Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Desires and thanksgiving

If a tiger is raging inside you, release it before it eats its way out. More on that some other time.

I have a few desires. While they are supposed to be the root of all suffering, I think these are good ones to have, moving me along the right path.

First, I have been thinking how fun it would be to blog about tweens/teens, since I have two, and they are a source of endless amusement, frustration, amusement, etc. How? Could I get paid anything?

Second, I desire a job that does not involve sitting at a desk all day, or else involves writing. Hmm.

Third, I desire to have more fun! Starting today. The last time I really gave myself permission to just have fun was about 1974, and that's too long. Now, how to integrate this into my highly responsible, over-structured life as a parent/wife/employee/volunteer, etc., is the question.

Austin would be thrilled if I could just have fun and not always be giving yet another moralistic lecture to him & his brother. (Me? Preachy? Never!) He was telling me about some Super Bowl commercials on YouTube, one of which was a beer commercial about the extra powers the beer could give you, like flying -- and you see this guy flying, saying wow! this is so awesome! -- then getting sucked into the engine of a plane, and a voice says "flying ability no longer available." And I said, they should do a commercial where the extra abilities include passing out!

Austin did not appreciate that, for some mystifying reason. It's not like I am a teetotaller! I just can't turn off that "parent" mode that remembers how I and so many others abused alcohol so much in college. I was one of the lucky ones who worshipped at the altar of a porcelein toilet. My roommate, not so lucky, had an inebriated romp which she could not remember (in which she lost her virginity), got pregnant, and wound up getting an abortion. I know Austin will make the same mistakes as Dwaine and I did, but I want him to already know better!

Back to the list of desires. Fourth, I have finally realized that being spontaneous is not a bad thing, always. In fact, I am so proud of myself, because I went with Dwaine to Lost Maples last week on my one and only day off, when I had approximately 1 million other, much more productive things I could have been doing (and planned to do). We had fun!

Here's Dwaine.



And here's me and my water bottle. This was on Veterans Day, and the weather was perfect.

Dwaine is "spontaneous" -- which means he never thinks about how his own wishes might conflict with the plans of everyone else, or cause endless changes to other people's plans, etc. I just read in AARP magazine, of which I am an honorary member 'cause of my hubby, that the most resilient people are the ones who don't get too attached to their plans, but who can accept life's unexpected revisions! Ah-ha! So that's been my trouble all these years.

Here's a recent fun outing, when my boys and the Boy Scouts participated in the fall flotilla along the San Antonio River in Goliad. I came along to take pictures and camped out. We went to an 1836 battle re-enactment that happened after dark at the nearby fort.

Ending on a thankful note, I am so happy, and thankful, to be visiting my sister in Blacksburg soon! I can't wait to see her again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My faith journey

The comments on my last blog (thanks, faithful followers!) lead me to say that I am on a faith journey, but I cannot see around the corner, so to speak, to any particular destination. I have surrendered the results to a higher power than myself. I do not seek a particular outcome other than spiritual growth. It's nice to set goals for your life, but this is a path that I am walking, one step at a time. I believe in this case, the journey is more important than the outcome.

I think that the practice of Christianity is so distorted from what Jesus intended. As one of my Buddhist podcasts stated recently, Christianity in practice today is all about what you believe and have faith in; whereas Buddhism is about actions, how you live your life, no mandatory belief system attached. Ouch! The truth hurts.

I think Jesus intended his followers to be like Buddhists, to live and act out of compassion for others. He was not heavy on dogma. I've mentioned before that he had two laws that encompassed everything, and they were all about love. Love, and love, and everything else takes care of itself.

Humans are capable of distorting anything, and some people seem to have an overriding need to distort everything. (This is a way of defining evil, I think.) So even if there were no religion -- Imagine, John Lennon said -- there would be plenty of other ways for human beings to rationalize hurting and destroying one another. For one thing, there's politics and political systems that distribute resources so unevenly that conflict is guaranteed. People who are wealthy hoard their wealth; this would happen with or without religion.

So I don't think that denying the great truths that are in religions will take away the pain and suffering people cause one another. When pain and suffering result from anyone who says they are practicing one of the major religions, it is a complete perversion of that religion, whether it is Muslim or Christian or something else.

So religion should not be blamed for people acting in hateful ways. The hatred does not come from the religious practice in itself. It comes from someplace else. Where?? Possibly the fragile ego's need to defend itself. That is why all the major religions, I believe, call on us to ditch putting ourselves and our needs above all others. Sort of like a 12-step program -- we all have to end our addiction to ourselves, which we are born with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading the Old Testament

This week's Bible reading is the heaviest yet. We were asked to read much of the book of 1 Samuel in two days, or around 7-8 chapters a day. I love this story of Samuel and Saul and David. Fascinating characters, and so human. Saul, Israel's first king, shows so much promise, but then he becomes a typical politician, thinking of himself all the time. Then he goes crazy with envy of David, his successor. The story is so much more readable than the rules and regulations we were reading about recently.

I find much of the Old Testament to be so harsh and outdated, particularly the Torah (first five books). These have the strict dietary and worship laws that God set up with his people.

Then, in Judges, there is an instance of actual human sacrifice where Jephthah promises to sacrifice "whatever comes out my door" upon his return home, if the Lord grants him success in battle. The people in my class reasoned that he was trying to get rid of his wife! However, it was his daughter who came out the door, and he did sacrifice her.

Then there are God's problematic instructions to the Jews to wipe out the people of Canaan, to obliterate them and leave not a trace, so that they would not contaminate his people with their religions and ways. So hauntingly like genocide.

And there are the times that God destroys people -- not just the flood, but over and over again when he is angry and they have strayed away. It's such an old-fashioned view of God as the harsh disciplinarian, and that the presence of sin makes killing somehow acceptable. What about thou shalt not murder, when there is divinely ordered killing throughout the Old Testament?

I know that Judaism is a loving religion. I'm having trouble finding evidence of it in their holy scriptures. How could you live following just the law, the prophets, and other writings? Of course, I don't understand Judaism, but I don't see how I could ever practice it.

I am learning that the study of religion, any religion, is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. I am finding I have to do it, though -- I can't just practice or have faith. Faith in what? in whom? I have to dig, dig, dig for the meaning. There are so many layers of meaning, and ritual, and history. It's the work of a lifetime, to be sure.

Monday, November 9, 2009

In brief

Brief? Me? ha, ha, ha, ha, ...

My last entry on clutter was a psychic message from God that I need to de-clutter, not my house, but my blog entries! But it's so much more fun to just do the stream-of-consciousness thing. Yeah, sometimes I hate those messages from God.

Speaking of clutter. I went into the walk-in closet to retrieve a bag, to pack for our weekend camping trip with the Boy Scouts. As I removed the bag from a high shelf, something fell down. Lo and behold! It was Andrew's iPod, which had been missing and presumed lost for approximately one year. I had apparently taken it away from him and put it in a safe place. Dwaine says that was a little overboard, to take it away for a whole year. I'm one tough momma. So, Lord only knows what else is in that closet.

Still haven't found his journal, but that was never put into time out.

I briefly lost Andrew himself this evening. He never goes out at night, being fearful of the dark and rabid wild animals and such. So I knew he was inside the house, and our house is not that big, and he was nowhere to be found. Well, I forgot his new habit is to go into his closet, close the accordian doors, and pray/meditate. So, that's where he was and what he was doing, and he was so annoyed that I interrupted him. So I told him he should just check in and let me know where he is next time, and that way, he can stay in the closet as long as he would like.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stuff

I worked hard all day so I could come and play here for a while.

I looked in all Andrew's secret hideaways in his room for his journal. This is a small journal that I keep for him, about him, mostly, and have since he was about 2 years old. I have Austin's, but Andrew's has been lost for a while. His room is always neat, but only because he crams everything randomly into bins and chests so it is not visible. I found Asian statues (courtesy of my dad), old plastic Easter eggs, cub scout stuff, homework from probably a few years ago, shells and fossils, his fifth-grade school memory book, and lots of miscellaneous parts and pieces. Did I move or remove a single thing? Nope. That's why the kids' stuff stays the same over the years. Guess that will have to change one day, once they move out.

So I found lots of other interesting relics, but no journal. I just remembered another secret hideaway I forgot to check, if it's still in Andrew's room. It is supposed to be a red cushy footstool with storage under the pad. It's actually just another dumping ground, that used to stay hidden in his closet all the time. Maybe someone got rid of it? That's unlikely.

Now, if I were feeling really brave, I would check Austin's room too, but I'm not sure I am up to it today.

I guess I have a clutter problem. The problem is that I see clutter, and my reaction is to just feel overwhelmed and leave it all. You probably would not notice this problem, because the house looks relatively picked up in its visible areas. But don't open that one drawer under the microwave! (It's getting hard to shut again if you do.) Don't go looking in the walk-in closet! Don't, whatever you do, look under any beds in our house!

Oh, and stay out of the attic. Most of those boxes have been around since before Dwaine and I got married, and they somehow followed us from our starter home here, to find their new and permanent home in the attic. I have no idea what's in any of them.

At least I don't store anything in the oven, or refrigerator (besides food), or anything that a real clutter-disordered person would do. There's a name for that psychological disorder, but I don't know it.

My kids, unfortunately, seem to have inherited this tendency to live surrounded by hidden clutter. That, or they don't really care. I have a closet that is a sanctuary for all kinds of stuff. It draws it in and traps it, and it never, ever leaves. I have essays from college (high school?) that are stashed in that closet. I told Austin this recently, and he said, "Why?" I didn't realize I had anything to explain until he asked, and then I thought to myself, "Yeah -- why am I keeping this stuff, anyhow?" A few years back, I finally threw out shoeboxes full of notes and letters from friends and family. I don't think I stopped to read, because that is what usually happens when I get the urge to de-clutter.

Stopping to examine, review, reflect -- that is the kiss of death when you're trying to go through and get rid of stuff. You must be ruthless and cruel, and unthinking too, to dump things that might have sentimental value.  Everything potentially has sentimental value. That's the problem.

Ever since Dwaine's parents died, within about a year of each other, and we had to clear out their home, while his mom was living with us, I have been resolute that we need to get rid of stuff and not hang onto it. Hanging on to stuff creates problems for the next generation. It weighs them down. It defers the decision of what to do with it all. My kids should not ever have to go through my school essays and all my past diaries! Thank God for paperless blogs.

Dwaine's mom asked us about the unlikeliest things, after we had loaded up everything and stored it. She had an ancient wooden painted depiction of a boy and a burro that had been stored outdoors in one of their covered parking areas until it was falling apart, and she kept asking us about that boy and burro: Did you get it? Did you bring it? We always said, "Yes, Mom," which was a big, fat lie. In reality, we left it there to finish disintegrating, along with several other useless things. RIP.

She collected little lanterns, and we had many boxes of lanterns once we had packed them all. There were many other knick-knacks and china sets, not to mention thousands of arrowheads that Dwaine's parents had found along Falcon Lake. All the stuff from their mobile home was crammed into the two largest storage units that we could rent, and it took about a year to go through it all and disperse it. Lots of it is now stored at our house or Becky's, Dwaine's sister.

Is my life any richer for having stored and inherited some of this stuff? Nope, can't say that it is.

I am proud to say that I de-cluttered this posting by removing two irrelevant paragraphs at the beginning. My words are as garrulous as the items in my closets!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Musings

I have a perfectly lovely two days off work this week. This morning was lovely at Pecan Park. Mid-50s that felt quite warm by the end of my walking. The long-legged Twyla stayed ahead of me on the figure-eight loop the whole time. I wanted to catch up to her and say, Sister! Do you know your pace is 4 mph, which is about as fast as you can go without running?! She didn't even seem to be moving fast, because of those graceful long legs. (I felt squatty in comparison.) She was walking when I got there, and walking when I left, 2 miles later. She just lost her dad recently, so the walking is surely good therapy. (But then, she's been doing it a while.)

I was listening to author Mary Karr on NPR later on, and I thought, I'm not sure I can ever be a decent writer because I have not had that interesting a life! She has written three memoirs and has definitely lived an interesting life. She gave some great testimony about the power of faith in her later life and in overcoming her drinking habit. And she was a total agnostic about spirituality and religion her entire life. She said, "When you talk about spirituality to someone who is secular, it's like you are doing card tricks on the radio." It's amazing how people can go for many years without seeing God, and then, a light goes on. It's such a mystery, the mystery of faith. It is impossible to explain or to convey faith to another person.

There is something to the fact that many great artists have huge substance-abuse issues, or were abused as children, or struggle with depression and eventually take their lives. So I have to thank God for my wonderfully bland life, even if it makes it harder to be a great writer.

I wanted to talk about Austin a bit. Sometimes, I am just in awe of him, his confidence in himself. Seemingly out of the blue, he's become really interested in baseball. He decided to transfer from tennis, 1st period, to baseball, last period. Yes, it's not baseball season yet, but he and a few others can go out and practice anyhow after school, which is what he's been doing now that band is not taking up 8 hours of practice a week after school.

I immediately told him that he'd never make the baseball team! Bad Mom, Bad Mom, I know. I was just trying to be realistic, trying to prepare him for the blow of failure. But why be realistic when reality can be such a downer? That way leads to cynicism ... even spiritual death! So many kids' dreams seem like big fantasies, which is why too few adults have dreams of their own. But believing in those dreams can change the world. So who am I to not believe in my son?

Back to reality just for a moment: Austin has not played baseball since he was a wee little lad in Little League. But I really admire his guts for just trying it out, what with the extreme level of competition in sports these days. He and Andrew have been going outside to throw or for him to practice hitting, using this ancient equipment that we never got rid of. (I asked my husband the other night, "You mean we have a real baseball? Not just tennis balls?") So Austin's excited about it right now, and he is working on it. That's one thing I really admire about him. He has a lot of passion for life. He's always fully engaged in something, and has a lot of interests and talents. He has strong friendships and a delightful personality, if I do say so myself.

It's fortunate that the world series is on right now, and we've had it on. I enjoy seeing the athleticism that is involved in any sport, even baseball! It does have this stereotype of players standing around, chewing great wads of dip while scratching themselves. But then you see a player go all out to catch a fly ball, even slamming into the barricade to catch an almost-homer, or you see opposing players rolling over one another in the battle to reach the base first. Or watch the pitcher, in slow motion, looking like a space alien, his body is so contorted into the intensity of getting that 90+-mph pitch off. And another, and another.

I asked Austin today what drew him to baseball (which happened before the world series, by the way), and he said he thinks it's his kind of sport, an Austin kind of sport. OK. This may not last (probably not -- reality slipping in again), especially when all the other kids show up for baseball season, but kudos to him for having his own dream and pursuing it.

The other thing Austin is doing is participating in a youth praise band at church, which right now is just three kids: Zeke on drums, Katie (lyrics?), and Austin on guitar. So this now fills a slot on Thursday night that would have been blissfully empty. So we're up to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening activities, and a last football game this Friday. (Then Boy Scout camping this weekend.) Oh, well.

Andrew loved the last campout at Calaveras Lake. He really was anxious about it beforehand. I think he's an anxious kid, and that gets expressed as all this negativity about doing things. He gets stressed out at school easily, then comes home and often is mentally and emotionally tuckered out. He is my son, after all! But no one can beat Andrew when it comes to affection. He can be the sweetest child alive, and often is. And his mind works like no one else's. Andrew started writing down the thoughts that come just before you fall asleep, those weird ones that the conscious mind picks up and says, hmmm ... that makes absolutely no sense! I have to record some of his thoughts and sayings in his journal, which has been missing for a few months.

I just can't believe that it is nearly 2 p.m. It should be noon. There's always so much to write about. I also wanted to write about Christianity and capitalism, how some of the most conservative Christians embrace the free market, which seems to reward unethical behavior. Ethical behavior does not seem to extend to the almighty dollar.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Reasons to worship

I knew that I would look at my last post and say, ah ha! Somebody left a comment, who could it be? It could be me!

Today, in my three-hour Disciple Bible class that requires about the same amount of reading each week (3 hours), making six hours total, which is nearly an hour a day, which is a really sacrificial act, by the way, we were talking OT stuff starting with the ark of the covenant and moving on to all the sacrifices the ancient Hebrews were ordered to do. Do you feel a giant yawn coming on? But wait -- Back in those days, if God didn't like the way you were worshipping, he would just strike you down. Zap! and you were toast. He did this to Aaron's sons because they got too close to the ark or something.

Still, I thought all the reading we had to do was largely irrelevant to my life and the life of most modern people. In fact, I felt at the brink of self-pity in my feeling that the reading was so very long and tedious. And long. And boring. And then we were going to spend three hours talking about it!

But somehow, in the commentary about the reading, it morphed into what Jews think is important about worship, and understanding began to bloom.

At least three things make communal worship important: Remembrance. Atonement. and Thanksgiving. Not to mention being smack-dab in the middle of the body of Christ, if you're at a Christian service.

The sacrifices and feasts start to make sense when viewed in this light. It even makes sense why my family and I attend church. Remembrance. Atonement. and Thanksgiving. I see the light!

Jews place a great importance on remembering certain times in their history when God saved their butts from destruction. They celebrate the Passover and Hannukah to celebrate times of peril that they overcame.

They have a solemn observance of atonement, Yom Kippur. There is even a "scapegoat" that ceremonially used to take on all the sins of the people and got cast out into the desert. (You know my reaction: poor goat. I think casting out would be much worse than being sacrificed.) I hope they no longer do this; I don't think the other animal sacrifices have been made for eons anymore, so I guess the scapegoat is gone too.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in Jewish feasts of the harvest and is a theme that runs throughout worship.

So, since we are Judeo-Christian and founded on Jewish practices originally, every Christian service has some sort of structure, and usually some parts that are repetitive. The Catholics and Lutherans have more order, while Baptists have less. We Methodists have more or less, depending on the pastoral preference. (Go ahead and say it, we're wishy-washy.) Our pastor right now likes a lot of repetition, so we say the exact same Affirmation of Faith and Confession and Pardon each week, which makes the meaning wash out quite a bit for me. But the ritual serves to remind us of our history, allow us to confess and ask forgiveness, and be reunited with our Lord and savior.

And funny, I never tire of taking communion. That act is so imbued with meaning for me. It is taking in sustenance and the Holy Spirit all together, and the emotional and spiritual bounce I get from it is of great significance.

Then there's the music of worship, which draws us closer to God. You almost feel like you are singing along with all the Angels and all the billions of people who have gone on to the hereafter, at times, and your soul is lifted higher and higher. Music is clearly one of God's most potent languages.

The remembrance part of worship is also being reminded that we are God's people; God loves us; and we need to act like we are God's people! (Certainly not just in church!)

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