Friday, November 29, 2013

On Sunday School, Bleach, and Green Food Dye

I have the privilege of teaching the Children's Sunday School class at my church.  Notice I said the Children's Sunday School class.  One of the challenges of being a small congregation is the combining of a variety of ages in this class; however, it is also one of the blessings.  I've loved seeing the older kids help the younger ones in games or crafts, explain a story element that went over the young ones' heads or encourage them in recalling a story or verse.  It is very much a harkening back to the one-room schoolhouse days (or what homeschooling parents do every day).

I strongly believe that Sunday School should be fun.  I want that hour on Sunday morning to be something the kids look forward to each week; it helps to create their first impressions of fellowship in the body.  To that end, I try to have a craft, object lesson or game of some kind each week. Sometimes these elements are hits and sometimes they are strikeouts!  Even when I've struck out, the oldest of my group will invariably give me an understanding look and a weak, "It was kinda fun."  (This boy has a very kind heart.)

The class that has been the most memorable one for me this year is one that could have quickly become a fiery crash and burn!  We were discussing clean and unclean and the transition that occurs with Jesus.  In the Old Testament, if a person came in contact with something/someone unclean (dead, diseased, etc.), then the uncleanness would spread to them.  We were studying a particular passage in Ezra where the men had married pagan wives and were told to put them away.  This was a hard lesson for the kids to understand, so it was wonderful to show in the New Testament that cleanness conquers uncleanness in regards to marriage  (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

We then saw how Jesus conquers all uncleanness in the story of an ill woman:
And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.  For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well."  But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well."  And the woman was made well from that hour."  ~ Matthew 9:20-22
To make this clear to the class, I brought in water bottles filled with bleach and a box of food dyes.  We would put a drop or two in the bleach, shake, and watch the color disappear.  This was a hit!  The kids loved it!  We tried all the dye colors I had brought.  In my enthusiasm, I pushed the process a little and put several drops of green dye in with a "no matter how dark our sins..."  Shake and.... the green remained!  My fellow teacher (and mom of some of the kiddos) looked a me with widened eyes and a barely suppressed grin and began thinking of ways to bail me out!  Thankfully, with more vigorous shaking, even the heavy green dye was no match for the bleach.

What had begun as a lesson for kids became lessons for the teacher.  First, always try experiments first at home!  Second, sanctification seldom occurs quickly.  Like that green dye, some sin takes work to eradicate.  I'm fairly certain the teacher learned more than the children that morning.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Catechisms for the Imagination" N.D. Wilson on the Importance of Story

Do you read for fun?  N. D. Wilson explains it could be the actual reason is a lot more involved:
But the word fun is a simplistic label for what is actually a remarkable and complex experience.  Stories make people feel.  Stories (particularly novels) take control of and govern the imagination, causing readers to feel things on command.  Stories create empathetic and sympathetic bonds between readers and fictional characters, and those bonds are truly real.
Amen, Mr. Wilson!  Amen.  My husband and I have movies we return to again and again because we long to spend time with the characters: Return to Me, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Casablanca, Rio Bravo, Cinderella Man and several more.  There are books whose characters I consider friends (the Harry Potter series and To Kill a Mockingbird immediately come to mind).  There are movies we revisit because they make us think such as TransSiberian and Forest Gump (which uses comedy to explore serious topics).

Wilson speaks of the power of books to shape us:
Let a faithful author guide a child's imagination, and that child will learn (and feel) what it is like to be courageous, to stand against evil, to love what is lovely and honor what is honorable.  Hand them the wrong book, and they could learn to numb their own conscience, to gratify and feed darker impulses.  The wrong stories catechize imaginations with sickness.
I love Wilson's nonfiction books as I've stated over and over.  He is a best-selling children's fiction author and I am looking forward to reading those books as well.  Even in his nonfiction books, Wilson is a storyteller, creating characters and scenes vividly.  He and I are in disagreement over a couple of characters he mentions in the article.  I understand the best-selling 50 Shades of Grey began as fan fiction on a Twilight board and those issues are why I've always been Team Jacob, but I can see some redeeming elements in Edward Cullen, along with the horrid aspects Wilson points out.  I truly disagree with his characterization of The Hunger Games heroine Katniss, but I may be in the minority in Christian circles.

For fellow readers, enjoy this article and over Thanksgiving add one more thing to your list to thank the Lord for - the gift of story.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2013 Word of the Year : Selfie

Something finally moved twerk off the top of the buzzword list.  Thank God.  The problem is the conquering hero is selfie, the smartphone self portrait, recently named by Oxford Dictionaries as the Word of the Year for 2013.  

Selfie's vocab victory isn't all that surprising considering the year began with Dr. Keith Ablow calling out millenials for being a "generation of deluded narcissists."  Dr. Ablow credited this self absorption, in large part, to social media:
     On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of "friends."  They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), "speak" in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they "like."
     Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth "following," as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame."
This inflated self-esteem slapdown was quickly countered with articles such as this one (which received one of my all-time favorite comments: "I am NOT narcissistic.  In fact, I would say that I am the last narcissistic person I know.  If everyone were as altruistic and humble as me, the world would be a much better place with much better people.  Don't believe me?  Check my Instagram.  I only post pics of my feet like once a week."]

Social media does enable all of us - my generation and before all the way to the millenials - to do what comes naturally:  be self-absorbed, self-centered twits.  We may need to make Romans 12:3 our Memory Verse of the Year for 2014:
For I say to every man that is among you, through the grace given unto me, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dad & the Belted Galloway

Every time I drive into Lexington, I pass a field of cows and they always make me smile.  Well actually,  not all of them make me smile, just one of them.  This one:

This is a Belted Galloway.  How I know this is a Belted Galloway is why it makes me smile.  And now...the rest of the story.

My Dad was determined that while his daughters may have grown up in a more urban location than he did, they would have a knowledge of and appreciation for farm life.  Growing up, we had over an acre of a garden every summer and my parents did their best to teach my sister and me about planting, fertilizing, and caring for crops.  Some of my favorite memories from the month of August is going to the State Fair and walking through the animal barns with Dad while he explained the differences of each breed of cow, pig, etc.

After Bobby and I were married, we rented a cabin with both sets of our parents on the outskirts of Gatlinburg.  On the way home from this trip, I was in the car with my folks.  After we passed a field of cows (that were now out of sight), I said, "Dad, what kind of cow has a white stripe around its belly like one of those pigs?"  Dad replied he had never heard of a cow like that followed by, "I never thought one of my daughters wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a cow and a pig!"  He continued to tease me about this all the way home.  Everyone was convinced I was mistaken about my white-striped cow.

Several weeks later, Dad and his best friend were driving in a more rural part of Jefferson County.  As they approached an exit on the Gene Snyder Freeway, off to his right Dad saw a whole field of cattle with a white-stripe around their bellies!  He and his friend found the farm and asked what breed this was.  When he arrived home, Dad prepared himself a plate of crow and called his eldest.  That mea culpa phone call was worth all the teasing I had endured!

That's how I know what a Belted Galloway cow looks like. . . and why they always make me smile.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Death By Living: A Review

Although I'd be hard pressed to prove it based on my recent Goodreads entries, my reading list does actually include intellectually satisfying and edifying books as well as the fluff I've devoured of late.  I'm beyond happy that counted among the more serious entries is Death By Living: Life is Meant to be Spent by N. D. Wilson.

If it is possible to have a love affair with a book, I had one with Wilson's previous offering, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World. I recounted some of the reasons I loved it here.  My friend Amanda did a much better job than I and you can read her review here. After finishing Wilson's latest effort to bring us to a more full-orbed appreciation for the One in Whom we live and move and have our being, I've realized, comparatively, my affection for the previous book was puppy love when considered in light of the profound attachment I have for Death by Living.

The book is not without flaws.  On several occasions, Wilson stretches his writing to include just-one-more clever turn of phrase when perhaps restraint would have been better.  His writing style is that of his generation and younger and, I'm betting, is grating for some.  I'm sure there are other critiques that can be made, but the bottom line is - I don't care!  Looking at stylistic concerns in this book is missing the glorious canopy of an inviting forest because of those pesky trees.

"Story, story, my life is a story," says the hipster to his Twitter feed.

Right.  Narrative.  Story.  Boy, it sounds nice and groovy, but it's coming from someone who barely has enough of an attention span to get through a Web clip over four minutes. . .

No matter how trendy it might be when some people say it, life is a story.  All of history is a story.  Every particle has its own story trailing backward until it reaches the first Word of the One and Three, and all of those trailing threads - those many - are woven into the one great ever-growing divinely spoken narrative.
As I read Death by Living, I kept remembering a previous book I treasure, A House For My Name by Peter Leithart.  Leithart's book follows themes and symbolism seen in the lives of people throughout the Old Testament to help his readers better understand the New Testament.  I remember thinking while reading that book that I am just an extra in this Divine Play, but I add color and background to the story, so I need to play my small part well.  This thought ran through my mind again as I read Wilson's words:

Understand this: we are both tiny and massive.  We are nothing more than molded clay given breath, but we are nothing less than divine self-portraits, huffing and puffing along mountain ranges of epic narrative arcs prepared for us by the Infinite Word Himself.  Swell with pride and gratitude, for you are tiny and given much.  You are as spoken by God as the stars.  You stand in history with stories stretching out both behind and before.  We should want to live our chapters well, but doing so requires that we know the chapters that led up to us in our time and our moment; it requires that we open our eyes and consciously begin to shape those chapters that are coming after.
And for parents, Wilson reminds you that you are shaping the chapters that are coming after for your children as well:

. . .Other real live souls are now depending on you.  You are the creator of their childhoods. You are the influencer of their dreams and tastes and fears.  You are the emcee of all reality, the one to introduce those small people to the true personality of their Maker (as imaged by your life more than your words).  The choices you now make have lives riding on them.  Always.  Their problems and struggles are yours to help them resolve.  Their weaknesses yours to strengthen.  Or not. . . 

I imagine that realization has caused more than a few moms and dads to have sleepless, but prayerful, nights.

Now that I'm in the 50 and above demographic category, I can look back over my life and say a hearty amen to this:  "As a rule of thumb, when older people tell you something, believe them.  It will save you the shock of discovering later on that they were right (and also helps you dodge their smug gloating)."

Part of the blessing of getting older is the wealth of experience you have with God's providence, both the good and the hard.  You are farther down the road to a wholehearted trusting than you were in your youth.  For me, who has been known to cry over McDonald's commercials, tears seem to be always there when considering His great kindness to me.  Wilson paints this picture well:

My wife and I tend to overgift to our kids at Christmas.  We laugh and feel foolish when a kid is so distracted with one toy that we must force them into opening the next, or when something grand goes completely unnoticed in a corner.  How consumerist, right?  How crassly American.

How like God.
Wilson recounts his grandfather giving, instead of getting, gifts on his birthday:

He chose a passage of Scripture for each of his children and their spouses, for each of their children and their spouses, and for each of their children . . . he wrote a note of marginalia to each of us in the sharp, perfect handwriting of another time.

To the youngest of all, my sister's two-month-old son, he handwrote a simple message next to Colossians 1:9-12: You may not remember me.  I remember you and prayed for you when you were one day old.  Great Grandpa
What a gift!  What a wonderful foundation for that boy's life story.  How many of our ancestors have prayed for us, years before we were, and have had their prayers answered in the unfolding of our stories?

In the ending chapters of the book, Wilson writes of the people who shaped, saved, and steered his grandparents. This section resonated with me.  My dad once saved the life of a coworker.  The man had become tangled up in a machine and Dad, quite literally, held his body together and stopped the bleeding until the EMTs arrived.  Flash forward years later and I'm sitting in a high school classroom meeting a friend's beau.  When I tell him my name, he asks if I'm "Bobby Dean's daughter?"  When I nod, he says, "Your dad saved my dad's life" and recounts the story for me (one I had never heard from dad).  My girlfriend's future husband was here because my dad was there.  What we do echoes in eternity.  God's good providence for us extends to us before we are even born.

But what they did, they did unto the King (because they did it unto his brethren).  And they tipped tremendous scales as they did it, shaping lives and generations in ways that can never be undone. . .A ten-year-old boy.  An insecure girl.  A lonely neighbor.  Anyone thirsty.  Anyone hungry or sick.  Lives and generations and history are there for the tipping.  You have hands.  You have words.  You have something.  Touch the scales.  Touch the least of these.

I've shared four passages from this book; I wanted to share forty!  I'll share one more while begging you to get his book and devour it:

Ride the roaring wave of providence with eager expectation.  To search for the stories all around me.  To see Christ in every pair of eyes.  To write a past I won't regret.  To reach the dregs of the life I've been given and then to lick the bottom of my mug.  To live hard and die grateful.

And to enjoy it.
[You can watch a video promo for the book here.]

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What I've Learned From Craft Fairs

1 - People do make things on Pinterest.
2 - Slap a monogram on something - it will sell!
3 - Chevrons are all the rage (so expect lots of out-of-style chevron items at yard sales in the spring).
4 - Craft fairs aren't just for buying handcrafted items - they're also for showing off your dogs.
5 - Paint it Wildcat blue, put a "UK" on it and an empty soup can will fetch $5.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosario Champagne Butterfield

One of Them became one of Us and wrote a book about the experience - Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  In doing so, Rosario Champagne Butterfield has chastened and offered correction to how We interact with Them.  However, her book is more than a manual for evangelical interaction with the LGBT community.  Butterfield's stark honesty and service-oriented heart challenges Christians to fully grasp what it means to live what we believe.

Butterfield, a tenured Syracuse literature professor grounded in "the philosophical and political worldviews of Freud, Marx, and Darwin" whose specialty was "Queer Theory (a postmodern form of gay and lesbian studies)," was radically transformed in her 37th year of life:
How do I tell you about my conversion to Christianity without making it sound like an alien abduction or a train wreck?  Truth be told, it felt like a little of both . . . I didn't read one of those tacky self-help books with a thin coating of Christian themes, examine my life against the tenets of the Bible the way one might hold up one car insurance policy against all others and cleanly and logically, "make a decision for Christ."  While I did make choices along the path of this journey, they never felt logical, risk-free, or sane . . .Heretical as it might seem, Christ and Christianity seemed eminently resistible.
Nothing in this book is sugar coated - not her pre-conversion life or the pain and loss she experienced with her conversion, nor the glaring deficits and flaws she sees (pre- and post-conversion) in the experienced life of the evangelical community.  Often her critiques ring so true the evangelical reader feels his/her face sting from the literary slap across the face the pages have just delivered.
Christians always seemed like bad thinkers to me.  It seemed that they could maintain their worldview only because they were sheltered from the world's real problems, like the material structure of poverty and violence and racism.  Christians always seemed like bad readers to me, too.  They appeared to use the Bible in a way that Marxists would call "vulgar" - that is, common, or, in order to bring the Bible into a conversation to stop the conversation not deepen it. . .Their catch phrases and cliches were (and are) equally off-putting.  "Jesus is the answer" seemed to me then and now like a tree without root.  Answers come after questions, not before.  Answers must answer questions in specific and pointed ways, not in sweeping generalizations.
While the left side of your face is still burning, here comes a swat across your right cheek:
Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue.  There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.
Butterfield's recounting of her journey to Christ is riveting.  I often felt I couldn't turn the page quickly enough.  It began with a pastor and his wife whose lives she couldn't easily pigeonhole:
During our meal, I remember holding my breath and waiting to be punched in the stomach with something grossly offensive.  I believed at the time that God was dead and that if he ever was alive, the fact of poverty, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, and war was proof that he didn't care about his creation.  I believed that religion was, as Marx wrote, the opiate of the masses, an imperialist social construction made to soothe the existential angst of the intellectually impaired.  But Ken's God seemed alive, three-dimensional, and wise, if firm.  And Ken and Floy were anything buy intellectually impaired. . .If Ken was the "Bible-thumping" pastor, he was also a good listener, a balanced interpreter, a lover of good poetry, a reader of culture and politics, and a husband who clearly adored, relied upon, and valued his wife's counsel.  These people simply didn't fit the stereotype and I simply didn't know what to do with this.
This pastor and his wife met this unlikely convert where she was - unconverted - and put in practice the biblical call to "Come now, let us reason together."  It struck me how often we expect the unconverted to interact with us as if they were converted.  We tsk tsk their unconverted lifestyles, unconverted language, etc., oblivious to the fact they are unconverted!  Ken and Floy Smith accepted Rosario the person where she was, while not compromising convictions.  That's a very hard path to walk successfully.

Butterfield shares a conversation she had with a closeted lesbian in a Bible-believing church that broke my heart.  This woman had shared her struggles with no one and had no one supporting her because, "Rosario, if people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn't talk about us or pray about us in the hateful way they do."  Butterfield doesn't let this passive reproach suffice: "Christian reader, is this what people say about you when they hear you talk and pray?  Do your prayers rise no higher than your prejudice?"

Butterfield makes it clear the transition from radical lesbian to being a member of a Reformed church was anything but easy.  "Because conversion, in scripture and in my personal experience, is arduous and transformative, I fear the consequence of easy believism that typifies modern evangelical culture."  She warns of the dangers in "the Disneyland of evangelical culture" and what she sees as "misrepresentations of the gospel [that are] dangerous and misleading" in self-described purpose-driven and seeker-friendly churches.

This book has helped me apprehend anew what the process of sanctification truly requires.   She writes, "I would learn how to grieve through repentance without feigning false innocence . . . Even when faced with the blinding sting of someone else's sin,it really is not someone else's sin that can hurt us.  It is our own festering sin that takes the guise of innocence that will be the undoing of us all."

Butterfield's conversion cost her.  She was viewed as a traitor by the community she called home.  Her career  trajectory was threatened.  In the fall after her conversion, as a new and still questioning Christian, she gave an address to the incoming graduate students at Syracuse University.  The planned lecture on Queer Theory was scrapped.  This lecture would be her coming out as a Christian woman.  "Thousands of new students would hear my first, fledgling attempts to speak about Christian hermeneutics at a postmodern university.  I was flooded with doubt about my new life in Christ.  Was I willing to suffer like Christ?  Was I willing to be considered stupid by those who didn't know Jesus?"

She does more than write of her conversion.  As she continued in her Christian life, Butterfield married and she and her husband became foster parents and adoptive parents.  Her writing on adoption is beautifully written, as one would expect from an English professor.  It is also starkly honest and enlightening for Christians who have all been adopted into the family of God:
A man walked up to me, not knowing I was the preacher's wife, and said, "So is it chic for white women to adopt black kids these days?"  I took a deep breath and stood up to meet his gaze. 
Are you a Christian?" I asked him. 
"Yes, ma'am," he replied. 
"Did God save you because it was chic?"  We locked eyes until he dropped his head.  He stammered something unintelligible and backed away slowly, seeming to understand that even when the bear does not look like the cubs, the trauma of having one's head ripped off by a protective mama can be bloody business.
I loved her a little more after reading that.

Rosario continued to use her gifts of hospitality and service she had exercised while in the LGBT community, this time in her community of faith.  She speaks of how exhausting that can be at times, an honest admission that resonated with this reader.  She writes eloquently of her interactions with students and why we need to be culturally aware to be able to reach our communities.  She writes,
We encountered families who feared diversity with a primal fear.  They often told us that they didn't want to "confuse" their children by exposing them to differences in parenting standards among Christians.  I suspect that they feared that deviation from their rules might provide a window for children to see how truly diverse the world is and that temptation might lead them astray."
About students at a local Christian college, she writes,
The students were smart and devout in their faith.  They also were sheltered.  They imparted to me in a firsthand way the serious dangers of isolating our children from real life.  Adult children can appear obedient when they are tuning out instead of acting out.  College life tends to bring out all the fears and doubts and perceptions of contradictions and hypocrisies.  Between this hypersensitivity to authority and rules, and a growing sexual awareness, we met students who were struggling with real moral issues.  Their unsuspecting parents had no idea how their over-protection had dangerously ill-prepared their beloved, overly-protected children from all this.  Sin - especially sexual sin - has a sneaky way of triumphing in an environment of secrecy and shame.
I am profuse in my praise for this book; however, it is not without flaws.  While I respect how much the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North American has meant to her and the perspective she has on the regulative principle of worship, her defense of that denomination and particular perspective at times felt like brow-beating.  I, too, label myself an adherent of the Reformed faith.  I believe in the regulative principle of worship, just not as she defines it, and I have several strong disagreements with her definition of that principle.

With the above small caveat, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It will move you to tears and laughter.  It will shame you and strengthen you.  It will make you very glad you read it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On McLuhan, Media, and Free Books

Marshall McLuhan is spinning in his grave.  

A recent Facebook conversation on children's literature had me remembering back to classes at the University of Louisville where I was bombarded with the writings of that particular communication theorist who famously stated "The medium is the message."  McLuhan predicted the end of the written/printed word.  He is credited with prophesying of the Worldwide Web before it came into being and of coining the term surfing, randomly moving from one thing to the next in research or, in our case, while playing on the www. -  World Wide Waste of Time.  

McLuhan suggested the electronic media would create a global tribal community where we would develop a collective identity instead of the fragmentation and individualism of the old print media which produced, he maintained, such concepts as capitalism, nationalism and democracy.  He even suggested Protestantism was brought about by the print media.  (This is probably true.  What would have come of Luther's 95 theses if a printing press hadn't been available to distribute them to the masses?)

While McLuhan maintained the digital world would produce a more collectivist mindset, I think the opposite is happening.  Print media hasn't disappeared; it has evolved.  Digital books still maintain their bookish essence in that you still "flip the page" of your Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.  Digital books still support a democratization of sorts as eBooks are on the whole cheaper than their hard-copy cousins thus allowing access to more people. Digital lending libraries are beginning to pop up..   Individualism is still encouraged as each "ism", hobby, political view, etc., can cheaply and quickly spread its message to its particular segment of interested parties. And, last but not least, Protestantism, as well as other religious perspectives, is still being supported by the medium as the Web offers evangelistic opportunities in areas that may be politically forbidden to missionary efforts. 

Taking its cue from England, the literary world is shouting, "The Book is dead!  Long Live the Book!"  The written word continues.  The e-Readers have even made the activity cool again.  Sorry, Marshall.

To cheaply enjoy the evolved book, check out Amazon's free Kindle books here,   You can subscribe to a variety of clearinghouse sites for cheap e-books such as BookBub.  [Disclaimer:  I've found the occasional gem on BookBub, but most of the time its offerings are drivel. To subscribe, you have to have the patience to wait days for an interesting offer.]  There's also which offers a wide range of genres and includes some great books such as Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators and  Days of Vengeance.  A quick search of the web will reward you with lots of sources for digitized classics.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Cemeteries as Gardens

Nate Wilson's Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl needs to be re-read on a monthly basis.  It provides such a fresh, new perspective on the world and our part in it.  You can find more of my thoughts on the book here.

I was reminded of this recently while in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.  It's early spring and the first blooms are opening and spreading their colors over the city.  It may sound morbid, but one of the most pleasant things to do in spring whilst in the Derby City is to take a drive through Cave Hill Cemetery.

 The landscape of the cemetery is beautiful and many monuments are so intricate and lovely you may feel you've walked into a museum's sculpture court. I love to read the inscriptions on older monuments. (And you may recognize a few names.)

As we walked around, I noticed family sections.  Stone after stone carved with the same surname with burial dates spanning decades.  I was reminded of this passage from Wilson's book:
Spring - look to the sun.  I'm eating my lunch in a graveyard.  Human seeds have been planted in neat little rows.  Stone stakes label the crop.
What a wonderful truth that is.  What a comfort for Christians:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as those who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
~ I Thessalonians 4:13-14

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Inside Scientology

How did a struggling science fiction writer without college degree or real-life accomplishments elevate himself to god-like status whose every utterance is considered tech, or divine dogma, by what is reported to be millions of adherents in 165 different countries?  L. Ron Hubbard did it through fiction, fraud, and force.  It is not hyperbole to call LRH, as he is known by Scientologists, a Svengali or to ascribe machiavellianism to the founding of Scientology.

Janet Reitman, in her book Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion gives her readers a glimpse behind the curtain. The Oz allusion is quite purposeful as Reitman shows Hubbard to be far from a divine being, but rather a manipulative, egomaniacal, and petty bully who wrote and rewrote his moral code to suit his purposes at every turn.  "Whatever else might be said about Lafayette Ron Hubbard, he undoubtedly had a strange and unique genius.  One of the most effective hucksters of his generation, he understood the common American yearning for self-transformation and exploited it by connecting this impulse to two of the great American passions of the 20th century: science and religion."  Hubbard would borrow heavily from occultist Aleister Crowley's Thelema as he developed his ever-evolving system.  ". . . Scientology, like Thelema, is drawn from the Western esoteric which secret knowledge and secret levels of enlightenment are core principles."

There you have it in a nutshell - Scientology is another in a long line of Gnostic belief systems that promise its followers knowledge and power that only they would have.  Hubbard wrote Dianetics, a book purporting to lead to enlightenment, which is still promoted and practiced by Scientology Centers today.  These centers don't, however, promote what Hubbard told his literary agent about the book in 1949.  "The book would be so powerful, Hubbard joked, that a reader would be able to 'rape women without their knowing it, communicate suicide messages to [their] enemies as they sleep. . . evolve the best way of protecting or destroying communism and other handy household hints."

Reitman writes, "Scientology is a faith that is both mainstream and marginal.  Known for its Hollywood members, it is run by a uniformed set of believers who rarely, if ever, appear in the public eye.  It is an insular society - one that exists, to a large degree, as something of a parallel universe to the secular world, with its own nomenclature, ethical code, and, most daunting to those who break its rules, its own rigorously enforced justice system."  She gives example after example of children raised in the church whose education is practically nonexistent outside of Scientology dogma., where threat of what can only be described as slave labor keeps adherents from questioning church leaders, where wives are told to divorce doubting husbands and vice versa, and where pregnancy is frown upon in the Sea Org so abortions are demanded of members. She writes of Lisa McPherson, a scientologist who died under the "care" of Scientology watchers who eschewed medical care after McPherson had a psychotic break, and of an organization which uses its vast bank accounts to harass through the court system any detractors, quite possibly including the US government which, after years of investigations and lawsuits, granted the church tax-exempt status.

One of the scariest parts of Scientology is the way it is wrapped in humanitarian outreach, self-help courses, very effective drug rehab centers, and the pretty faces of Hollywood which hides its destructive elements from the public.  Reitman also describes the great lengths church leaders go to in hiding the more unsavory aspects of the Scientology organization from its celebrity members themselves.

Reitman interviewed former Scientologist Mike Henderson who assessed his time in the church which ended in disillusionment:  "'re not going to have the ability to use every ounce of your intelligence, and develop psychic powers, and be able to leave your body at will.  And that's what we thought when we got into Scientology. . . I don't know what's in store for me down the road, but I know I won't get there with Scientology," he said, with resignation.  "And after 34 years and $600,000, that is the saddest thing I can say about my life."

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became as fools. . ."  ~ Romans 1:20-22

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This"

I first met Bob Newhart when I was ten years old.  Well, I didn't actually meet him, but I felt like I did on The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978).  His character, Dr. Bob Hartley, became a friend and continued to be a friend even when he moved from Chicago to Vermont and inexplicably changed his name to Dick Loudon (Newhart, 1982-1990).  In his memoir, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, Newhart himself said, "If I had to place a number on it, I would say that Bob Hartley was 85% me and 15% TV character."  As I read this book, it became increasingly clear how true that statement was.

Born and raised in a lower-middle class Catholic family in Illinois, Newhart would be educated by the Jesuits in childhood and his Catholic-based education would continue at Loyola University where he earned a bachelor's degree in business management.

I'm pleased to report there is no indulgent retrospection in his memoir.  Newhart breezes over a challenging relationship with his father in a manner for which I have great appreciation.  He doesn't wallow in victimhood.  He simply says that's the way it was.
I really didn't get much recognition from my father.  I don't think it scarred me for life; it's just the way it was. The more I read, the more I think that's just the way fathers were at the time.  I was a little bit like the son in the novel The Kite Runner who was always trying to gain his father's attention and affection but never succeeded.
While Newhart's sweet home (town) Chicago would provide the stage for his future career, boredom provided the genesis.  As a young man, to handle the tedium of his accounting position, he would call up a friend and make up absurd stories. These stories became the basis for his trademark telephone routines.

Another one of his trademarks is his stammering speech.
Stammering is different than stuttering.  Stutterers have trouble with the letters, while stammerers trip over entire parts of a sentence.  We stammerers generally think of ourselves as very bright.  My own private theory is that stammerers have so many ideas swirling around their brain at once that they can't get them all out, though I haven't found any scientific evidence to back that up.
[Aside:  If that quote didn't crack you up, watch some YouTube of his routines and then read it again.]

This is the autobiography/memoir that fans crave - the one that reassures you the celebrity you admire is worthy of that admiration.  It is also full of stories that make you smile or literally laugh out loud.  One of my favorite stories involves Newhart and his best friend, Don Rickles.  After his wife's first meeting in Las Vegas  of Don Rickles:

. . . Later, as we were walking in to see Don's third show, Ginnie [Newhart's wife] said to me,          "He is such a family man and his values are so solid."
"Honey," I cautioned her, "his act is a little different than the man you just met."
We sat down, and soon Don walked onstage. When the applause died down, he opened his act with this:
:Well I see that the stammering idiot from Chicago is in the audience tonight with his hooker wife from Bayonne, New Jersey."

This is also an insightful book, not only about comedy,
Comedy is a way to bring logic to an illogical situation, of which there are many in everyday life.  I've always likened what I do to the man who is convinced that he is the last sane man on Earth. This guy is something like the Paul Revere of psychotics running through the town and yelling, "This is crazy!" But no one pays attention to him.
but also about our culture:
 Comedy has changed again since the sixties, as the once acceptable limits of raunchy humor have been breached, but audiences have changed too.  We have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves. . .I don't have a joke   on albino cross-dressers, but if I did, I guarantee you that I would receive a letter from the local chapter of the ACD asking me to cease and desist making fun of albino cross-dressers. . . The problem is we live in an uptight country.  Why don't we just laugh at ourselves?  We are funny.  Gays are funny.  Straights are funny.  Women are funny.  Men are funny.  We are all funny, and we all do funny things.  Let's laugh about it...
Comedy can help us make it past something very painful, like death.  Laughter gives us distance.  It allows us to step back from an event over which we have no control, deal with it, and then move on with our lives.  It helps distinguish us from animals.  No matter what hyenas sound like, they are not actually laughing.  It also helps define our sanity.  The schizophrenic has no sense of humor. His world is a constantly daunting, unfriendly place.  The rational man is able to find humor in life.
To help you have some laughs today, watch this and this.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Letting Go of Dad's Quarters

I put a handful of Bicentennial Quarters in my change jar this morning.  While that may not seem worthy of a blog post, it is.

For years I made my parents Christmas Stockings.  My Dad and I had a longstanding deal:  He kept me in Chanel No. 5 and I made sure any "wheathead" pennies and bicentennial quarters I came across during the year were in his stocking. The first year I did this I found a tiny box in which to place the coins.  Dad labeled it "My Money" and that box was used every year.

Dad entered Heaven eight years ago, but I have continued to collect bicentennial quarters.  I'm sure a psychologist would have a field day with the reasons why, but for me it was just because every time I saw one it made me think of Dad.  And that was always a good thing.

These quarters are worth 25 cents; there's no added numismatic value for these circulated coins.  Dad had a tin can he threw change in that said, "A Penny Saved is a Penny."  Nothing more.  So today these 1976 quarters joined other spare change in our coin jar.  I think Dad would approve.