Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Number of Things

This post is named after this 1980s
Chapel Hill hardcore band, even though
it has nothing to do with them. I always
loved this album cover though!
If you are reading this, I thank you… from the bottom of my crusty old heart. It’s been really hard lately to put thoughts into words and words onto a page, for many reasons. I keep thinking the blackout is over—I write a blog post, but then I just snap right back to where I was… busy, blank-minded and bummed out. 

Actually, bummed out isn’t all that accurate… I mean, I AM bummed out about SOME things, but not most things. In general, I’d say I’m pretty content. And blank-minded? My mind isn’t so much blank as… muddled. I have a LOT of things going on in there, but they can’t be nailed down into cohesive thoughts. I thought maybe the best way to proceed is to just tell you what’s happening and some of the things I have on my mind… If you’ve read any of my past posts, these refrains will sound familiar, but it’s where I’m at.

Pumpkin spice...
it's not for everything.
1. Remember all those times you wished I would stop bringing up the menopause that loomed large on my horizon? Well, this is the last time, ‘cos that ship has sailed. You don’t have to hear about it ever again, and I can no longer blame my many failings on it. As menopauses go, mine was fairly mild, for which I am thankful.

2. Fall. Pumpkin Spice. Boots. Jackets. Jackets that I leave everywhere I go – because here in the south you never know if you’re going to need one or not. What’s the temperature now? Will the A/C be on? Will it be cold when I get out? Crap.... where the %@$!*! did I leave my jacket? (Okay, so maybe that part of menopause where you can’t remember stuff is still with me... or maybe that's just an excuse!) Anyway, despite the trail of jackets I leave behind me, ain’t fall grand? Especially after the greasy hotness of a southern summer?

Bill's new school! We love it!
3. Bill’s new school—Durham School of the Arts. We couldn’t be more pleased. He’s been working hard and he hasn’t complained once… Dare I say… he LIKES it? Let me tell you, my friend, if a 14-year-old boy likes something… well, THAT is something approaching a miracle! Along with all the standard stuff like math and history and all, he’s playing guitar every single day and learning digital design…  What’s more he KNOWS how good he’s got it. I’m so thankful, y’all… What a blessing.

4. Those are some of the good things… but lest you start to think my life is unrelentingly awesome, here are some things I am struggling with: meal planning / cooking, making / keeping our house looking presentable, having a lower salary than last year, trying to find a new client, figuring out what to get Tom for Christmas, how best to participate in taking care of my elderly mother…

For sure the Christian life
should be chock full of love
and mercy. Also, this is a good
movie if you haven't seen it yet.
5. And yes, I’m still struggling with current politics and the church. A couple of the leaders at our church are more conservative than I am, and It’s been hard to hear when these views pop up occasionally. It’s really made me feel detached from the church I’ve belonged to since the late eighties... I don’t go around spouting off about it, but listening to others has let me know that I’m not alone… and that helps. I’ve flirted with the idea of finding a place to worship Jesus that is more in line with my political views, but in the end I decided to remain in this imperfect community. Aren’t they all imperfect after all? And even though our conservative uncle has the mike right now, our church is and has always been made up of folks of all kinds, united by their love of Jesus. They have always been kind and loving and have done a lot to minister to me, to each other and to the world around them. They are, for better or for worse, my family. No, of course I’m not married to them, but dissolving our union would be more heartbreaking than simply just “going to another church.”

6. This discordance I’m experiencing has been hard, but it’s also kept me from becoming complacent and … sure of my “rightness.” Again, it would be tempting to switch to a church that always tells me what I am already thinking, wouldn’t it? Instead I listen to my conservative uncle and ponder what he says. I dissect the conclusions he’s drawn from the Bible, then read the Bible myself—and maybe some other reputable commentaries—and draw my own prayed-over conclusions, which may or may not be the same as his. Because of this push and pull in my brain, I’ve been given the occasion to really think about sin and redemption, love and social justice and what the Christian life should look like. 

Soul Asylum, y'all.
7. If you’re waiting for me to tell you what the Christian life should look like, well, you can keep on waiting. If you want to have coffee or a beer and talk about it, I’m available, but the only thing I know for sure, is that there’s a lot of love and mercy in it. I mean, there has to be… if you’re going to put up with me. If I’m going to put up with you. 

8. The song that goes with this post is Soul Asylum's New York Blackout. I don't know what THEY meant by it, but I always think about St. John of the Cross's "dark night of the soul" ... where you just feel blinded and shut out from God but you just keep looking for God... because just because the lights are out doesn't mean He's not there. "In a New York blackout, it's so hard to see / All the angels that are looking after me.... And I may never escape this darkened city / Still I'm trying to find you in this blackout." 

9. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to put this in list format… it doesn’t really work, but maybe I’m just trying to look organized when I clearly am not! Also, with a list you can just end the tirade with the last item and not have a summation or anything. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

She said the answer was...

The Velvet Underground
Despite my disgruntled-ness (see previous post), I am striving to maintain my habit of communing with God of a morning, via prayer and a little Bible reading (I'm disgruntled with some of God's people, not God Himself, right)? And lucky me, I’m in the middle of the book of Romans, which… well, it’s a beautiful book – in fact, people say it goes a long way toward explaining what Jesus’s life and crucifixion meant for us… IF you can parse it out, that is… I’ve been reading it for, like, 30 years and I still have so, so many questions… Anyway, here’s what I read the other day:
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
And I took a sip of coffee. And another sip of coffee. And I thought, “Huh?” I mean, it’s lovely and all, but what does it mean? Any attempt I make to paraphrase it line-for-line is just a mess… Which is a shame, because I feel like understanding it is the key to something I’ve been wrestling with for a while. 

And that is… How are we saved? By our faith? By our works? or both? I mean, of COURSE faith, not works… that’s what they teach you in Protestant churches… but if the church people believe this, then why is there so much emphasis in church on our (and everyone else's) activities?

I mean, like it says in the passage above, because of Jesus’s death, we are FREE from the law. But then it also says we should be free from SIN as well? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not sinless. I guess that’s why I struggle with this – because if salvation has anything to do with how I ACT, then I’m doomed… 

King David—dancing with his head up high.
And then there’s that part about being “released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code?” What IS this “new way of the Spirit?” HOW CAN I GET IT?!

Well, that day, as I was pondering this between coffee sips... the answer came to me like a message from God… through a song by the Velvet Underground. Seriously. The specific bit that kept invading my head space was this line from their raucous tune Head Held High*:
…the answer was to become a dancer / Hold your head up high”
I’m not really sure I can explain why this is the answer to the confusion aroused by my reading of Romans 7. It just IS, and joyfully, hilariously so… That is... don’t sit around mulling over your sins—you’re free! So ACT free!

Be yourself! Be a Christian! Be a lover of people! Be a healer of the world! Be a pray-er! Be like David, who celebrated the return of the ark to Jerusalem by a public dancing display that was so vigorous that his wife was embarrassed! Be like Jesus who ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes so that they would know God loved them! Be like Paul who wasn’t ashamed of the gospel or afraid of public opinion or death or snakes… Be like Sophie**, a beautiful young cancer patient who wrote a poem that says this:
Be loud
And move with grace
Explode with light

Have no fear…
In other words: You don't have to live like a refugee!
I guess the best practical analogy I've ever heard is this: Imagine that the Christian life is like being married to your soul mate. After the ceremony, would you just go back to your old single-life apartment, keep eating Lean Cuisines, dating, and doing whatever you wanted to? 

Of course not! You'd start acting married! You'd move in together, eat together, merge finances, do life together! It might be hard to get used to at first, but over the years, you'd get the hang of it!

And I'm not talking about one of those creepy abusive marriages where one spouse is abusive and the other one is always walking on eggshells—afraid of what's going to set the jerk off... No siree, this marriage... – well, it's to a Person who is ALWAYS faithful, will ALWAYS love you, and will NEVER leave you—no matter what! Heck, He's bought you with His own blood! 

He thinks you're the bee's knees, the cat's meow, the cream in His coffee, the bubbles in His champagne. He doesn't want you to be creeping around worrying about the rules... He wants to take you dancing! Dare I say it? With your head up high!

*I can't make you, but I strongly urge you to listen to the whole song (here) — it’s awesome. It’s so wild and forceful… Just HAPPY! And FREE! You'll be dancing before you know it!

**I’ll tell you more about Sophie later because it’s a story worth telling. You can read the whole poem here.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Wine in Plastic Cups

In June, or maybe earlier, magazines and newspapers always publish an article pushing books for “summer reading.” As if I might have more time in summer to read than other times... I guess the book recommendations are for beach trips and maybe plane or car rides…? Whatever the case, I can’t say I have substantially more time to read… sadly...

Nonetheless, I did manage to eye-gobble a fascinating read in June: A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories by Chris Stamey. Chris Stamey is this cool guy who lives here in Chapel Hill, but has been all over the world performing and recording music. He first came to my attention in the 80s when he was in a group called the dB’s. (Alexa calls them “the deci-bell-ess” before launching into one of their gorgeous, shimmery power-pop numbers like Neverland or Ask for Jill. It's in your best interest to click on these links, y'all.)

When I was a young gal trying to be cool in NC I heard tell of the famous boys from Winston-Salem, Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Will Rigby and Gene Holder. I had no idea they were actually living in New York at the time… Every time i drove through Winston-Salem, I would get goose-bumps thinking, “This is where it all happens!”

So this book that I read is by one of the members of the dB’s — but that’s not all he’s done! He stayed in the group for a couple of years before he set out on his own as a solo artist and music producer. The book chronicles all this, while giving fascinating detail about the structure of the songs and the technical aspects of recording. I have to admit that these parts went mostly over my head, but I still reveled in having a peek inside the music that I loved when I was young. Heck, I still love it—that’s why I know what Alexa will say when you ask her to “Play music by the dB’s”!

I would also like to say that Chris (I feel like I can call him Chris because of the length of our “acquaintance”) is the man behind one of my favorite Christmas albums, Christmas Time. He’s really the man behind of a LOT of records: check out this partial list.

Anyway... in one part of A Spy in the House of Loud, Chris begins a chapter thus:
How does one write a song? I remember seventies ads for Prell shampoo that showed a pearl floating through the amorphous goop. And I used to think songwriting was like that: You had to have something loose inside you, something rattling around, and you shook it up and then followed it around and took dictation.1
And I was thinking, maybe writing blog posts is similar? And in case you haven’t noticed, the pearls in my amorphous goop haven’t exactly been rattling around… or maybe I’ve failed to shake them up… or follow them around… or take dictation… or all of the above!! In my case, it’s more like… what once might have been a pearl rattling around in there has festered, becoming something gross… like… a rotten egg… or a piece of actual crap… And when I try to take dictation from it, well… crap begets crap.

My salvation (literally) is that I also have an actual pearl in my amorphous goop… And it’s the Gospel—ie., "the pearl of great price":
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.2
It’s in there, and It’s always worth the effort it takes to shake, follow and dictate from… It seems harder now—for a people-pleaser like myself, anyway—to present the gospel these days, what with the weird Christian support for you-know-who.* But if I believe the gospel is true, that it actually saves people, and that it is worth selling everything I own for... which I do, then don’t I kinda have to share it? 

So here I am, holding the gospel out for you to consider, as taken from the classic verse in John’s gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I have alluded to this verse a buncha times, but always after I’ve given some intro—a song, an anecdote, a movie reference… I tell the basic story (or ponder aspects of it)—that Jesus loves you and died for you, but I put a spin on it to try to express it in a more relatable way.

That is, I do the job of a “producer.” Like Chris Stamey, who takes a song and helps the artist determine how it should sound. In Chris’s book, there are many passages about producing songs like this:
I had some ideas first, specifically for the machiney groove, the “96 Tears” tap-tap-tap of the Ace Tone, the verse’s chords, and a few key lyrics. Peter and I quickly fleshed out thee ideas right before the two of us demoed it… In addition to helping with several of the lyrics, he was the one, I think, who came up with the three-bar organ hook, with a high G drone that rubs first against an F-sharp and then against the F-natural. The sound wasn’t complete without running the organ through an Orange Squeezer compressor, an obscure, dinky, lo-fi metal cube – heard previously on the guitars of both “Reeling in the Years” by Steely Dan, and “Sultans of Swing,” by Dire Straits—which exaggerated the natural “vacuum cleaner” wheezing tones of the organ.1
So I’m taking the gospel and without altering it's basic information, giving it some shimmer and running through an Orange Squeezer so that it maybe sounds good to you—or at least less stodgy… Especially these days when you might not be in the mood to trust Christians. 

Chris has another place where he says that, at least at one time, he thought about records as aural cinema, and said he considered a song a script for making a record… that is, only part of the equation… “You might even argue,” he says, “that the new aural moviemaking worked best if the song itself had come out of the oven only half-baked, if it left a lot of room for production.”1

Well, my friends, the gospel of God is anything BUT half-baked! It’s the beginning and the end of love and truth and glory... It seriously doesn't need me to add anything to it! But I think that’s part of the beauty of this thing He’s set up… He could just show Himself to everyone, but instead, He wants people to see His love and choose Him. And He lets silly people like me share His gospel... put our spin on it and spread it around… It’s like the line from the dB’s song “wine in plastic cups” … Yeah, I may be a cheap plastic cup... but, my friends, it’s WINE I'm serving!! 

*Okay so that's what the rotten egg/piece of crap is... I already hashed it out in some posts already: here and here and also tried to make sense of it here. I'm still working through it, but… the more it rattles around in there, the more bitter I get about it, and it sorta gums up the works... like in that episode of Broad City where Illana is unable to have a satisfactory sexual experience because she's so upset about, again, "you-know-who." But I refuse to let him have that much power—that he would stand in the way of the gospel? I think not!

1Stamey, Chris. A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories. University of Texas Press, 2018.

2Matthew 13:45-46

Friday, August 4, 2017

My First (and Probably Only) Fashion Blog: The Pros and Cons of Stitch Fix

The boxes are cute!
Let’s talk about Stitch Fix. Yeah, I signed up for it. You probably know what it is, but if you don’t, it’s a service where you receive a regular shipment of five clothing items that have been especially selected for you… after you have told them your measurements and sizes and likes and dislikes and such. If you like the clothes, you buy them; if you don’t, you send them back.

Lots of people do it – a woman I work with LOVES it, and she always looks great! My friend Molly, who’s a fashion blogger, reviews all her shipments piece by piece. She generally has a good experience. But you know what? I don’t think it’s for me.

I swear those black jeans
made my thighs look
like giant hams!
To be honest, I’ve only received two shipments, so maybe I’m not being fair to “the Fix”… The first shipment was a total bust… Here’s my review (and since it was in March, I can't photograph myself trying each piece on as other reviewers do – or even give you specific brand names!):

1. A pair of skinny black jeans full of spandex—Okay, I have huge thighs, and this made them look like ginormous hams. Seriously, I looked like female Porky Pig! No thanks.

2. A dark color-block sleeveless dress—It was a really thick jersey, so I’m guessing it was for winter? But why sleeveless for winter? It was too fitted to be a jumper, so guess I was supposed to constantly wear a jacket with it? Also, since it was so fitted, it served to draw a big arrow to each of my prominent saddlebags (outer thigh fat). Again, no.

I kept this top, but $38?
3. A dark, plaid straight skirt—it was dark tan and black, a very small check, made sort of like a jean skirt. I actually liked it, but the straight skirt… did I mention I have enormous saddlebags? Those babies poked right outa that thing!

4. A black and white 3/4 sleeve striped t-shirt with peach trim at the neck and sleeves—Although I like a 3/4 sleeve and a black and white stripe, I just didn’t like this top. Maybe it was the peach trim? It just looked kinda nerdy.

5. A short sleeved top that’s grey jersey in the front and a crepe-y black material with tiny white flowers on a back that was slightly longer than the front. This was actually a cute top, and the only piece I kept. I might not have, though, if I hadn’t already paid 20 bucks for the shipment. 

See that’s how it works is, each shipment is $20, but if you buy something, they take that $20 out of it. Which brings me to the first reason that SF is not for me—the cost. The $20 is not bad, but the price of each item of clothing, while not so expensive in the grand scheme of things, is more than I would normally pay*.

Because I do love clothes, but I just don’t have that much to spend on them. I wish I could remember how much each of these pieces cost but I just don’t—I do remember that the top I bought was $38. For a t-shirt.I know that, in general, you get what you pay for quality-wise, but for me to pay the prices of their clothes, I want something I absolutely LOVE.
I LOVED these jeans,
but they don't look like
this on ME!

Anyway, I sent most of the shipment back. I told my “stylist” why I didn’t like the items—not to be a bitch, but because I think it’s helpful to them so that the next shipment will be better…? And it did help! The second shipment was pretty good!

1. A pair of faded, torn boyfriend jeans—loved them. Needed jeans. They’re a little big, but I like a loose jean. I can always wear a belt!

2. A black and white patterned long-sleeved t-shirt dress. Although I had some questions (Why send a long sleeved dress in summer? Don't they know I live in the south?), I loved it. It fit great. AND it was as comfortable as pajamas!

3. A pair of sweet low-top red sneakers. Super cute.

4. A black 3/4 sleeve jersey top with shoulder cut-outs. It was really cute, had nice pleats in the front but I just am NOT into the shoulder cut-out fad. It needs to run its course, seriously.

5. A halter style top that looked gray, but was a very tiny black and white stripe. The cord around the neck was braided fabric. Loved it! Unfortunately, a 55-year-old woman who is a 32DDD doesn’t need to be NOT wearing a bra. And I’ve never met a strapless bra that could keep the girls up comfortably.

I kept this knit dress because
when I HAVE to go to the
office, I like to be comfy.
So out of this box (and they do come in a cute little box), I kept the jeans and the dress—together they were about $150.00. And I would have bought them if I had seen them in a store and had the patience to try them on… In that way, it was actually a huge help! Because of my crazy shape, I absolutely LOATHE trying on jeans (seriously it makes me cry!), so having a great pair sent right to my mailbox was totally worth it. The shoes were super cute, but $65? Plus I have a bunch of pairs of similarly-styled sneakers already… just couldn’t justify it. 

Okay, so I just contradicted myself by saying that it as worth it to have a pair of perfect jeans sent directly to me. But here's the second and more important thing… Stitch Fix has this Facebook game where they show you a bunch of photos of items and you give them thumbs up or thumbs down, and I realized today that I gave a thumbs down to 9 out of 10 of their items… Because their stuff is modern and trendy, and not what my style is… which is just too hard to nail down. 

I don’t want skinny pants (or ANY pants now that I have my great pair of jeans) or anything strapless or with spaghetti straps or cut-out shoulders… or roll-tab sleeves, blazers or cardigans or cowl necks or scarves – please, please no scarves! I don’t like bubble-gummy colors or pastels—too nerdy (unless the shape is kinda retro); I don’t like wedge or clunky heels...

Things I like:
Black coat with faux fur
and ribbon trim (H&M $50)
and Catskill Mountain
moccasins boots
What DO I like? I like cute retro dresses with empire waists, or of the “fit and flare” variety, stuff that isn’t too tight, long shirts/short dresses I can wear with black leggings… I like classic colors like black, white, gray, red, hot pink, khaki and more black… classic materials like blue and black denim, seersucker, madras, white eyelet, gingham, tweed and tartan plaids … classic pieces like pea coats, denim jackets, fisherman sweaters, black turtlenecks, white eyelet tops, oversized men’s rugby shirts, striped French sailor tops, kilts, Doc Martens, checkerboard Vans, black or white high-top Chuck Taylors, gladiator sandals, cowboy boots, Geiger boiled wool jackets… 

I also love funky pieces like my handmade boots from Catskill Mountain Moccasins and my "Red Queen Battle Coat"with striped lining. I like well-placed details like ribbons, ankle straps and kitten heels, lace, pleats, lacings, pretty buttons, contrasting trim, and nautical or military styling… 

I will wear almost anything if it's black, and to keep things interesting, I like to mix classic pieces with edgy finds. I wear cute dresses with Chuck Taylors, skirts with band T-shirts and I don't mind admitting that I buy clothes from (among other places) Target, Hot Topic, Brooks Brothers and... my husband's closet.

I’m a Mod, a rocker, a punk, a New Romantic, a steampunk – slightly retro, slightly gothic, very slightly preppy... and a curvy, weird, mutton-dressed-as-lamb, 55-year-old mom who works in an office three days a week. And I know all that stuff together is the opposite of something that is likely to come in a box—no matter how cute—from someone I’ve never met!

*It says on the SF web site that the average price for their pieces is $55.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some Odd, End-of-Summer Ponderings about Art and Heaven

It's been a good summer!
Okay, y’all, I’m starting to get bummed… the summer is slipping away so fast and fall will be bearing down on us before we know it. So, like, it’s this week, then next week we’re on vacation, and then … SCHOOL!! I mean, what the heck?! I realize that it’s a luxury that I have summers “off” – that is, I don’t have to go to my office at the Duke Chronicle, but… why does this delicious break have to go by so fast? 

Okay, now I’ve got that off my newly-lifted chest (bras on sale at Nordstrom – through Sunday, August 6!)… We’ve had a pretty good summer… Bill’s been to some great camps, one of which was Chapel Hill’s Movie Makers camp. At this camp, the kids in each group confer on a plot, act in and film a movie, which the staff edits. The movies are then shown at the historic Varsity Theatre downtown. 

Our Bill at his premiere
Bill’s group concocted an action/adventure opus featuring a government plot to turn high school kids into super warriors. Since his group was older kids, it was well done—for a film that went from concept to completion in a week. It had a decent plot and some pretty good fight scenes. We were so proud of him and my heart leaped every time he appeared on the screen!! 

But this isn’t about that … see, the camp also had a younger group of kids making an action/adventure film. And their movie… well, it was… what you might expect from a bunch of kids ages 6-10! Their plot had something to do with a gang of black-clad villains who poison a town’s coffee supply and a gang of meddling kids who suss out the plot… Did I mention that each gang included one or two kids in a dog or cat costume with lines like “meow” or “grrrr”...?

It was a hilariously fun, cute little mess! And I know the parents LOVED seeing their kids in their celluloid creation, cos that’s how parents are! I should know! Anyway, I’m not sure why, but seeing this little cinematic treat caused me to ponder some weird questions… 

1. DOES GOD THINK OUR ART IS “CUTE”? Some of the art that humans create is so beautiful and subtle it makes, as the Rolling Stones say, “a grown man cry.” Just last night we were at a show of the Punch Brothers… all of whom are fantastic, innovative musicians… And Chris Thile, their mandolin player, is in a class all by himself. I’ve written about him and his genius here, and if you want to watch him go to town on his mini-axe, click here. Anyway, after a particularly complex bit of noodling at the show last night a man yelled out “WHAAAAAAT?????!!!!” – complete with deeply incredulous upswing at the end of the word. Bill and I thought that was particularly hilarious… although we kinda knew what the shouter meant! 

Because human beings are capable of producing some stunning works of creativity, meaning and emotion… but you know how God is so completely above us all? For instance, in Isaiah 55 it says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And in one of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

So if I take these statements to be true, does that mean that even our most perfect and fulfilling pieces of art look like a child’s doodle to Him? Does Citizen Kane look like a caper movie with kids in animal costumes? Do Chris Thile’s mandolin solos sound like a preschooler plinking on a toy ukulele to Him? Does The Starry Night look like scribbles to our Father? Does the most subtle and insightful stand-up comedy act seem like clumsy clownishness?

I know this is a weird question and I honestly don’t know the answer… But I do know that God loves His children like crazy… So it follows, then, that He loves our art—dotes on our attempts to create things that have meaning and beauty and speak of our hearts’ yearning for Him. As the First and Best Creator, He is our Role Model in the Sky when it comes to making stuff, and I think He loves it when we follow His lead.

2. IS THERE ART IN HEAVEN? And if there is… how GREAT is it going to be when we see it, hear the songs, etc.? Will we even be able to contain ourselves laughing at the jokes? Will we say, “WHAAAAAAT???!!!” Or will we stand in awe, saying as Job did when confronted with God’s grandeur: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” 

A pretty piece of God's art
that I posted this spring.
Or … is EARTH AND ALL CREATION God’s art? The music of the spheres, the fruited plains and the purple mountains majesty, etc…? I mean there’s a reason that the best pics on social media are nature pics. You should see the ones my friend Holden posts from his walks in the woods. Talk about ART! 

Or maybe HEAVEN ITSELF is God’s finest work of art, and art is our attempt to bring some of it down here? I mean, even dark art that speaks of the human condition offers a contrast to a way that things should be?

Well, the Revelation of St. John says there’s singing in heaven, so maybe the first thing is true. Or maybe it’s all true—ie. 1. there’s art in heaven, 2. earth and all creation are heaven’s art, and 3. heaven is God's ultimate work of art. 

Stoner-philosopher Doug Forcett
I guess I won’t know the answer to these odd questions until I am there… which kind of reminds me of an incident on that show The Good Place in which Ted Danson tells a new arrival to “the good place” that each of the world religions got the reality of the afterlife about 5% right… and that the only person who came close was a stoner named Doug Forcett, who, while high on mushrooms, guessed it about 92% correct. (Haha - I’ll have what HE’S having!)

Of course, as a Christian, I believe that the Bible is the best information we have on the afterlife and heaven and what have you… but that doesn’t mean we really know what’s in store for us! And I like to think whatever right ideas we may have are about 5% of how great it’s going to be!

Monday, July 3, 2017

And they told two friends...

Bill and I spent a week of mornings herding cats at
our church's Vacation Bible School.
I promised myself – and the wide world of Facebook – that once summer came, I would write some blog posts… because I have been seriously lame in that department. Who am I trying to kid with all these reposts, right? And promising myself is one thing – the only person who cares if I break that promise is me! But the Facebook people? I really feel like I need to do right by them! I mean, they provide me with so much joy and entertainment! 

Foremost in my mind, these days… and probably in a lot of people’s minds… is that it seems like there’s a terror attack or shooting nearly every day now – somewhere in the world! It’s awful, isn’t it? I guess I don’t need to really say that, though. Who would think otherwise?

Children at a concert… goofy middle-aged dudes playing baseball… people just hanging around London Bridge… They’re all just minding their own business and some crazy-ass person shows up and goes to town with a gun or a van or a bomb or something. Seriously, what is WRONG with people? 

I guess this is where I share the gospel and you (may or may not) think to yourself, “Christians think they’ve cornered the market on truth”… and I do believe that Jesus was and still is the living embodiment of TRUTH… but if I have this knowledge, it’s through no goodness or smartness of my own. It was given to me and I didn’t reject it… because at that time in my life, I was nearly dead and needed a remedy… I was DESPERATE.

And that’s what I am seeing and feeling right now … a lot of DESPERATION!! So shouldn't I share with people what helped me?

That said, it’s a tricky time. Christians are on a lot of people’s sh*t list… I don’t think we’re being persecuted or anything – that’s silly… I’m just saying a lot of people are wary of us or mad at us… because… you know… of the whole voting into office a guy who is corrupt, ill-equipped, not very smart… and is just really mean!

And I know that we ALL didn’t vote him into office – I didn’t, for one… But he sure did have a lot of prominent Christian leaders’ votes – for a guy who brags about just grabbing women willy nilly… Did those guys even CARE how every single woman in their respective flocks might feel about that? I guess not.

Anyhoo, I feel sorta helpless in the face of all this, but God is still good and Jesus still saves. So how do I communicate this to the world?

Bill makes himself a human
barrier to keep two of our kittens
from escaping.
This brings to mind something that happened while I was helping with Vacation Bible School at church. Bill and I worked in a class of three-year-olds, and I gotta say… it was a challenge! These kids were so cute and mostly sweet, but it was, as they say, like herding cats. They all wanted to just go and do whatever they wanted to do… if we were supposed to be coloring something, some kids dutifully scribbled away, but some wandered off to check out the toys or disappear into the little playhouse… if we were on the playground, one or two would always try to get back in the classroom… occasionally a frustrated kid might hit or shove another kid… Of course I’ve had a toddler, so I know the drill, but we had 13 of them! It was completely fun, but also completely exhausting! 

One morning later in the week, I found myself praying that the kids would be good and follow the rules… but then I literally sat up in bed and thought, “No! That’s not right!” I realized that I should pray instead that the children would learn that I love them and that God loves them. 

And I think that’s the whole problem! We Christians tend to place more emphasis on molding people into following God’s rules, when our primary concern should be to communicate the actual gospel to them – you know, the love and grace of God. The John 3:16* of it all. Yes, we stand up for what we believe in, but do we believe in keeping transgender people out of the "wrong" bathrooms**? Or do we believe in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life? Does the song say “They’ll know we are Christians by our LOVE?” or does it say “They’ll know we are Christians because of our moral outrage?” 

I don’t think it’s my job to shape the morals of people who don’t even know Jesus, outside of what’s legal, anyway. At VBS, we had rules – 2 to be exact: “Be quiet when the teacher is talking,” and “Keep your hands and feet to yourself.” And these rules were not do or die — they were just helpful to keep things on track, more or less. You know, kind of how laws keep us from killing each other. 

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have do’s and don’ts… or that they’re not important… I’m just saying that in this rough and hurting and desperate world, sharing His love should be our main objective. If the hearers develop a relationship with Him, they can work out the moral stuff between them. 

And so on, and so on...
And honestly, I have no idea how to communicate God’s love and my love to the hurting people of the world… I guess using words is a good place to start – words of the love and grace of God… And I really don’t know how my words can solve the problems of the world (see above)… I guess maybe each new person who trusts in God is one less person who feels desperate enough to perform a desperate act? 

I mean, the church started with just 12 ornery guys… telling people about Jesus and loving and serving each other… So maybe it still works that way? I imagine it like that old Faberge shampoo commercial… I told two friends about Faberge Shampoo and they told two friends and they told two friends… and so on and so on… 

*For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

**um... no