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Ann Spangler's sensitivity to the ever-changing spiritual and cultural climate in which we live has enabled her to address themes of profound interest to many readers.
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Temperance

Temperance

In honor of the blog post on Temperance, the image is of a burger with at least 18 layers of meat, bread, cheese, toppings, sauce.If chastity is out of fashion, so is its cousin, temperance. If you’re like me, the word temperance conjures visions of the temperance movement in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Though the movement was well intentioned, who can forget hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation, who was repeatedly arrested and fined for her habit of marching into saloons and smashing them up? The resourceful Carrie financed her activities by giving lectures to the public at which she sold souvenir hatchets for twenty-five cents apiece. Believing she was on a holy crusade, she described herself as “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”1

Of course, not everyone appreciated her nonstop barking, as evidenced by the popular barroom slogan: “All Nations Welcome but Carrie.”

Doesn’t sound very peaceful, does it? Of course, that’s not what I mean by temperance. Like chastity, temperance is often mistakenly linked with prudishness and narrow-mindedness. But in reality, temperance is a mark of strength. While chastity involves the ability to control one’s sexual appetite, temperance involves the ability to control one’s appetite for food and drink. Just as lust is the opposite of chastity, gluttony and drunkenness are the opposites of temperance. Who but a strong person is able to control his or her appetite?

Recently I had dinner with family friends. One of the children ordered a meal large enough to feed four big-time wrestlers for four days straight (slight exaggeration). These supersized portions have become the norm at restaurants across the country. What are we to do? Stop going out to eat? Go on yet another diet? Have weight-loss surgery? One thing we can do is to ask God to help us grow in the old-fashioned virtue of temperance, which will produce in us not only greater health but more peace, because we will no longer be slaves to our appetites. More

  1. Keven McQueen, “Carrie Nation: Militant Prohibitionist” in Offbeat Kentuckians: Legends to Lunatics (Kuttawa, KY: McClanahan Publishing House, 2001).

 

The Peace of Chastity

white bedroom, The Peace of ChastityBefore committing his life to Christ, Saint Augustine once famously said, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.”1 Though his honesty may surprise us, few of us know what chastity really means. Contrary to popular belief, chastity is not synonymous with abstinence or celibacy. Like courage and kindness, chastity is a virtue. The chaste person is able to take his or her sexual desires and order them according to the demands of love rather than lust, which is chastity’s opposite.

Writer Ronald Rolheiser explains it like this: “To be chaste is to experience people, things, places, entertainment, the phases of one’s life, life’s opportunities, and sex in a way that does not violate them or ourselves. Chastity means to experience things reverently, so that the experience of them leaves both them and ourselves more, not less, integrated.”2 Because each of us has been created in the image of Christ, we should respect and revere ourselves and others. To treat people as objects for our pleasure is to diminish and demean them. And to allow others to treat us that way is to allow ourselves to be degraded.

Under this definition, married couples who are faithful to each other can have sex and be chaste. Single people, on the other hand, are chaste when they abstain from sex because that is appropriate to their state in life. Chastity allows them to treat themselves and others with the dignity and respect that Christ’s love demands.

To put it in simpler terms, chastity is like a governor on an engine that regulates its speed. Without it, the engine could accelerate to the point that it is destroyed. Though chastity might sound odd and old-fashioned in our sex-saturated society, it’s a virtue that will restore God’s peace in our lives. More

 

  1. Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, trans. Edward B. Pusey (New York: P. F. Collier, 1909), 135.
  1. Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 202.

 

Peace Takes Practice

two women playing doubles tennis

My daughter was playing tennis with friends. I watched as she and another player volleyed. Each was paired with a teammate who had rarely played before. In addition to missing balls, these beginners would make the usual mistakes, hitting at the wrong angle or with too much or too little force. Like many sports, tennis is all about controlling the ball, a skill that increases with practice.

The Christian life is like that sometimes. Many of us come to Christ unpracticed in the virtues that characterize the Lord we love. Then God calls us into the game, asking us to abide by the rules he put into play when he created the universe. At first our attempts to be like Jesus may feel awkward and difficult. Perhaps we’ve developed habits like cursing or feeling sorry for ourselves or telling half-truths or gossiping or giving in to feelings of rage and anger. Sometimes we stumble. But if we pick ourselves up and keep going, God’s Spirit will work in us to unwind these problem behaviors and give us the grace to change. The more we practice the virtues, the more virtuous our lives may become.

As with the beginners in my daughter’s foursome, it can help to be friends with those who are more experienced than we are. Mature Christians can become our mentors, encouraging and showing us what a life of virtue looks like. Ultimately, becoming more like Christ means enjoying more of the shalom he offers—healing, wholeness, and the blessing of good relationships. All are part of the peace he promises. More

Smoked!

smoke curling against a dark background

 

If you’re looking for peace, you might want to think twice about buying a
rental property. I purchased a lovely (or so I thought) piece of real estate
a few years ago. I was certain it would be a good investment. But there was
one problem—my beautifully decorated, upscale condo smelled. The odor
would come and go, and it was hard to pin down exactly where the smell was
coming from. I hired plumbers to check out P-traps and toilet seals, furnace
repair technicians to look for dead animals or improperly installed equipment.
At one point, I was certain I had fixed the problem only to discover
that the smell had returned full force. No amount of household deodorizer
could cover it.

Everything visible had been checked. So the problem, I reasoned, must
be lurking behind walls or beneath the floor. My youngest daughter suggested
with a hint of a smile that perhaps a bad fairy was hiding somewhere,
cutting wind. Hmmm . . . I hadn’t thought of that.

Finally a plumber sent smoke bombs through the pipes and, lo and
behold, smoke started billowing from the walls of the closet in the utility
room. When the closet was ripped out, the plumber found the culprit—a
pipe that had been improperly installed. Amazingly, it had escaped the notice
of the builder and the city inspectors who signed off on the new construction.
For four years it lay hidden behind the walls, spreading a noxious smell
through the vents.

What’s the point of this smelly story? Simply that hidden problems can
steal our peace. When we allow sin and weakness to lurk in our hearts, they
will sooner or later make their presence known. It’s far better to deal with
them openly and honestly. Otherwise, the Lord may need to lob a few smoke
bombs our way in order to reveal the source of the problem so we can finally
face it with his grace. More

 

The Best Antidepressant

A graphic of a Bible protecting a homeRecently a reader contacted me to tell me how one of my books had encouraged her. After reading her note, I was the one who felt encouraged. Despite suffering severe economic hardship, she seemed buoyed by the way God kept speaking to her. She cited Psalm 91:14: “The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’” Then she went on to cite Psalm 3:3: “You, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.” Holding on to this one passage from the Bible, she said, had done more to keep her anxiety at bay than the most powerful antidepressant.

For two years her husband has been without work. Her own income has also been drastically depleted as a result of the recession. Together, they have been barely scraping by. Despite their struggles, she says she is excited to see what God has in store for them not after their trials but through their trials.

Her words buoyed me because I happened to be in a funk, anxious about what was happening in the life of someone I love. She reminded me that God has made a promise we can count on. He will indeed rescue us. He will be a shield around us to protect us from the enemy.

No matter how hard life gets, keep resisting the devil, who will try to bring you down by whispering faithless, fearful words into your ears. Stop listening to him, but keep listening to the Lord, whose Word holds true no matter what or who is pulling you down.  More

Get Me Out of Here!

A scared faceI love the scene in the movie Young Frankenstein in which the young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, is about to enter a room where the monster he has created is held. Here’s how the scene unfolds:

Dr. Frankenstein: Love is the only thing that can save this poor creature, and I am going to convince him that he is loved even at the cost of my own life. No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door.

Inga: Yes, Doctor. . . .

[Dr. Frankenstein goes into the room with the monster. The monster wakes up.]

Dr. Frankenstein: Let me out of here. . . . What’s the matter with you people? I was joking! Don’t you know a joke when you hear one?1

Why include this crazy scene in a book about peace? Think of it like this: each of us has made decisions that we believe are blessed and directed by God. The choice to follow Jesus no matter what. The decision to become involved in a particular ministry. Often we make these decisions in the midst of experiencing God in an almost tangible way. But then we come down from the mountain to live out daily life. For some of us, the choices we make may eventually lead us into monstrous troubles. What then? Do we rush for the door, determined to get out no matter what? Or do we take our problems to the throne of grace, trusting that God will lead us? Today, let’s gather up every trouble or care that has come as a result of doing what we said we would do and bring each of them straight to God, laying them at his feet and asking for his help.  More

1Young Frankenstein, screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks (20th Century Fox, 1974).

What’s Important

A roast chicken. Image courtesy of apolonia of freedigitalphotos.netRemember the story of Martha and Mary? Jesus had brought a boatload of disciples to their home in Bethany, and Martha was irritated because her sister wasn’t helping with all the work involved in entertaining guests. But when she tried to get Jesus to take her side, he surprised her by saying, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

If I had been Martha, living in that day and age, I might have been tempted to conclude that Jesus was like most men, clueless about how much work it took to feed and provide for guests. But that interpretation doesn’t really wash, because Jesus was no hidebound first-century male. So what else might be at work in the story?

Here’s how Augustine interpreted it, imagining what he would have said to Martha if given the chance. “But you, Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarrelling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”1 More

(Image courtesy of apolonia of freedigitalphotos.net).

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1 Quoted in the July 29, 2011, readings, taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, 4 vols (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1974), divineoffice.org.

Worrying Out Loud

A little girl looking worriedJen burst into the room, tears streaming down her face. “I can’t stand my life!” she exclaimed.

Wondering whether her daughter was suffering from hormone overload or something worse, her mother asked what on earth was wrong.

“You!” the daughter shot back.

Probing further, it became clear to my friend that her teenage daughter was in a state of high anxiety. Pouring out her fears, this young girl told her mother that she was worried about school, anxious about a grandparent in failing health, concerned about the family business, wondering whether there would be enough money for college and whether the economy might collapse. She just couldn’t handle it anymore.

“But, honey,” my friend said, “you don’t have to handle it. Don’t worry about Grandpa. Your dad and I are taking care of him. And our business is doing well. I promise there will be enough money for college. The economy isn’t great, but it’s getting better. What made you so upset about all these things?”

“You!” came the emphatic reply, once again. “You’re always complaining about the business, about Grandpa’s health, and about how terrible the economy is!”

My friend was stunned. She hadn’t realized that her words of complaint and concern had been driving a stake of anxiety into her daughter’s sensitive heart, causing her to worry about issues that no thirteen-year-old should have to deal with.

When it comes to complaints, none of us have a clean slate. But perhaps we can take this story to heart, realizing the power that words have to erode the peace of those we love. Today, let’s ask the Lord to place a guard on our lips, so that whatever comes out of them builds up rather than tears down.  More

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When You Feel Inadequate

A woman looking upward to a lightI’ve been writing books for many years. Despite what you might think, it doesn’t get any easier as time goes on. What hampers me most is my lack of faith. Face-to-face with a blank computer screen, I have a mini crisis of faith each morning, certain that I haven’t got a thing to say that’s worth reading. I’ll send e-mails, make phone calls, walk the dog, pay bills, eat a banana—anything as long as I don’t have to start writing. Finally, when I can’t dodge it anymore, I’ll open up the latest file, see where I left off, and ask God to help me. After a while, the writing usually begins to flow.

For most of us, life is full of such miniature faith crises. We doubt we can do what God has called us to do—to show patience to our children, understanding to our husbands, skill in our work, wisdom in times of trouble. And we’re right. We don’t have enough of what we need. So we stall and make excuses and try to dodge our responsibility, which only increases our anxiety.

To be human is to be inadequate. It is to be limited. It is to be weak in many respects. When we look at our deficiencies, there’s ample cause for concern. But instead of training our eyes on our weakness, we need to train our eyes on God’s strength and on his promises to love and provide. So today, as always, we come before his throne, asking him to fill our emptiness with his fullness and to trade our weakness for his power. Today we take a small step of faith so God can give us his strength.  More

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Don’t Shrink Back

A woman flexing her arm musclesSometimes I feel like the incredible shrinking woman. Some big, hairy problem comes stomping onto the scene, and I feel too tiny to stand up to it. Instead of holding my ground, confident that God is with me and will never abandon me, I start looking for the exits. But often there are none. And I, little person that I am, have to stay in place and learn how to trust God in the midst of my difficulties.

When it comes to facing up to trouble, many of us are experienced escape artists. But when escape is not an option, we may be tempted to try other strategies, taking refuge in things that promise to soothe or counter our pain. Here are a few of my own favorite strategies: eating, buying, blaming, complaining. Funny that none of these ever bring me real peace. Sure, brownies are soothing, but they don’t stop me from worrying. Buying things works for a little while, until the novelty of the latest purchase wears off. And blaming and complaining just spread the misery.

So what does help? Here are a few simple things from my list: (1) having a regular prayer time; (2) talking things over with friends and asking for prayer; (3) interceding for others, which takes my mind off myself; (4) using the wisdom God gives to deal with the problem at hand; (5) time, since some problems can only be dealt with by outlasting them; (6) doing everything with as much faith as I can muster.

Even if you have only a little faith, decide to put it to work. To grow strong, faith needs exercise, much like a muscle that grows larger when it’s challenged. The next time a big, hairy problem comes stomping onto the scene, resist the temptation to run. Instead, face it with the faith you have, asking God to reveal his power through you.  More

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