Monday, July 30, 2012

How Do YOU See Jesus?

Ricky Bobby always saw Jesus as a tiny baby.
(A guest blog by Lea Holt)

I read The Big Mouth recently and Julie spoke about her enthusiasm for her "new" faith.  She was talking about the faith she found as an adult… The "saving" that gripped her heart so readily and so mightily that she felt BORN AGAIN, as people like to say. What I think Julie is speaking about here is that she was an adult; she had knowledge of church and Christ.  And yet at some point in her life, Christ spoke out so loudly and so mightily and offered her such peace and guidance and rightness that she had no choice but to accept anew.  There was such joy and healing in that acceptance, that Julie has never looked back.  She has been one of those Christians who has remained as enthusiastic about Christ's love as she was in the throws of first acceptance.  

She is my favorite Christian, in a way. Because she has never wavered.  And because after all these years with Him, she still feels so excited about Christ.  She thinks about Him in her everyday life so much that she created The Big Mouth… A way to communicate and express how we, as humble Christians, can find Christ and see His goodness in songs and movies and getting gas and going on vacation and planning for our kids' future and buying salsa and going to the gym and getting pissed because we let the $2.99 broccoli go bad in the fridge (Ok maybe that was me) …  But Julie is one of my favorite Christians because she lives it.  And she isn't afraid to tell you about it.  Mom jeans and all.  (Ok, maybe that's me again)… Julie is more apt to wear leggings and funky boots or striped tights and a sassy dress. Yeah, I think I'm the one battling mom jeans.

Some see Jesus is a friend/father figure.
That said, she spoke recently of the enthusiasm that her faith gives her, while her husband has a quiet, more conservative faith; an old school Presbyterian faith.  He doesn't, for example, feel compelled to write a blog about Jesus. Nor does my husband.  My husband is a quiet and somewhat disgruntled Catholic (not that there's anything wrong with that — See Seinfeld episode # whatever) … Let's just call it a more rigid upbringing, with a lot of rules and guilt involved, so he is quite pleased for me — that I have found a true center and that I want to go to church and find a place that we both like.  He struggles with such a strict upbringing, and it has colored his view of organized religion.  And the color isn't all happy, sunshiney yellow. So it's interesting trying to find a place that works for both of us.

Long story short, my husband has a deep, very centered view of Christ.  There is right and wrong.  And Christ isn't all soft and weepy with you.  He isn't a man or a spirit who sits by your bed and holds your hand.  He is a very serious Savior who commands certain behavior and has very high expectations.  And when you screw up, there is a lot of guilt to be paid.  With my husband's upbringing, you can't even enjoy screwing up and being bad, even for a moment.  Even when you're a kid or a teenager.  Because the Jesus of his childhood was very stern and had already ascended into heaven and was with the Holy Ghost by then and they didn't talk about the kid who grew up and challenged, but still loved His parents, when He was a teenager, and a young adult.
Some see Him as a very serious Savior
who commands certain behavior.

As my husband was raised, THERE ARE RULES. There are things in his childhood religion that he struggles with to this day that I don't understand.  Things that being a good old Methodist Christian I know I'm forgiven for and I never even think twice about-- yet he feels tremendous guilt about — things that I don't even get.  He has explored more main-stream, less stringent faiths and he likes it and is in for it. But I feel bad for him.  Because I think that he may not ever shake those 20 years of guilt and rules and very stringent school and those "mean" ladies (Notre Dame Nuns.) Apparently seeing a wisp of hair from those teachers was cause for all kinds of gossip on the playground… making him drink his milk if he wanted to go out to recess from 1st to 4th grade when he was lactose intolerant (He finally told his parents that he drank the milk and then barfed in the bathroom everyday after lunch just so he could get outside, and they finally wrote a note so 5th grade was exponentially better)… It sounds sad/funny now, but if that was your childhood and your introduction into religion, so rigid, so many rules, and your life for 20 years, I can see why you'd be somewhat reluctant to change teams.  And not REALLY change teams. But to change your view of Jesus.

My husband hasn't been visited by my kind Jesus by his bed in a difficult time.  I think he viewed growing up with Jesus as a difficult time.  I don't think that those stern ladies, or his religion, said to him, as a little boy, or a man, that he could think of Christ as a friend.  And I'm pretty sure he never got the message that he could relax in God's love.  That he could just be who he is, and that Jesus would just love and care for him anyway, no matter what he did.  I think my husband would like my Jesus.  And I think that HE would like the guy I'm married to, if they met, by the bedside or in the car or out on the beach or on my deck.  Wherever. Because my husband knows Him as the way, just not as the friend He can be. 

My husband is still taking care of everybody and planning our retirement and GOD BLESS HIM trying to figure out how to keep 3 kids in college all at once and not have a heart attack at the same time. He has his same God somewhat, which has been working great so far, as his morals and work ethic and dedication to doing the right thing are unprecedented.  

Not that there's anything WRONG with that...
But I just want him to see this new Jesus… The new Jesus who broke the rules and is about love and a way of thinking that isn't about guilt and beating yourself up for being human.  This new Jesus who does speak to you — this new, personal Jesus whom you can speak to and pray to by your bed, in your car, in your office… This Jesus who understands your short-comings and your weaknesses and who still loves you anyway. And yeah, we sin.  We sin everyday. We speak ill of people and we aren't always kind and we do things that are downright crappy and we often make horrible choices, but this Jesus that I know doesn't crowd my faith with such guilt.  He tells me to realize that when I have screwed up, to ask Him for forgiveness, and to do better the next time around.  He tells me to learn from the experience and be a stronger, more forgiving, more tolerant and humble Christian.  He tells me to look harder, to study more earnestly, and above all, to see that I am one among many of sinners.  Many in the world, many amongst many trying to figure out how to make it, how to answer the questions, how to live a good life in this world that He has given us, and left us with.

I am, in no way, "dissing" any religions.  My husband's religion provided him with  great values and such core beliefs that are such a part of him and his parents' beliefs and the great values they instilled in him.  I guess I'm just saying that I see him struggle so.  So much guilt for things that I know I am readily forgiven for, just by the asking — I don't have to go to church and say eight prayers that someone else tells me to say in order to be forgiven.  I can just lie in bed or drive in my car with the radio off and confess all my sins and ask Him to forgive me and love me in my weakness — and to help me do better and be better next time. 

My husband's religious upbringing has made him one of the most honorable people I know… He sacrifices his own wants in order to provide for his children and his wife (me) and his family — His parents, his extended family… He makes work decisions based on what is best for his family — instead of what might be best for him and "getting ahead" in his career.  

I guess what I have realized here is that while I have an emotional, lovey-dovey, all-cry-in-my-car-country-song relationship with Christ, my husband has more of a man's relationship with Him.  I'm pretty sure they talk; I know my husband prays a lot… Every night.  He prays for our kids and his parents and our future and that we will stay married and that we will keep having fun and that we will keep making each other laugh everyday… And I am pretty sure he prays that he will keep being a good leader of our family.

His Jesus isn't necessarily mine — all cry-worthy and emotional.  I think my husband's Jesus is the Jesus who was up on the cross and knew that He had to do some hard stuff —  That being "the man" wasn't gonna be easy, but it was gonna be worth it.  I love my husband, and I love his religious rules that crop up and the ways we are different. I have a Jesus who speaks to me through sappy country songs and hymns and the plants that thrive on my back deck. And I get that my husband's Jesus is quieter.  Probably speaking to him by the bed…  He just chooses to keep it close to his vest… And just live it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

But What a Way to Go!

Remember those old variety shows they used to have show on TV? Sonny and Cher? Donny and Marie? Bobby Goldsboro? Hee Haw? Glen Campbell? In our house we watched them all with abandon. We liked the costumes, the silly skits, the singing and dancing, the corny songs... and we weren’t picky. We would watch ANYTHING. 

Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash on the
Glen Campbell Good Time Hour
The reason I bring this up is that my husband and I recently saw a show by Glen Campbell in Cary. Remember his Good Time Hour? You know – starring that good-looking, dimpled red-head who could play the hell out of a guitar and had that smooth easy-listening voice? Yeah! The Rhinestone Cowboy? Well, we saw him.

Now, my husband, Tom, is nothing if not hip, so when I heard he had bought tickets, I thought, “Glen must have some hipster cachet I don’t know about, or we would NOT be going to Cary for this.” And it’s true, the hipsters have rediscovered him... the guy who made famous songs by Jimmy Webb, Alan Toussaint and John Hartford... the guy who played on hundreds of records by diverse musicians like Bobby Darin, Rick Nelson, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Jan and Dean, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Phil Spector... you know, EVERYONE.

Tom has always had a sort of radar for what is hip, even as a child. In the Sneed house, though, as I’ve mentioned, we just liked stuff. We liked everything. It made me grin on Saturday night that these two things overlapped for once.

Goodbye, old friend!
The sad part of this story is that Glen Campbell has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so he’s calling this his “Goodbye Tour.” The lovely part was ... just how lovely it was! Despite it being a dark and stormy night, the show went on... after a slight delay, that is... during which Tom and I sat in our car and made out like a couple of teenagers. Oops.. too much information, right?!

Anyway, the rain slowed and we checked back in at the amphitheatre for an update... right when they were taking the tarps off the equipment on the stage! So in a very short time, Glen and his band – which included some of his children – launched into a stream of hits that squeezed my heart with nostalgia and filled my brain with memories...  Southern nights (if you will) sitting in front of the TV flanked by siblings and munching on popcorn. Or seated at the kitchen “bar” eating Hardees hamburgers off green plastic trays, while some crooner or other provided a soundtrack to our growing up.

As a performer, Glen is still in fine form – lookin’ good in a Western shirt, even at 76. (I do feel like I have known him forever, and so, can call him Glen.) His voice is as smooth as ever, the songs as catchy, and his guitar playing is still outstanding. And if his between-songs banter was a little fragmented, well, it’s still clear that he’s glad to be there, enjoying his kids and his band, and doing a great job at what he does best. 

Though it continued to rain and thunder, it was a delightful night... I had my sweet old memories and a husband of ten years who still likes to make out with me as if we were teenagers. As I sat there and listened to this living legend play, watching the lightning streak across the sky... Well, not to sound morose, but I thought, “What if I’m struck by lightening...? Well... being here with Tom hearing Glen Campbell sing Galveston... hmmm, as deaths go, it would be just about perfect.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

Just Writing This Made Me Feel Better

David Byrne was talking about something
else when he said "This ain't no party."
So.... I’ve been writing this blog for  a year... or something...? And it finally happened... someone dissented. Out loud. I mean, people probably disagree with me all the time – and that’s perfectly okay! But this is the first time anyone ever said anything... ! And, Ow! That hurt! 

Of course, I admit, I’m a fairly thin-skinned person. I’ve said so before. And this person may not have intended to insult me, but that was the tone in which I took it - kind of snarky, y'know? 

Now, I know in my head that some topics that I address can be controversial – isn’t the general advice that one shouldn’t discuss religion or politics at a party? But here I am talking religion like it’s the weather. Really, I guess it’s a miracle that my blog has been out there for a whole year and no one’s said anything negative. And, furthermore, as David Byrne would say, this ain’t no party! Okay, well, it’s kind of a party... It's fun for ME, anyway!

Nonetheless, the negative comment and tone hurt my feelings – since I’m a people pleaser and all. I’ve been really bummed, to say the least. My initial reaction was to drop out... just stop writing. Because, after all, who am I to put myself out there? And even though I try to present my musings with humility – fear and trembling and the like, is it really something I should be doing? Does the world really need or want to hear the freaky ramblings of my addled brain? 

I don’t know. But, as you can see from this post, that I’m going to keep doing it anyway. ‘Cos I like talking about stuff – especially Jesus. But you knew that. And I used to have this fantastic friend with whom I used to engage in endless conversations and debates about life and God and all that. We had views that differed widely, and she was a great arguer... I don’t mean that she was argumentative, but she was really good at arguing. 

I am a great avoider of confrontation, so in the early part of our friendship, I was alarmed that we always seemed to get into these intense debates... but then I realised (because she told me) that she loved it, and considered ours a rich and deeply rewarding friendship. 

And while everyone loves having friends with whom they see eye to eye on many deep things, it is also good to have friends who challenge us. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Prov. 27) So, if you disagree with me – and there must be plenty of others who do – I am hoping you’ll still view me as a friend... albeit one with some kooky ideas that might just need to be further informed by your own unique slant. Just... let's be nice about it, okay? My skin is ever so thin just now...

In the meantime, I'm trying to get over my bummed-out feelings, and the fear that I said something to upset the person who seemed upset. I'm just one of those people who tends to mull over stuff way longer than I should. Have you see that FX show Wilfed? You know, the one where the guy who plays Frodo is a lawyer who sees his neighbor's dog as an Australian guy in a poorly-made dog suit? 

Well, Frodo and Wilfred hang out a lot in the basement smoking weed, while Wilfred orchestrates elaborate situations that teach Frodo lessons. Last week, he (Frodo) learned about prolonged feelings of unnecessary guilt. Wilfred said something like, "You know how long it takes a dog to move on?" Then he'd look at his imaginary watch for about 3 seconds and go about his business, which often includes rubbing against a stuffed bear or chasing his tail.

While this will never be me, I am sure that progress could be made in this area. Because keeping my mouth shut is not the way this is going to go down – even though it IS sort of like me to avoid failure by not stepping out. But it shouldn't be, so I'm just going to have to develop some kind of thick, scaly skin. Maybe I can arrange to have the psoriasis that plagues my knees and elbows cover my whole body? Or maybe I'll just keep it metaphorical.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Courageous Confession

I’ve already confessed to y’all that I’m hugely nerdy. Despite my refusal to shop at Talbot’s and my attraction to edgy, hipstery things like clunky specs and indie music, I’m just a big old Ned Flanders in a black dress. So it will come as no surprise to you to know that I have just watched the movie, Courageous. And I liked it.

If you’re not familiar with this film, it’s the most recent release from the guys who made blatantly Christian movies, Facing the Giants and Fireproof. I’m not going to lie to you – these films tend to lack first-rate production values and professional-calibre acting. According to Steve Taylor, director of the slightly edgier Blue Like Jazz, in your typical "Christian movie": Sentimentality trumps substance, good intentions trump artistry, all conflict must be tidily resolved, “safe for the whole family” is a de facto requirement... or as writer David McFadzean summarized, Christian movies are like porn – poorly lit, poorly acted and you always know how they’re going to end.“

And yes, of this film, all of these things are true. That said, as I watched Courageous, which follows a group of men who make a formal vow to be there for their families, I found myself caring about each character, and ultimately, sobbing as they moved through the hard and good parts of their lives. I suppose that one does not have to be a subtle or particularly skilled filmmaker to craft a movie that tugs at heartstrings, but... you know what? I don’t care!

I remember when first I saw Forrest Gump – having my emotions tugged first one way then another. A woman in my office saw it the same weekend, and when we compared our reactions, she actually seemed kind of angry at the movie for “manipulating” her. I’m not sure why I found it an exhilarating ride, but she was just plain pissed off! 

NYC hipster Lauren Winner
found God in Mitford.
Anyway, it is my view that emotional manipulation is what movies are good at, and apparently you don’t have to be a Scorsese or a Kazan to accomplish it. Of course, in the case of Courageous, how you see it depends on where you are. It’s definitely a preaching-to-the-choir situation, and if you’re a choir member, maybe it will move you. Conversely, if you don't sing that song, and you REEEEEALLY don’t like being preached at, well, maybe this is not going to be for you. 

I guess it’s like the parable of the sower in Mark 4: 

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Jesus explained His meaning like this: “The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

So, how you see the movie may depend on how you are. Of course, I am not saying that every single Christian is going to like this movie. My husband, for instance, while a follower of Christ, is deeply suspicious of American evangelical subculture... and a discerning moviegoer to boot. So where I see a mediocrely-crafted movie that deals with the real heart issues of some ordinary men who are trying to do what’s right, my husband might see a poorly-made, unsophisticated, un-subtle, preachy view of the Christian subculture. 

I guess what I’m saying is that my tastes can be fairly unsophisticated when it comes to stuff like this. If it squeezes my heart and if it tells a truth that is dear to me, I’m on board. And honestly, sometimes this nerdy stuff hits me just right. Because you never really know what is going to touch you. 

Don't let this jolly picture fool
you, Bill Vaswig was crusty!
Writer Lauren F. Winner, in her book Girl Meets God, give her conversion story – one of a North Eastern Jewish intellectual who finds herself drawn to the Jesus and to Christianity. There were many influencing factors, of course, but one unexpected stop on Lauren’s journey was... Mitford. Yep, that’s right... She immersed herself in the imaginary world of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. These sweet, homey novels feature a small-town, Southern, Episcopal priest and his parishioners – ordinary people doing ordinary things. And yes, these books are  pretty nerdy.  But they spoke to Winner. Here’s what she said: “To tell the truth, I read them over and over in the following weeks, and found myself not only thrilled to trade my Manhattan environs for the sleepy small-town life of Mitford, but also deeply attracted to the way that faith saturated the lives of the quirky inhabitants of the town.” At one point, the horn-rimmed glasses-ed hipster from New York actually found herself driving around Charlottesville VA, looking for Karon’s house. 

Here's another example: One time I was at a conference and one of the speakers was a crusty old gent called William Vaswig. A brilliant speaker – who has since shuffled off his mortal coil – spoke on healing and prayer. And despite his touchy-feely topic, he was as crusty as they come. His demeanor as he interacted with his friend Richard Foster, the conference’s other speaker, was what can only be described as a perpetual eye roll. My friend Grace, who often says she plans to embrace the increasing crustiness that comes with age, fell deeply in love with this elderly man – claiming that she had found her soul mate. Anyway, Vaswig, a widower, told a story about how his wife used to read a devotional series that he considered shallow, sappy, trite... Crusty old Bill was much too cool for these sentimental blurbs. But that after she died, he found himself reading these books – for comfort, maybe? And, to his great surprise, this grieving man found deep comfort and sweetness in what he had earlier considered sentimental little devotionals. 

While speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus says some pretty enigmatic things.... like this: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Now, He was talking about the mysterious concept of being born again, but it reminds me of what I am talking about –the activity of the Spirit. How you can never tell when and how and where He will move. If you’ve been reading my blog much, you know that I have had Him give me shivers and bring me to tears in the most unlikely of places: Broadway shows, rock concerts, movies – about heroin addicts, no less.... But oddly enough, sometimes the Spirit can reach into your heart and touch you in unexpected, but quite predictable places... like church... or a sappy movie made by Christians for Christians. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

[insert town name here], To Thine Own Self Be True!

Bodie and Shamrock listen to the
 news from Lake Wobegon

There’s this really great scene in the HBO masterpiece of a series called The Wire, where a couple of young guys working for an inner-city drug dealer are tasked with a trip to Philadelphia (from Baltimore, where the series is set). Now these young lads had obviously not been too far out of their comfort zone – that is, their neighborhood, and acted all fish out of water ... much like I would if plopped down in their stomping ground.

They switch on the radio - ah, music – a comforting and familiar friend... but, wait! What kind of radio stations do they have in Philadelphia?! Weirdly enough, they land on an episode of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. And even more strange... THEY LEAVE IT THERE! Are they paying attention to the news from Lake Wobegon? What are they thinking? 

Garrison Keillor brings us the
News from Lake Wobegon.
Every week, after his musical guests and standard sketches like Lives of the Cowboys and Guy Noir, Keillor will launch into a rambling story about the folks that reside in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon – a group of earthy, hometown folks – industrious, clean-living Lutherans of Norwegian descent who live quaint day-to-day lives, having modest adventures in the town diner or the Lutheran church. 

The stories are humourous, sweet and sentimental – almost as if Keillor can’t resist plucking every single available heart string - and even some you might not know you have. He also likes to tickle every bone that has even the slightest notion of being funny. The humor is subtle, but it’s also broad – with maybe a few fart jokes or nekkid ladies. But it’s mostly non-blue.

Oxford – MY home town... just being itself
Being an old-fashioned radio show with drama and musical sketches, the show evokes another time. It also gives us a peek into small-town Minnesota, a place that is far removed from what most of us know, even if we aren’t drug dealers from inner-city Baltimore.

I know that everybody says that our country is becoming all flattened out and homogeneous – with the endless landscape of WalMarts and McDonaldses. But what I notice is that there is plenty of vibrant regional variation shining through the prism of our coke bottles. I know it’s just TV, but shows like The Wire and Treme, which shows a post-Katrina New Orleans struggling to get back on her feet – even Portlandia, which lampoons the hipster culture of Portland, Oregon – give viewers a peek into the regional quirks of places far from our knowing. And they do exist – these pockets of regional personality.

Go to Hooters... for consistently
good ... um... food.
While these pictures that we get are, obviously, just a TV writer’s vision of what the culture is like, it’s also an indicator that the place actually has a culture of some type... instead of just looking like a Target ad. Additional evidence of juicy pockets of local culture can be gleaned from my diverse facebook friend list. I grew up in Oxford, lived in Asheville a while, and now reside in Chapel Hill. Just from the things my friends from each corner of the state post, I can tell that regionalism is alive and well. Sure, these towns are in the same Southern state, but their regional personalities are worlds apart. And I don’t even know that I can give specific examples – I can just tell! And it’s not even in just obvious conservative-vs.-liberal ways... it’s more a feeling than anything.

Now, even though I love Chapel Hill, I can’t say that I would wish that its culture – or the culture of any region – could be ubiquitous. What would be the point of travelling then? And I love Target and and Trader Joe's and the fries at McDonald’s. I don’t even mind that these joints are everywhere you look. (One of my husband’s relatives used to say, “When I’m travelling I always eat at a Hooters – because I KNOW their food will be good.” Uh-huh.) 

What MY America looks like!
My point is, though – that each region should explore and exploit its own particular qualities... I mean, unless we’re talking about a tradition of racism or crime or something like that, of course. Then, by all means, change THAT! 

But embrace the fun and funky, the local foods, the history and characters of a place. It’s not a deep or shocking thought, but I did want to share it. Not that I’m an expert on tourism, city planning, etc., but my advice to a town/area: Be yourself.

Once again, I’ve spewed forth without having a clear aim in mind. Just... I love the fact that our nation has resisted all attempts of huge corporations to flatten us out. No, we’re not a no-iron piece of tan polyester... we’re still a patchwork quilt with pockets full of interesting food, music, art, dialects, characters... It’s a fab frock, isn’t it?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Let Me Hold Your Baby!!!

I miss this Bill...

A couple of good friends of mine just became grandparents. Okay, so they are just people I mainly communicate with via email and Facebook, but I WISH they were good everyday, in-person friends of mine as well...! Anyway, it is starting to become real to me that I am actually old enough to be a grandparent. 

It began to dawn on me slowly when I started seeing high school classmates on Facebook showing off their grandchildren, but I guess it didn’t really register until this couple – who are actually a year younger than I am – had offspring that had offspring. It just didn’t seem right – I mean, in my mind’s eye, grandparents look like Estelle Getty and Wilford Brimley, right? And in my mind's eye, I look like Helena Bonham Carter! I should also say that the couple I'm referring to look nothing like Estelle and Wilford!

...even though I love this Bill
beyond imagining.
I guess it doesn’t help my sense of reality that my own child is only eight... meaning that I may be 70 before I get a grandbundle-of-joy. And, although, I wouldn't wish Bill to rush into anything, I am bummed about that. That’s my second point.

My first point: I am finally starting to realize that I am old enough to have grandchildren.  Second point: I am jealous of my friends who have them. Because Lord knows I love babies. Love’m like candy. Want to wear a perfume called “Baby Head Smell”... Want to hold’em and snuggle’m and bounce’m on my knees.

What’s weird is that before I started growing my own wee one inside me, I was one of those people who didn’t want kids, couldn’t relate to kids - even avoided kids if I could. If I had to be in the vicinity of a baby I would address her or him with a nervous, “How’s it going?” But a zygote forming inside me sort of flipped some kind of switch in my brain and I was suddenly all aboard the baby train. Now when I see them I go all mushy. 

This guy wants to eat your baby.
I just want to hold him/her a while.
When I see a baby – even on TV, I get all nostalgic for Bill’s sweet infant stage. Don’t get me wrong, right now Bill is AWESOME – smart and creative and fun and affectionate. Tom especially loves the more sentient Bill. He has a partner in crime, now. But there’s just something about a tiny little suckling babe... I can truly see why my mom had so many. Too bad I got such a late start!

Biologically, I could certainly pop out a kid – even now. Well, at my age it might be more of an ooze than a pop... but I could do it – no problem. In theory, anyway. But when I think about how tiring it would be – the sleepless nights, the crying, the nursing, the worrying... my mind sort of shuts down. Or I come to my senses – whatever you want to call it!

So now that the mother in me is fully awake, but has no mewling infant to put to her breast, the next thing I need is a grandchild, right? Maybe in 20 years. In the meantime, if you have a baby or a grandbaby i could hold, I’d be over the moon if I could hold him or her for a while!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Beer and Jesus

I love books. In fact, my perfect day consists of lying in bed, (or by a pool or on the beach or in a hammock) reading a book. I enjoy a wide array of genres, including (but not limited to) memoir, essays, history, fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, chick lit, classics, Christian…  And in this last category, I tend, like probably most people, to read books that go in the general direction I am already going.

For instance, I need a lot of love and grace and tend to view God as the Author of love and the Giver of grace, so I steer clear of books about how to be more holy or disciplined, choosing instead to inhale books about God’s love and grace… Books like What’s So Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancy, or All is Grace by Brennan Manning. So, when I was given, “Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith,” by Michael Camp, and was told it was about (among other things) microbrewed beer, I thought, “This should be right up my alley!” I mean, I love a good local brew (or a good old PBR for that matter!) And I love the Bible, right? I did love the format of the book, and Camp’s appreciation for beer and for our gracious God, but this book turned out to be a little more than I bargained for.

The format includes first-person autobiographical stories about Camp and how his very interesting experiences and studies over time led him to a broader understanding of Christ and Christianity… interspersed with conversations had with friends at a funky Seattle microbrewery, while quaffing quality ales.

According to his Amazon Bio: Michael Camp is a former evangelical missionary, aid worker, and church leader, who lived in Africa for seven years, including assignments in Somalia, Kenya, and Malawi. He has worked for Food for the Hungry, World Concern, and World Vision. Camp studied missions at William Carey International University and Fuller Seminary and earned a Masters degree from Eastern University.

Yeh, I like a beer now and then...
So his background is solidly evangelical. Sadly, he was also involved in some churches that left him with a bad taste of legalism in his mouth…  churches where you have to conform in superficial ways as well as doctrinally. Everyone looked alike and questions were frowned upon. I won’t deny that such a place can be a toxic environment. I, on the other hand, from day one, have been in a church with a diverse membership, and have been in discussion classes where questions and opposing views were aired and debated with grace rather than judgment.

That is not to say that every Christian I have met or in our church is a wild, out there Christian that slams brews and listens to the New York Dolls. I have met and been judged by plenty of well-meaning Christians who’ve bought into the evangelical subculture. Of course I’ve also met and been graciously received and loved by plenty of these Republican, teetotaling, allergic-to-cussing, Veggie-tales-watching, Elisabeth-Eliot-reading, pro-life, Amy-Grant-listening folks. As a matter of fact, a couple of those descriptors might even apply to me… and I’m not saying which ones!

Anyway, Mr. Camp has some serious problems with some of the more controlling of these folks, and goes into detail about the things that happened to him and how he learned to study the Bible and all its linguistic and cultural details… and how he came out the other side with a completely different outlook on the place the Bible should have in shaping our faith, on current sexual mores, on end times theology, on evolution, and on Universalism.

I love his huge view of God’s grace, but even though my church is a big ball of love, I guess I have just absorbed too much of the “subculture” to follow him every where he went in this entertaining ramble. When he argued that everything predicted in the Revelation of St. John have already occurred, and Jesus won’t be coming back to get us anytime soon, all I could think was, “but I’m so tired!”

And when I read his plug for Universalism, (that is, Jesus died for everyone’s sins regardless of their acceptance,) I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. He said that when he shares this with Christians, he thinks they should be jumping up and down! And I certainly would, if I could follow his arguments where they led. While there ARE some verses that imply universality, there is just so much in the Bible that does NOT point to this. Take this famous verse, John 3:16: “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.” Or this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36) This hard teaching is also hard for my head to embrace, but that’s what it says. Sure, God wants me to do something, but He is not asking me to jump through any kind of hoops – just believe. This is one place I could agree with Mr. Camp – that the modern evangelical church has issues that it makes do-or-die when they aren’t really – it’s just more legalism, and this is something that distracts us from the love of God and sharing it with the whole world.

I'll leave it to Don Draper to sell lifestyles.
There's a good chance that I misunderstood Camp's assertions or his reasoning, BUT if Universalism is the universal rule, then why do I bother to share the good news of God’s love? Because knowing the gospel and living for Jesus is a good life for people? Does that mean we are really just selling a lifestyle? Isn’t that a job for Madison Avenue? The Christian life has actually been kind of hard for me. Very good, but also very hard. Lots of soul searching, hard choices and being shunned...

And I find it hard to believe that Paul and the apostles of old, and all the martyrs throughout history would have worked their asses off and maybe died sharing their faith, for just a lifestyle. Maybe I am one of those uptight people described in the book that can’t embrace these views, I don’t know. I do know that Jesus is worth knowing, even if we don’t need to.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Gift of Grace

Husk's Bacon Cheeseburger is
10% bacon, 100% delicious.
So we’re winding down the month of June, and it’s been a month of troubles and trials, treats and triumph! Just like the whole of our lives. I turned 50, saw Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and also a taping of A Prairie Home Companion, went to Wilmington and Charleston – where we ate at Husk, Bon Apetit's "best new restaurant in America," worked my tail off laying out FOUR books – along with my other work, saw my son perform in his first comedy show, enjoyed a couple of outdoor concerts of jammin’ local music (Dexter Romweber and the New Romans, and Phatlynx – if you’re interested,) and spent a GREAT deal of time ... nitpicking. Literally.

Yes, that’s right. We got lice. Ewww, right? Before you judge us, all the web sites rush to assure readers that contracting lice does not mean you are unclean or low class. It just means that you came in contact with someone who had lice. We are reasonably sure that Bill got them on the trip to Charleston, where he and Tom spent the night on a World War II aircraft carrier with a gazillion other cub scouts and their dads. 

Dexter Romweber and the New Romans
Bill deeply dislikes the inconvenience of being taken to the doctor, so he neglected to tell us about his itchy scalp, and was even sort of furtive about scratching it. But... he managed to pass them to me, being an affectionate, huggy child who loves his mommy. Nice. So then, after a sleepless, itchy night, I visited my doctor where I was diagnosed with.... headlice. 

Grace, who was collecting Bill from VBS, rushed him home, where we proceeded to NIX the hell out of both our heads... then Grace, bless her heart, painstakingly picked every nit from our itchy scratchy heads. No mean feat, since Bill’s hair is thick as molasses and mine is ... WAS down to my waist. I mean, those damn nits stick like glue, don’t they? We ended up cutting about six inches off my hair, much to Tom and Bill’s dismay. I’m kind of bummed to see it go, too, truth be told, but it’s also kind of a relief. 

Pretty sure the pestilence came
from the ship-board cots..
And every day since, Grace has picked through every hair on my head, while I looked through every hair on Bill’s head, and I have prayed without ceasing that God would bless her richly for such devoted service to such a lowly cause. All this trouble has given me the following thoughts:

1. Plagues. In the Old Testament, God sometimes sent swarms of flies or frogs or bloody water or... death... to plague people who needed to be taught a lesson. Was there a lesson for us? Or did we just have headlice because it’s one of those things that can happen to kids?

Grace is full of love, a gift from God.
2. Love. Grace was truly a picture of the love of God during all this. She took our linens to the laudromat, helped me comb out my hair – often twice a day... She could have contracted the little buggers from us, but she was there with us every step of the way. Now she, like God, can enumerate the hairs on my head. What a blessing to know that such a remarkable friend is in my corner. Friends are a great gift from God, and when He sent me Grace, He did not scrimp.

She is as good as her name, that girl is. Full of love and mercy. I’ve had people from all aspects of my life tell me how lucky I am to have a friend like her, and I concur. Of course, I’ve also had people assume we’re gay. But, I guess in this day and age, you’ll have that. So when Tom and I got married and she was there helping us with the wedding and all, the whole time... I wonder what they thought?!

I don’t know where I’m going with this... just Grace is a great friend, and, like the grace of God itself, a completely undeserved gift.