Category Archives: Religion

Crushing Monsters

I was reading Salem’s Lot by Stephen King for my October ambience read and was struck by a couple of things. First, I noticed how tiny the size of the font used in the paperback is and how old and squinty my eyes are. Second, I noted what traditional vampires King’s monsters were, compared to the mutations that have hit popular culture since his book was published in 1975. And thirdly, (and here Mr. Wordtabulous would point out that I have exceeded the ‘couple’ of things I referred to in the first sentence, couple meaning two and not three, but Mr. W. doesn’t read this blog so pbbbbththhhh,) there is an interesting spiritual bit in the battle between Callahan, the priest, and the ancient vampire, Barlow. I suppose I need to warn you there could be spoilers here, but honestly, the book is over thirty-five years old. Consider yourself warned. Barlow has the boy, Mark, in his grasp and is facing off against the priest. Callahan, crucifix in hand, is all full of righteousness, and is literally glowing with the light of his convictions. Barlow is sly, and offers to release the boy and face Callahan “mono e mono” if the priest cast away his cross. To save the boy, Callahan agrees and tells Mark to flee. Mark does. Callahan suddenly becomes afraid to give up the cross, but even before he can throw it away, the light of  it starts to dim until it is nothing but an ordinary piece of metal. The symbolic cross wasn’t saving him, his faith in God, in “the White,” was what channeled that devastating power. When Barlow challenged him to let go of the cross, the priest became momentarily confused about the source of the power and he stopped channeling. And then bad things happened. End of spoiler alert.

Okay, I do understand this is fiction, but this vignette does make me wonder what, exactly, I am channeling. As a Christian, I believe in a Creator with infinite power, and a Savior with the juice to transform humanity so that they can enter the kingdom of heaven, as well as a Spirit surrounding and filling me with that love and power all the time. Instead, I seem to be channeling a lot of anxiety and wimpiness. This has got to stop. I am going to try on some power and faith and see what little monsters I can crush beneath my boots.

This Blogger’s Prayer

Oh my God, oh my God, please. Please let someone read it who gets it. Please let someone read what I wrote and say, “Wow, that is so [cool, right, inspiring, funny, ANYTHING.] Please let me not be just another asshat who is obsessed with being noticed, even though that is what it feels like I am. Please help me understand what it is I am doing or what it is I am supposed to be doing. Why do I keep feeling like putting words on a page? I mean, I am glad my mom and a couple of my long-suffering friends take the time to check in, but does this whole writing endeavor make sense? All this effort and angst for what? There is so much crap out there, God, have you SEEN all the crap out there? I don’t want to be putting out crap. I know I shouldn’t care about being liked, God, but then why did you build me so I care so MUCH about whether people like what I do or write? That is freakin’ mean, God. Harsh. To make me so insecure and so exhibitionistic at the same time, and then to wrap me up in the culture that says “If you can dream it you can achieve it,” but then make me so cynical that I know that is idiotic. Is this is a joke? Am I amusing you? I didn’t take you for snarky, Lord, but I am feeling like the dork stumbling past the cool kid’s table, and you are snorting milk out of your nose. OK, that’s not true. You wouldn’t laugh at me. But you are keeping some secrets and it sucks. I hate not understanding the direction or the point of this.

And that, right there, is the point. Understanding is my anchor; research and analysis is how I control my world. You want to be my anchor and want me to know that control is an illusion. Dude. I don’t have to like it, but I see your point. As always, God, oh my God, 1) help me, and 2) thanks.

Shiva & Hobbes

I learned on TV some time ago that Shiva is the name of the Hindu god of creation and destruction. As it was explained, nothing is created without something else being destroyed. It is an interesting concept and in many ways it makes sense: if you paint a picture, a blank canvas is obliterated. A black hole is formed when a star dies. A human being is born: the mother’s bladder control slips away. Well, not entirely, but I do miss sneezing with equanimity.

I watched a lot of TV recently after coming down with a crushing head cold. It hit right about the time my husband and I were going to the movie “Contagion.”  Mr. Wordtabulous chuckled while I repeatedly sneezed, blew my nose and probably freaked the other moviegoers out. I was pretty much a waste of space on the sofa for the next 24 hours as I alternatively napped and watched the boob tube. After a summer of “take it or leave it” television, I was sucked into the new premieres. It didn’t matter if I was interested or not, the show was on and I was slack-jawed before it. I started to feel better but didn’t return to my usual activity level. It was so much easier to find a seat on the couch and plug in rather than try to think of something to blog or work on revisions or research new query prospects. My initiative, self-respect and IQ were all dissolving, and what was being created in its place? I can’t think of a thing.

One of my favorite comic strips is Calvin & Hobbes. He is such a charming bundle of creativity and nihilism, kind of a mini-Shiva. In one of the strips that really stuck with me, Calvin says to Hobbes: “It says here, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’…what do you suppose that means?” As Calvin and Hobbes walk away, the nearby television muses to itself, “…it means Karl Marx hadn’t seen anything yet…” Hmmm. Yet, if it weren’t for TV I wouldn’t know about Shiva or have been inspired to write this particular post, so how bad could it be? I could probably think this through a little more, but I gotta go–my show is on.

Miss Perfect

My friend Kelly is not what you would call churchy, but she and I do have interesting conversations which sometimes provoke spiritual insight. I have been troubled that Sunday morning church activities often leave me wrung out rather than strengthened and enlightened. She suggested maybe I am overly focused on others (teaching, helping, managing, welcoming, all as if my life depended on it.) It took a few hours to soak in, but she makes a valid point. On a plane, when the oxygen masks drop down, you put yours on first and then help the others around you. The woman drawing water at the well might die of dehydration if she serves everyone else before taking a drink herself. Mary as opposed to Martha.

I grew up reading and watching a lot of those “Moment of Truth” stories, where the hero’s actions at one decisive point make the difference between triumph and tragedy, possibly for the entire planet. Top that with “The Horseshoe Nail” ditty, the one that informs us that one never knows what tiny detail will be critical. Impressionistic and dramatic, I came to believe that I needed to be perfect in all things, or else. No one ever told me that, I picked it up all by myself. It is a terrible strain, being personally responsible for saving the world through good behavior. Ironically, striving desperately for perfection results in some pretty imperfect qualities. Fear of the fatal misstep winds me up tight and leaves little room for joy. It would be too embarrassing to reveal all the ways this unfortunate default thinking affects my personality, but suffice it to say if you met me during a fit of perfection stress you might wonder if I was nuts.

My thought is that, to varying degrees, a lot of people (especially women) have this same thinking. We take responsibility for our families, our communities, our fellow human beings. Many of us are acutely sensitive to perceived judgment from fellow human beings and from God. If we do everything perfectly, if everyone admires what we have accomplished and how fabulous we are, surely we won’t be judged wanting? But that is so wrong. Whenever I realize I am losing it, I remind myself of the Big Two: Love God, Love Others. Loving God has nothing to do with performance. Also, God’s goodness isn’t like a plate of cupcakes where you want to make sure everyone else gets served first in case there isn’t enough to go around. The well is bottomless and full and we need to draw on it. Loving others is second, because if you are full from loving God, you have plenty left over to share.

You prepare a table before me…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

A Good Day

I woke this morning to the sound of air raid sirens, which slowly resolved into the high whine of a jet flying overhead. As my confusion ebbed and I started to consider going back to sleep, I heard gunshots in the distance. Someone getting ready for goose or deer season, I assumed, since there were no sirens forthcoming. This violent first few minutes of wakefulness followed a horrible night’s rest. One of my dreams involved a harrowing bus trip with impossible hills, descents and breakneck turns. The unsettling dreams were interspersed with wakeful intermissions within which I wrestled pointlessly with worries. Was my mom getting a good night’s rest before her mastectomy? Had we sisters planned well for helping her out during recovery? Would my mammogram on Tuesday be clear? Have I done what I can to get my kids ready for school? What have I forgotten, what have I missed? Nothing constructive came of this. The morning was a mess of trying to keep moving, keep doing, staying focused so I couldn’t watch the clock, staying as positive and grateful as possible.

Worry is weakness and worse, a thief of energy and clarity. Nothing is accomplished better under the cloud of fear and anxiety than it is with clear eyed thoughtfulness and rational optimism. Many of Jesus’ best quotes have to do with casting off fear, and that is one of the reasons I am such a big fan. Still, like most of what Jesus stands for, I have a long way to go before I truly live the Word. (Don’t be me. Be better.) Aside from the fact that my mom was having a surgery to remove cancer from her body and I spent a lot of time wavering between functioning human being and a waste of space, it was a good day. No cancer in lymph nodes! Satisfied surgeons! A living, breathing post-surgical mom! A lot of people were praying for her. Did prayers bring her a better outcome than worries? I can’t prove that, either way, but I know for sure that that same lot of people faced the day with strength and hope beyond what faith in modern medicine provides. It isn’t magic. It isn’t even easy to be faithful or hopeful in difficulty. But it is effective, important, and life-changing. Every moment I remembered to put aside fear and embrace faith, I turned inside out, like a pocket being emptied of old Kleenex and last week’s shopping list. Tomorrow will bring its own troubles. Hopefully, they won’t be near as dramatic as today’s were, but how much better would my life be, would I be, if I faced even the everyday tiny worries with the same intentional faith that helped me get through today?

The Unending Song

Is it possible to be solemn and joyful at the same time? Ask anyone facing a trial while holding tightly to faith, hope and love. Look into the heart of anyone who walks in the valley of the shadow, who knows regardless of what happens we are not forsaken. Walk a mile with one who has chosen their treasure well, whose spirit is secure, even when the body crumples. Lift up your hearts and know the joy of thanks in all things. Join the unending song.

I love you, Mom, and all my friends who are walking their own valleys right now. You are in my prayers!

 

 

 

 

 

The Deep End

Although nothing could keep me away from the swimming pool where my childhood friends and I splashed away hot summer days, I have never been much of a swimmer. When I was quite little, age five or six, my family and I were taking an overnight stop on a long and brutally hot driving vacation to I-don’t-know-where, and I was playing by myself in the shallow end of the hotel pool. I’d tuck myself into a ball at the bottom, then drive my feet against the pool floor and launch myself up into the air where I’d grab a quick breath before submerging again. Over and over again in the joyful obsessive-compulsiveness of youth I jumped until finally I submerged and found myself, not at the bottom of the pool, but suspended between the surface and the floor which was much farther beneath me than before. I had crossed the line into the deep end. I remember looking up toward the surface with no way to get there, watching rays of sun stream through the water at an angle above me. Bubbles from my surprised exclamation drifted up toward the blue sky. I didn’t feel panicked, but as I hung there in the sound-muffling  coolness I was thinking a six-year-old’s equivalent to the expression, “I am screwed.” At that point, my mother plucked me out of the water, happy ending, thank you very much, Mom, for paying attention!

That must have been shortly before the swimming lessons started. They were stressful. I wanted to do well, but for a long time I was convinced that holding my breath underwater for even a few seconds was equivalent to drowning. When I finally got over that and managed to pass Beginners, I discovered that most of the Advanced Beginners skills were pretty awful too, particularly treading water. I vividly recall the grey day we had to leap into the deepest section of the pool near the diving boards and tread water for two or three days, or however long it took to pass the test. My panicky movements didn’t do much to improve my buoyancy, and every swoosh of my arms and kick of my legs barely kept my chattering teeth above the water’s pursing lips as it gently tried to suck me down. Once the timed tests were over and I could keep myself afloat any way I wanted, I preferred to float on my back, the better to keep my face out of water and turned to the sky. I even got comfortable enough doing this to discover that when I inhale deeply I float better; my air-filled lungs are a kind of flotation device. It is hard to inhale deeply and remain panicked, so in addition to being more buoyant I felt a lot calmer, too.

This works out of water as well. Life regularly throws us into the deep end: someone we love gets sick or has a terrible accident, we lose a job or are betrayed by a friend. Our initial reaction is often to struggle and panic.  Sometimes, someone comes by and lifts us up, gets us straightened out and onto solid ground. But just in case no one shows up to do that for you, it is good to be able to keep yourself calm and not get pulled down into the depths. Breathing helps. Also, it is important to remember that even though the potential for peril is all around you (water,) that doesn’t mean the worst is actually happening (drowning.) What do you have to keep you afloat? A pair of lungs? Good, keep breathing. A faith that promises there is a reason to hope? An excellent life preserver, hold on tight. The presence of mind and energy needed to reach the shore or at least a boat? Keep calm and do the best you can; you are closer to salvation than you think.

[Thus says the Lord]  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; –Isaiah 43: 2a

A Housewife’s Theology

The problem with religion is the same problem that exists with any system (like politics) in which ideology motivates human behavior. The problem is us. Divine spark notwithstanding, humanity is a mess of conflicting values, needs, and desires.

Do you need to feel you belong, that you are part of a community? Do you seek to transcend the daily grind of economic and social survival? Do you need to find hope that the future of the world is better than the brutal violence, spite and indifference to suffering we today? Do you personally need to find comfort,strength and meaning in light of your own difficulties? Do you want forgiveness, a clean slate, a new beginning? Organized religion has a lot to offer you along these lines. Do you need to feel better than somebody else? Do you need to feel important? Do you want to belong to a club where you can get closer to people’s money and children? Do you want scriptural justification for hating a particular group of people, even though the number one and two commandments are Love God and Love others, no exceptions? Unfortunately, you can also find those kinds of opportunities in religion as well.

I think the purpose of religion is to provide a structure to help people grow closer to God. Some would say that is unnecessary, that the problems of organized religion outweigh its value and anyone who wants to seek God can do it on the golf course, the hiking trail or in their own home. I reply that you can grow closer to God through private meditation and study, but ultimately seeking God by yourself is looking for God in the mirror,  and that will only take you so far. Faith communities give people a chance to share their various experiences and beliefs, for even within a single community there are as many underlying ideologies as there are people. Everyone experiences and understands God in their own way, and in a living faith understanding grows and changes over time (note I didn’t say God changes.) As messy as we are, with our conflicting values, needs and desires, we can help each other grow and support each other through difficulties. Together, when humanly possible.