Worth Much More Than You Pay!

Last weekend was a yardsale weekend. Two friends came over, and we did the first dump from my parents’ home — a towering New Englander that has been continuously occupied since it was built in 1913.



Bryant Store 301 300dpi0001

104 years after carpenter Fred Johnson built 301 Maine Street as a family home, it is still crammed to the studs with two generations’ of possessions. The little store next door was built later, then expanded into a “tiny house” rental.

Yard sale shoppers never value your possessions as you do. They tend to look critically at the pair of “captains’ chairs”, locally made, that were among the first furniture your parents bought for their first real house, and offer “I’ll give you $10 for just the one.


You, in turn, have to choose what has the most worth for you: the potential for an extra $15 or $20 from another customer or the immediate opportunity to remove one more item from the house for good.

I took the $10. Also a lot of $2s and $3s and $5s. It added up, remarkably, to more than $700 over seven hours. Which is, in itself, worth much less than having the house more empty and closer to sale-ready.

There’s no telling what this house will be “worth” to the next person who chooses to own it. The odds are good that the 1974 kitchen will be gutted and updated. A new buyer won’t see that the outdated cabinets and formica replaced the 1913 beadboard cabinets, with their sticky varnish that never came clean. A buyer might tear down the barn, which rests insecurely on a rock foundation. The half-acre property, in what has become a very desirable neighborhood, might be seen as having more “worth” with condos replacing the old house.

Counting “worth” in dollars is a current national pastime.We display our “worth” in wardrobe and decor, in the tally of restaurants and concerts we’ve visited, and the vehicles we drive. By these terms, my parents — dressed in thrift store attire, rarely traveling, “eating out” once a week at a diner — appeared to have little “worth.”

When my brother reviewed their financials after both died, they turned out to be “worth” much more than many of their well-dressed, well-traveled peers. In that way, they were like one of my largest donors at a charity where I used to work. Walmart shoppers and McDonald’s diners, they popped in one day with almost no notice to drop a six-figure check on my desk.

Financial worth can’t be measured in appearances. How much less can we measure the value a person’s character adds to the world.


In the film classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart plays a small town credit union manager who is so discouraged he wants to die. (The film was a failure in its own time!)

Enjoy your valuable, wonderful life. It’s worth is not measured in dollars but in loving deeds. Live well, love well. Bless you.


This post responds to the Five Minute Friday prompt “Worth.”


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Grammar Queen: M is a ‘Them’?

New UM deacon claims plural pronoun

Grammar Queen expresses extreme displeasure

The American United Methodist Church has recently appointed its first “non-binary” deacon, M. Barclay.

M, as the new deacon prefers to be called, claims neither of the two human genetic gender identities – not the female identity with which she was born, nor the male identity that some say her initial represents.

Deacon MBarclayM initially “came out” as a lesbian woman while at seminary. After gaining employment with the United Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network, which aims to engage LGBQT people in the denomination, M concluded that “transgender” best fits M’s sense of personal identity.

Now, many people both within and outside the United Methodist Church have expressed various strong opinions about the correctness of appointing a deacon who claims to exist outside the range of genders God created. The Grammar Queen expresses no opinion regarding this matter.


The Grammar Queen greets subjects (also objects and pronouns) during linguistically happier days.

The Grammar Queen must, however, register her extreme displeasure at the newly appointed deacon’s cavalier attitude toward the American language of the new deacon’s homeland.

M, although defining M-self as “non-binary,” chooses not to use pronouns that would describe M as unitary. While acknowledging the singularly casual American habit of referencing unknown individuals with the third person plural, the Grammar Queen finds it extraordinary for a known person to describe M-self as unrecognized.

The Grammar Queen recognizes that a complex “genderqueer” lexicon is in extended birth pangs in America, seeking to push forth some set of pronouns that will adhere to the American tongue without causing the American tongue to trip. Those introduced to the Grammar Queen to date include:

  • Ze (with either zir or hir)
  • Ne
  • Ve
  • Ey
  • Xe

The Grammar Queen finds all of these regrettable, “Xe” especially so. She wonders why anyone who considers choice of identity important would select a pronoun set that would appear – in the style of the admirable Madeline l’Engle’s self-sacrificing cherubim Proginoskes – to “X” out the person doing the choosing.

Drive of Dragons Madeline LEngle Wind in the Door

Madeline L’Engle’s cherubim knew that to be “X-ed” is the end of identity. In 21st century “genderqueer” language, “Xe” is claimed as a personal pronoun.

The Grammar Queen even finds herself wondering at the failure of a late-20th century solution proposed in the science fiction of Marge Piercy. Surely “person” and “per” would be improvements over the unfortunate 21st century attempts.

Nonetheless, the Grammar Queen is most exclusively concerned today with deacon-appointee M’s use of the 3rd person pronoun to describe M-self.

The Grammar Queen is well aware of the many contortions American English has taken in its effort to avoid inappropriately branding an unknown person as male. Indeed, the Queen herself recalls that as a child, she intensively queried adults about the seemingly peculiar practice of referring to unknown persons with male pronouns and even the male noun “man.”

The Grammar Queen also recalls finding herself grammatically confounded, as a young adult, by the congregational singing of the Methodist hymn “Rise Up O Men of God.” Knowing herself to be a woman of God, not a man of God, she determined that she was required at the moment to not stand, and gracefully sank back into her seat. It was her good fortune not to be seated on the platform that Sabbath.

Therefore, the Grammar Queen is not without sympathy for those who find it difficult to recognize themselves in certain gendered pronouns. Indeed, she is extensively practiced – as are all those who have written for public discourse during recent decades – in ways appropriately to convert sentences to third-person constructions in order to avoid unnecessary gender pronouns.

At the same time, the Grammar Queen holds more confidence in the American educational tradition than many might allow. She is confident that the elementary schools of Pensacola, Florida once taught M which pronouns are applied to singular persons and which apply to plural persons. She finds it deplorable that M is unwilling to choose appropriate pronouns, and even more deplorable that the American media are choosing to follow suit.

But the Grammar Queen stops herself from allowing this brief conversation to become degraded into an entirely non-royal rant. Instead, she seeks the grace of her God and God’s mercy before she essays a short comment on the use of pronouns in God’s Bible.

During her review of Biblical pronouns, the Grammar Queen identified only one non-Divine person in the Bible who used plural pronouns to describe himself. When asked for a name, the voice of a dangerous man who lived among tombs told Jesus:

“My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

Surely, the Grammar Queen imagines, neither M nor the United Methodist Church wishes to offer such an unfortunate linguistic parallel in their descriptions of the new deacon.

She encourages M, and indeed all United Methodist persons:

Be unique.

Be individual.

Be singular.

The Grammar Queen has spoken.


Grammar Queen Carlene Hill Byron is most often described as The Accessories Queen. She accepts all noble titles.


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How I Found My Mind After I Lost It

Times Record Column 060917 - CopyThis week, I was blessed to publish this guest column in our local newspaper, where Meadow Rue Merrill, a fellow member of the Redbud Writers Guild, is a regular writer on faith.

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Living Unexpectedly

Ten years ago, if you’d asked me where I expected to be when my 60th birthday approached, I’d have said, “Right here.” In the North Carolina townhouse my husband and I bought, filled with things we had selected together, happily “farming” our 1/100th of an acre, working at whatever job I found and preparing to travel in retirement.

Life has a way of shattering our expectations. Starting last Christmas Day, I recognized that #livingunexpectedly was going to be the theme of my year.

ATV on CHristmas

My car wouldn’t make it up my friend’s icy driveway on Christmas, so she sent her son to bring me on an ATV. Unexpected!

Superbowl at Smittys

I watched the Superbowl with friends at Smittys. For me, this is an unexpected activity, and it was certainly an unexpected, astonishing win for the home team!

Red Scooter

I learned to ride a little red “knee scooter” after my foot was broken at work. Unexpected injury (first broken bone of my life) and an unexpected month in a chair.

Cat at Toilet

My little cat decided the water was fresher here. Unexpected!

This spring, I learned that hostas are not just for deer! Unexpected!

runners for charity

My new job put me in touch with a whole new community of people who like to run and who regularly choose to race for charities like ours. Unexpected!

land trust trail

I discovered beautiful walking trails almost across the street from my new office. They remind me of my favorite trails in North Carolina, the ones I’d walk while cell-phone chatting with my Mom, who has now passed.

So my “third act” is apparently and unexpectedly in Maine. I’m living in the home where my late parents raised the five of us, sharing with my sibs the real farm we inherited. I activily cultivate Mom’s Concord grapes and blackberries, not to mention more perennials than I can imagine, here on the half-acre that is my current plot.

I could not have expected this. I’m glad God has eyes on the big picture.

Thanks to Five Minute Friday for the writing prompt: Expect.

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Why Non-Academics Should Read This Academic Book

Jenny McGill Book

If you’re not an academic — and I’m not — why should you read an academic book about how 405 Christian international students changed – and did not change – their sense of identity in Christ during and after graduate study outside their home countries?

Just the title of Jenny McGill’s book might intimidate some: “Religious Identity and Cultural Negotiation: Toward a Theology of Christian Identity in Migration.” Knowing that the text was her doctoral dissertation could intimidate others.

Here’s why I think it’s worth holding your breath and diving into this volume.

A Book Full of Big Ideas that Matter

McGill’s book is full of big ideas that matter. Some of them come as happy reminders that academic thought is not so universally remote from Christianity as some American Protestants think. Some of them set me thinking about subjects important to my own life and faith:

  • Where do I find my own sense of Christian identity?
  • How much is what I describe as my “identity in Christ” shaped by the people and places around me?
  • How much is it right and good and even essential for my faith to be externally shaped?
  • How far from my “comfort zone” do I need to “migrate” to get a clearer picture of God in me?

McGill’s student subjects self-identify as evangelical and traveled internationally for theological graduate studies. They became, by choice, “strangers and aliens” in order to follow what they often described as a sense of divine calling. Many discovered differences between Christian churches in their home countries and Christian churches in the US. Those discoveries left many feeling gratitude for what they learned here and also feeling different from what they found here. The experiences of these students suggest directly part of what it means to be Christian: to be set apart, different, distinct, no matter where we are.

Big Idea: How to Embrace the Hostile Other

McGill is an academic who tries to see how things fit into a bigger picture. So she examines recent psychological and theological ideas about how people develop our sense of personal identity and how that relates to our understanding of God. This material can be hard going if you’re not used to reading theology, philosophy, and academic psychology. It’s not simple “self-help”, yet it has the potential to be extremely helpful. Imagine, for a moment, reading reflections about how Christians are called to love those who are “other” written by a Christian who grew up in an anti-Christian Communist state. That’s a meaningful part of Chapter 3.

Academic works aren’t structured like most published books, so they don’t start with a “hook” that is intended to convince you to buy the book you picked up. Instead, they open with pretty dry explanations of how the author looks at the world, who has influenced that worldview, and why she takes the worldview she does.

Big Idea: After Postmodernism, Reality

Still, I found a “hook” in the early chapters. McGill sets her point of view in “critical realism,” an academic worldview that has grown in response to postmodern thinking. Critical realism acknowledges that we each bring different perspectives to our understanding of the world. In this way it is like postmodernism. But instead of denying that it is possible to know the world and allowing each to define his or her own “reality,” critical realism allows that what is real is real and that we may, together, get a reasonably good picture of what is (or is not) in fact real. In the vision of an old parable, an elephant has not become a rope simply because one blind man has grabbed him by the tail. But six blind men may indeed come to understand an “elephant,” if they just listen to each other. For those of us bemoaning the impact of postmodernism on the world we seek to reach, it’s reassuring to know that the academic world whence it sprung is having second thoughts.

Let me offer one more good reason to consider reading this book: This is Jenny McGill’s doctoral dissertation, published by the American Society of Missiology — knowledge about the global spread of Christian missions. Most dissertations are bound in black covers. The owner has one copy and a second copy sits for decades on the dusty shelves of one academic library. This one has a bright paper cover and is available for purchase. That alone tells you it’s worth reading.

Learn more about God’s work to transform people in global migration and in your own life. Read this book.

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