Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Out Of Step

I’m out-of-step again.

I was in marching band in High school and, for a couple years, in college. Yep, I’m that brand of geek-and had I discovered the joys of technology prior to grad school, I may have been a dual-geek-band and techie.

Anyway, I was in marching band and our uniforms had these white flappy things that we wore over our black shoes.

When something white moves you notice it.

When something white moves at the wrong time, you really notice it.

When someone was out of step it was a BIG DEAL. If it was at practice where the director could do something about it, a barrage of humiliating, derogatory comments was the usual result. If it was in a performance, well, he’d have time to really work up a head of steam before letting loose on the bus or in the classroom later.

Out of Step.

You’d think, after enough years that high school hurts should have been left well behind me, that being a person who is not much good at conforming would get used to being out of step. I get a lot of practice at it, after all.

Every time my out-of-steppedness is revealed, those feelings come back and I buy it. Every time; like some kind of supermarket sale-“hey, look at this, humiliation is cheap today, let’s pick some up! We wouldn’t want to run out.”

God says we’re good enough, though. That wherever we are and whatever we’ve done, he can handle it. That our path is alongside him and he’s not planning to change course. If we wander off and get lost, or need to stop for some sightseeing, we can find our way back and he’ll still be there.

And that works, for an individual, but God also created us in relationship. Here’s where it gets sticky. (At least for me it does. Maybe you’re clearer on this than I am.) In a relationship with others, a community, it’s not just my path, at my speed with my detours- it’s our path at our speed with our detours.

What happens when you’re out of step with Us? When the path of the community isn’t  your path. And neither path is wrong and neither is wandering or lost.

BAM! Out of step.

Even though God says he loves us and that we should come the way we are and let the rest go, there’s still this human reaction that says I am not like the rest. I should be like them. I am wrong. I should get in step.

And I’m left wondering why I just don’t “get it” and assuming that eventually I will make a few skippy little moves to conform to the group’s pace and direction.

A few years ago I saw a video that shows a particular kind of worm. This worm gets itself in line with other worms, right up to the tail end of the one in front of it and just follows along. Someone took these worms and lined them up head to tail, then put them on the rim of a cup. They did what they do- went around until the lead worm found the tail of the last worm, and ’round in a circle they went with no direction, no one out of step.  No one raising a little leg to say- “Umm, guys. We’re not really getting anywhere here.”

I guess that’s my job as a chronic out-of-stepper. I can be the one who wants to know what we’re trying to accomplish and if the going around in circles on top of a cup gets us there. I’m not someone to follow-I’m just one really little voice that hopes a few more little voices might also have the courage to speak up to say that it’s time to head in a new direction. Then maybe the real leaders can go ahead and figure out where there is and take us to it.

That doesn’t make things better. It doesn’t make them any easier but it does give my awkwardness a purpose. And I can try to believe that purpose helps the rest of  the Us that is my community. If that’ I can endure being out of step a little longer. If I wait long enough, maybe I’ll end up in step someday but I’m not going to count on it.

two totally unrelated topics

1. I have Lyme Disease. I’m really tired, achy and have fevers and headaches a lot. The doctor expects it to continue on and off for a year or two. If we had caught it just a little sooner, the timeframe for the symptoms would probably be different – less. Considering some of the other things they tested my 12 vials of blood for, Lyme is pretty darn minor. I’m pleased about that part. Did you know there’s something they test your blood for that uses viper venom? Medical bills are fascinating if you just ignore how much you owe…

2. Honey roasted peanuts are evil. Whoever came up with the idea should have been subjected to an addiction and 12 step recovery program just to experience what those of us addicted to his/her invention would have to endure. I bet he/she would hae thought twice before selling that particular idea!

What do you say when…

justice isn’t justice?

A brief update: My step-Dad left my Mom after 25 years of marriage. He came into the union with debt and a job that only made ends meet because my mom already had a house and was paying her own bills. Using her house and inheritance they, together, decided that she would not work any more, built an additonal house and bought and sold several properties along the way, making a few investments as well. The seed cash was hers, the living money mostly came from his job and loans based on the properties they owned jointly.

Now, he’s abandoned her and committed adultry and is financially able to buy her half of their jointly owned vacation home. She, meanwhile, is going to be left with less than what she had as a single mother, before he moved into her life 25 years ago. I’m not saying either of them should be out in the cold-but is it “just” to claim that her social security is all she should have when he’s the reason it’s so low, and he’s in a financial position to buy her out of what she made possible for them to have together?

But, the law doesn’t take any of that in account- not the adultry, the abandonment, the previous finances, the inheritances, his free-of-charge living situation with a wealthy mistress, or her attempts simply to stay in her townhouse, etc. All the law does is look a the bottom line: 1/2 for each.

Equal is not always fair. Bullies often win. But how do you explain that to the victim?

“For now we see through a glass, darkly.” (KJV 1 Cor.13:12)

I’m turning 40 this year-in just a few weeks. I made peace with that last year when I turned 39 and decided to start saying I was “almost 40” to get used to the idea. Because I grew up in a situation that was based entirely around youthful activities-scholastic sports, specifically-then chose to work around kids in another setting outside of the school systems I’m used to all adults being “old”. So, since I’m already old, turning forty doesn’t have quite the same impact.

 BUT, a couple weeks ago I found out I need glasses. That is having an impact. Not only do I need glasses for the first time in my life, but I either need two pairs, one for close and one for distances, or I need bifocals. Yes, I realize anyone can need glasses; my 12 year old son has been wearing them since he was five (and there’s a whole other post on my felt-inadequacies). My weekly blog-alarm has been going off all week telling me that I’m really behind and in the meantime, I’m avoiding the computer because the headaches I thought were regular stress headaches were caused by my deteriorating eyesight.

I remember when my Mom got glasses for the first time. She was in her early forties, but at the time I was about 11 and she was Mom-old. It’s hard to imagine reaching the Mom-old stage but the evidence has been piling up. I have a son in high school and my other three kids will all graduate from either elementary or intermediate school within the next two years. I think about the economy, politics and taxes occasionally. A few of my students are married or getting close. Maintaining the car seems kind of important lately. As does replacing the windows with more energy efficient ones. And so we decend into the dark side…

On the other hand, I am a MUCH better videogame player now….

to be or not to be (normal)

Have you ever felt not-normal and wanted to be normal?

Sometimes, actually quite often right now, I want a normal job, with regular hours and expectations. I want to the ability to talk to the other parents at my kids’ activities and feel like we’re living on the same plane of existence.  

But, then, at the same time you’re thinking yeah, I just want to be like everyone else, you also know you’d never be able to live that way? It’s just that it seems easier somehow, to float down the same part of the stream the rest of the world is floating down. What’s with that, exactly?

Layer that on top of constant thoughts that somehow I can do ______ better, more creatively, more sensitively, etc. but I don’t care enough to try. I think I should care. I’m expected to care. Why don’t I? It would just be so much easier to be doing something where it doesn’t matter if I care.

My husband says I think too much. Probably, he’s right. How do you stop thinking, though? I heard somewhere that women have a thicker corpus callosum. It’s the band of tissue between the two hemispheres of the brain which allows the hemispheres to communicate with each other. Apparently, what this means is that women are better multitaskers. Which, logically, means wwomen think about more at once. So, biologically, I can’t even rely on myself  to shut my brain down -I have to think and think about lot of things at one time. (currently I’m wondering if the laundry is dry, while I’m trying to figure out how to explain this and deciding what dinner is going to be)

So, exactly how does one stop thinking and start caring? Or live in the tension of being outside the normal while being in the midst of it?

Would Santa deliver presents to Baby Jesus?

My weekly blog alarm is going off with increasing frequency, so I better write something to stop it for another week or two…

I love Christmas. And, even though I work for a church and spend a lot of time with church people, the Christmas I really love is the Santa Claus, Grinch, gift-giving, silly movies, worse songs,  American, materialistic Christmas. I’m sorry, baby Jesus, it’s nothing against you really. It’s just that I love Santa!

Right about now, videos and emails start getting popular that are made to remind us that the season is about Christ’s birth and not about the other things. There’s a great one at adventconspiracy.org. I like them; I get the point. But I don’t see why celebrating the birth of Christ and celebrating generosity and loving on those we hold dear have to be exclusive of each other.

 I love that people get happy by buying stuff for other people, instead of buying stuff for themselves. And that some guy puts on a red suit and is SO generous that he’s spending his retirement years making toys for people’s kids who he doesn’t even know! Even though we spend so much on ourselves and our loved ones, we also give away more than any other time also. We embody generosity because of the silliness and traditions. Without those, I don’t think people would be willing to give so much.

Here’s a for instance: There are eight homeless teens living at a shelter I know. They need pants for school-khaki uniform pants. Nothing special, but they don’t have the money to get them. A friend contacted me about these kids, knowing that I work with teens at a church. She knows we’re already getting gifts for other needy families. She knows we already packed a bunch of gifts for kids globally to recieve on Christmas day. But she told me about these kids and the things they had on their christmas lists- school pants included. If it wasn’t for the extreme generosity of this season, I’d have had trouble finding the resources to help them out beyond just the basics. Instead, the response I’ve gotten is “what else do they want? I can get some of (insert gift items here) for them.”

Yes, Jesus is the only savior of the world. Santa’s got nothing on Him there. But if Santa gets us to act like Jesus from time to time, then maybe it’s ok to celebrate both with of them.

Brownie Brainwashing- the Girls Scout kind, not the chocolate kind

My daughter is nine years old. She the youngest of our tribe, and the only girl. So, we’re doing a few things for the first time although it’s our fourth child.

This year she joined Girl Scouts. The boys didn’t like Boy Scouts. They said it was too much like school. But she seems to enjoy her time there. At least so far-she’s gone three times. And, technically, she’s a Brownie; somehow you have to be a little magical cleaning helper fairy when you’re to young to be an actual Girl Scout. And I have to pause a minute and say that I would really appreciate if she’d turn into a little magical cleaning helper fairy for a day or two!

The second meeting she attended was the Brownie Investiture Ceremony. I was required to attend. I was not happy about it.

I like to make up more telling names for things, so the “Investiture Ceremony” quickly became known at home as The Indoctrination. That name didn’t last long because the next one was so much better: Brownie Brainwashing.

On a Monday night at 6pm, we went to the meeting.  She skipped, I trudged. We went in the room and I was handed a pin and given the instruction to “pin your daughter when it’s time.” I sat down and joked with the Dad sitting next to me about the amount of blood we were supposed to draw and wondered how exactly I was supposed to know it was time. Other parents milled around trying to find seats. Younger siblings kept themselves entertained by annoying their parents. Then the lights dimmed and the Brainwashing commenced.

First the girls entered with battery operated candles unlit. They walked to one of the troop leaders who twisted the candle to the “on” position, then the ten or so girls stood in a line facing their parents. Frankly, after watching the line I completely understood the wisdom of the battery operated candle light. Too many girls would have either been in the local burn unit, or at best been at the local Supercuts. Then the indoctrinees recited a story, moving down the row from one to the next. I think there was a mix-up because we heard the same part of the story four or five times before we moved on. Maybe they just wanted us to be really clear on that section? At any rate, as soon as they finished the story each girl went up, the leader spun them around saying “Twist me turn me show me the elf. I looked in the water and saw myself” at which point our children would look into a mirror on the floor, and, I suppose, turn into some little housecleaning fairy-elf as the story suggested. Each child took a turn at that and, when they looked up from becoming an elf, it was time. For each of the girls, a parent magically appeared to pin them and affirm their newfound elfhood. Surprisingly, no one seemed creeped out by the idea that their child had just willingly turned herself into an elf.

After the pinning, the girls participated in what the leader called a “friendship circle” in which they told eachother one thing that happened during their week. When everyone was done the leader said a few words, then the group squeezed hands and was released into housecleaning fairy land

And after all the girls succumbed, they were rewarded with cake and punch.

And by the end, I was not nearly so skeptical or annoyed.  Let me explain why:

Every Sunday, I go to church. I arrive in a flurry of people sitting down, socializing and joking a little before the lights dim and the service starts. Then a few people file up front to say, sing or do something. Often I’m asked to repeat what they say, sing or do. I listen, sometimes to a story but more often to a sermon. Then, on the forst sunday of the month, I’m offered communion-a ceremony in which I get to participate individually, but among a larger group of people. Then, we sing again and the pastor says a few words. After which we share some coffee and doughnuts.

Sound familiar?

I made a  couple mental notes for myself about it.

One was that this ritual speaks to people-our liturgical service elements weren’t developed only by human ingenuity, but also with spiritual guidance. Unknowingly, the girls scout troop picked up and developed a ceremony out of several offered elements that echoed those same liturgical elements, even down to the order. As far as I know, none of the brownie troop leaders picked up a Sunday bulletin from our church and said, “Hey, here’s a great model for our brownie brainwashing ceremony.” Which qualifies that as a Creepy God Thing to me. There is something in the make up of people, at least those in my corner of the world, that connects with that particular kind of ceremony.

The second was about my own attitude, and, potentially it’s an attitude a few others may share. I don’t feel anything close to warm and fuzzy about institutional religion, but I love my church family. I went to Brownie Brainwashing with a lousy attitude about how institutions manipulate their members. I feel the same way about churches/denominations/religions, even though I’m involved in it. I think a lot of people may fear that same idea of mass manipulation happening in church. I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t happen; it does.

On the other hand, just by holding a lousy attitude toward the brownie thing, I’m seeing something in it that the leaders did not put there. The women responsible for that ceremony were going for a touching, inclusive event that the girls would remember. They made a rite of passage that had the power to create a bond between the members through the memories of a shared experience. They did it with honesty and caring for the girls. I think most local churches are coming from a similar place of honesty and good intentions, but those of us who fear and resent institutional manipulation don’t broaden our minds to accept that what is being offered has intrinsic value that goes beyond human. That the ritual itself, that thing that makes church feel most churchy, is the place where the most treasured parts of what draws a person to a spiritual life reside. We miss out on that because we see only the trappings, or are uncomfortable with the words, or the unfamiliarity. But the people who make up that church aren’t doing it to manipulate people, they’re doing it to create a space for God to connect with us and for us to connect with each other.

I’d like to propose a sensitivity from both inside the church regarding the fears and negativity those who aren’t involved in churches may bring to the table, and from those who have had difficulties embracing the Church to allow for the idea that the people in the church are just people who are trying to make some space for God without harming or dictating to anyone in the process. (and since I’m on both sides, I’m asking more of myself than anyone else)