds and emotions before we even realize what has happened.  The person who is easily offended has given their heart permission to let the root of bitterness grow.  Holding on to resentments.  Counting their grievances.  Building grudges and bad feelings.  Whenever I meet a woman who has learned to find comfort in bitterness, I quickly pray, Oh, Lord, keep me from such a miserable life.

10. 52 Things Kids Need From A Mom - Angela Thomas

9. Christ in the Passover - Ceil & Moishe Rosen

8. The Pilot's Wife - Anita Shreve

7. A Friend of the Family - Lauren Grodstein

6. Not a Fan - Kyle Idleman
5. Body Surfing - Anita Shreve

4. The Magician's Assistant - Ann Patchett

3. Twelve Extraordinary Women - John MacArthur

2. The Merchant's Daughter - Melanie Dickerson

1. Gideon's Call ~ Peter Leavell

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Instrument of Righteousness

I never really considered myself as lacking in self-discipline.  I excelled in school and my chosen extracurricular activities.  I still am (mostly) a quiet peacemaker type who avoids conflict and is super empathetic (too empathetic, sometimes).  But, I think, at heart, I'm a closet lazy daisy.  I have a stubborn streak that resents being ordered around - even I'm the one doing the ordering!  Humans are such complex, silly creatures, aren't we?  Lack of self-discipline was nearly the death of me while pursuing my college degree.  I could fudge it well enough in the majority of classes because reading has never been a chore to me and I have a mind like a steel trap when it comes to memory recall, and I'm a naturally analytical thinker and writing comes easily to me.  But the one area where there's no such thing as fudging happened to be my chosen field - music.  See, this is my ornery, stubborn contrarian self rearing its head again.  Instead of choosing an area of study that came naturally to me, I chose to throw pragmatism to the wind and went with one of the relatively few areas that were a stretch to me.  And that's all well and good, except for that I struggled for all six years of my college career to put my nose to the grindstone.  I loved the idea of practicing religiously.  And, indeed, the few weeks where I had stuck with a consistent, solid practice schedule, I'd be positively giddy about being able to look forward to my violin lesson, rather than seeing my professor's office as a torture chamber.  But still, the full knowledge that I was going to pay the piper later for my lack of discipline was not enough to keep me from caving into my immediate desires to the detriment of my long-term goals and happiness.  I still struggle with the same tendencies.  I really, really, really hate to exercise.  But I love how I feel about myself when I do.  I feel strong, healthy, and in control.  And, getting up early to start the day with a walk pays dividends in so many other ways.  This morning I rolled out of bed at 5:30 and walked for 30 minutes in the quiet, brisk weather.  I used the time to pray and just to enjoy the slumbering world.  After I arrived back home, I enjoyed a warm breakfast of blueberry muffin oatmeal (the instant kind, don't worry - I wasn't THAT good) and two cups of coffee whilst reading at the table.  The kids were still asleep (with the exception of Hero, whom James had taken to the rink for a pre-school skating practice session), so I got to savor the moment all to myself.  I even had time to go upstairs and shower in peace, and finish nearly all of my morning beauty routine, before I heard the first stirrings of the "herd" around 6:50.  I opened the door feeling ready to face the day and it was wonderful.  But I've cycled through this before, and, after a few weeks, I peter out.  Clearly, self-discipline is not a skill set I possess naturally.  But the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can accomplish all things, and so I give control over my lazy-daisy ways to Him.

image source

The death he died, he died to sin once and for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
Romans 6:10-13 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Christian Straw Man

Sometimes I go for days (or even longer) without making a post.  It frustrates me (and I know that it's discouraging to follow a blog and see no activity for weeks) because it's not for lack of material that I don't write more frequently, but for lack of discipline.  Too often I have dozens of ideas floating around in my head, and my brain ends up resembling the frantic but ultimately pointless hamster running on the exercise wheel in his cage.  This morning, at the dark and early hour of 5:30, as I was on my walk, I prayed for God to prompt me about what to write today.  I've still got the chaotic swirl of ideas swirling beneath the surface, but one topic really stood out to me today, so that's the one I'm going to tackle.  And, as often happens when I begin to really quiet myself and begin to process and right - I've realized that this topic is not to be dealt with in one post.  To do it justice, I will write a series of posts on the topic. 

image source

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.
James 3:9-10

I'm a decently educated woman.  I attended a secular college and, having a liberal arts focus on my music degree (rather than a strict performance or teaching focus), I had the opportunity to take lots of upper level history and philosophy classes.  I cannot fully articulate the gratitude I give to God for guiding me down that path.  I think so much fear, rigidity, and oppression I see in fundamentalist Christian circles is due to a lack of a broad-based education.  Humans are programmed to fear that which they don't understand.  And that fear sometimes turns into an extremism.  That extremism has manifested itself in many facets, and so broadly that I can't tackle it in one post, hence I plan to do a series on the subject (that was positively God-inspired, because the thought didn't even occur to me prior to this morning).  Today, I want to tackle the umbrella issue - The Fundamentalist Christian's Straw Man.  I am a Fundamentalist Christian.  But probably not in the most understood sense of the term.  I believe in the fundamentals of faith.  I'm an absolutist.  I wholeheartedly reject any doctrine that smacks of relativism or universalism.  But beyond those things, I reject the label as holding any meaning about my lifestyle, my politics, and my view on American culture.  In doing so, and in combination with my education, I view things through a slightly different lens than many of my Fundamentalist Christian sisters (and brothers).  And what I see is often not good.
I see that many devout Christ-followers have created a Straw Man that they repeatedly and fervently beat with the stick of unholy righteousness.  That Straw Man is a corruption of modern American culture.  Of course it stands to reason that the Straw Man bears a resemblance to reality, that's an integral part of the concept of the straw man.  But it's only a hollow shell, a Frankenstein creation that's patched together with the worst tidbits of society, half-truths, and persistent and pernicious myths.  This misrepresentation collides with the devout Christian's penchant for insidious and malicious nostalgia.  I understand nostalgia, and it doesn't have to be bad.  I've always felt a love for eras past.  I've often complained, in jest (hey, what can I say, I like indoor plumbing and not having to butcher my own animals), that I was born in the wrong era.  But, that fascination has to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality.  One can't simply plug themselves into a Jane Austen or Laura Ingalls Wilder novel or pop into a pastoral painting and pretend that that was what the past was truly like.  Read the great tragic novels of the past too: Emilie Zola's Germinal will remind you that unrestrained capitalism is not the answer to every problem, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables will help you understand that human justice is a weak, inherently flawed construct, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina reminds us that society's judgement is frequently more vicious and less forgiving than God himself.  Better yet - look to the Great Book itself.  It's full of stories of wickedness and depravity.  And those are the heroes of the faith!  Great acts of malevolence are not a modern American invention.  Neither is sexual immorality, idolatry, greed, abortion, murder, or persecution.  All have existed as long as the earth has been populated with people, and will continue to exist until the Heavenly Father says "enough".  Be vigilant about romanticizing bygone eras.

Another danger that lies in the propagation of the Straw Man is that it inevitably involves deceit. The internet and social media especially allows a half-truth (or even a blatant lie) to spread like proverbial wildfire.  I've been on the receiving end of many a forward email spreading false information or wild conspiracy theories, and have seen innumerable malicious memes posted on Facebook by folks who purport to be Christians.  This cannot stand!  If Christ-followers will not stand for Truth, then who will?  In 1 Thessalonians 5:22, we are commanded to avoid even the appearance of evil.  What a heavy responsibility!  Do you want to know what phrase is not biblical?  "The end justifies the means".  That's the spirit of Prince Machiavelli, not the Prince of Peace.  Think twice about reposting that cutting meme that fudges statistics or misinterprets Scripture because you agree with the general sentiment.  God is not half so righteously angry with the coarse language of one of the lost as he is with the lies coming from the mouths of His children. 

The Straw Man is hazardous to our Christian life because it puffs us up with pride.  We've spent time constructing him stitch by stitch to conform to and confirm our deeply held misconceptions and prejudices, and, like any good maker, we know intimately his weaknesses.  So we strike accordingly, heaping scorn and derision on the Straw Man.  We beat him to a pulp and stand on the deflated effigy and declare victory in the name of our Lord.  But what a cheap victory it is - a victory by absentia.  Because the Straw Man is our creation.  Nothing more.  How meaningless that is to the Lord of Hosts!  And then comes the real danger.  We extrapolate our nefarious, patchwork Straw Man onto actual people.  Random strangers, our co-workers, our friends, even our family assume all of the evil-bloated characteristics of our creation.  And, we've already established, in our heads and in our circle of likeminded and "like-lifestyled" devout Christians, that the Straw Man is hopelessly, irredeemably immoral and degenerate, which means that the entire American culture is a lost cause.  But cultures don't exist in a vacuum, as much as we'd like to pretend otherwise.  At its simplest, culture is merely a term for a group of people who share a specific spot on the map.  So, we cannot demonize American culture without demonizing American people.  And that, my friend, we are expressly forbidden from doing.  That right belongs to God alone.

Plainly put, a war is a means of gaining and strengthening power.  A culture war is no different.  But what is power to a Christ-follower?  Power is meaningless.  1 Peter 2:23 says "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."  We are to die unto ourselves to follow Christ.  In his divinity, he demolished the ancient code of laws and regulations that was but a shadow of how to life a godly life.  Now we must simply follow his example - what freedom and lightness, just as He promised!  There was no need for Christ to gain power, in the temporal sense, and there is no need today for his followers to be so utterly and completely occupied with power.  My fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, lay down your Straw Men.  Lay down your sharp tongues and deceitful weapons.  You are not called to be a cultural warrior.  "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."  James 3:17-18.