Tag Archives: faith

Remember, And Be Glad

My first memory is of being carried up the center aisle of the United Methodist Church in my small home town. I was a three-year-old girl in my daddy’s arms, and my eleven-year-old sister walked up that aisle with us, next to my mom who carried my baby sister.  I come from what, in the midwest at that time, might be considered a religiously diverse family. My mom grew up in the Baptist church, and my dad’s parents were Christian Scientists. Through friendship, my mom began attending the Methodist church in the small town that had become their home. On the day I was baptized, so were both my sisters and my dad, we all became members and that place became our church home.

I went to Sunday school there every Sunday, and in third grade received my first real Bible, a Revised Standard Version covered in pebbled red vinyl, with a scrap of gold leaf that I used to inscribe my name on the cover. I was in many children’s Christmas programs and occasionally got the nerve-racking job of page-turner for my mom as she played hymns and special music on the piano. I went to church camp and found in Jesus the friend I needed to help me survive some turbulent years. I was confirmed in that church, wearing a dress of my mom’s and with my hair in French braids, feeling very grown up. There were annual Christmas eve candlelight services, where we sisters would inevitably get such giggle fits that suppressing them was painful and we shook the pew as we wept silent tears of mirth and pain. There was youth group on Wednesday nights and when I was a senior, a cake for the graduates.

I had a bridal shower and a wedding in that church, and about a decade later I brought my husband and my sons, ages 5 and 3, to my dad’s funeral.  My mom, sisters and I gathered up there at the front of the church and walked dad back down that aisle, the same one we walked up on the day of the baptism. I read some poem that day for the service, but now I wish I’d told this story, because this story is about family, love and the kind of faith that is built on simple acts of caring repeated often over time. It is a story about knowing what belonging is in a father’s arms, and about finding belonging in a place of faith.

This sounds idyllic, but it wasn’t always great. There were cranky people and scoldings and judgment and the same petty human problems inside those walls that you find inside and outside any church of any denomination anywhere in the world. My own nature prompted me to a very cliché rebelliousness in my later teens through my twenties. My early ideas of God were simple ones, the kind Jesus said everyone should have. Thinking about faith got more complicated over time, just as life did, but the Sunday school lessons, and the hymns, the messages and the scripture were all woven right through me and held me together for the most part, even in the very bad times. I prayed, and often those prayers seemed unanswered, but they never felt unheard.  By the time I had children of my own, I knew that faith is linked to survival, and that a spiritual home is a good thing to have. I wanted to give my children some of that same experience I’d had, and as babies they were baptized in a small Methodist Church in their own home town. To this day I continue my faith journey in that community and in the world at large. I am grateful for the support I have had along the way. In last Sunday’s sermon we heard the message of John’s baptism of repentance and Jesus’s baptism of Holy Spirit, and we heard the words from the confirmation service, “Remember your baptism, and be glad.” I do remember and I am glad.

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A Love Letter to Discover

Discover magazine, how do I love thee? I love thee a lot. Even when I don’t understand thee, I love thee. I recently received the July/August issue of Discover, which appears to be very biology-centric. This makes me happy because biology is like the hot boyfriend with a little bit of an accent and colloquialisms that make communication somewhat difficult, as compared to the gorgeous boyfriend of physics who speaks a completely different language but I don’t even care, I could just lustfully listen to him spout incomprehensibility all day. Science turns me on, yo. I have been a subscriber for years and even though I haven’t lately been able to read every issue cover-to-cover, I do try. I have gotten ideas for stories and plot twists as well as general information and entertainment from the magazine and it makes me feel better than reading People magazine does. Kind of like when I choose to eat an apple over a doughnut. As Bill Nye says, “Science rules!”

So far two articles in this issue have gotten me excited. The first, “Superhuman Vision” is about a mutant cone some women (maybe a lot of women) are carrying around, a fourth cone that allows them to see an exponential number of color variations not visible to other humans. It is kind of like the Bizarro World version of the green/red color blindness that diminishes color perception in some men. How cool is that?! Mutant powers! X-(wo)men! The thing is that many of these women probably aren’t aware that they are seeing anything the rest of us aren’t because the nature of perception is so individual. Imagine trying to describe red to someone who can’t see red or provoke someone who doesn’t taste chocolate or tobacco in their red wine to do so. Difficult. I want them to make the test they describe in the article available on the internet. Maybe I have super vision! Actually I suspect that the only thing special about my vision is the degree to which I am frazzled by floaters, which isn’t very special at all.

The other article was “Earth’s Last Unexplored Wilderness Is…Your Living Room.” I love articles which immediately make me change my behavior. I wasn’t even halfway through the piece when I jumped up and opened all the windows on the main level of my house. For fifteen minutes–until the heat and humidity (already? at 8:30 a.m.?) forced me to close them again. Now, science reveals some uncomfortable truths, that maybe not all of you want to know. Far be it for me to expose you to graphic information that could gross you out for life, so two things: you might want to disinfect your showerheads, and wash your pillowcases with bleach in the hottest water you can. As I am. That is all.

It isn’t like Discover has never led me astray. I preached the anti-high fructose corn syrup gospel for over a year based on a quoted scientist who described it as a “metabolic disaster.” Further study showed no such thing, of course. Sugar is sugar, and we are getting way too much in all of its forms. But that is part of what I like about science. People make hypotheses and test them and share the results and other people say, “Hey, that is interesting! Are you sure?” and re-test the results, using what comes to leap to more evolved hypotheses, and we are all better for it. We grow from knowledge and experience. Ideally, science is all about open-mindedness, and using evidence to guide us toward knowledge. Some also use the lack of evidence to deny the existence of things for which we cannot test, like God for instance. In earlier generations, the existence of germs and sub-atomic particles and dark matter was considered ludicrous. I wonder what fascinating things we will know for certain in the future that are unimaginable to us today? I can’t wait to read about them in Discover.

Speaking of Poe,

Okay, we weren’t speaking of Poe, but after my last post and my rather self-conscious reference to “the feather light caress of mortality’s scythe,” I have been thinking about him. Like a lot of people, I hit a patch in my tween and teen years when I read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe and other authors who made the macabre an art form. I would probably have been at least a little bit goth, had there been such a thing in those days. I have never fully emerged from that patch; part of me loves the dark side, though I’d rather read it than watch it and prefer suspense to blood and gore. (Side Note: my friend Darlington tells me that in his culture–Rwanda, but in other areas in Africa as well–people love Hollywood movies but cannot comprehend our love of the horror genre. I suspect that if we faced real possibilities of genocide, murderous insurgency, and death by famine and epidemic we would enjoy horror flicks less also.)

So in reflecting how Grandma Marian’s death affected me, I was struck by how my response to death has changed as I’ve aged. Experiencing the loss of my own grandparents as a child, death seemed harsh but unimaginably distant. When one of my schoolmates died of a hidden heart defect we all grieved, but it still seemed the greatest of improbabilities, a one-in-a-million long shot, a lightning strike. Later, I lost a friend to breast cancer and then more and more people, not that much older than me, seemed to be coming out of the woodwork with life-threatening diagnoses and fatal tragedies. I lost my father to a car accident, one friend to an aneurysm and another to a drunk driver, my best friend’s mom and my husband’s mom died of cancer, and my sister and my mom both got cancer. My sister and mother survived, but death, always a possibility on an intellectual level, was becoming undeniable even to my gut. When my husband’s grandmother died, even though she’d lived an abundant life into her nineties, death felt a whisker’s breadth closer. I heard the swoosh of a blade through the air and felt the barest touch of metal to my skin. The scythe, I thought at the time. Now I realize that Poe had it right; it is a pendulum, and it is nearing. My husband’s grandfather confided to him before he passed on some years ago, that he was ready to die. He’d had a good life, he said, and all his friends were already gone. With this most recent funeral, it struck home that perhaps every loss as you age cuts deeper.

Some cope with this reality by chasing sex, things, or inebriation; or by creating a legacy through child-bearing, corporate empire-building, or writing a book. Then there is God. Some would charge that religious faith is just the covers a child hides under, hoping they will shield him from the horrors in the dark. I believe it is more than that. My faith, imperfect as it is, doesn’t protect me from death or loss, or even worry and fear. It does shore me up when I start to crumple, and it does help me reach out past my own self interest in a loving way to others, especially those others I find hard to love. It gives me an assurance of a bigger plan that I don’t need to understand to play a part in. And all it asks is that I keep trying, even as that figurative pendulum swings ever closer. I can do that. Maybe I can build a legacy of sort, as well.

The life of Edgar Allen Poe had its share of horror, but his legacy of literature has excited the imagination for nearly two centuries. The movie The Raven, starring John Cusack (one of my favorite actors,) is released Friday (April 27th) and I am looking forward to it. Poe, played by Cusack, teams up with a detective to catch a serial killer, who stages his kills based upon Poe’s stories. I don’t expect the same level of entertainment from the movie that I derived from Poe’s stories and poems, but I hope it is well done. That is the least we can ask from a film that dares to invoke a master of the macabre.

What movies and books give you shivers and thrills? A few of my top listed books: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and It by Stephen King. Movies: “What Lies Beneath” and “Coraline.”

Why Christmas?

O, Blessed Day of Restoration! Otherwise known as “getting back to normal.” Regardless of your theological perspective on Christmas, or lack thereof, for many of us Christmas is a time of shaking up business as usual and refocusing on both higher and lower things. Our regular schedule gave way for shopping, wrapping, decorating, creating, worshipping and giving, but most of the regular stuff still needed to get done. People who got time off from work can be forgiven for feeling robbed of the rest and relaxation they associate with vacation time, and those “at-home” folks (who either never get a day off, or for whom every day is a vacation day, depending on whom you ask,) just added the extra tasks on top. The music, the secrets, the spirit and the fun memories heightened the excitement and kept it fun, while the culture of fabulosity pressured us to add sizzle and stretch to perfection. Christmas is often like a vacation: expensive, time and labor intensive, delightful, satisfying and anti-climactic all at the same time.

That is, assuming your Christmas didn’t include a metaphorical hurricane. So many did. Some of us are still processing a holiday season viewed through the lens of grief: a lost home, job or loved one, some with absence so fresh we can still taste the tears. Others of us are struggling to get a handle on problems: mental or physical health issues for ourselves or ones that we love, or economic storms still looming off shore, or other disappointments in life that reframe our sense of who we are and what we can expect in life. These events do not recognize a liturgical or cultural calendar. Christmas can be a source of solace and/or bitterness in these times.

And then it’s over. Sure, it is time to write thank-you notes and clean up the mess. Eventually it will be time to put away the decorations. But business as usual resurfaces at the top of the to-do list and the hum-drum activities that may ordinarily chafe slip back on like well-worn work-casual shoes. More function, less glitter. I try to nurture the spirit of Love, Peace, Hope, Joy and Giving that is Christmas to me all year around. Weathering both daily squalls and storms of a lifetime would be unimaginably harder without my faith that God is with me and will see me through all things; and loving others as Jesus taught can get lost in the day-to-day without practice and a supportive community. I can maintain faith and love without observing Christmas, and I know that the trappings sometimes get in the way. I understand why some would do away with it altogether. But for me the celebration of the season reinvigorates my mindfulness of how I practice what I believe, now and in the seasons to come. The tree gets put away but the spark remains.

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: http://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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.