Beads and writing and worker bees

Back when I was making jewelry in college, I’d have periods of extreme creativity. I’d create a whole bunch of earrings, but just one of each. I mean, I wouldn’t make the pair.

The creative juices were flowing and the last thing I wanted to do was to slow down. I knew that spurt of connection to the creative center was short so I needed to ride that wave for as long as I could. When I stopped seeing interesting combinations, I’d make the other half to the pair.

I’m learning I do the same thing with writing. I have a lot of half finished pieces. Yet the waves keep coming, and I keep getting things started. Going back and finishing pieces is the last thing I want to do.

For many of my crafts I’d love to have worker bees. I designed sweaters when I was in high school and my Mom would knit them. I designed a quilt and while I pieced it together, I had it machine finished. While my jewelry is one of a kind, after I work out the pattern I’m bored and I want someone else to finish it.

I can’t do this with writing. I have no idea where I’m going until I get there. I write to find myself. I write to learn the answers to my questions. I write to stay sane.

Writing is like going to another planet and not taking a map yet you still find yourself.

This is all stuff that can’t be done for me. It is like going to the gym. If I want to get stronger, I have to do the work.

2 Timothy 2:14-21

I don’t often refer to the words of Paul because they aren’t the Gospel. It is like watching the movie instead of reading the book. I’d rather go to the source than get a translation. But today’s reading had a lot of useful stuff in it, so here we go.

The words of Paul are letters written to churches far away. He writes to them to encourage them sometimes and to chastise them other times. Here he’s doing a bit of both.

2 Timothy 2:14-21 (NRSV)
14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. 16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” 20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

Now, let’s look at it more carefully.

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

This is the same idea as the Jewish concept of “lashon hora” – don’t speak ill of people. It is also the same as the Buddhist concept of “right speech”. It is important to not lie about people, but it is also important to not spread truths that are harmful and unnecessary. For example, if a lady you know is going to go play golf with a man who has been divorced four times, you don’t need to tell her that. But if she is going to go on a date with him that might lead to marriage, she might need to know that. Just because it is true doesn’t mean it needs to be shared.

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

This applies to everyone. Here, Paul is making no distinctions (as we too should make no distinctions) between lay and ordained. We are all called to present ourselves as one approved by God, because we are. The fact that we are called by God means we are approved by God.

16 Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety,

This is totally true, and just as relevant today. Have you ever noticed that if you agree with someone’s gossip, they’ll just give you more? If you share some, then they’ll think that is all you want to hear. However, if you hold yourself to a higher standard then they will come to talk differently around you. If you go for the lowest common denominator in conversation, that is all you will get.

17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,

I feel like Paul is being really rude here. So much for talking kindly about others. His own rule was that if someone was out of line, you should talk to them in private first to try to resolve it. This is a good rule for life. Calling someone out in public will only put them on the defensive. These letters of Paul’s were meant to be read out loud in the midst of the church members, as if he himself were talking to them. To call these two out is really weird and goes against the first line here.

18… who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.

Plenty of the disciples “swerved from the faith” of the Jews by claiming that the Messiah had come. They got in trouble for it. Is the Christian faith entirely dependent on waiting for the Messiah to come again? Will it crumble and fall when that happens? How are they upsetting everyone? Perhaps they know something that the others don’t.

What if the “second coming” isn’t going to happen as everyone expects, just like the first coming didn’t happen the way anyone expected? Even though it was prophesied, it happened quietly and surprisingly.

19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”

This reminds me of the story from the Gospels about how sometimes the seed is sown on rocks, sometimes in sand, and sometimes in good soil. Only the seed that is in good soil will grow well. Likewise, it reminds me of the idea that not everybody is called. If you are, act like it.

20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.

This is a great image. It isn’t quite as useful as Paul’s image of the body parts and the Body of Christ. We are all different, and all useful in the Body metaphor. In this, only some are useful. Still though, in this metaphor, it isn’t the called that are useful, but those who make themselves spiritually clean. There is a way to become a “special utensil” and it is open to everybody.

Paper or Plastic?

If you want to be really mindful, go to the grocery store with cash.

I’ve started using cash for everything. I’ve created an allowance for myself. Every week I go to the bank to get cash. It is really weird.

I grew up this way of course. I’m old enough that credit cards weren’t a part of life during my formative years. When I first got a credit card it was just for emergencies. Then somehow it became a way of life. Somehow the credit card became the norm and cash became the thing I used for emergencies.

So many of us reach for plastic over paper these days.

I know a young guy who bought a wallet. It took him two weeks to realize that it didn’t have a place for cash. He didn’t even think to look for a place for cash when he was buying the wallet. He was constantly scoffing at me for carrying cash at all.

There are so many advantages to using a card. You can see online what you are spending your money on. Many companies give you money back or rebates for using their cards. If you pay your card off every month, you can actually make money doing this. I did, for many years.

But it is all a trick. I spend way more money when I use my credit cards. I don’t think about what I’m buying. I need it, so I get it. Or, I think I need it. Well, sometimes I just want it.

And then I have to make a place for it. Whether it is a new dress from Goodwill or a pint of ice cream, it has to go somewhere. With the ice cream the somewhere is my butt.

Shopping with cash at the grocery store means I have to really think about what I’m getting. Do I need it? I can’t justify buying snacks and other non-food items. I’ve not bought sodas in a while, but chips and cookies are still appealing. The more money I spend on those, the less money I have for actual food that I need. You know, food with vitamins and minerals. Actual nutrition is going to win in this debate. Having limited resources makes me mindful. Thus, it means I’m eating better.

Even with a bargain dress from Goodwill, I have to be mindful. I’ve got other dresses. I’m fine. It isn’t like I don’t have clothes that fit me and look acceptable. I justify buying the dress because it is a great price. But even then I’m not being mindful of my money. Ten dollars spent is still ten dollars spent, and it adds up. Too many trips to Goodwill means I’ve spent $100 before I even know it.

A bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need it.

I’ve always carried at least $40 in my wallet. I rarely used it, but when I needed it I was reminded of how useful that practice is. Sometimes the credit card machine isn’t working. Sometimes your card doesn’t work. Then how are you going to buy your gas or your meal? Cash always works, and cards don’t.

Some places don’t even take credit cards. We went on a trip to North Carolina and ate at a restaurant. It was a nice meal, but what happened at the end wasn’t very nice. We found out they only took cash or checks. There was no message about this on the door or on the menu. Fortunately I always kept a spare check in my wallet and used that. Otherwise we might have had to wash dishes to pay our bill. Or one of us would have to leave to find an ATM.

These days I’m turning this around. I’m carrying the credit card as the backup and carrying cash as the main thing. I’ve done this for a week and already I’ve noticed I’ve spent $200 less than normal, and I’m eating better. Instead of eating out as often, I’m making food at home.

It is interesting how this is dovetailing into my New Year’s resolution to cook more. I’ve wanted to get better at cooking for years, and the only way to get better at cooking is simply to cook. I’ve wanted to go to the store and get fresh vegetables and cook from scratch, and now I’m doing it. I’m feeling really empowered by learning how to feed myself well. But then I started deciding to use only cash, and that is going nicely with it. Both practices are keeping me mindful of how I spend my money, which ultimately represents my time and my energy.

I’m sometimes resentful of having to spend forty hours a week at work. I’m grateful for a job, but I’d like to have more time away from it to live my life. Thirty hours would be better but it isn’t an option. But how smart is it for me to waste that money on expensive, unhealthy food and trinkets and baubles? Using my money wisely will mean I have more money saved up for bigger things, like a trip overseas, or improvements to my house. In the meantime, I’m learning how to take better care of myself, and that is the best investment of all.