Category Archives: Religion

Christmas Tree Complexity

Christmas Tree day started off with the High School Band fundraising pancake breakfast at the VFW, which, I am sorry to say, nobody wanted to go to. It is a fine event and supporting the youth and community is SO important, but as a family, we don’t tolerate potlucks and community meals well. I was dragging the family along when a donation would have made more sense because imposing awkward social experiences on reluctant children is a hobby of mine. To top it off, Mr. Wordtabulous had developed a “stomach ache” and couldn’t come with us. I just bet he has a stomach ache, I thought as I watched volunteers sweep by with carafes of coffee and trays of orange juice in little plastic cups. I felt guilty for not volunteering, which added to my social wrongfootedness as I greeted the band moms I know, but who intimidate me. There is a metaphoric mask I wear on these occasions, much like the mask you might remember from the cartoon The Jetsons, the one Jane Jetson wore on her early morning video phone chats to hide the fact that she hadn’t done her hair or makeup yet. My mask is supposed to hide the fact that I am not relaxed or comfortable and that I suspect the person I am speaking with thinks I am an utter doofus. In the cartoon, the woman with whom Jane video-chats sneezes and her mask flies off to reveal that she isn’t made up for the day either. I didn’t sneeze, but I could feel the mask cracking a little around the edges, and I think the other women saw it, too.  The music, the people, the place: what was probably cheerful and energetic for most of the other people there knocked me a little more off kilter. I hadn’t quite slipped off the shoulder of the road into the ‘bad day ditch,’  but I could feel things inching in that direction.

Leaving the VFW, with the strains of “Soul Man” escorting us on our way, I could have cut my losses. A reasonable woman would have said, “this is not your day to get a tree, honey; go home and read a book or take a nap.” But I had decided that Dec. 4th was Tree Day, and stubborn adherence to what has been decided, especially when it makes no sense at all, is an inherited insanity which I was not strong enough to overcome. Mr. W. was still claiming sick tummy, so it was up to me and the boys. We had decided to go back to an artificial tree after many years of Boy Scout tree sales and cut your own experiences. Still discombobulated from breakfast, we went to Menards’ Enchanted Forest, which I propose they rename Menards’ Enchanted Forest of the Damned. I like Menards, except for the fact that I can never find anything, including employees to help me find things. Enchanted Forest is basically an artificial tree lot, big enough to be found easily even in Menards. It had a pretty good variety of sizes and types of trees, which was where the decision became complicated. Pre-lit or standard? The boys voted pre-lit, openly voicing a preference to NEVER having to help me deck the tree with lights again. I don’t think it is unreasonable to try to space lights evenly, but evidently I am something of a Captain Bligh about it. 7 foot, which would fit nicely in the front room, or 9 foot, which would be lovely in the vaulted family room? Flocked or unflocked? Short or long needles? Hinged vs. hooked branches? I was feeling rushed, overwhelmed and burdened by my self-imposed need to make a decision without having done any research. Also, and here is the thing that was driving me right over the edge, there was a boombox nestled in the center of the trees, playing zippy synthesized Christmas carols at a nerve-scraping volume. That was bad enough, but in the background, you could still hear the more orchestral Christmas carols playing over the store’s sound system. The combination was unspeakable. After checking and re-checking the tree options I had to exit the Enchanted Forest to calm my auditory system and catch my breath. The boys were completely unphased by the noise, but nonplussed by my wild-eyed reaction to it. We had narrowed the choices down to two, but still needed to find out if the trees were available, which meant going back in and systematically checking fifty or so tags until the right boxes were found. I suggested that I might sneak into the copse of artificial trees, within which the demonic boombox was still spewing tin-can melodies and turn the thing off. Younger son looked down at me and calmly informed that if I did so, I would have to figure out where in the store was the furthest point away from Enchanted Forest and look for him there. I was lectured about the inadvisability of “turning off other people’s appliances,” and no rebuttal was allowed. My whole argument for bringing the boys along was that I wanted their advice and needed them to carry the tree for me (I can totally carry the tree, but was angling for some family teamwork.) Mutiny. Fine. I took a deep breath and we dove back into the Enchanted Forest. After some frantic sticker surfing, I gave up looking for option two and the boys grabbed the only one of our choices we could find, the 7 foot pre-lit Norfolk pine with hinged branches. Good-bye, Enchanted Forest. Of the Damned. Forever.

Home again, the boys disappeared upstairs into their respective digital worlds where I could hear them laughing, (and was that singing?) while I examined the four pieces that, assembled, would be our decorative Christmas masterpiece for years to come. Twenty minutes later I was in a fetal position on the floor reconsidering my enslavement to traditional cultural practices. Also being very self-pitying. The next try went better. I figured out that I had started with the wrong piece, which had made the whole thing unstable. Now it was stable, but heavy and pinchy on the fingers, and increasingly irritating. I grumpily assembled and decorated that tree in the meanest Christmas spirit since Scrooge. By MY MARTYRED SELF. I picked out the most meaningful ornaments for everyone in my unfeeling, unhelpful family. And…it is beautiful. False start aside, it took half the time to decorate because of the pre-installed lights, and there were no dead strands to deal with. It fits the space perfectly. I had to devise a prosthetic branch to brace my angel tree topper, which I ingeniously did out of a pencil and some sticky wax (a win!) Then I took a nap. Reset. My horrible children were wonderful again, and my faker husband really did turn out to have a stomach ache which lasted well into the next day, but he still managed to tell me what a good tree we picked and how nice it looks.

After 45 years of hopping back and forth from the dark side to the bright, you’d think I would have learned more about how illusory and temporary these lapses are. In some alternate universe I am serene and confidently living my life with gracious good sense through good times and bad. In this one it appears I am a more of a cautionary tale about the  hazards of unrealistic expectations and forgetting the point of Christmas: love and giving as exemplified by the life of Jesus. If this, or any other season is getting you down, I highly recommend prayerful meditation on the true value of  all the activity in your life. Since I didn’t do that, I can also suggest hanging in there and doing the best you can until you can get a nap, but try to get the prayerful meditation in too. Support the community, spend time with the people you love, revel a little, and give to the less fortunate. Also, back away from the ‘best Christmas ever’ ideal and remember you are loved even when you are imperfect. You are in good company.

 

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Noisy Pretty Bandwagons

I have a friend I really enjoy, a guy I knew in college, with whom I now only communicate on facebook. He is one of those people who re-posts a lot, particularly jokes and satire. A considerable percentage of what he posts has to do with religion and mocks conservatives who exaggerate or mislead to gain political advantage or to denigrate other religions or homosexual people. To him, and to a growing group of people like him, “religious” is synonymous with “ignorant” or “bigot.” It is getting to the point that the phrase, “an open-minded religious person” is popularly considered an oxymoron. I blame that on all the really noisy wack-a-doodles who keep promoting grossly hateful views that cause people who aren’t of faith to wonder what in the world “religion” and specifically “Christianity” is all about. These wack-a-doodles would not consider me a person of religion at all because my reading of the scriptures and observation of the world haven’t led me to the same conclusions they have reached, but since I don’t let them (or anyone else) tell me what I am that doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that I am being painted with the same brush as anybody who claims a faith based on love but gleefully wears hate on his/her sleeve.

I might wince when I see remarks and jokes directed at the religious, but I will neither deny I am religious to the snarks or let the wack-a-doodles claim the whole package. Some might think me stupid for believing  too much, others might think me a “watered-down” Christian for not believing enough. Whatever, I will not change my beliefs to belong to your special club. Nor do I expect you to change yours to join mine. Just, I beg you, think your own beliefs out for yourself, don’t leap on someone else’s noisy, pretty bandwagon because it is labeled either “Smart” or “Righteous.”

Related Post: https://wordtabulous.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/a-housewifes-theology/

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?