Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

I keep thinking I should write a special blog post for my birthday – even though it’s not one of the big ones… like last year. Maybe it’s odd that a grown woman would care about marking the day of her earthly debut, but… I guess I see it partly as a time to celebrate another year of defying death...

Yes, I’m gonna be 51… and I have a son who just turned nine. Just for the heck of it, I put him on the scales to see how far he’s come. Granted, he’s just busted through the mother of all growth spurts, but this child… this NINE YEAR OLD child, weighs 82 pounds. He is tall and well-formed, solid muscle and bone … I am definitely not saying that I think he weighs too much. In fact, he’s just right. My point is that …well, he weighs more than I did in my twenties.

Yeah… I was scrawny. And sick. And sad. But now… well, I’m plump! And well! And happy ! And ALIVE!!! So why NOT celebrate?! Why NOT eat cake?! Why NOT have a splendid diner at the fantastic, Southern Living-hailed Geer Street Garden?!

I found this cake pic doing an image
search! It has my name on it!
What’s weird is that this crazy body and brain of mine contain two opposing forces: the first one being the LET’S ROLL! me… the me who is ready for anything – let’s love the mess out of these people God gave me, and design the hell out of these ads and magazines, and write this crazy blog with all kinds of weird references, and lightly steam the crap out of these delicious vegetables from the farmshare, and dig art and music and movies and church, and tell everybody about Jesus… That’s probably the one you’re seeing when you look at me. And it really IS me.

But then there is this other me…  the ready-to-meet-Jesus me. The worn out, tired, plodding, just-get-it-over-with me. That’s me, too. I AM a Gemini (ie. twins), after all. Not that I follow the zodiac – that’s supposed to be demonic or something, isn’t it?
Yeah... I used to weigh what my
nine-year-old weighs now. It was nasty.

It’s pretty helpful when I think about this to realize that Paul had these same warring factions in him. Here’s what he said: "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:22-24)

Now, I am in NO WAY comparing myself to a spiritual giant like Paul… But I DO kinda know what he meant. It’s not a weird death wish or a suicidal tendency or anything… I think he was just tired. He endured all kinds of trials – whipping and imprisonment and shipwreck and snakebite… It makes my little "trials" look like a hangnail.

Harry Dean Stanton
as Paul
But Paul... I don’t think he was looking for a way out – he’d already emptied himself and given himself to Jesus… I just think his whole life had been pointing to this end and he was ready for it. And he was so sure of Jesus waiting there for him that he could freely say, “Kill me now.” I imagine he felt like a marathon runner craving the finish line and his trainer's arms to collapse into.

And because he was so sure of Jesus, he was also able to keep on running – he plowed ahead with what he was doing here on earth. He knew he wasn’t done, and he loved all those people so much... He had to keep on keeping on… to PREACH TO HECK OUT OF THE GOSPEL, SAVE A GAZILLION SOULS, MAKE A BUNCH OF TENTS, AND PRAY SOME SUPER FERVENT PRAYERS, AND HAVE SOME EXHAUSTING VISIONS, AND PLANT A BUNCH OF CHURCHES ALL ACROSS THE KNOWN WORLD, AND WRITE A BUNCH OF HELFUL LETTERS, AND MEDIATE SOME DISPUTES AND MENTOR SOME YOUNGER PASTORS… It was a hard life, but a good one.

Life IS good – and I'm going to celebrate another year of mine. Death is good, too, but I’m not ready. And either way, it’s all for Jesus.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Still Not Refusing the Metaphor

Okay, so… I released that last entry into the blogosphere on Saturday, and now I have a couple of things to say about it. So if you haven’t read that one, then this one will make not sense… so go here and read it NOW! (If you want to, that is…no pressure….)

Look how much Steve
Jobs loves my Mac...
First off, forget the IT guys… though I love them… In my new and improved metaphor you don’t have one of those guys sitting next to you… you have freakin’ STEVE JOBS pushing the buttons for you. Or Bill Gates, depending on your preference… That is to say, you don’t just have a trained professional to help you work your new computer, you have the Genius who invented it!

Out with the old...
And second, yesterday in church, we went over a bit of Scripture from John 15, and dig this EXACT quote from Jesus to His disciples: "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you." (John 15:3). Okay, so I know He probably said it in Aramaic, and then John wrote it in Greek, and then a member of the New International Version translation team translated it into English, but… Here’s Jesus saying, in essence, “I said it. It’s done.” (Remember when He said, “It is finished?!”) Ahh… sweet mystery of life, I’m glad I found you… with the new!

Now I’m thinking now about how when the company I worked for migrated from using Quark Xpress for layout to Adobe InDesign. I was what you might call a “slow adopter.” I would mess around with the InDesign a little occasionally, but mostly I just stuck with Quark… because I knew how to use it. But then… I moved into a department where they had removed Quark from the machines…. And I was forced to use InDesign exclusively.

Soul Asylum
The reason I am thinking about this, is… well, I wonder if there’s a way to remove the old safety nets from my spiritual Mac? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it… Like in that song, Somebody to Shove by Soul Asylum... which is sort of a plea for God to show Himself and get the singer up off his ass to do something. “Take away my Quark, God! Otherwise I’m just going to keep using it!” Of course it’s always completely scary when the Quark is gone... Good thing Steve Jobs is sitting right here with me.

Anyway, that’s the rest of I wanted to say right now about this… until we meet again… party on.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Metaphor I Couldn't Refuse

Not exactly... 
Now that I have gone and pondered the crucifixion and the resurrection… My whole life has turned around and I am living perfectly. My eyes are firmly fixed on Jesus, and I sold everything I had and gave it to the poor… but don’t worry – I’m soooo freakin’ humble about it. AND I am super nice to everyone ALL the time – especially my husband and child. I lay down my life for them – and all my fellow man – every single day, meeting their every need with joy and complete compassion…

I’m guessing that you know that this is not true. Yeah… I’m still a big mess. I nearly always disappoint my own self with my inability to live out the gospel as it deserves. Sure, I’m contemplating Jesus on the cross and His empty tomb, but… Where is this new creation He says I am? ("Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" 2 Corinthians 5:17) It seems like knowledge of these earth-shattering facts ought to do something IN ME…??? 

My friend Grace wrote her dissertation on Spanish mystic poet St. John of the Cross and he referred to something call the “palabra sustantiale.” And I'm probably spelling it wrong, but if I remember correctly, it means a word that effects creation or change. Like when God said, “Let there be light,” (Genesis 1:3) and there was.

St. John of the Cross 
knew what the palabra
 sustanciale was.
When she explained this to me, I yelled, “YES!!” because I knew that’s what I needed… to be changed, or re-created… and if it could be done with a word, then by all means SAY IT NOW! Although... as John says, Jesus is the Word (John 1). John echoes the creation story in his beautiful language at the beginning of his gospel. Put Genesis 1 and John 1 side by side and you’ll see what I mean.

So, apparently Jesus Himself is the Word that creates, or effects change. Like He said, “You must be born again.” And if you were to ask me, “Julie, have you been born again?” I’d say, “Why, yes!” And sure I believe in Jesus and I go to church nearly every Sunday… And I don’t smoke pot or sleep with just any old person anymore, but … But here I am, the same old insecure, grouchy, selfish as all get-out, out-of-control me.

My new computer still
looks like this...
So… what the heck, man? Well… the conclusion that I have drawn after much reflection is that the change effected by Jesus is on the cellular level and has already occurred. That is, being reborn in Christ not like running antivirus software to delete extraneous files, etc.  And it’s not like upgrading to Mountain Lion. It’s more like … getting a whole new hard drive.

And accessing the NEW functionality of your NEW computer may take some time and effort. You don’t automatically become a better or nicer person, though… I can attest to that!

To continue with the computer analogy, let’s say you’ve got this new hard drive – and it’s the finest, fastest, most up-to-date there is. (In my world, that’s a Mac, but… I swear I’m not a Mac-ist!) And it’s loaded with all the newest, most productive and creative software as well…

but has THIS kind of power.
Except ... it's still inside the old tan SE case. And maybe you aren’t sure exactly what your job assignment is… or maybe you have no idea where the Applications folder is. Or once you find that, you still have to learn to use these programs… You could do tutorials or go to classes, learn it on  the job... The thing is, though, it kind of has to be intentional. You have to decide to use and learn this new stuff.

If that sounds like a lot of work, well, honestly it’s not always easy. But you do happen to be sitting right next to the IT guy. And a lot of the time, he just jumps in your chair and does the work for you. But you have to let him.

You will find that some programs are easier for you to learn, because of your natural proclivities. I found right out of the box that I could run the Evangelism software right on start-up… but only because I was already super excited, a bit too talkative, and likely to wax philosophical at any given moment.  (I'm thinking that lot of people are sure that if they trust God He is going to make them go to Africa, or take a vow of celibacy… or something equally counter to their nature… And I’m not going to say that God never asks us to do anything hard… but in general, God wants to work WITH your strengths.)

Say the Word and 
you'll be free!
So… in our scenario, unfortunately, your brand spanking new computer might also still be running old outdated programs like Freehand and Pagemaker… and you might still try to use them sometimes because you’re familiar with them. Some of the old files you brought with you from your old system might infect this new machine with a virus… Lots of things could gum up the works on your new computer...

But the fact remains, even though you may be chugging along with this outmoded software and probably inefficient work habits, you have been supplied with a brand new computer with brand new cutting-edge software. You can toss the old programs, and the old files. Run them through a virtual shredder. Goodbye virus.

Anyway… that’s my theory about why I’m still a mess even though the Word has been spoken and change HAS been effected… Because I’m still running old programs and files on my brand new computer.

And I know it’s not that simple… our lives are much more complicated and joyful and painful than this describes… but once I started down that metaphorical path, I just couldn’t turn back. I keep thinking of my friend Shaun – who I hope will read this – who loves Macs… maybe more than I do.
Some awesome IT guys I have known...
It’s a fun analogy, and… and I have a lot more to say about the serious side of it all… but until then… keep thinking about the IT Guy in the sky who’s working on your reboot...!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rated V for Violence, and KP for Kinda Preachy

The handsome, friendly Jesus
The Bible miniseries
Okay, I’m going to confess … when I referred earlier to that History Channel miniseries, The Bible, I actually had not yet seen it. From what I gather from what other people at church and on the web were saying, everyone was gathering around a roaring TV every night watching this oeuvre night after night when it aired. The buzz I heard was pretty good, if a bit mocky… like: “Samson had dreads… who knew?”

Or, “Jesus is super hot!” I heard that one a lot. And, to be fair, he really is in this version. Played by Portuguese soap opera star Diogo Morgado, the dude oozes … goodlookingness… if that’s a word. And friendliness and sensitivity… and … I don’t know. I've no problem with that, although as I mentioned earlier (in the above referenced entry,) I prefer Willem Dafoe’s portrayal in The Last Temptation of Christ… since the Bible mentions a couple of times that Jesus was pretty ordinary looking.

The handsome, 
friendly actor 
who played him
Anyway, I finally got The Bible miniseries discs from Netflix to view for myself, and watched them one after the other… An enjoyable ride. There were some inconsistencies, but the spirit and tone of it quite touching.

Now here’s my REAL confession: I watched it WHILE I WAS WORKING ­– just half paying attention to it. ‘Cos, really, that’s how I generally hang… with one ear to the ground and one ear pointed up to heaven. And, to be honest, I probably need one of those deafness trumpets in that ear. I’m not proud of it… I certainly wish I were like Brother Lawrence with his constant practicing of the presence of God. But I, my friend, am no Brother Lawrence.

Our Jesus was fully man.
It was bloody, I tell you!
And the climax of my insensitivity? The story rolls around to the part where Jesus is crucified, and there He is, going through all that horrible stuff… being whipped and hit on the head, stripped and mocked, spit on by his own people. The ones who were probably just a few days ago welcoming Him into the city with palm branches. Then, as the story goes, He was nailed to a wooden cross and hung between two thieves. All bloody and groaning and gross…. A lynching is what it was…

So this all is being played out on the small screen, and I’m sitting there at my desk, sipping on a Diet Coke, doing ads or maybe laying out a magazine, checking out what George Takei is doing on Facebook… And that’s when it dawned on me…

The most stunning thing in human history has taken place, and yes, it was just a show, but I’m using it as a metaphor here. Also, yes, I’m a big fan of the Lord… but mostly, I’m just going about my business like nothing ever happened. Nice. Okay, so I’m closing in on 51 – a Christian for, I don’t know, 20+ years… and while I appreciate the facts and the doctrinal points, it has just now dawned on me what happened and what it meant… or what my tiny mind is able to comprehend of it, anyway.
... and also fully God.

I mean, there was an EARTH QUAKE!!! The sky went COMPLETELY DARK!! Dead people came OUT OF THEIR GRAVES AND WALKED AROUND THE CITY!!! The curtain (a heavy duty tapestry) in the temple that was made to keep us regular joes out was ripped in half!!! Even a Roman soldier, a highly trained military machine, could see that this was no ordinary event… he had just executed THE SON OF GOD!! This is stuff the Bible says will accompany the end of the world. That’s how big it was… this shift in the soul of the world and its people. 

Even this guy knew it was a big deal.
Of course I have read this tale again and again, but it has always seemed a bit like theory or a myth. But that stuff is real, man. (Yeah, I just said “man.”) It’s really real. It’s not a fairy tale, it’s HISTORY… and it’s not just something that happened eons ago, it’s also about US.

I was raised in a Methodist Church. We rarely sang songs like Nothing But the Blood or There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. (We left it to the Baptists to ponder those things.) The cross displayed in our sanctuary was empty, rather than hung with the sculpted body of a bleeding, dying Jesus. Was it just too gruesome for us? Or… a tradition? Or just a way of pointing us toward Jesus’s resurrection instead? Of course I mentioned in this same blog that my personal viewing of The Last Temptation of Christ begged for depiction of the Resurrection. AND as Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15:17-19)

The crucifix my son sees
every Friday
So, yeah, the Resurrection is key – it shows Jesus is the Son of God, right? But the crucifixion… I guess it shows the He was a real flesh-and-blood man suffering a real execution... So he was able to stand in for us and take all the punishment WE deserve. I guess what I’m saying is that since Jesus was both God and man, we ought to weigh both things in our hearts… whereas, my habit is to focus on Easter rather than Good Friday – IF I focus on anything at all! Because… mostly I’m just working and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and emptying the dishwasher and watching Game of Thrones and checking Facebook way too often…

And then the stone rolled.
Anyway, my son goes to Catholic school, and I guess some people think it’s a little too graphic for kids to look at, but it doesn’t bother me that they have a crucifix in the church where they have Mass every Friday. Because this part is big too! And that’s how our Jesus rolled…. Naked, stoned and stabbed... Crucified, dead and buried. And then the stone rolled. Honestly, even though it’s cold, hard fact, it’s still a great story…. Maybe the greatest story ever told…!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In Which I Meander the Dotted Line

The Easy Listenin' 
Back when I was a kid being chauffeured around in our wood-paneled Vista Cruiser station wagon, the AM/FM radio was always tightly controlled by our parents. My dad grew up on a tobacco farm in rural Granville County, so I hazard a guess that his true preference was for country music, old-time or otherwise. However, because my mother detested country music with the kind of vehemence people normally reserve for, say, Hitler, he kept that in the closet. If we listened hard enough, though, we might catch him whistling Farther Along or You Are My Sunshine.

My dad fancied Karen Carpenter.
Apparently, so did Nat Stine's dad.
So, what was the soundtrack of our dysfunctional car rides? One of three things: WUNC, which played classical music back then, WYYD, which played muzak (elevator music, we called it), or WRAL's adult contemporary. Yes, I am deeply familiar with the soft hits of the seventies: Captain and Tennille, the Carpenters, Helen Reddy… folks like that. I think my dad had a secret crush on Karen Carpenter... and she did have a voice like butter... Of course when we were very young we thought it was fine. As I blossomed into a surly teen and found out that WQDR (album rock back then) was where it was at… well, let’s just say my preferences were slightly more metal than our parents’. Led Zeppelin. Cream. The Who. And Elton John, of course – but he was considered cool back then. 
This was more my speed.

Nevertheless, we continued to be fed a steady auditory diet of smooth melodies, maudlin lyrics and syrupy orchestrations. Ew. To my teenange ears, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard... Oh! The humiliating uncoolness of it all!!! I survived, though, and here I am today, telling you the tale.

And now we fast forward to the current day, which will take us in my usual roundabout way to what I am really going to talk about. (Picture those Family Circus cartoons where the mom tells Jeffy or PJ to walk from point A to point B, but dotted lines show how the kid’s actually path shoots off in a hundred directions – petting the dog, getting cookies from Mrs. Wilson… oh wait, wrong comic! Sure I could have just said, “let’s talk about these two songs” but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun as telling you about the cavities we got from excessive Paul Williams consumption…!)

Anyway, I remember a cool woman in my office – a stellar mother – told me that she always let her (teenage) kids pick what they would listen to in the car. So I thought, due to my previous pain, “that’s what I’M going to do.” And so I do. When Bill was too little to care, I picked the stuff – usually something I considered pretty good, but not too obnoxious. He knew Van Morrison’s Moondance album from beginning to end. Also James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, Hank Williams Greatest Hits and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

Bill's Pinewood Derby homage...
But now that he's nine, he’s starting to have his own preferences and, like the aforementioned cool mom from my office, I let him pick the tunage. You know what he picks ten times out of ten? The Who. That child loves those guys. Especially Keith Moon, who, although not a great role model, could really beat the skins. Bill even put a Who logo on his Pinewood Derby car and made little Lego figures to go with it of the guys in the band. It was awesome if I do say so myself.

to these guys...
Now, as I’ve said, I’ve been listening to the Who for roughly 40 years. Album radio has ensured that I have heard Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley more times than I can count… so by now it kind of goes in one ear and out the other. Until Bill. Hearing these songs as my kid hears them for the first time… it’s almost like hearing them myself for the first time… again. So let’s just say that my appreciation of the Who has been reignited.
who actually looked like this.
Bill invariably requests Who’s Next or Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy for our rides to school and cub scouts and Target and the like, so I’ve had plenty of time to mull over the classic songs and their meanings and implications. Two songs, have especially unfolded for me in new and different ways. (And now we come down to the true raison d’etre of this post!)

"naked, stoned 
and stabbed..."
First, Bargain. It’s fairly obvious that this passionate declaration is religious. Pete Townshend is a follower of Meher Baba, who was an Eastern guru. The gist of it is that Pete would give up everything he has to find spiritual enlightment through his guru – and would consider a bargain… the best he ever had. Of course my Western, thoroughly Christian brain applied it to seeking and following Jesus Christ… it resonates with quotes from the Bible like, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44) and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

But one day, we’re driving along, Bill and me, listening to this forceful, anthemic song, and I hear Roger Daltrey sing out, “To win you, I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed…” I realized that this song is not about ME and what I’D give up for Christ, but about JESUS Himself and what He gave up for every me on earth!!! That is to say, each one of us is so amazing to Him that He would and DID stand naked, stoned and stabbed to purchase us from our own stupidity! AND He considers it a BARGAIN!! (Can I get a "Hallelujah"?!) I much prefer this interpretation, as 1. I am lazy, and 2. Even if I were to do all the work this song implies, I couldn’t save myself.

"Can I buy your magic bus?"
Okay, moving right along. This next one is sort of a stretch, but it really works for me. Magic Bus. This joyful, rockin’ good tune – performed with all the  fervor of a charismatic worship service – is about a guy who boards a bus every day to visit his girlfriend. He values this privilege so much he wants to buy the bus for his own personal use. “I don't care how much I pay, I wanna drive my bus to my baby each day.” Which, again, expresses the sentiment that attaining the object of one's desire is worth everything one owns. (Again, Matthew 13:44)

This song can be taken straightforwardly – as in "boy do I love my girlfriend;" some imagine it as an ode to the narrator’s drug of choice. But one day recently, I heard it in my mind as an expression of intention and appreciation for contemplative prayer. As in, “every day I hop on board the contemplative prayer bus to be united with God.”

In this scenario, our protagonist chants “I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it…” as a sort of contemplative exercise such as those devised by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Then the guy in the background goes, “You CAN’T have it!” This would be Satan, naturally. Or “the enemy,” “the evil one,” Mr. Scratch, Voldemort, Sauron...* That a-hole tries to tell us we can’t buy the Magic Bus, (ie. pray worth crap and why would God want you anyway) and therefore, getting to our “bay-bay” (ie. achieving union with God) is either impossible, or much too costly. Of course we’ve already established that we are willing to spend whatever it takes to get there… and fortunately for us, as mentioned above, it is our “bay-bay” who has paid the enormous cost and made the amazing journey to reach US. Yes, please!

How ‘bout another “Hallelujah!” and an "Amen!"

*Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears PradaMr. Scratch, Louis Cypher in Angel Heart, Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick, John Milton in The Devil's Advocate, Duchess the cat in Babe, Denis Leary as Slater in Secret Lives of Dentists...