Monday, October 29, 2012

And Now... Deep Thoughts

Remember that little segment on Saturday Night Live called Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy? It was introduced by the sooooo talented and much missed Phil Hartman… Anyway, here are some “Deep Thoughts” I’ve been chewing over during the last few weeks:

1. After attending 3 fantastic nights of music that was the Yep Roc records 15th anniversary celebration, I remembered seeing live music right up close in a club is sooooo much fun. I miss this ritual immensely. However, standing up for four hours straight at a show was an opportunity for me to use the worn out line, “I’m too old for this sh*t.” My back, my feet, my ears… they all paid the price for this folly, and it was dear. Oddly enough, Robyn Hitchcock observed at the Yep Roc shindig, that “Rock and roll is an old man’s game.” Seriously, both he and Nick Lowe, two of that night’s highlights, sported the most glorious, white-as-snow hair. And the audience was full of grey and balding and bifocaled heads. Remember when we were the people our parents warned us about?

Robyn Hitchcock and his glorious
snowy mane. By the time he played
that night, my dogs were killing me.
2. My son has reached his perpetually “embarrassed” phase. No matter what I do, I am surely embarrassing him. I offer as evidence this direct quote: “Mom, do you have to be a forest fairy in front of my friends?” (Doesn’t he know that Halloween Carnivals and the like are the only I time I can be utterly myself?!) I’m not sure how long this phase is going to last, but it’s a little restrictive on those who must accompany him in public. Should I bend to his hypersensitivity and strive to be as inconspicuous as possible? Or should I explore new and different ways to cause him to want to disown me?

I'm just being myself.
Can I help it if Bill
is mortified?!
3. Classical music’s not half bad. Of course, I have always known this. After all, Amadeus is one of my favorite movies! And Handel’s Messiah? I know it by heart. But in general, it’s not my thing. My discomfort with it probably stems from my growing up years when I had it forced on me night and day by my mom, a die hard WCPE fan. But if you’re a teen, and into the Ramones…. Well, no thanks. And that kind of prejudice can really stick with you. But yesterday we took Bill to a Halloween concert by the North Carolina Symphony, and whaddya know… it was pretty cool. Not that I’m going to set my dial on it now or anything. I mean, at this point, I’m sure a brief concert aimed at kids is just about my speed. (I wonder if my mom was as bummed out by my failure to appreciate her music as I am when Bill tells me to turn off Big Star’s Third or Blood on the Tracks.)

The North Carolina Symphony
4. Yesterday we went to a food truck rodeo. Yum, right? We do love to tuck into some trendy victuals. After downing a nicely bready slice of veggie pizza loaded with artichoke and spinach, some Only Burger fries, and a pumpkin mo-nut (sic), I was just about done in, though. Ready to be rolled out of there. When I declined my husband’s offer to share his salted caramel ice cream sandwich with me… Well, that’s when he hurled this accusation at me: “You’re watching your weight!” Only in our house is that a statement of accusation rather than of congratulations! My husband is awesome.

Food trucks... yum.
5. I may be 15-25 years older than your average mother, but I am just as unsure – maybe even more so – of what I am doing… mom-wise. Pre-teen/teen years are about to collide with perimenopause/menopause years. Can these tempestuous life phases coexist? We’re about to find out. 

6. While we’re talking about motherhood, I’m told that many people spend hours in therapy blaming their moms… as did I. I have learned over time, though, that it’s probably not just the one thing that screwed me up. That would be like saying that my gigantic butt is due to overconsumption of French fries… but omitting the fact that I also am prone to ingest my share of cake, burgers, butter, cheese, biscuits, chocolate and beer on any given day.  So while I am trying NOT to screw up my kid, I am also trying to remember that it’s not all on me. Whew! (I hope not anyway!)

7. I could be a better driver. We are lucky to be alive, and that’s all I’m going to say about that!

John Lennon...
I miss him, too.
8. When John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” he wasn’t kidding. I have found in my half century of living that making plans in general is okay, but you really just have to accept that they are “rough estimates” of what might happen if, for instance, your 81-year-old mother didn’t fracture her hip while hanging out with your eight-year-old son.

9. Now, if that were merely a hypothetical situation, I wouldn’t be able to tell you that it’s wonderful to have fantastic, thoughtful siblings and other awesome kinfolk to help shoulder the load?! It’s great when a family works together.

10. It’s package season. 

11. In his new book Waging Heavy Peace Neil Young reveals that he is an eccentric gentleman… But we do have the exact same view on this: We don’t mind getting sick, because then we don’t have to do anything. We get to just lie there and get well. I guess that means we also both imagine that NOT being sick means we always have to be doing something. Apparently, he sometimes doesn’t even allow himself a break when he’s sick… as he alleges that he wrote Cinnamon Girl, Cowgirl in the Sand and Down by the River in the same day while in bed with the flu. I am not THAT productive when I’m at the top of my game!

I like my style, but 
it's not for everyone.
12. Elections bring out the worst in people on both sides. Snark, snark, snark… Yes, there' a lot at stake... Still, I’ll be relieved when it’s over. I know I’m not the first person to say this out loud, and it's not the first time I've said it, but I still wanted to put it out there.

13. I told my husband that there were blogs where people took pictures of their outfits and posted them and talked about fashion – like my friend Molly here… and he laughed and said, you could post pictures of your raggedy workout clothes every day! See, cos that’s what he sees me in every day before he leaves for work…  In my defense, after I shower (and post the shower song) I do put on an actual outfit… Seriously, I don’t always look great, but I like my style. However, I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time.

14. There sure is a lot about my mom in this list. Love ya, Mom! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Things That Are Cool – GO!

My friend Todd. So cool.
Things that are cool – GO! Jazz. Fonzie. Ranch Doritos. Beatniks. Ray Bans. Cucumbers. Film Noir and Quentin Tarantino. My friend Todd. Chuck Taylors and Cuban-heeled boots… I’m not sure what makes certain things/people cool – or why we value it so highly. Is cool an attitude? An aesthetic? An empty descriptive? Subjective? All of these? None of these?
Keith Richards, also cool.

According to the super cool Keith Richards, “If you've gotta think about being cool, you ain't cool.” In my case, I guess this statement is true. I mean, I’m a huge nerd, and here I am talking about cool, right?  And not for the first time! (But by the way, when Keith makes this statement, isn’t he thinking about being cool?)

And I think a lot of modern Christians spend a lot of time trying to be cool… and show the world that we’re cool. Yes, we drink good microbrews. We listen to hipster bands. We watch movies. We wear Chucks. Sometimes we cuss. Look at us! Aren’t we cool?
I don't know who this guy
is, but dag, he looks cool.

No, we want you to know that we’re NOT AT ALL like the stereotype Christians you may have in your mind – teetotalers who fear Halloween, listen to Amy Grant and wear Amish-looking clothes. No! That’s not us AT ALL!  If you’re thinking that, get that thought out of your mind immediately!

Okay, maybe it’s just me who goes around trying to prove that I’m not uncool. I’m sure there are no other Christians that I could possibly be describing. And, it occurred to me recently that if this is true, it is a grave misdirection of my limited energy.

Because we, as Christians, by definition are completely uncool. I think coolness is about being aloof … and nonchalant about stuff. But the Christian life is all about devotion. Laying down your life. Getting involved.

If I understand what I read in the Bible correctly, one’s identification with Christ should be one’s defining aspect (Galations 2:20.) So that means I have more in common than the little old lady from my church that has the perpetually pursed lips and thinks the drums are too loud than I do with your average thick-glasses-wearing, coffee-house-sitting, food-truck-frequenting, Fountains-of-Wayne-listening hipster.  Even though I, too, do all these things.

“Julie,” you may be saying, “Why are you putting so much energy into trying to convince people you are cool if it’s a waste of time?” The answer is… I hope that’s not what I’m doing. It’s not my plan, anyway. My plan actually is … to be myself. To speak my honest mind. And that's just how my mind works.

The things I bring up are actually in my brain. I write how my brain works. I think in songs and movies. This entire entry springs from this thought that actually came plowing into my mind while I was just driving along, minding my own business: It looks like pseudo-hipstery Christians spend a lot of time trying to convince the world that they are NOT uncool… when they could be convincing people that they LOVE them. That GOD loves them.

So here it is: without obscure song references, convoluted movie interpretations, self-deprecating humor, or mild cuss words: I love you. Yes, you. Whoever you are. You’re awesome, you're beautiful, and I love you. God loves you. He’s all about you. He craves your company. He’s knocking on your door. He is LOVE.*
That is all.

* 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. (John 3:16)

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Inside Job

I was thinking about what I wrote in the last post about raising a spiritual being, and thought maybe I should have put a little more emphasis on the prayer component… because that’s pretty freakin’ important. I mean, we’re certainly talking about matters that are in God’s realm. Okay, I know that there’s nothing that ISN’T in His realm, but this especially is.

Anyway, I can certainly talk 'til I’m blue in the face about religious stuff. I can make Bill go to church. I can send him to Catholic school… I can (attempt to) model what I think is authentic Christianity… However, these are all just EXTERNAL things a person can do, while it's primarily an INSIDE job. That is to say, it’s mostly about what’s going on with God and in Bill’s heart isn’t it? Something I, personally, have no control over. But God does. I do believe in free will, but I also believe that God can influence us, change us, help us think about things right. And maybe it helps if we ask Him to.
Richard Foster - I met
him once too!

This is where prayer comes in. Now, I am not saying I am a champion contemplative, because I certainly am not... So if you're looking for a deep theological treatise on prayer, you won't find one here. There are plenty of great books you can read like Richard J. Foster's Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. I can only tell you about my experience. It is very hard for me to just sit and pray. I do say some of my own loose prayers – especially during moments of insomnia... but I get distracted very easily. 

That's why I find that pre-fab prayers like The Lord’s Prayer come in pretty handy when I want to get busy with God, but don’t have the words. I guess it could be argued that prayers from another person’s brain are impersonal, but the way I look at it, I am normally so distracted that I would be only slightly more involved if I conceived the prayers myself. Plus, in the case of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus Himself gave it to us, so what better way to pray than in the words of God Himself?
Oh Stormie...

Anyway, one source of prefab prayers that I love is a book called The Power of a Praying Parent, by Stormie Omartian. It has about a month’s worth of prayers – specifically designed for parents who want to raise kind, God- and people-loving kids. Each prayer speaks to a topic like health and safety, a sound mind and eagerness to learn, loving relationships, integrity, faith, etc. I say a prayer from it most days for Bill. (I also have the Power of a Praying Wife book, which I also pray from.) Omartian may be a little more conservative on some things than I am, and she does look like an actress playing a TV evangelist… but when it comes down to it, we are both interested in the same basic things: God and our kids.

Miss Stormie and early
BF Steve Martin in
full costume at Knott's
Berry Farm
On a silly side note, Tom thinks it’s hilarious that before she was a prolific Christian writer married to a Christian music producer, Miss Stormie was a girlfriend of… Steve Martin! I’m not really sure why that’s funny, but… oh well. I certainly have things from my own past that would produce explosive guffaws.

Moving right along… as to what difference prayer makes? Well, I certainly have been held up in prayer on many occasions, and let me tell you, it certainly doesn’t hurt. No one ever asked me NOT to pray for them, anyway. I often wonder what famous Christopher Hitchens, who called himself “antitheist,” would have thought if he knew that people were praying for him. His definition of  this self-coined term is – someone who thinks there is no God, and is relieved about it rather than bummed out. I think his writing was thoughtful and provocative, although my world view was much different in many ways. When he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, I would say a prayer for him whenever I saw his byline in Vanity Fair, or whenever he came to mind.
I prayed for him sometimes –
do you think he minded?

Had he known, what would he have thought of that? Were he a mere atheist, I guess he would have thought it a waste of time. But as an “antitheist” would he have been offended? I’m sure I’ll never know, but I do know that since he didn’t know, it didn’t hurt him. And, since my world view involves a God who cares about people, maybe it helped ease his suffering in some small way. Maybe Mr. Hitchens is a dumb example – an extreme case. In my experience, many folks have some idea of the usefulness of focused positive thought or prayer. Other folks I know who are not actively involved in a particular religion, will in times of trouble as people to “think of them” or “send good vibes out to the universe” or something like that.
The Master and The Doctor

I think now would be a good time to bring up one of my favourite story lines from Doctor Who… The episodes in question: The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords. It’s really hard to explain Doctor Who to the uninitiated, but … here goes. Doctor Who is a powerful “Time Lord” from another planet who can travel through space and time in his space ship that looks like an old fashioned British telephone booth. In these episodes, another, quite evil Time Lord – the Master – has it in for him and the whole human race besides. To render The Doctor powerless, The Master makes him age superfast until he is just a wizened little Gollum-like creature.

Leading up to the events I am about to describe, The Doctor’s friend Martha has been going all over the world for a year, reputedly looking for the ingredients for a special gun that will kill the Master. When she shows back up the Master destroys the gun, and starts the countdown to a specially-timed, previously announced, invasion of alien spaceships…
The people's prayers make
The Doctor glow and float!

The countdown begins, and Martha smiles. The gun had been a fake. What she’d really been doing is telling everyone she met all over the world, about the Doctor: “He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there – but I know him, and I love him.” She instructs them to concentrate their thoughts on him at the scheduled time of the invasion. (This is long and confusing, isn’t it?)

She tells the Master this, and he is is all, “Faith and hope? Is that all?” and “Is THAT your weapon? Prayer?” So the countdown reaches zero, and everyone in the entire world says, “Doctor” and all the psychic energy – boosted by the Master’s own telepathic communications network – causes the Doctor’s aging to reverse and replenishes his power… causing him to glow and float and do magic! After a lot of hullabaloo of course the Doctor wins the day, saving the world, and even FORGIVING the Master.
Martha, the evangelist

Of course, this is just a far out sci-fi story, but the show, as I pointed out here, often touches on themes that point to the true Lord of Time, or “The Potentate of Time” as the hymn goes… and I imagine that the devil wants us to imagine that he does a big cosmic eye roll at our “frail” little psychic weapon. But, I bet he fears it… that's why he's always doing his best to divert us from it with his own puny weapons – like fear, apathy, and distraction.

Ready to help me whip up
some mac and cheese,
little Bill?
Yes, that crazy devil knows how huge prayer actually is. See, with my own two hands I can help a few people. But with my prayers, I can participate in the blessing of countless lives. And joined with the world’s many Christians, my puny little prayers can jiggle minds, topple fortresses, change entire world systems. 

And it's not like God NEEDS our prayers to accomplish things, but I think he loves us to work with Him to get things done. He loves us to be involved. I just had the picture flash before my minds eye of a time when I had Bill help me make macaroni and cheese when he was about three years old. I certainly didn't need his help – I can make it myself, but it was so sweet to have him in there "helping" me... That's sort of how it is maybe... Our great Father, working with us in His cosmic kitchen to change the world... and maybe even my own kid’s heart.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jesus Loves the Little Children!

My close and personal
friend Pat Conroy.
Okay, I met him once.
As I’ve gone on and on about, being a parent is a pretty heavy responsibility. Remember the book Beach Music by Pat Conroy (whom I’ve met, by the way?) In it, a group of siblings agonizes about their crazy mom and their dysfunctional childhood… and (SPOILER) toward the end, you find out that the mom and her brother had been homeless for a period, so her main focus as a parent had been to keep her kids in a home, clothed and fed. She felt that if she could do this, she was doing a good job. She had no idea she was supposed to be seeing to their self esteem, and all that new age parenting mumbo jumbo.

So, as a first world mom, who has a home and possibly too much to eat and more clothes than anyone needs (Need some? Call me.)… My main concerns would have to be raising a kid who respects himself and others and is kind, giving, loving. And also, raising a kid who is NOT an a-hole. The physical stuff is fairly easy… but this other stuff… Lord help me. Seriously… LORD… help me!!!

Lately, too, I have been hyper aware that I have a responsibility for his spiritual health… I’m sure that all parents have an idea of what they want their kids to absorb about the spiritual world that matches their own views. Even if it's a general attitude of relativism. In my case, I’d like to make sure he knows that God loves him unconditionally – more than anything he can possibly imagine… to make sure he doesn’t grow up with crazy creepy ideas of God. That… you got it, 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 wonder how many time I’ve copied and pasted John 3:16 into this blog?)

I bought Bill this
Bible. He threw it
on the floor and
stepped on it.
When Bill was little, and not so vocal, we would read a bit of a kids’ Bible at bedtime every night. When we got through it, I bought a new one, presented it to him… and he threw it on the floor and stepped on it. Now, to be fair, Bill really hates change… But soon it became clear that he did not care for this particular ritual, so I let him start picking the books. Our bedtime reading has included everything from comic books to classics.

So… while we are no longer reading stories about David and Goliath or Noah and his animal friends every night, Bill DOES get exposed to spiritual matters in other ways. We attend church regularly. He’s not thrilled with Sunday school, but goes about every other week. The other weeks he sits in the church service with one of those black and white speckled notebooks and composes The Weekly Weirdo, his not-quite-weekly newspaper.

He also attends a fantastic Catholic school, which fills his head right up with catechismical thoughts. In addition, he hangs out with Grace and me quite a bit, so picks up on little things we say to one another… for instance when something good happens, one of us will say, simply and reverently, “The King.” Or we’ll discuss ad nauseum the finer points of the most recent church sermon or a pop song we heard that speaks God’s grace to our frazzled minds.

Bill's first day of Catholic School
And though he seems, as is probably typical of a strapping, boyish, 8-year-old boy, supremely uninterested in spiritual matters, he will often shock me with observations or questions that prove that his fertile little brain is chewing over the ideas I thought were floating in the space far above his little head.

Like one day last weekend, he said that everyone has a “being” that they imagine looks after them, like a guardian angel, and that this “being” is, in actuality, Jesus… whether the person recognized Him or not. I was flabbergasted. I mean, this is real stuff. It’s a bit like the God-shaped hole in every person that St. Augustine talked about… or the beautiful island that John, the main character in C.S. Lewis’ novel Pilgrim’s Regress, searches for. It’s there, but people will look everywhere else, call it anything else.

He hasn't read it,
but Bill already
"gets" The
Pilgrim's Regress.
Another day he asked me, “What if Adam and Eve had never fallen?” Um… I don’t know, Bill, what do YOU think? (I had to stall; I had no idea…!) He went on to say that he thought that things would be “old-timey.” He had a hard time explaining why, but I think he was trying to say that people would have been satisfied, and not needed to invent things.

The other question he asked is, if Jesus gave us eternal life, where are the people like Noah and Moses who died before He opened that door? Now, I think this is an FAQ, but I was only able to answer it in any real way by doing a little research.

Jim Abrahamson,
one of the best
teachers I ever
sat still for.
What I’m trying to say here is that my brilliant son’s brain and heart are growing, and I feel like I really need to keep up… to be able to answer his questions. In Deuteronomy the Israelites are told, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.Thank goodness I took all those classes from Jim Abrahamson, right? I am going to need that kind of critical thinking if I’m going to keep up with my little genius.

Here’s a scary thing that Jesus said: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9) So… what if I say something wrong, or neglect my duty in this? Will I be wearing a figurative millstone necklace?

Jesus loves kids!
I can only do what I can do… I’m going to keep in mind that Jesus LOVES kids. And WANTS them around. He did say, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18) So, while I care about Bill’s spiritual growth, God cares even more.

When I was a new Christian, and feeling every implication of everything I learned, I remember being worried about my siblings. Did they know Jesus? I remember having a dream in which one of my sisters committed some kind of crime. So I went to our pastor (again, Jim Abrahamson) and tried to give him a large check to get her out of whatever it is she had done, but Jim wouldn’t take it. I remember thinking, in the dream, “It’s not my responsibility.”

Out! Out! Damn Spot!
So… even though Paul seemed to think that failure to reach people equaled blood on his hands, he also said that telling people is enough: “I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Acts 20)

Thank the actual God for that. Because if you’re reading this, then I’ve done my part. I can relax and stop worrying about bloody hands. (Out! Out! Damn spot!) It fits with the time Jesus told his disciples that if a town doesn’t receive them graciously, then just move on. Well, I can hardly move on from my kid, so I just need to move on to another topic. And pray. And know that he is watching me. 

Bill makes his church debut.
Hope he'll stick around.
When we were growing up, we went to a “mainstream” Methodist Church, but matters of theology weren’t discussed in our home. If my parents reflected on them, I’ll never know. In fact, I was allowed to skip Sunday school for a year by claiming that the intensely Evangelical couple (bordering on Pentecostal) that taught it creeped me out. I’m not proud that I pulled that stunt, but there it is. That said, when, in later years, I sought God, Christianity was the first place I looked… I’d guess BECAUSE of my exposure to a church, no matter how mild.

In conclusion, I guess my responsibility with regards to the spiritual care of my child, goes hand in hand with my responsibility to share God’s love with the world. In this case, my MO is mostly to follow the advice given to me many years ago by Randy Russell, another of our church’s pastors. And that was, to be myself. Here’s hoping that will suffice.