I have made the conscious decision to try and make use of my local Communist cell, er, library, as it were. Now that a very pleasant person, willing to speak slow and use small words, has taught me how to use the “Holds” feature on the King County Library System website, I am absolutely out of control and have holds nearing a hundred at a time. The bevy and I do look a little ridiculous, I’ll admit, staggering out of the library each week, trying to peer over the top of our book stacks so that we don’t become cute feathery little grease spots on the asphalt, but how does that line in Pride and Prejudice go? “What do we live for but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?” Something like that. We are just doing our part.
(Confessional side note: I have tried countless times since I was in my teens to read Jane Austen and have failed to get interested every single time. You know how the books are always better than the movies, and even if you possibly thought otherwise, you would absolutely never admit it out loud, lest you be taken out and had a million papercuts inflicted upon you, right between the fingers, by the Book Purists who govern these sorts of things? Well, I really like the movies. But this summer, I have finally found a way to ingest large quantities of Jane Austen and actually have enjoyed it immensely — by listening to the audiobooks. Have I plugged the Canon Plus app yet? Consider it plugged. I am becoming less of a Philistine by the minute.)
However, the decision to get the most out of my wasted tax dollars does not translate into knowing what to search for, which, it turns out, is a key component in the whole putting-books-on-hold venture. We have been known to stand in a group in front of the computer in the kitchen and just search the words that come to mind: sewing, cars, PVC pipe, Ethel Rosenberg (word to the wise — do not search for Blue Angels. You will not get results about jets). And this led me to a fantastic cookbook called Crumb, written by Ruby Tandoh, more commonly known in our house as Ruby the Cryer.
A few years back, the young quail and I got hooked on the Great British Baking Show. We would watch after school while we ate lunch (until the show changed hands. Yuck. Mary Berry or nothing, please) and Ruby was a contestant in one of the earliest seasons. She was the youngest ever to make it on the show, and she made it to the final round, one of the top 3 best bakers of that season, and she had absolutely fabulous hair. And she was an emotional wreck. So. Much. Crying! Now, I get it — I would probably be nervous to have Paul Hollywood, that handsome bread-making devil, peering over my shoulder while I made beignets or some such for the first time (endearing anecdote about the author: I went through all the hassle of learning to make them before I learned how to pronounce them, and proceeded to feed them to a crowd of people who actually knew what they were. They were polite when I pronounced it phonetically, and no one corrected me until much later, to my great mortification), so the occasional overexcited giggle or the dropping of a Mason Cash bowl even could be pardoned (though we the audience would scream). But sitting in the luscious English garden ugly crying for what felt like every single show? Suck it up, buttercup.
Yet it is a great cookbook. And as my rendition of her orange kalamata olive bread wreath was rising on the counter today, I started thinking about what a shame it is that Ruby will always exist in my mind as Ruby the Cryer. For all I know, she has entirely grown up into an emotionally stable woman. At the very least, she has a writing style I deeply enjoy, which you may have guessed is something I value.
(There are 2 things that consistently turn me off of books or blogs: subpar writing and bad haircuts. I once had to sit through a Bible study training video, an hour long, and though I am ashamed to admit this, I was completely distracted by the trainer’s hair and struggled to remember anything else from the video. She looked exactly like Hilary Clinton, and I found myself getting nervous that if I remained in the program for too long, I might eventually think that hair that boring was ok and might even adopt it for myself. And what would that mean for me theologically if hell actually froze over??)
It is ironic to me that I can, apparently, make this snap judgement about a young woman whom I have only ever seen on television, who has gone on to become a food writer for a prominent London newspaper and published an excellent book, and who knows what else (and still has awesome hair while she does it, so there’s that) when there are few things in the world that I myself have more personal dread of than being misunderstood, mislabeled, misconstrued. Herein lies a pride that is in daily need of killing by my mighty Savior (because no one else could do it). My underlying desire to be seen rightly, to have my intentions understood, can be little more than a belief that if you really understood me, you would agree with me. You would know I am right (stop snorting and rolling your eyes. They might stick that way). You would not think I was a troublemaker, negative, a mess of problems, too quick thinking, severe, a firestarter…. all things I have been told about myself at various times (this week even), sometimes accurately… sometimes not.
But therein lies the rub — it does not matter if it is accurate or not. I may not be able to rehab anyone’s opinions about me. It is not my job to try. God does not need me to scramble at doing public relations work to shine up commonly held perceptions about me, especially if those perceptions derive from zeal for the Lord. Faithfulness doesn’t win any popularity contests; my prayer is to gain bad opinions for all the right reasons, and none of the wrong. If I have earned a bad reputation by my own sin, selfishness, and immaturity, then I don’t need a rehab — I need repentance.
Flip side: while we are to spend none of our mental capital trying to improve our own images and reputations, we are to expend a king’s ransom to think the best of others. Grit your teeth for this next one — especially those “others” who are actively cherishing a wrong belief about you. To love my neighbor, that neighbor, is to do everything within my power to protect their reputation, to believe the best in them as much as is possible, to take their words in the spirit that I hope they are meant. It is to allow them to explain themselves, no matter how convinced you are that you understood them the first time. It is to be zealous for the their good in every circumstance, even if it is at the expense of my being proven right.
So. Who is the Ruby who needs a rehab in your life today?