Monday, January 30, 2012

Mysterious Ways

Bono – still alive
Who hasn’t wanted to kill Bono at least once in their life? Don’t get me wrong... I absolutely adore the man, his voice, his songs, his humanitarian work... I have loved U2 since early in their game. I still love U2. But something about Bono just invites ... scorn? or something? So who hasn’t looked at the smirky face in all its sunglasses-ed self-righteous handsomeness and at least wanted to pop a cap in his finely formed derriere? 
The reason I bring it up is that I just watched a fantastic movie called, Killing Bono. It has EVERYTHING I love. Boys. Bands. Groovy 80s clothes. (I love a period piece, and the 80s - well, that was my period! I know the guys in the film look hilarious in their Duran Duran/Thompson Twins-esque garb, but I still think they look fantastic!) Humor. Pathos. “History.” Ireland. London. Gangsters. Meaning. 
Killing Bono is the vaguely true story of two brothers who started a band that formed in Dublin around the same time that U2 was formed. And while their school friends U2 rose to stardom, superstardom, and beyond, the McCormick brothers struggled to trample their own path to the stars.
Living at poverty level in a cavernous furniture-bare warehouse of an apartment in London, the McCormick brothers bang out their weary tunes and pound the pavement in search of the fame and fortune that their friends Adam, Larry, the Edge and, yes, Bono, have taken hold of already... in a big way. Everywhere they go the brothers are backdropped by posters and billboards heralding Ireland’s favorite sons. Every time a new album is released a new backdrop is erected – all over Dublin, and London as well.
Oh! How I love the 80s!
It is humorous, but also heartbreaking to watch as Neil and Ivan McCormick work so hard, yet have fate – and their own pride and stubbornness – steal any chance they may have had to join their schoolmates in stardom... or even moderate success. Fate plays a hand in a couple of instances when scheduled “big break” shows are preempted by 1. a visit to Dublin by the Pope, and 2. Bob Geldoff’s historic, bi-continental Live Aid concert.
Killing Bono's version of U2 as schoolboys.
Mainly I just wanted to slap Neil, as he makes poor decision after poor decision, the first and most giant being that in the very beginning Bono asks him to let his brother Ivan be in U2... and Neil says... NO. Then he never tells Ivan about it! So the following years feature Neil scurrying about working his tail off trying to bring Ivan the success he might have had. 

And yet... despite his determination to succeed, Neil makes more and more poor decisions – borrowing money from a local gangster, sleeping with the record producer’s wife... Often his bad choices involved offers for a leg up from U2. He won’t let U2 help them get a recording contract, and he turns down the offer of an opening spot at U2’s Dublin tour date. Because he wants their band, now called “Shook Up!” to do it on their own. A noble sentiment, to be sure. Or maybe it was just flat out PRIDE... But the music business is a crazy cut-throat arena with bloodthirsty gladiators all fighting for their lives... So maybe a little help would have been nice... which actually reminds me of a song by U2 called Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

But I guess pride and shooting ourselves in the foot is pretty much the human condition. Read the Bible and you will see the people in it - even heroes like Kings David and Solomon – sabotaging themselves at every turn. Our church is studying the book of Judges... which I am starting to think of as the book of poor judgment. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” it says. I’m pretty sure I must do this all the time too, being human and all... 
The real McCormic brothers AKA Shook Up!
One of them is now a writer, and
wrote... Killing Bono.

As I ruminated further on the movie, I started to think about how most of the guys in U2 are Christians, and then I was reminded of that proverb about the guy stuck on his roof in a flood. He prays and prays for help from God, and while he is sitting there, a guy in a raft rows by and offers to help him... but the guy says, “Nah. God’s going to help me.” Same thing happens with a canoe and a helicopter. So the guy drowns in the flood and goes to heaven. When he encounters God he asks him, “God, why didn’t you help me?” and God sez, “I sent you a raft, a canoe and a helicopter... what more did you expect?”

Okay, just one more
pic of Bono...

You see, God doesn’t always do things in the way that we expect. And maybe His invitations don’t always look like we think they will. Of course, if God’s invitation looked like Bono, I would have been there much sooner. But I guess that is the point. It doesn’t usually look like a gorgeous, passionate, swaggering, long-haired, throaty-singing Irishman with charisma to burn... although in this case it actually did! 
So how do we recognize God’s help? How do we not just completely miss Him? I don’t know... I am kind of lazy, so if someone offers to help me I always say yes... The danger for me is that I would accept help that is NOT from God. So again, how do we know? I guess it would involve being close to Him so that we recognize how He does things... Sometimes, though, in my experience what God is and isn’t doing isn’t obvious until after the whole thing is over. Because, yes, God moves in mysterious ways. Just like Bono says in the song.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Which I Learn a Lesson in Tolerance

You will note from the above that this blog is called Bigmouth Strikes Again, and while it is a reference to a song by the Smiths, it also refers to my ... big mouth. Although basically shy, when I get going, I can really talk. You can tell from the length of many of my posts that I have a lot to say. Most of the time. Unless I have writer's block. 'Cos that happens too.

But what I was getting around to saying is that if you have a big mouth that spews a lot of words, it is inevitable that you will say something that is wrong. Sometimes I feel I should preface everything I write with, "I could be wrong, but..."

Anyway, this time I have been wrong about something, and if you were one of the 5 people who read the item I posted earlier today – which is gone now, by the way – then, I am telling you now that I was wrong.

You see, I have been writing a My View column once a month for the local newspaper, and the whole point of the blog post was that I was having a hard time because I thought they wanted to me to mention my faith only vaguely. And this is hard for me because it's who I am.

Unlike Fonzie, I have no qualms
about saying "I was wrong."
Well, it turns out I totally misunderstood the instructions I was given. Turns out the editor, who is a sweetheart of a guy, didn't mean that at all. He just meant that I should be writing about the community, and the faith part could be in it as I felt led... which makes total sense for a COMMUNITY newspaper, right?

So it turns out that I am guilty of misrepresenting him as shallow. I am also guilty of jumping to the conclusion that groovy Chapel Hill wouldn't want to hear about my faith... and interpreted my instructions accordingly. And as I'm sure you know, blanket assumptions are never a good idea. As it turns out, this town that values tolerance really is tolerant... even of Christian blow-hards like me!

And now I'm so embarrassed! But it is not my first mistake... and it definitely won't be my last. So, again, if you are one of the 5 people who read that now-defunct blogpost (well, 6 people read it, but one was the editor), I was wrong. And I'm so, so sorry for misrepresenting the editor, that I felt I had to say so out loud. To everyone... The good news is, I guess, maybe it won't be so hard for me to write that column now that I know that I have a bit more freedom to share "my view!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Post Is Not About Simon Doonan

This post is not about
Simon Doonan.
I was working on a light, breezy piece on Simon Doonan – who I can only DREAM of writing like... He says stuff like “Red is wild. She is unsettling. She intrigues. Wear red and other women will assume that you are a predatory vixen who is out to steal their husbands and suck the blood of their children.” and “I loathe the idea of growing old gracefully. I fully intend to grow old eccentrically and dramatically. Brace yourselves! ...The most important thing is to stay fit. My fave exercises are tap dancing and runway modeling.” He’s my writing twin... well, if I were a fabulous gay man with a great sense of style and could write like that. Okay, so I’m nothing like Simon Doonan...

So I had banged out a few breezy graphs on that fun, frivolous topic when I had to put it on hold. You see, we had a death in our family. And let me tell you, there is nothing like losing a loved one to bring a little perspective to ... well, to everything. I mean, Simon who?

My uncle Bill – my father’s brother – passed away at 75 after a long, brave struggle with heart disease – the bane of our family. It was heart disease that stole my dad from us at the tender age of 49... and THAT’S HOW OLD I AM NOW!!! I can’t think about that or I’ll just feel too crazy.

Anyway, on Saturday I went with my mother, my brother, and his wife down to Greenville, NC for the funeral, where we met up with my sister and her husband, who live there. While I was so happy to be with my family – these five, and the people we would meet up with later... but the rest... it was just heartbreaking. 

We went to the church’s small chapel for the service, and apparently my uncle had a legion of loved ones, because the people in charge ended up shuffling the whole crowd into the main sanctuary of the beautifully appointed Episcopal church. As we were being herded across the courtyard into the larger venue, I whispered to my sister, “See? If we had snuck out for a smoke in the courtyard we’d be first in line!” I’m not sure why this strange thing popped out of my mouth... None of us smoke... I can only guess it was the nervousness that sometimes accompanies tragedy. Laughter to prevent crying, or something like that.

Back to the funeral: Uncle Bill was a staunch Episcopalian, so they had a full Episcopal service with hymns, scripture readings... the works, and it was so good to be reminded what awaits us... nothing less than eternal life. But the part that turned my insides out was when my cousins spoke of life with their father. Such brave boys... Oh, I know they’re in their 40s, but to me they’ll always be the young boys who used to visit us when we were kids!
Uncle Bill and his wife,
Anne – lovely people!

One son told of advice and comfort his father gave him as he struck out to start his own business. Uncle Bill told him, “Your wife loves you, so it’s going to be fine.” I understand that completely - having once been at the fearful precipice of starting my own business. And I cried because I was grateful for my husband during that time, and also sad that my father had not been around to advise me. That son mentioned the poignant song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which of course, prompted copious tears...

The other son spoke of my uncle’s misery due to painful gout. He said that when he put his feet on the floor every morning, it felt like he was walking on broken glass. But, my cousin said, “This morning, he’s running on streets of gold.” And that’s the kind of thing I love to hear. It fills me with joy and relief and ... longing. 

By this time, I was sobbing, even though I didn’t know my uncle that well... I know I was mourning the loss of my own father, his brother, all over again. As my cousins told story of their father’s youth, their growing up years, and the full roles he played as adviser in their adulthood, and grandfather to their children and I cried. Because when my father died, I was just 17 years old, so I only knew the man as father of children. I did not realize until yesterday how much I had missed out on – knowing him as a fellow adult and a grandfather. He never met my husband, or my child - or any of our husbands, wives, children... Uncle Bill was a devoted grandfather and filled the seat at many a ballgame and recital... 

Another aspect of my grief was the regret that I have all this wonderful family and I rarely see them... My own brothers and sisters – I love them in a crazy way. No one gets me like they do. Every family has it’s own lore, and ours is rich. 

The "other Sneeds"... When will I see you
again? (I don't have a photo, but I'm referring
my aunt's family too – the Seates!)
But also, the rest of my dad’s side of the family... I barely know them. I hadn’t seen any of them since a family reunion 7 years ago! That is just so wrong! They are fabulous people! Simon Doonan has nothing on them. They are sweet, smart, fun, loving, brimming with integrity... and full of stories of where we came from, people we love and miss... After the funeral, my dad’s sister regaled us with memories from her childhood on the tobacco farm with her brothers: my dad driving home from college in a homemade car... how he was the county “ladies man”... the time revenuers kept them up all night chasing folks across the farm and busting up stills in the woods nearby... I could have listened to that stuff all day!

Fortunately, this regret can be remedied. Facebook has helped... I am pleased to keep up with several “other Sneeds” that way... But it’s not enough. Not by a long shot. How will I make good on my resolve to fix this? I mean, we all have jobs, families, busy lives... Well, I don’t know... but I’m open to ideas...! Maybe if we all work together...?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Last Time I'm Talking About This Movie - I Promise!


Hee hee...!

My mind is blank. Blankety-blank-blank. Empty. And sort of achy, truth be told. I’ve been trying to come up with something to write about for a while now, but all I can think about is that dang movie, Higher Ground! So maybe my mind’s not blank - it’s more... preoccupied. I couldn’t even focus when I was trying to read about the Israelites making that golden calf in Exodus 32. It’s a pretty crucial piece of Israel’s history and all I could think about was that dang movie. STILL. And it’s been nearly a week since I saw it! So... I'm just going to say this one last thing...

There is a horrible, painful scene in the movie when the main character, Corinne, says some extremely hurtful things to her husband and he attempts to strangle her. He doesn’t kill her, thank goodness, and his remorse is deep and wide, but I just wanted to make sure that if anyone reading my blog entries about the movie and would not think I was glossing over this terrible thing.

I mean, I’ve said nothing bad about the husband character in the movie. I’ve limited my comments regarding him to vague references to his faith. But this horrible incident was wrong wrong wrong. There is nothing that justifies physical violence in a couple. And he knew it, and confessed it later.

I did an image search for "women
preachers" and got this pic...
How odd is that?
And although the church they attended was one which held to certain “gender roles” for men and women, this was not something they approved of by any stretch of the imagination. Their belief that women shouldn’t teach is firmly rooted in the actual Bible. It actually says, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (I Timothy 2) So if you’re a man, stop reading this right now... lest I should presume to teach you anything. Ha! Just kidding. I’m just saying, this is where that church was coming from. Most churches don’t really go along with this anymore, but some do.

Aquilla and his wife Priscilla, an early Christian
teacher... and a friend of Paul's, weirdly enough.
But I don’t believe for one minute that those guys in the movie church meant it as some sort of power play. I think they studied the Bible with all their hearts, and when they came to this part, they took it literally and obeyed it to the letter. One of the sort of funny scenes in the movie shows the men meeting together and listening to a tape series on how to please their wives, including a handly little anatomy lesson. You see, they loved their wives quite a bit, because they were also obeying this: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...” (Ephesians 5)

All that is to say, the part of the movie where the husband nearly strangles her to death – well, that was horrible. It wasn’t anything that was condoned by their church... I HOPE there are no churches that condone that...! It was a desperate act by a desperate man, but if I had been friends with Corinne, I would have said, “Run for your life!”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thanks for listening!

Maybe Corinne was
 just exhausted...
More thoughts about the movie Higher Ground... (If it feels like you’re diving into a story midstream, then read my previous post.) 1. It could be that Corinne, the main character in the movie, just needed some Prozac. I’m not advocating across-the-board drug use for the problems in people’s heads, but ... sometimes it is just what a person needs to push them over some mental hump.

And now that I’ve probably pissed some of you off by recommending better living through chemistry, I will also say that the more I have thought about this, well... the more I have thought about it. Part of me thinks that a lot of her problem might have the church she was involved in. 

This is not a direct criticism of the church itself. It was a sweet group of people – sincere and loving. Of course some people would have seen them as unnecessarily conservative (Corinne is gently discouraged from “teaching the men” and from wearing slightly revealing clothing.) It does seem extreme, especially if you’re not familiar with this kind of church. Some people like that kind of thing, but that is not the issue I am addressing.

You see, what I think made it hard for Corinne was the emphasis that style of church places on the experiential... which is fine for some people. But for others, maybe not so much... 

It is true that my own life is ruled by feelings in many ways – on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, I score a solid F, as opposed to a T. That is, FEELING over THINKING. That said, I do end up doing a lot of things I don’t feel like doing, but that my mind tells me I should... like working, oooking, cleaning... even Bible Study and being nice to people sometimes, sad to say!

So I guess I am fortunate that I get to occasionally feel me some Spirit. That said, I don’t have the gift of tongues, which is totally a Spirit thing. I am trusting that this doesn’t mean that I don’t HAVE the Holy Spirit. If I understand correctly, there is more than one way a Christian can be filled with the Spirit... one involving the everyday presence of God that lives in our hearts, shows us what’s true, and comforts us in times of trouble... the other being a quick shot of Spirit that fills a person for a short time to speak in tongues, speak or understand a language you’ve never learned, make prophecies, preach the gospel or do some other thing in a way that is above their normal ability. I’m thinking this type is more of a “feeling” kind of thing. Like a rush of feelings that pours through you, directs you.

...or maybe she needed
some Prozac?!
And I guess this is what Corinne was after? And while her church didn’t really believe in tongues, they definitely were what I would call a “touchy-feely” church, devoted to each individual’s walk with God and spiritual growth... which is good... but somehow, Corinne just wasn’t feeling like God was walking with HER. 

But is “feeling it” necessary? Or just something she thinks she is supposed to have? The Bible said that the Holy Spirit in your life produces love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And these are things any Christian can have... speaking in tongues and prophesying and things like that seem like... gravy!

Maybe it was the insular nature of that particular brand of church that stymied Corinne’s growth. While they did have excellent worship music, they were not likely to explore other forms of art as an expression of the story of God and His love and grace. She was not even allowed to speak out about her relationship with God in mixed company... and it turns out that speaking is something she is pretty good at... 

I don’t have any idea where I’m going with this... It wasn’t my intention to talk bad about Corinne’s church. I don’t think that’s what the movie was about... Rather, it was a story about one woman finding her voice... literally. Married as a teen, and an instant mother, a loving wife, immersed in a male dominated church... 1. she was depressed and mourning the loss of a friendship, 2. she was exhausted from taking care of all those kids and doing all the traditional wifey things, and 2. who was listening to her? 

Okay, so maybe it WAS the conservativism of the church with regards to gender roles that I should have been addressing all along...?! I don’t know. Actually, I do know that even if given the freedom to do so, many women don’t feel comfortable speaking out – preferring to just fly under the radar. So... maybe it’s a woman thing? Maybe lots of us need to find our voices!

Well, it looks like I have just chewed this topic up and spit it out... without coming to any real conclusion. But look at that – I’ve found MY voice... and this is me using it... Thanks for listening!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Till I Reach the Higher Ground


We had another sobfest here at the Moore home theatre the other night...! We don’t really have a “home theatre” – but wouldn’t that be cool? No, we just have a reasonably large television and a couch and an armchair. (The couch is “Archie’s” chair and the armchair is for “Edith.”) Anyway, the movie was called, Higher Ground, and it just tore me up. It was based on a woman’s memoir, so knowing that it happened to someone makes it all the more gripping...

I could give you a detailed recap of the movie’s plot, but I really don’t think I am up to the task. Instead I will tell you what the movie was actually about. It’s about a woman, Corinne, who is saved as a young girl following a family trauma, then, with her husband, becomes intensely involved in a heartbreakingly earnest, loving, albeit conservative, church. Yet... despite being deeply embedded in a life of external worship never “feels” God’s presence. 

We see her longing and frustration most intensely in a scene where she begs the Holy Spirit to descend upon her and give her the gift of tongues, a secret prayer language. And when her closest friend suffers a debilitating brain tumor, Corinne’s pain and exasperation are intensified.

It was hard to watch for a couple of reasons, the first being, that I envied her a bit for having a husband who was so openly all in for the Lord – he played guitar in church, was an elder and taught their children about God with gusto. I love my husband ferociously, but his mode of worship is not like mine at all. While we both grew up in mainline churches – his a “high” Presbyterian, mine a Methodist, I embraced a much more charismatic style after entering my “born again” life. His is a more subdued, private, inward way... playing his cards much closer to his chest.

But that was just a minor thing. No, I felt so bad for Corinne, and her desire to feel God’s presence, to FEEL saved. Of course, she was in a church that emphasized these things. Would she have had the same crushing depression if she had been in a high Episcopal Church? I don’t know.

I, also, have desired a more charismatic, Spirit-filled experience. Speaking in tongues eludes me as well, though I have asked God for it. But despite not receiving this particular gift, I have felt His presence in other ways – even sometimes when I didn’t want to! 

I used to debate the validity of Christianity with me every time we got together. She often wondered how she could cast her lot with Jesus when she just didn’t feel it. I think she envied me my emotional conversion. She wanted to know why Jesus didn’t assault her heart the same way He assaulted mine. I just didn’t know what to tell her. I longed for her to be sucked into the Lord’s vortex of love and grace, but as long as I knew her, she continued to hover around the edges just sort of poking at it. I lost touch with her a few years before she died and I have always prayed that she eventually took the plunge. 

Red Hot Chili Peppers seek
higher ground too.
Neither would I know what to tell Corinne, should I meet her. Except that God is present whether you feel Him or not. He is true whether you believe Him to be or not. He is amazing and Lord of all, whether or not you feel this to be true. He is not relative. He is absolute. On the other hand, God is LOVE, which is an emotion, so... isn’t feeling kind of important? Or is God’s love something different altogether? Like maybe it involves emotion but that’s only a small part of it... there’s also justice and mercy and all the other attributes of God... I don’t know. I’m just speculating.

Claire Holley
Of course telling someone this is probably just words. It’s not like they will just say, “Oh, you’re right. How silly of me.” I did love Corinne’s resolve at the end. I don’t have the actual verbiage, but she said something like, “I’m going to keep on wrestling God until He blesses me.” Other than this, the conclusion is left to the viewer to draw, but I like to think that Corinne is still holding on to her God for dear life, and that she will be blessed.

(Although they have very little to do with anything, I couldn’t resist posting a couple of songs: The Red Hot Chili Peppers singing Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground, and Claire Holley doing a quite different Higher Ground.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

*POP!*


"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18)

Don’t I know it...! Here’s my story: this morning, I’m kinda riding high from writing what I thought was a not too bad blog entry yesterday... I mean, I got several positive responses from several readers on it... which I love. A lot of times I write something and it just sort of hangs there. And no matter how I feel about it, it’s really good to get feedback... to know that someone – anyone – out there is getting it. It’s great to be “gotten.”

Where the balloon that is my big head
was popped wide open.
Anyway, yesterday, I got some of that. And I was feeling good. But instead of thinking, “God did this!” – frankly, I was in danger of getting kind of a big head. So I’m at Harris Teeter buying rapid rise yeast to make bread in the awesome breadmaker I got for Christmas... (and now that I think about it, it’s a miracle my head fit through those sliding glass doors!) and it happens to be Thursday, which is Senior Discount Day (for customers 60 and over,) if I understand correctly... And I’m just minding my own business, making my transaction, when the cashier says, “Do you qualify for a Senior Discount?”

Needless to say, I was wounded to the core... I mean, I’m barely used to not being carded when I buy alcohol! In fact, I got carded at the Ingles on Tunnel Road in Asheville on my 39th birthday! Anyway, on my way out to the car, I dialed my friend Grace and went “WAAAHHH!!” right into the phone after she said “Hello.”

Give it to me straight – do I really look 60?
And over the phone, as I sat in the car in the parking lot, Grace talked me down off the ledge by telling me how a former boss of hers, a very sensible Christian man, said he thought that sometimes God threw him curve balls like that to keep him from getting a big head. And that certainly was a pin to my big balloon of a head! *POP!*

At first I thought, well, that sounds like God is just sitting around thinking up ways to trip us up... and then maybe he’ll do one of those Nelson laughs – “HAH-ha!” What kind of God is that?! But then I thought... that’s a God who really cares about your soul. Because unless you’re talking about pride in a job well done, or that kind of thing, excessive pride is a soul-sucking force.

Pride can keep you from looking for God and depending on Him, which is a lonely way to be: “In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” (Psalm 10) And if you’re only looking at and depending on yourself, then what if you fail? What have you got then? NADA, my friend. And pride can cause you to think you’re better than other people... and I don’t know about you, but I know me, and I’m not better than anyone! 

While writing to the church in Corinth, St. Paul said that if he wanted to he could brag – that he had a lot to brag about – spiritual experiences and the like, but that “in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12) To put it plainly, God gave Paul a handicap so he wouldn’t get a big head.. so that he would have to rely on God alone. 

So... was someone telling me I look as if I might qualify for a Senior Citizen Discount like Paul’s “messenger of Satan?” Probably not even close. But it wasn’t just that... it showed me that I possess a measure of vanity I didn’t know I had. Yeh... I got no business being prideful... I’ve got a long way to go before I’m perfect. Good thing it’s not all up to me, right?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Yes, Everybody


A masterpiece
How do you feel about R.E.M? I love’em. My husband hates’em. They’re not for everyone. But they are for me. I remember getting the album Murmur for $4.49 at the Record Bar on Franklin Street back in ‘83 at the suggestion of my friend Allison, who actually knew them. I can hear her now saying, “Buy this – it’s my friend Mike’s record.” So I spent what was not a small portion of my monthly college allowance for one of the best albums I bought that year – or maybe that decade.

I had to find this out, though, by being patient and persistent. Because an R.E.M. record has to sort of “sink in.” Here’s the drill: Get the album. Put it on the turntable (sic). Lie on the bed and play it through a couple of times – through headphones, or just really loud. Get up and do other stuff, but keep playing the album in the background. Somewhere between listen number ten and listen number twenty, you will undoubtedly find yourself saying either to yourself or out loud to a friend, “Damn, this is a masterpiece!”
R.E.M. – as I first saw them

What I wonder is, IF my husband put in the time and effort required, would he be able to appreciate the genius of R.E.M.? I mean, their music isn’t aggressive or discordant... unless you really can’t stand the jangly Byrds-esque guitars. Their lyrics may be a little vague, though – especially at first. I mean, listen to this early tune.

Eventually, the boys from Athens swam right into the mainstream with a few songs like Shiny Happy People and Stand. These little nuggets were glittery pop jewels that charted fairly well, but where I think they are the most accessible is with the wistful, mournful Everybody Hurts. Because really – everybody does. The lyrics say so quite clearly.

In the album’s liner notes, guitarist Peter Buck wrote: “The reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers”, and “I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.” Later, he told the BBC: “If you’re consciously writing for someone who hasn’t been to college, or is pretty young, it might be nice to be very direct. In that regard, it’s tended to work for people of a lot of ages.”

Because... that’s right, EVERYBODY hurts. Not just teenagers. But you already knew that... because you hurt too. You might be hurting right now.

R.E.M. – all grown up
Question is, what are you going to do with all that pain? Sometimes I eat mine. Sometimes I take it for a walk. Sometimes I cry it out with a sad movie. Sometimes I just cry it out. Sometimes I get a stomach ache – maybe because the pain I ate isn’t sitting well?

Some people dull it with drink or drugs... Some people use good works – either to channel it constructively or maybe to buy their way out of it. While this may be admirable and keep you busy, I am pretty sure that pain will still be there at the end of the day. Another constructive way to funnel that pain is through art. As Lester Bangs says in Almost Famous, “great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love...” 

In that vein, a friend of mine plans to plow through the pain of illness and divorce by relaunching his stand-up comedy career. Honestly, the kind of comedy born from pain really moves me... like Louis CK, or Sam Kinison. Yeh, I don't think Sam was mad so much as hurting. While I think Jerry Seinfeld is amusing, he seems more puzzled and mocky than anything else... although, maybe he keeps it light, focusing on life’s little quirks, in order to steer clear of any pain that might be lurking in his soul. And don’t tell me he doesn’t have any, because, that’s right... EVERYBODY hurts!

According to the song, when feeling pain, one should “take comfort in your friends.” A worthy strategy, to be sure... Friends, family, faith community... These can all be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, on one or two occasions I have been so inconsolable that I have worn friends and family completely out. They sympathized, oh yes, but they were simply exhausted from all my tears and yes, whining. I guess this is where trained professionals come in. 

The brilliant Julie Miller with
her brilliant husband Buddy
What I find funny is that I don’t carry my pain to the obvious place - to God. Jesus was called the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief... and the Holy Spirit was called the Comforter... so why do I go everywhere else before I just lay it down at God’s feet? The famous hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus says, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, / All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. (Dig this sweet version by Alan Jackson.) So I guess I’m not alone... 

The dudes who wrote the psalms knew to do this. Psalm after psalm calls for God’s help in times of trouble. Of course, these guys were also turning their pain into art, right?

Another brilliant artist who knows how to turn pain into art and run to God at the same time is Julie Miller. A survivor of abuse and a constant Christian pilgrim, she cuts right to the heart of it with songs like Broken Things and By Way of Sorrow.  She makes it almost enjoyable to cry out one’s pain.

I will say, though, that running to God does not always yield immediate relief... but you CAN have the satisfaction of knowing that you have come to the only one who can actually do something about your deep soul pain. Peter, who knew Jesus personally I might add, told people who were suffering from harsh persecution to: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Sounds like a plan.

Friday, January 6, 2012

In Which I Speak for Ordinary Girls Everywhere


If I ever had any amount of credibility with you guys, I am about to totally blow it. Here goes: I just completed a marathon of the currently on DVD movies of the Twilight series. That’s right – more than six hours of sparkly vampires, CGI werewolves and teen angst. And yes, I know it’s supposed to be for teenage girls, and that my fondness for them makes me a “Twi-mom.” Ewwww... right? I know, but I really can’t help it! 

Team Jasper!
Because of how I am, I have tried to analyze what it is about it that appeals to me so much... and it really escapes me. Critics have not been kind to the books or the movies, so I’m thinking it’s not a quality issue. Of course, the critics I’ve read are mostly men, right? I am reasonably sure, that men on the whole just don’t get it... which means that it might actually be about the guys. I mean, Robert Pattinson... Taylor Lautner – not the best actor, but definitely the best abs... Jackson Rathbone who plays Jasper... Thank you, God.

Ab-licious Taylor Lautner
Yes, it’s not un-creepy that a woman of my age is swooning over baby hunks, but... I don’t think it’s actually 49-year-old-mom me that’s swooning over them. It’s yearning, romantic 16-year-old me. The one who was nerdy, chubby, bespectacled – and received VERY little attention from boys. And if I did, it was never the HOT guys. 

Eddie Vedder? or Elton John?
Remember in Briget Jones' Diary when Rene Zellweger was all about Daniel (Hugh Grant,) her smooth, cool boss, but wouldn’t give a second look to smart, classy, kind Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth...? Well, that’s really not applicable because Colin Firth is actually quite awesome... My point is, though, it was never the Hugh Grants of the world that expressed an iota of interest in the high school me. No, it was the Colin Firths – and those were few and far between. It’s like wanting Eddie Vedder and getting Elton John. Of course, that’s not a good example either, since both are rock stars, but I’m hoping you take my point.

Anyway, in the Twilight saga, Bella, a girl who is described as absolutely ordinary, attracts not one, but two guys. And they’re not just interested – they’re obsessed, and hellbent on loving and protecting her from harm for the rest of her days. And they’re not Colin Firths, but off-the-charts on the Hugh Grant scale: one a Greek-god-marble-sculpture-looking guy – lean and beautiful with hungry golden eyes... and one a hot poker of a russet-skinned Native American warrior with chiseled abs and bulging tattooed biceps.

This is Robert Pattinson looking a LOT
like a boyfriend I had during a post-high 

school time when I didn't seem so ordinary.
Let's hear it for the Colin Firths of the world!
In Bridget Jones' Diary there is a great scene where Colin Firth and Hugh Grant actually come to blows over ordinary Bridget, and hilariousness ensues as the two metrosexual-ish businessmen duke it out in a crowded restaurant. Well, in the Twilight saga, Edward, the sparkly vampire and Jacob, the hot-tempered werewolf are always on the verge of exploding into a real monster mash-up over their ordinary girl. To invoke such passion – how hot is that? Speaking for ordinary girls everywhere, VERY. Now that I think about it, it's the intense passion that is so... exciting – not the sheer hotness of the guys... I mean, ordinary girls deserve this kind of romantic fervor too! And so do ordinary guys... I take back everything I just said about smoldering hot guys. It's the Colin Firths and Elton Johns of the world that I should be all about, right? The grown-up me knows this for a fact.

My husband actually pursued me with that kind of intensity. It was damn near irresistible.  I mean, we’re married, aren’t we? And he's is a definite Colin Firth... in the best kind of way. That is to say, as Mark Darcy does in the movie, he likes me just as I am. And how hot is that?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

... and a Happy New Year!

...and a Happy New Year!
I am tempted to skip writing about New Year’s resolutions, as it just seems a tad predictable... AND it’s already January 4th... but it’s what I’m thinking about. So, do I have any? Well, losing weight seems like an obvious one, but with my history, I try to avoid that kind of commitment. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this... or this.

I don’t love carrying around these saddlebags, or having a saggy, bouncy rear or a belly that boasts of my fondness for microbrews and french fries... but I am reasonably sure that any calculated effort on my part would be counterproductive. That is to say, dieting makes me want to eat like crazy. It’s like Paul says in Romans 7:10: “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” 

So, to be clear, losing weight is not my New Year’s Resolution. Nor is renewed frugality. Actually, I don’t really need to resolve such things because, typically, after the month of excess that is the holidays, I sort of tend to veer that way naturally. My hunger is sated and my purse is empty, so... on to more interesting and creative resolutions.

My first resolution is this: to try new things and do things I have never done before. I’ll be turning 50 this year (gasp!) so it seems like a good idea to remember to be spontaneous and flexible. I actually began this in 2011 (so long ago!) with starting this blog and writing a monthly feature column in the Chapel Hill News. I don’t know what shape this resolve will take in 2012 – it could go anywhere! I could make new friends, try new recipes and restaurants, wear colors I’ve never thought of wearing... 

Seriously, I’m open to suggestions, because most of these sound kind of lame. It’s kind of an amorphous blob of a resolution, really. The new things I try could be silly and shallow, or they could be life-changing leaps of faith... Actually, in our house, even tiny changes require leaps of faith. My seven-year-old will eat maybe 10 different foods, so trying a new brand of peanut butter? Are you nuts? I don’t remember being that stuck in my ways at that age.

Roddy Dinsmore says, "Know Jesus."
But even factoring in leaps of faith, this resolution seems like a speck of dust compared to the one made by the guy who spoke at our church on New Year’s Day. Roddy Dinsmore, the youth and college pastor at our church,  challenged us all to resolve to “know Jesus.” Good one, Roddy... No, seriously, that’s what he said. 

He mostly told us why... citing this sermon by SM Lockridge, which lists all the fabulous attributes of Jesus. Roddy said, hear this and consider this question: is there anyone else of whom you can say these things? And if not, why would you NOT want to know Jesus? This, I can dig, being already pretty much in love with the guy. Jesus, I mean, not Roddy Dinsmore...

But my question was this: HOW? Especially since he said that resolving to reading your Bible and pray more is not the same thing. So... how do you pursue it? Well, I actually asked Roddy later via email and he said... “spend time daily with him via reading the Bible and praying.”

Um, what? Since this is sort of contradictory, I figured that, since my man Roddy is a smart guy, there must be some way that both are true. Like maybe... resolving to read your Bible and pray more is NOT the same as resolving to know Jesus... BUT resolving to know Jesus INVOLVES scripture and prayer... but it’s all about the intent, the goal. In Roddy’s words: “The purpose of reading scripture should be to get to know Jesus better, not to get to know Scripture better. Prayer should be with the goal of knowing Jesus and committing to him, not to become more spiritually disciplined. We should do good deeds not for the sake of doing good, but because when we do good we experience Jesus and his character.” 

What Matthew Ward
looked like when I saw him
in the early 80s
So, reading the Bible in this case, would not be for information, or because we’re supposed to, but to get to the heart of who Jesus is. What does it say about Him? And praying is not just saying words, asking for stuff, engaging in the discipline of prayer, but ... opening yourself to Him, to what He will reveal to you about Himself... 

But, really, even though I am putting this into words that make sense to me, to know Jesus, is also sort of an amorphous blob of a resolution. And no matter what we know of Him, it will be just a drop in a bucket compared to how much there is to know. Fortunately, I think Jesus wants us to succeed. He really loved His friends while he was on earth, and I’m sure he’d be a pretty good friend to have now. Plus, I hear he typically hangs with people like me – sinners and the like.

In closing, here’s Matthew Ward singing, “Knowing You.” (Check out the crazy modern dance guy! I'm sorry, but that makes me laugh...) Anyway, I love Matthew Ward’s voice... I remember seeing him in the 80s while he still had that beautiful golden hair. Good times.