Dec 13, 2006

Susan's on Burnside and Steve Brown Etc!

I'm now officially a contributing writer for the Burnside Writers Collective, run by Donald Miller and Jordan Green. You can read my On Fire for Jesus, or Ecoterrorism & Trader Joe's

And there will be more to come. I'll be doing an interview with actor Tony Hale for BWC.

Also, Jordan and I were just interviewed for the Steve Brown radio show. The show was streamed live, will air on the radio this weekend. Or you can listen to our program by clicking HERE!

Dec 12, 2006

Larry the Yuletide Yobbo

I don't know if I first read the phrase in David Sedaris' essay, "Diana the Christmas Whore," but Larry definitely is a holiday hussy. He's been playing "Run, Run, Rudolph" since Thanksgiving. I draw the line at those dogs barking "Jingle Bells." Still, I love Larry's love of Christmas, the glitz or the gloria.

We were at Doug's Christmas party on Sunday night, where the picture below was snapped. It was begging for a caption. So I gave it one. (the pink and yellow text).

But then our our talented nephew JOE added his artwork and commentary to the product.

Joe is feeling cheeky, because he just turned 16. So when we arrive next week, he has a license to DRIVE away in his escape car.

Joe? Nice work. But Larry wants his pimp hat back.

Dec 9, 2006

Disneyland: The Sappiest Show on Earth

There are many things I love about Larry. One of them, is that he loves Christmas: the anticipation, the music, the fun, and the innocence of it all. Which makes me afraid of what kind of crash he's going to have come January. But we'll jump that land mine when we come to it.

Larry also loves Disneyland, for many of the same reasons. It's hard to find a guy who's still got some part of his heart that's not gone cynical. And I love that about him.

So it only made sense that we should go to Disneyland for Christmas. Larry's friend Bill gave us three free passes, so we invited our friends Michael and Rebecca to come with us. Even better: fun, rides, and friends.

We all had a great time. We enjoyed the holiday decorations, the rides, and most of all, a good solid chunk of time with our friends. It was Larry's and my First Disney Christmas as husband and wife!

As for ridese, we saw the New, Improved "Pirates of the Caribbean," which was basically a spruced up ride with a few effigies of Johnny Depp popping up at key points. I'm glad they preserved the old Pirates. On the other hand, they completely redo the haunted mansion every Christmas to look like the film, "A Nightmare Before Christmas." Tim Burton's dark vision troubles me, but I liked what they did with the ride. I can get wary of this stuff, but it helps having people like Larry and Michael to point out all the imagination and creativity that went into the making of these things.

All things being equal, why not be happy? That being said ...

I HATE PARADES. Maybe because as a child, the Rose Parade reminded me that Christmas vacation was almost over. Or because I had siblings in marching band, and I hated standing on some rainy street corner just to catch my sister playing four bars on her clarinet, wearing a geeky red suit and Cossack hat. I just don't like 'em.

A hundred years ago parades were great, because people didn't have access to music, so going out and hearing a live band must have been thrilling. Like hearing Beck at Burning Man. And, a hundred years ago, parading around and being proud of America was acceptable.

But today, what does America have to be proud of or parade around for? The fact we're fighting a losing battle in Iraq? Nothing against our troops, they're the bravest Americans out there. But what else can we be proud of? The fact we make up 6% of the world population, yet we eat up 50% of the world's wealth? The fact we export Britney Spears and Paris Hilton? No wonder the Muslims hate us.

Well the Disney Christmas parade is great for kids who want to see Tinkerbell. Or the Waving Snow Whites and Dancing Poohs and Gesticulating Jiminy crickets .... flailing in place on a float, or jazz-handing it while marching. But it makes me mad. The same way I get frustrated when I walk into a church and they're forcing loud rock worship on me. I can't manufacture awe or joy on cue. Especially on loud cues. Yes, encourage me but don't shove it down my throat.

We avoided the parade, but we made sure to see the fireworks show.

I LOVE FIREWORKS! Larry and I watched fireworks this past July 4th, while a band played patriotic tunes and Aaron Copeland, and it was glorious.

The fireworks at Disneyland are always incredible. The music? Uh, well ...
The lights dimmed, the music soared, and some old lady came over the loudspeaker to narrate. In a really warbly, achy-breaky treacle voice.
Warbly old Lady:

Does your heart hold the magic of the holidays?
Is it filled with warm memories, just waiting to be discovered again?!
Well now is the time to open your heart!
Believe in that magic! And remember those treasured moments.
Oh they're still there, deep within you; waiting to touch you once more
So come along! As the Magic of the Season leads the way!
What does it mean? "Warm memories, waiting to be discovered again? ... Believe in that magic?" Nothing. It's a circular, vapid, treacly, stinking pile of POOH!!!

Well fortunately the old lady shut up, maybe she had a coronary. So the music swelled and turned into the song. Here are the lyrics to "Believe ... in the Magic"
Can you remember
How Christmas makes you feel?

That special magic in the air and all your dreams are real.
Can you remember:
The smell of gingerbread?

Candy canes and sugar plums dance inside your head.
(blah blah, something about reindeer)
The magic lives when we believe.

Remember the caring
A season worth sharing.
Believe in the magic in our lives
Just open up your heart,
And re-live the feeling.
Just remember the magic
Yes remember the magic … one more time.


I thought I was nauseous when I got off Space Mountain.
Yeah, NOW I remember how Christmas makes me feel: manipulated!

Look, don't get me wrong: I love sentimental things. I choked up during "Soarin' Over California." No, it's not a ride about Kierkegaard in L.A. It's the ride that takes you over all these gorgeous vistas in our state. A glorious reminder of God's beauty.

And I love sentimental movies. "Elf" makes me cry, so does "A Christmas Carol" and "It's A Wonderful Life." But those films had a message based on something real: a character's soul was lost and needed to find its way back. Or an innocence that was believable and loveable.

I know children have a capacity to fantasize, and to believe in magical things. And maybe the fact we adults lost that capacity is a tragedy. But it's one thing to have a capacity for wonder and magic, and quite another to believe in a mythology of ... money. Consumerism.

I felt sad for all the little girls who came to Disneyland, dressed up in the Tinkerbell costumes their parents went into debt to buy. I saw them standing in line, eyes wide and waiting. But I was so afraid, what would happen when they got into the park. When the Big Parade came by with the REAL Snow White on the float ... Or when the "real" Tinker Bell came flying out of the Matterhorn and hovered over the REAL Cinderella's castle, I wonder if all those girls are girl going to realize the truth. "YOU'RE NOT TINKERBELL!"

Ah that's where I need Larry and his indefatigable love of innocence.

Larry: For one day you get to forget your troubles, you get to remember what's important in life.
Susan: Buying Mickey Gear?
Larry: No, the simple things ...
Susan: Like The New, Improved "Jack Sparrow-Pirates of the Carribean with Johnny Depp?"
Larry: No, things like friendship and joy and innocence.
Susan: Then why didn't we go to the beach?
Larry: Because the ocean is poluted.
He's right. Those are the things that are important. You can find the fun and joy and freindship at Disneyland. Or the consumerism at the beach.

I just don't like being forced to enjoy manufactured feelings, or believe some empty mythology. "The Magic Of the Season:" or "the Year of a Million Dreams." Don't rain a syrup bomb on my parade.

Check out the WHOLE Christmas fireworks show, with all the treacley talk, on You Tube

Warning to diabetics: You may go into a coma

Dec 5, 2006

Thanksgiving, Pt. 2

Larry and stayed in at the Comfort Suites in Castle Rock, courtesy of my mom. We were just a few miles from my sister Nancy's place: they're a family of six, plus my mom who lives with them. My brother Jim was there, and so was Phill's dad Lowell. SO with nine people in their small ranch house, Larry and I welcomed the hotel: a quiet place to relax, a bathtub with no toys, and a toilet with no trainer seat or urinal cake. Yes, it would be great to have a little place to retreat to.

After being awakened by the terse discussion between a motel tenant and security guard, Nancy called to recommend a place for Larry and me to get breakfast, in downtown Castle Rock. So Larry and I headed a bit south to the old area of Castle Rock.

The Comfort Suites was fine, of course. But it felt weird, like I'd stayed there before. Maybe because I had: at the Hampton Inn in Franklin, Tennessee, the Holiday Inn in Provo, Utah; and the Residence Inn in Salt Lake City. Same building.

And come to think of it, each hotel was situated in the "hotel chain" section of town, across from the "restaurant chain" section, down the street from the Target/Wallmart section. There must be only one urban planner in the US, and he's phoning it in.

Larry and I loved going into old town Castle Rock and finding the place Nancy suggested: an old diner with high wood-backed booths and a real soda fountain. Problem was, they didn't serve breakfast after 11am. Who did they think they were, McDonalds?

We strolled around the local antique mall and headed over to Nancy and Phill's place in Sedalia. Nancy and Phill's 13 year old son Matt was happy to see Larry: that meant an extra hand to help them dig a trench for the new electrical cable, going out to the barn. Larry hurt his wrist in a bicycle accident a few weeks ago and he couldn't work a shovel, so Phill insisted Larry not worry about it, but Matt was a little bummed.

A few minutes later, I found Larry and my brother Jim, plopped out on the couches with their dueling Mac laptops and reading glasses. While Matt was digging a trench. But soon their second son, Jonathan, persuaded Larry to go to the barn to see the goats and their one chicken, Goldie: the Lone Free Ranger. There was Larry in the middle of a Green Acres episode.

The day went by quickly. Nancy offered to make broccoli cheese soup for dinner. I saw a look of terror wash over Larry's face. Fortunately, none of the trench-digging men wanted for soup either; they wanted restaurant cooking! So everyone else took off for Applebees, and Nancy and I stayed home to make pies.

I wanted time to talk to Nancy. We don't get to see each other enough. We're a thousand miles apart. And it's not just physical distance.

Nancy, Phill and I shared a house, back in the 1980s when Nancy was getting her masters in English at UCLA. She had short hair with a streak of electric blue in it, and she listened to Paul Simon and U2. Nowadays she wears long hair and longer skirts; she listens mostly to Christian music, and she talks mostly about God. She got rid of her Thomas Pynchon novels to make room for her home schooling books.

Yeah, Nancy home schools her four kids, takes care of my mom, drives her eldest daughter Emily to dance class, and Phill takes Matthew on hiking expeditions. I've watched my sister get quieter, and it hasn't sat well with me. Come on, what's wrong with Paul Simon or U2? What's wrong with girls wearing bathing suits? What's wrong with TV? (well, now that I've watched a bit of TV, I understand but .. but …

Phill and Nancy have retreated from much of American pop culture and "the world." What's wrong with the world? Didn't Jesus love the world?

But with Britney Spears recent foray into partying commando in mini-skirts, who can really blame them? In fact, who can blame the Muslims for detesting us? But that's another story. And while we disagree on a lot of things, I look at their kids: they're terrific. They're well-adjusted, they treat other people with respect. They get a lot of discipline and a lot of love. And it shows.

Still, I often miss that fighter part of my sister; the one who loved Charles Dickens and literature, who wore dangle earrings and her hair like Princess Diana with a blue streak.

A couple years back my sister and I had a big argument over my ex-boyfriend, because we'd become friends again.

N: Susie. You can't do that.
S; He's going through a hard time. I'm trying to be a friend to him.
N: What if tomorrow he meets someone and tells you he doesn't want to see you ever again?
S: If he meets someone, great! But he's not going to blow me off, because I'm his friend.
N: No, he's a wolf, Susan.
S: Nancy, I can't talk to you about this.
N: Susie. you're hardening your heart to the Lord. I can hear it in your voice
S: What you hear is me, trying to keep from telling you off for treating me like a child!

The conversation devolved until I told her I had to hang up. We didn't talk for a couple months. That was Thanksgiving, 2004. We didn't talk until January 2005. She admitted she was still hurt about a comment I'd made about James Dobson back in May 2003 … I'd gone back to New York to move out of my apartment, three weeks after I'd broken up with this same Ex. I called her in tears, and she scolded me: "do you really want to go back to a guy who isn't going to heaven?"
I hung up on her then too; and later wrote her, saying I identified with the broken and wounded than with the James Dobson people who seem to have everything together.

So in January 2005, I apologized for whatever I said about James Dobson in May 2003.

I had another apology to make: she was right about my Ex: he sucked me dry for emotional support, and then snuck out of town without telling me. He WAS a wolf.

Whatever disagreements I had with my sister and her life, she'd been right about many things. And maybe ditching her Thomas Pynchon novels for Second Grade spellers wasn't too "off" either.

When I got engaged this past summer, she sent me this book by some neo-Amish woman about how to be a good wife. Defer to your husband. He's head of the house and his opinions are now yours. Dressing like a man is an abomination. The book freaked me out. And when Nancy came to visit in July and met Larry for the first time, she asked me, "Susan: Does Larry put Jesus first?" I got very angry. It seemed like her idea of being a Christian was wearing Amish clothes and memorizing scripture and retreating from life altogether.

But now here we were at Thanksgiving, 2006. A lot had happened. I got married. And you know, I did want to defer to Larry. I didn't want to be some passive idiot, but I was tired of being a Lone Ranger, Leader of One. I wanted to relax and be a woman, and let Larry lead. And that's not easy for Larry, leading.

I don't agree with Nancy on a lot of things, but I could stand to be open.

She's gone through a lot as well. Nancy and Phill had been part of an independent church, led by this 31 year old pastor who likened the spiritual life to climbing a mountain. In fact, Everything was an analogy to mountain climbing. Their 13-year old son Matt said: "I know Jesus spoke in parables, but he didn’t' keep using the same one!" Their church imploded when the pastor had a meltdown and went off on one of the members, and nearly half the church has left.

The refugees have been gathering at my sister's house, and Phill has done a lot of emotional mop-up of the people who got hurt. Phill said it's been difficult, but also very healing. "I've been reading Galatians, and it really needs to be about grace!"

Nancy said as much as we stood there making pies. She talked about grace, and how hard this year was on their family, but how much she has learned about grace. She's got a peace I want. I don't want the long skirts, but I sure want the peace she has.

And on this trip, she didn't ask me if Larry put Jesus first. She just said, "Larry's a great guy. And he's so perfect for you."

Songs of Praise for Christmas

It's time for me too toot the self-promotion horn. I had the privilege to write another special for DirecTV. Songs of Praise for Christmas is co-hosted by Amy Grant and Darrel Waltrip, and features performances by choirs and musical artists.

It’s on DirecTV Channel 103, NONSTOP, 24/7, for an entire month. If you don’t get DirecTV, call a friend and tell them to Tivo it. If they don’t have Tivo, well, there’s still papyrus.

Gaudete, gaudete Christos est natus!
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Nov 28, 2006

The Road To Thanksgiving

Early Tuesday morning, Larry, my brother James and I drove to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I grew up in Southern California, but home base is now Sedalia, Colorado, a little town half way between Denver and Colorado Springs. My sister Nancy, her husband Phill, and their four kids moved there in 2003, and my mother lives with them.

Larry and I are going to Salem, Oregon, to celebrate Christmas with his family, so this would be the only time we could be with my side. Finances are still an issue, so we decided to drive. Plus, Larry and I love road tripping. So does my brother James. But it's 1100 miles from West LA to Sedalia, Colorado, so the three of us were on the road by 5am in hopes to make it to Sedalia by midnight.

With no desire to head through the oppression of the Inland Empire, we decided to take the 405/5 to Palmdale, cut across the north side of the Angeles Crest Mountains, and hook up with I-15 at Victorville. From there it's straight through Vegas to the I-70, where you head across the Utah plains, through the Rockies, and on into Denver.

The first thing I noticed was the shocking stream of headlights coming south into LA. Cars streaming in, not just from the San Fernando Valley, but from Santa Clarita, Agua Dulce, Canyon Country (aka "tract homes in the middle of the desert"), and as far north as Lancaster, 70 miles north of West LA. There was that stream of white headlights, already thick and slowing by 5:30 am. This is the morning commute to LA.

When I was growing up, we used to trek out to Lancaster to see my uncle and grandmother. The space between Van Nuys and Lancaster was empty. Agua Dulce was nothing but a small outcropping of farms in between the arid nothingness.

Now the arid nothingness is jammed with tract homes. People can't afford to buy in LA or work in the desert. So they live in the desert, work in LA and commute up to 2 hours EACH WAY. You think that's bad? Think of the alternative: living in a 1960s building on Venice Blvd, or in one of those stucco 70s beehives abutting the 405, the ones with the neon banners boasting, "if you lived here, you'd be home now."

We cut over to the two-lane Pear Blossom Highway, which runs along the north side of the Angeles Crest Mountains. Quickly the scenery changes. There are still tract homes going up, but they're spotted between the spaces of the old life here: cowboy buildings: barn and ranch places, feed stores and old filling stations. Some just the foundation is left, as if the owners quit when the traffic started taking the interstates. There's a joint selling cactus jerkey and date shakes and snake skins. There are crosses with dead flowers along the road, indicating a place where someone died. It's only a two lane highway but the drivers have faster and bigger cars, and even bigger egos.

I used to drive this highway as well. There's a Benedictine abbey out here, and one summer I fancied myself a Benedictine, I drove out and told the monks my ideas and strange dreams. But that was back when I was just thirty years old, and my life stretched out in front of me.

We get into Las Vegas by 9:30. We hit a bit of traffic and mercifully move on. I hate Vegas. Hate it. All yellow lights and distraction. Vegas looks creepy in the daylight. It's just big buildings and slot machines. Gross.

The time is going by quickly. Larry and I love road tripping. And once we get past the eyesore of Vegas, it's just gorgeous territory, so there's plenty to look at. That, and the fact my brother keeps talking. Jim jockeys between facts about the road we're on and whatever else flows over the transom of his mind. Jim's IQ is off the charts, and his brain has kept track of everything he's heard. He's a walking encyclopedia of facts and factiods. He talks about Gnosticism, the pool chlorine that sweat out of him when he was doing yoga; where the wood for clarinets comes from. It's all fascinating, but after a while I long for silence. I put in my orange ear plugs, lie down and take a nap. When I wake up again, Larry and Jim are exchanging stories about dating women with "borderline personality disorder."

We reach the I-70 and head across Utah. The terrain turns otherworldly. Rocks jutting up, weathered and rounded over the millennia. Jim says one section is an ancient barrier reef that was once underwater. We talk about the fundamentalists who think the earth was created in seven days, starting 7,000 years ago. And we decide these people must not really take a good look at what's out here.

The sun is setting over the ancient barrier reef, the dust and the rocks turn colors, and the Rockies are looming in the east. I look out at the rock formations, the shades of red and green in the rocks and dust. I notice the way that the tectonic plates have shoved one over the other, millions of years ago, and I start to feel something I haven't felt in a while.

I feel awe.

That's the thing about us self-proclaimed sophisticates who live in our 1960s cubist blocks off of the 405 freeway. We're so caught up in tracking our ebbing careers and the Nielsen ratings, that we miss those things that the idiot commuters come home to every night. Beauty. Beauty that exists quite apart from Hollywood and commerce and man's piddly attempt to be immortal.

Jim points out that we are in the great western desert, that these little outcroppings of old horseshoe stores and curios are much more a part of Vegas than they are of LA. They are part of the culture of the Great American West. I am glad Jim and all his facts are along for the ride.

I'm also glad because I don't get to spend all that much time with my brother. Sure, we meet for yoga once and a while, or he calls to talk about this trip we are now taking. But right now it's my brother, with whom I share a history stretching back into my past; and Larry, with whom I'm forging a road into the future. Larry has heard me talk about aspects of my history, but now Larry gets to hear it from my brother's point of view. Larry gets to listen to Jim and I talk about it, parse it out in jokes and phrases and memories that are part of the Isaacs lexicon. Short hand words like "lonely childhood" and "lost opportunities" and regret.

After transversing a 100-mile stretch of no gas or food or lodging, we stop in Green River, Utah to get gas and coffee. The Sinclair Trucker Center has showers and laundry services, and a Burger King with big screen TVs. It also caters to the professional trucker, and as such sells all sorts of gadgets you can plug into a cigarette lighter: coffee makers and mini TVs and a small oven. Jim jokes about buying the oven and getting a head start on that Thanksgiving turkey.

When we were kids we did a lot of road trips with our dad. He took us on long family vacations, trips where we'd be in a car all day for three weeks. Dad said it was to show us the world, but I think he was trying to hang onto a time when he was God and we all still loved him. Sinclair will always remind me of Jim. When he was young, he loved the Sinclair mascot, a green dinosaur, and he fought to get my parents to buy him one of those green dinosaur stuffed animal. Maybe he was trying to hang onto a time when my father pretended to love him.

We hit Vail, Colorado by 9 pm, which means we should get into Sedalia by 11pm. The last two hours are long, and I try to nap.


My sister Nancy and her husband Phill moved to Colorado in 2003. A few families from their church in Northern California had already moved there. Phill is an accountant, and he went out to Castle Rock, Colorado to do one of those friend's books. I remember Nancy talking about it then, that she had the sense she should be ready to move. And sure enough, right before Thanksgiving 2003, they moved to Sedalia, with their four kids, two cats, my mother and my mother's two aging fox terrier dogs. They left to escape high home prices and the insanity of American pop culture, in hopes to find a simpler, more innocent way of life.

Sedalia proper is only about two square blocks of old west style storefronts, a filling station, and a mini mart. They've only got two traffic lights, and those are only there to reinforce the trains ... make sure those cowboy ranchers don't drive their pickups around the crossing arms when the 10-car coal trains come through.

The rest of Sedalia extends for several miles to the west. It's mostly ranches and farms, or homes with a little land so the owners can play rancher or farmer. Nancy and Phill bought a modest home on 5 acres, and they've got a barn with two goats and a chicken. They had four chickens earlier this year, but three of them got picked off by coyotes, like their cats eventually did. While we were driving out there, Phill, his dad, and their oldest son Matthew were digging a trench out to the barn to bring electricity and a motion detector to the barn, so their lone chicken could have a heat lamp and a running start in case another coyote came looking.

But we didn't get to see that until the next day. We arrived in Sedalia at 11:15 pm. The street that promised to take us from the highway to their house was blocked by a coal train. The northbound and southbound trains had ended up on the same track and were stalled in a Mexican standoff. We drove a few miles north and met Phill on a frontage road, handed my brother and his luggage off to Phill. Larry and I headed in to Castle Rock. Mom had bought Larry and me three nights at the Comfort Suites. Which was a good thing. As much as the Ericksons were anxious for us to spend Thanksgiving with them, the house could only hold so many people. And as much as Larry loved my family, he was also an introvert. So retreating to a motel with a mini fridge and free wi-fi was perfect for us. We checked in, took hot showers, caught up on our emails, and fell into bed.

We were awakened at 7:30 AM by a terse conversation outside our room. I peered out and saw a security guard having a discussion with the tenant of the room opposite ours. Something about who did what when. I shushed them and went back to sleep.

We were up for a slice of the Wild West. Just, not at 7:30 am.

Nov 23, 2006

Gratitude List

People in AA talk about having an "attitude of gratitude." used to bug the crap out of me, usually because it was preached by some low-bottom drunk gone sober, like the leather-faced ex-meth dealer, who parrotted AA catch phrases like they were oxygen. "One day at a time! If it ain't broke, don't fix it! God won't reveal what he cannot heal." And of course, "practice an attitude of gratitude!" Shut your cliché hole, would ya? But then I noticed, he was a lot happier than I. They were his oxygen, and he was a lot more rosy cheeked that I was.

I went through a turbulent time in which I lived 17 places in 24 months. Then I finally landed in a guest-house above a two-car garage. Two people can't move around in the kitchen at the same time. But it was mine, and I was home. I was so grateful for it.

My sponsor encouraged me to write a gratitude list every day. So I did. And know what? I started to feel grateful. I started to feel more happy and upbeat.

So I guess all those dorky AA catch phrases and bible proverbs work.
as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he
Whatever is good, whatever is true and right and beautiful, think about those things.
Have an attitude of gratitude.

I was grateful when Larry came along. We've even lived pretty well together in that little guest house. We're leaving it in a couple months, but we've been grateful for it.

But I haven't kept up on my gratitude list. And I've gotten a little pissy in places.

So now here we are at Thanksgiving. I's time to make a gratitude list.

I’m grateful for

Larry: for his open heart, goofy sense of humor, his openness and vulnerability. And his really cute hiney. Yeah that too. I love him because he loves God and hates religiosity. Because he's walked through spiritual crises and disillusionment, and got a better faith in the bargain. I love the fact that the things he cares about are writing and spiritual growth. I love that he surfs the net looking for ... NOT for stocks and politics and Playstatione, but Christianity Today and The Emergent blogs and social issues and writing. My sister put it well last night: "he's a perfect fit for you." He is.

Larry's family: his mom Joy; His sister Dianna, her husband Tony and their son Joe. I inherited a great second family.

My own family: Mother Marian, brothers Rob Jim, sister Nancy, her husband Phill Erickson, their four kids Matthew, Emily, Jonathan and Elisabeth. My cousins and aunts and uncles. We are all healthy and alive.

Friends: I have been blessed with so many great friendships over the years. Friends who live close by and friends far away. The few close friends who know me, ones I know through writing or church or the 12 steps. And the new friends I've inherited through Larry.

The list goes on and on. I know I'll forget some, but here's a start: Mim Abbey, Sibyl Gardner, Christopher Myers, Matthew Corozine. Meredith Stephenson, Kim and Brian Godawa, Michael and Rebecca Corwin. Terrie Silverman, Mary and Jeff Cellers, Cameron Taylor, Jeannie Gaffigan and Tony Hale and Todd Wilkerson. Bonnie Eslinger, Aimee Umidi, Anna Hansen. My friend Carole Kealoha and I have known each other since 1985. I recently started going to study and write at the library she works at, and it's been so wonderful just to reconnect with her and go get coffee and talk. I'm so grateful just to be able to see her again and hang out.

And there are my friends who we used to live in the same city, these friends were such an inextricable part of my life. But now they live in other cities, and we don't get to talk regularly. But when we do, we pick up where we left off and it's like there was no time or distance between us. When I hang up the phone I feel a profound sadness, because I wish they lived next door.

And I get this overwhelming longing for us all to be together, and I decide that heaven must be just like that: a place where we are all doing our art or our lives, but together. And I decide that heaven must be a row of brownstones on the Upper West Side, with a media lab in the basement, meeting rooms on the ground floor with cushy chairs and an undending supply of good coffee and PG Tips tea, and our own apartments above. With Central Park on one end of the block, and the Rockies on the other.

Nov 17, 2006

Atheist Fundamentalists

This article has been floating around the internet for the past few days, and Larry sent it to me today. It's disturbing on so many levels. But let's just look at it a minute...

Atheist Fundamentalists
From Investor's Business Daily, Posted 11/13/2006

Intolerance: Rock star Elton John's wish to "ban religion completely" may be dismissed as the hyperbole of a famous eccentric. But militant atheism has become more fashionable than ever. And it's targeting your children. The flashy singer of "Crocodile Rock" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," who recently "married" his longtime male partner, told Britain's Observer Music Monthly that "religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays."

"Organized religion doesn't seem to work," he said. "It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." John concluded: "From my point of view, I would ban religion completely."

Uh, hold up. Sir Elton has had public cat fights with Princess Diana, Madonna, and recently with his own record label. Let's look ...
"Nobody would know my new album has been out since. My record label isn't doing anything to help. Fuck Universal. Please drop me. I'm 58 and I don't care anymore."

On accusing Madonna of lip-synching: "I'm not afraid to speak my mind. I'm not going to mellow with age. I get more enraged about things as I get older."
I don't think the increasingly enraged Elton should judge others for being hateful.

Further, religion turns people into hateful lemmings? Mother Theresa, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and Ghandi don't strike me as hateful lemmings. Or did Theresa go to the Calcutta slums because "everyone else was doing it."

If you check the money flowing to the starving and orphaned children in Africa, it's the religious nonprofits lead the way.

Elton has a point, because gays have suffered a lot from religious people. (read Blogger Chris Campbell. But Hitler also exterminated gays. And Hitler wasn't a Christian. See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, exterminated at Ravensbruck, who opposed Hitler and led the Confessing Church during Nazi Germany. He also partook in a failed plot to kill Hitler. That hateful lemming Dietrich! Anyway, back to the Investors business daily article...
Amazon's second-best-selling book at the time of this writing is an Oxford zoologist's venomous 400-page diatribe against "the vice of religion." In it, he insists that "even mild and moderate religion helps to provide the climate of faith in which extremism naturally flourishes." And he wants parents forbidden from raising children by their beliefs.

"Our society," writes Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, "has accepted the preposterous idea that it is normal and right to indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them — 'Catholic child,' 'Protestant child,' 'Jewish child,' 'Muslim child,' etc." Those "labels" are "always a form of child abuse," said Dawkins, who concludes: "Maybe some children need to be protected from indoctrination by their own parents."

... Dawkins has called on the United Nations to extend human rights to gorillas and orangutans. He extols Princeton's notorious "professor of bio-ethics" and animal-lib poster boy Peter Singer, who advocates the killing of handicapped newborn babies, as "the most eloquent advocate of the view that we should move to a 'post-species-ist' condition."
If Sir Elton has anyone to fear, it's this psycho who advocates killing handicapped babies. Because they're substandard? That was Hitler's excuse for exterminating gays and Jews! Forget Hitler, evolutionary theory on animal homosexuality is that it's "nature's way of eliminating the weaker of the species." How terrifying is THAT?

Irony of Ironies: Dawkins is MORE fundamentalist and intolerant than the religions he condemns as being intolerant. His drive to exterminate religion is right there in his manifesto. The Bible doesn't teach hatred or suppression of speech. Jesus was the guy who said "turn the other cheek," and "my kingdom is not of this world." And there's that whole "blessed are the meek..."

But back to IBD's article...
No. 11 on Amazon is another atheist screed — "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris. Harris' 2005 attack on religion, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason," got a prestigious award from the PEN literary association and still ranks No. 33 on Amazon. Harris is as eager as Dawkins to kidnap your kids and bring on the day when "the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish be widely recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is."

Religious Americans shouldn't be alone in fearing the popularity of these modern Mein Kampfs. Imagine the government forcibly preventing you from inculcating your children with your values and convictions, and substituting its own instead. Even when it's Darwin — instead of Hitler or Mohammed — being worshiped by the state, fascism is fascism.
YIKES! But before Christians get their panties in a bunch, these accusations come with foundations. There has been a lot of violence committed in the name of religion. But also in the name of Atheism (see Pol Pot, Stalin, Ghengis Kahn). A lot of the poeple who are hateful toward gays are just hateful people. Like Neo-Nazis. There are probably atheists who hate gays, but they don't stand with signs saying, "gays are going to hell." My friend Alicia's uncle was an abortion doctor. WAS. He was murdered, not by an atheist, but by a fundamentalist Christian psycho.

Harris and Dawkins say that science is the ONLY way to prove anything. Which means ONLY left-brained analysis. Say goodbye to women's intuition. Harris and Dawkins are eliminating a fundamental way that WOMEN apprehend truth. Maybe they're misogynists as well.

The ONLY information they want to recognize is that which the current scientists can prove (and sign off on) at any given point in history.

To quote that scientist, Albert Einstein:
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
And to quote that dangerous subversive, Alexsandr Solzhenistyn:
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

Nov 16, 2006

Library: the Noisiest Place On Earth

Writers will do anything to find a good place to write. A place free of distractions, noise and frustration.

That rules out your own home, where the phone, fridge, family and cats keep you away from meaningful work. And for the past few days, my husband's computer is out being repaired. He has never asked, but when I see his downcast face, I offer to let him check his email from my laptop. Gives me an excuse to attend to the other distractions.

When looking for places to write, I used to go to Starbucks, where only the sound of the cappuccino machine, panhandlers, and uppity Venti Iced Mocha drinkers could distract me. But they always keep the room so cold so you're forced to buy Venti HOT mochas to stay awake.As long as the place stays loud, you can tune it out like white noise. But then it quiets down and an uppity Venti Iced Mocha drinker returns and complains that the ice wasn't icy enough.

The Library! Why, of course, the library is quiet! That's the place as a child, I'd get reprimanded if I as much as unwrapped a Jolly Rancher inside the door.

In the last week I have gone to LA City Library's Mar Vista branch, where it's relatively quiet ... until the junior high school around the corner lets out at 2pm. That's when all the under-16 kids show up and wait for the computers so they can log onto myspace. Which they're not supposed to be on if they're under 16. But the librarians can't do anything about that.

So the kids hover, trying to intimidate the current user with icy, plucked-brow stares, gum snapping and cell phone ringers. Yesterday, a couple of 14-year old Latinas sat down at my table, chattering in Spanish and kicking their legs, like young victims of Restless Leg Syndrome. They seemed set on driving me from my table. but I had a weapon: ear plugs. I could only hear the inflections of Spanish insults. They finally left, and then my friend Sibyl miraculously showed up and took the seat opposite me. But by then, my resolve was broken, so I came home and took a nap.

Today I went to the Santa Monica library. It's not around the corner from a junior high, and I'm not on the floor where the free computers are, and where uppity pre-teens and the computerless sit and wait to log onto porn websites.

However, I am sitting next to a couple of senior citizens who are hearing-impaired and speak loudly. Not even my ear plugs can block them out.

Another elderly gentlemen has taken it upon himself to move every stray newspaper to the go-back cart. Then he decides to move the newspapers to a different cart. One page at a time. I realize he's just trying to be of service. Good for him. But he is wearing cement shoes. CLUMP CLUMP CLUMP he walks, like Frankenstein tramping up the Matterhorn.

Maybe the "Friends of Santa Monica Library" can suggest that volunteers wear crepe soled shoes. Meanwhile, I squeeze my earplugs in further.

I'm also downwind from the children's section and sitting right across from the DVDs. CLACK CLACK CLACK go the plastic DVD carriers as patrons check out the titles.

A LOUD CLACK and a SCREAM. A tantrum-prone girl has grabbed a DVD and is screaming at her mother. "I want this one Mommy!! GIMME this one!"
"Patterson," the mother coos softly, "Patterson. I've got My Little Pony."
Yeah, a girl named Patterson.
"NO NO! I WANT THIS ONE!!!" The beast-girl screams with abandon, and she stomps past me.

I see she is holding a DVD of "The Three Tenors."

I'd be less distracted at home, where my husband is waiting for the DHL truck. Yesterday DHL tried to deliver his computer to the wrong house. Thank God for "signature required." Today DHL promised a delivery between 8AM and noon.

It's now 2:45 pm.

Maybe I can get Patterson to scream at DHL Dispatch.
Hold on, I can hear her across the library. I'll just put her on Speaker Phone.


Nov 7, 2006

Jesus Jargon: The List

I ranted a while back about Christian Clichés.

You can't really get away from clichés. Clichés arise because someone says something clever or smart, and it works. Or it's just a way to explain a complex idea in simple terms. Nothing wrong with that. But then the phrase gets overused, and eventually it gets said by a white guy on a commercial (i.e. fat white guy on Dominos Pizza says "that's what I'm talkin' about!"). Even "jump the shark" has er, jumped the shark.

I just don't like Christian cliches. Burnside Writers Collective editor Jordan Green and I think that a dictionary of Christian clichés would make a fun book. So we are compiling a list. This isn't a complete list because, well, we'd love to publish it as a book and for you to buy it! Or ask me for a free autographed copy to wow your friends.

If you'd like to contribute your idea, please send a comment below. here are some of our worst offenders...


Many Christian clichés originated from Bible verses, such as "born again" (John 3:7). But if you don't know the Bible, the phrase means nothing. Or worse: it conjures up scary images of blue haired ladies, or Debbie Boone. Some of the oldest Old School clichés go back as far as the Oakie Tent revivals, or as recent as, well, Debbie Boone.

  • Blessed, or blesséd. (we're not sure if it needs the accent aigu) God-ordained luck?
  • Fellowship: sometimes called "The Christian F-Word." (See Sugar's comment below)
  • Brethren: Or Sistren, depending on the group. The friendship or community of believers. This is usually coupled with "do not forsake the brethren." Meaning, "get your butt in the pew!"
  • Go before, come before: to get in front of. To address or approach. Often coupled with just ... as in
  • "Lord we just…" meant to show humility, but ends up sounding wimpy and waffly. Lord we just wanna praise you. Lord we just wanna come before you. Lord I just want Paris Hilton to convert so I can date her."
  • In the word: reading the Bible.

Same Poo, Different Day. In reaction to fundamentalism, many Chrisitians wanted to present Christianity as intellectually sound and uh, relevant to, um, the culture (i've already used two). These phrases below probably started out well, but now the user can appear like he's TRYING too hard to sound credible, relevant, or at least cool.
  • Authentic: real
  • Community: Group of friends
  • Authentic community: Real group of friends, I guess
  • Authentic lives: Living really? Really living? (Michael Corwin)
  • Life-on-life: A creepy way to say real (Rebecca Corwin)
  • Having an authentic life-on-life experience with someone: "a creepy way to say we're friends." (Rebecca Corwin)
  • Engaging the culture: getting involved in secular society? I can't help but think that the culture is out there idling like an old VW and someone needs to pop the clutch and engage it.
  • Unpack: Examining something to the Nth degree. At Redeemer Church in New York City, they can go overboard and unpack the announcements. "We are dismissing the kids for Sunday school. Dismiss is from the Greek "desmedoudas" which means to let go, or loosen … JUST SHUT UP AND LET THE KIDS LEAVE ALREADY!
  • Faith-based: A euphemism for religious. Often used in fields where religion is suspect, ie entertainment. A faith-based music label. According to Entertainment Weekly's Chris Willman, faith-friendly is coming into use. Aren't we lucky.
  • God showed up: Often used at charismatic hip churches.
  • live that out: Um, to follow through. Replaced "walk the talk."
  • Purpose filled, Purpose-driven. From Rick Warren's best seller. I wonder if there's a purpose driven coffee house as of yet? Or the Purpose Driven desk calendar.
  • Redemption or redemptive: Often used in terms of creative ventures, such as filmmaking and storytelling. This can often be stretched to the point of incredulity. "Despite the gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity, The Sopranos is a redemptive story… (John Fox)
  • Relational: Related; connected. In kinship with. The newest "Next Big Thing" church in LA recently held a seminar on small groups called "VELCRO: Creating Relational Stickiness." This is so bad I can't even talk about it yet.
  • Relevant: Meaningful, pertinent to the time or issue at hand. Overused to make Christianity meaningful and valuable in the current culture.
  • Transparent: Honest. I hope it's not the Christian version of Scientology's "Clear."
  • Transparent on the pulpit: Pastor with a "past" spilling guts about all the sordid things ue used to do before he became a Christian. Either to look cool or to get free therapy (Tina Slenk's brother-in-law)
  • salt and light: being a good example. This one is often used in entertainment industry, like, "it's great you're being salt and light in the industry." (Jeff Raycher).
    I wonder if you can be "salt and light" doing a horror-torture movie? Or a soap?
POMO (Post Modern, Emergent)

The post-modern, emergent church has recently uh, emerged? Well, read the Wikipedia entry on the emergent church. I really love what the emergent church is doing. But like any new thing, the verbiage which springs up around it can get over-used. Here are some buzz words of the Emergent Conversation. (No, not a movement. They don't want to categorized or organized). Hey, I'm 'all about' the 'emergent conversation.' Just not the language.
  • Creating a space
  • Doing life together
  • Intentional
  • Missional
  • Organic and raw
  • Witness worker: Takes the sting out of "evangelist," the way "Sex worker" takes the sting out of "hooker."
  • The conversation: As opposed to teaching dogma, we're having a conversation about faith. Sometimes combined with "having a conversation around this." or "being in the conversation."
  • Tribe: a Po-mo way to say community.
  • Creation-Care: a pomo way to talk about environmentalism. Olivia Mather brought this one to my attention.
  • See the Postmodern Essay Generator to really unpack the above

  • "What can I say" a line from a worship song played at a new hip church. It went something like
    You made a way, what can I say? or
    You turned night into day, what can I say?
    These lyrics are gay, what can I say?
    As I've said before: Dear Lyricist: If you have to write "What can I say?" Please, move way from the pen, ask yourself "what CAN I say?" When you have an answer, come back and write it. Until then, don't put it in a lyric. And don't make me sing it.
  • European music has no place in a multicultural church." Quoted in the LA Times by the pastor of church above. But there is a place for "what can I say?"
  • "Don't nobody do me like Jesus." Becca Bennett said that the worship leader in her college wrote this song, and they were forced to sing it at chapel.
  • I'm coming into the heart of worship, and it's all about you, it's all about you, Jesus. This song tries to affirm that worship is about Jesus, not us. But it sounds oh so much about ME.
  • "You see me and my insecurities." I heard this at a church recently. I don't remember what they rhymed with insecurities. Maybe Maimonides, or Euripides or heebee jeebees. Or maybe the song just gave me the heebee jeebees.

Taking intransitive verbs and making them transitive, coopting speak from other areas like business, technology, rock n roll... The first usage of such often induces a knowing chuckle from the audience. If the word is arcane or "inside," it invokes an exclusive, knowing chuckle. But like any good joke, when overtold, becomes its own cliché.
  • Impact: don't they mean make an impact? What, is it a wisdom tooth? (Phil Oosterhouse)
  • Grow the budget. I think you grow food and flowers.
  • Bandwidth: The pastor doesn't have enough bandwidth to see everyone.
  • Download: I just got this download from God ... Some tech head just have said this and caught on. I'm sorry but I can't help think of download as a euphemism for taking a dump. As in "downloading brownware." See also "unpack."
  • VELCRO: Creating Relational Stickiness: the same hip church's title for a seminar on small groups. How can I express how bad this is? This from the church that disses the hymns as "irrelevant European music" but sings "You made a way, what can I say?"
  • BTW: I have several friends who go to this church; I've heard the pastor's sermons. He's terrific. So are my friends. This church is doing a lot of good stuff.
  • God told me that (Maria DeAngelus, Phil Oosterhouse) Brian Godawa points out they often add, " 'Not in an audible voice, but he spoke to my heart with a strong impression.' Summarily existentialized so you can’t challenge it."
  • Hope: Christian hope. "Christians don't have a monopoly on hope. Plenty of people have hope: hope in success, money, fame, family. The only hope Christians really can claim is the hope of eternal life. (Michael Corwin).
  • Let's see what God wants: not taking responsibility for human decision. (Maria DeAngelus). God wants me to marry you. /Really? I've never seen you before in my life.
  • Rightfully His
  • Consumed By the Call
  • In His Grip
  • In his Grasp (like In His Grip, but for girls?)
  • Under The Mercy: This one is not yet under arrest of being a cliche, but it is a 'person of interest'
  • Amazed by Grace: Pastor Joel Pelsue first used this, but then everyone else copied him. I've thought of a few others so you don't have to plagiarize Joel...
  • Gobstopped by Glory
  • Flummoxed by Faith
  • Agitated by Adoration
  • Joyfully Jargon-free (Mark Kellner)
  • Jesus is my homeboy
  • Body piercing saved my life (picture of Jesus on the cross)
  • In case of rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned!
  • Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven
  • His pain, Your gain
  • Honk if you ARE Jesus: Explains all those honking egomaniacs on the road

Things we know will become cliché because they're so good
  • Life-on-life: Authentic. Rebecca Corwin brought this one up and it's ripe.
  • Appreciate your ministry: My brother James' euphemism for "get out of my face"
  • Stop dating Jesus: Pastor Tim Keller's exhortation to make a commitment to Christ
  • I love you with the love of the Lord, ONLY: a diss I got from Matthew Corozine and used in a comedy sketch
  • Post-church others: A PC way to say non-christians, coined by James Isaacs

If you'd like to contribute your idea, please send a comment below.

Nov 4, 2006

Boys logged onto Myspace at the library

I'm at one of the LA County library branches in Mar Vista. It's a new building, great perks. Like free wi-fi, big tables with computer outlets, Perfect for a writer like me who needs to get away from it all to write.

Except I'm here on a Saturday, and there are kids. Lots of 'em. Kids who are screaming and squealing. Until the librarian comes over to tell them to please be quiet. Because librarians have the authority to do that: Tell someone to be quiet.

At the table in front of me are two kids with their skateboards. Probably between 11 and 13. They're logged on to the free computers where they get 15 minutes access at a time. They've been there the entire hour I'm here. Which is fine. No one is waiting so they can keep logging on.

But I'm right behind them and I can see they're on myspace. You aren't supposed to be on myspace if you're under 16. Also, one of the kids is on a myspace page and the background wallpaper is a dismembered doll head. The other is looking at a myspace page with pics of girls, probably his classmates, with captions like "this is me looking sexy." Another is of a girl reclining on her bed, legs spread open a bit. She doesn't need the caption.

I asked a librarian about it But 1) unless the kids' parents are there, they can't do anything about it. It's not the library's job to parent children, and in fact they can get in trouble. 2) It's public access, freedom of information. They don't censor.

Unless it were an adult looking at sexy pictures of minors. Then they can step in. But 12 year olds? No.

Well, unless the kids were being loud. Then the librarian could tell them to be quiet ... while they look at their classmates' soft core kiddie porn.

A friend of mine had two nieces with myspace pages. The girls were 10 and 14. Their father was OK with it. Which I guess is OK if you're there to monitor the kids. But what about when you're not? Under-age kids, mostly girls but boys as well, are being lured by "16 year old boys" in their area to some hang out. And they end up being old men predators. I was so worried about those nieces I emailed myspace. As far as I know, they never did anything.

Librarians in another state have filed suit against allowing patrons to browse porn sites at the library. They claim sexual harrassment: they're trying to do their jobs checking out books and they have to see hard core porn on computers. "Free speech," though.

Isn't there some common sense to apply here?

I love the fact I can come here to the library and use the facilities. And yes, and we have to protect the freedom of information and access. In some countries you're not allowed to have a Bible. Maybe it'll get like that here some day. Until then, I still get to read the Bible and log in and use the county's electricity. And 12 year old boys on skateboards can look at their classmates reclining on their beds with their legs spread.

I don't know about you, but that's not sexy. That's sad.

Oct 31, 2006

Donald Miller and Change

A couple years ago everyone was raving about this book Blue Like Jazz. I finally broke down and read it, and discovered a new favorite writer in Donald Miller.

I've been doing some research on these writers, and found the following excerpt of his book Through Painted Deserts, on the Barnes and Noble website. You can go and read more on the BN website. but whatever you do, read Don. I found this sublime. Especially what he says about change.

IT IS FALL HERE NOW, MY FAVORITE OF THE FOUR seasons. We get all four here, and they come at us under the doors, in through the windows. One morning you wake and need blankets; you take the fan out of the window to see clouds that mist out by midmorning, only to reveal a naked blue coolness like God yawning.

September is perfect Oregon. The blocks line up like postcards and the rosebuds bloom into themselves like children at bedtime. And in Portland we are proud of our roses; year after year, we are proud of them. When they are done, we sit in the parks and read stories into the air, whispering the gardens to sleep. ...

I remember the sweet sensation of leaving, years ago, some ten now, leaving Texas for who knows where. I could not have known about this beautiful place, the Oregon I have come to love, this city of great people, this smell of coffee and these evergreens reaching up into a mist of sky, these sunsets spilling over the west hills to slide a red glow down the streets of my town.

And I could not have known then that if I had been born here, I would have left here, gone someplace south to deal with horses, to get on some open land where you can see tomorrow's storm brewing over a high desert. I could not have known then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God's way. All my life I have been changing. I changed from a baby to a child, from soft toys to play daggers. I changed into a teenager to drive a car, into a worker to spend some money. I will change into a husband to love a woman, into a father to love a child, change houses so we are near water, and again so we are near mountains, and again so we are near friends, keep changing with my wife, getting our love so it dies and gets born again and again, like a garden, fed by four seasons, a cycle of change. Everybody has to change, or they expire. Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.

Oct 28, 2006

Greetings From Nashville

It's October, 2006:  I'm on the plane to Nashville: AKA Music City, Smashville, NashVegas. It’s mercifully empty on this flight, and I have an entire row to myself. Across the aisle and back one row is a couple that looks pretty country.  Fifties, Hillbilly hippies with turquoise jewelry. He’s got longish stringy hair and reading glasses. She’s got a Cocopeli bracelet and 30 extra pounds. They order Budweisers. It’s 10am.

Across the aisle and up one row is a woman I noticed in the airport. Short dark hair and a confused expression. Like she’s not sure what flight she’s on, or what era she belongs in. She’s wearing double knit slacks, a Mervyns turtleneck and expensive clogs. Maybe she’s an ex-nun. Once she got settled, her husband moved away from her to the seat at the window. She pulled out a thick legal pad with the reinforced cardboard back. She’s filled half of the pages. Maybe I pegged her wrong. Maybe she’s a successful novelist. Maybe why she can afford those expensive clogs.

I peeked over her shoulder. She’s making a meal list. Breakfast every day looks like cereal. Or cereal and bagels. Pancakes. Lunch and dinner are spotty. Vegetables and chicken. Pizza. Hot pockets. This can’t be a weight loss diet. Why would you track that food? Is she supporting the carb industry? She's definitely not supporting fashion or cosmetics.

She turns the page and writes. “Saturday.” Okay maybe she’s getting to her diary. No, it’s another list. A schedule by hour. Costco Advil. Water plants. Thelma argument. She's definitely the confused woman who doesn’t know what life she belongs in. Making lists helps her keep away the confusion.  Boy am I judgmental. Clearly, I'm nervous about the job.  When in doubt, turn one's critical eye on someone else, rather than oneself.

But I do know about making lists. When we are younger we have our futures ahead of us, to schedule, plan, or just fantasize over. But when you hit middle age and those fantasies didn’t materialize, (or they did, but they still didn’t fill the void) then you have little else to plan. Except scheduling meals and arguments with Thelma.

Maybe dieting will get easier when I stop hoping about the future ...

I haven’t given up hope just yet ... I’m on my way to Nashville to shoot the second of the Directv specials: Songs of Praise, a musical celebration of Christmas. I've written the scripts for both. It’s just a variety show: The two hosts tell the story of Christmas in segments and introduce the choirs which sing a song related to the story. That kind of thing. But Amy Grant is one of the hosts, so that’s going to be exciting!

The DirecTv people like me and are recommending me to rewrite another project they’re working on. Yea yea! Maybe this one has more story and plot. We shall see.

Larry and I just celebrated two months of marriage. It’s the first time I’ll have been away from him for more than 12 hours since we got hitched. I spent my entire life living alone, and it’s going to be weird to be separated. Married life is terrific. Well, it helps when you marry the right guy. I got a good one, that's for sure. But it’s also hard work! You don’t realize all your character defects, until someone ELSE has to live with your defects. And you have to live with theirs. Oh, and they come up every day. Especially in our place which is really small.

Here's the thing I realize: a guy is just a guy. The fundamental things apply. Larry's just a guy. A great guy. But if I had expected my life to radically transform because of him, I'd be really hurting right now. It has transformed, for the better. But Larry is not my salvation, nor am I his. Well, he is, in that we all have to grow spiritually or die. And he is helping me grow spiritually, let go of those character defects. And man it is really wonderful to have a ... partner. I don't know what word they said before "partner" got so politically correct. A bud, a lover and friend. Oh they used to say husband. It's GREAT to have a husband. I had some stressful days over the last weeks doing this writing gig and man, just to have him there. Marriage is good, I highly recommend it.


From the moment I landed in Nashville I heard that TWANG in the speech. Some really country ladies in front of me. Boots, cords, big hair and that twang. Of course I heard twang 90 miles out of LA in most directions. But this is really twangy.

Us DirecTv people are staying at the Loews hotel right across from Vanderbilt University. That campus is gorgeous. That's what you dream your college would look like.

While I was waiting to check in, I noticed a family with three teenager sons, and some fawning older man to the side. The eldest teenage son was wearing Nikes and a KILT. The older fawning man was wearing a "Tennessee Titans" sticker. I wonder if he's courting the Kilt Boy for their football team.

The church where we'll be filming is just a block away. Downtown Nashville is up the street but it's a bit of a hike. Not for the night time. Maybe I'll walk down there tomorrow.

The concierge warned me that this is homecoming weekend for Tennessee State University, and downtown Nashville bars will be crowded. Dang me. Good thing I don't drink and I dislike country music. Hey, maybe you're supposed to wear a kilt to homecoming. Yeah, that fawning man has to be a sports scout.

I really do not like country music. Well, I like Johnny Cash and Willie and Waylon. But I really can't abide the slick stuff, like Shania Twain. She lives in Switerland for the love of Pete; how is she country? Or who's this Pouty Boy at the left? The Brad Pitt of Country? I wonder if this guy even wears a hat when he's alone. Maybe a bowler. 

I better keep these opinions to myself while I'm here. I'm about to meet Ms. Amy Grant on Monday, and she may walk in wearing a Stetson.

Ah, I miss Larry...

PS: 2009 ... when I wrote this in 2006 I knew only three people in Nashvegas. I now know about three dozen people, they're all terrific folks. And none of them wear cowboy hats.  It's a beautiful place, too. Larry and I would consider moving to Nashville some day, if we could live in East Nashville or historic Franklin. Not Cool Springs, though.  Cool Springs is a great place for a mall or a swanky office building or a nationalized upscale chain restaurant. But Cool Springs reminds me too much of Orange County, California, where I was raised and escaped from as soon as I was able.  Not that there's anything wrong with beige...

Oct 26, 2006

Forget gas prices. What about Darfur?

I don't know if you saw the segment on 60 minutes about Darfur. The dictator of Sudan is Arabic, and he is conducting massive genocide of anyone who is not Arab. The Sudan military goes into ethnic-African villages in the south at night: kills the men, rapes the women, throws the bodies into the water supply so the village is uninhabitable. And then burns the entire village.

So the survivors flee. But that's not enough. The Sudanese (arab) government bulldozes the refugee camps after chasing the people out in the middle of the night. (see what's left of the Al Geer refugee camp at left)

This makes mockery of our problems, doesn't it? And what is the US Government doing? Very little. Unless your'e a nihilist, or a true evolutionist (survival of the fittest fits nicely into this scenario), this must stop.

Here are some resources to learn more about Darfur.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Evangelicals For Darfur... email the White House urging the president to DO SOMETHING.
Voice of the Martyrs has been dealing with this persecution for several years.

Okay, you can go back to kvetching about Exxon's multi-billion dollar profit

Oct 18, 2006

Derek Webb Makes Me Cry

I don't remember how I found him, but I came across Derek Webb, who used to be in the group, Cademon's Call. I heard his song "Wedding Dress" and found myself weeping. I had the headphones on. Larry came in from the other room to see what was wrong.

"It's no use," I said. "I can't forget the hole in my heart where God belongs."

Below are the lyrics. Listen to a clip and you'll want to go to iTunes for the whole song. Maybe his whole library.

Wedding Dress
words and music by derek webb

if you could love me as a wife
and for my wedding gift, your life
should that be all i’ll ever need
or is there more i’m looking for

and should i read between the lines
and look for blessings in disguise
to make me handsome, rich, and wise
is that really what you want

i am a whore i do confess
but i put you on just like a wedding dress
and i run down the aisle
i’m a prodigal with no way home
but i put you on just like a ring of gold
and i run down the aisle to you

so could you love this bastard child
though i don’t trust you to provide
with one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side
i am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers less wild
that i would take a little cash
over your very flesh and blood


because money cannot buy
a husband’s jealous eye
when you have knowingly deceived his wife

Oct 9, 2006

Church As A Form Of Torture

My husband's friend Karen has gone on her own odyssey, looking for a church to call home. For a while She tried a place that fancied itself a post-modern, emergent church. Filled with hip 20 somethings, they lit candles, provided easels for people to paint during the service. But then came the sermons: "The verse, by verse, by verse, by verse Expository Preaching kind of sermons. I swear, this should be a new form of torture … expose terrorists to Sunday Morning Expository Preaching and they'll spill all of their secrets after an hour ...

Her entire post is funny and heartbreaking and so close to what so many of us have experienced. Church as torture.

That's what church has grown to feel like: torture. And it's heartbreaking, because church is how I've connected to God and to community over the last 20 years. Same with Larry.

It seems to be a trend among the people I know who were "on fire" at 20, and burned out at 40+. The guy who runs a Christian counseling practice called it "disenfranchised, disillusioned, and disinterested." My friend Kathy in New York was always the faithful God girl. She hasn't been to church in months. "I guess I'm officially a backslider." It's a lot of us. it's epidemic.

Before I met my husband, he too felt estranged from church, but didn't want to be. So as newlyweds we've been looking for our 'tribe,' our spiritual place to call home. We tried Basileia community last week and liked it. There's an Episcopal church we went to for Easter, which we want to try again, but not before we've checked out the other possibilities.

Then there's this church Larry's visited a few times in the past, and which a number of my long-term freinds have ended up. I've resisted for so long because everyone's hailing this place as the "the next big thing." I've been on that ride: Loops and turns and then someone throws up.

But, we needed to try it. If it sucked, at least we could cross it off the list.

We got there really early. People came up to talk to us. That was nice. The demographic was really really young. Well that's what happens when you get older. People get younger. I was looking forward to seeing the people I know show up. All of them did. that was nice, because we got to sit with a few of them and not feel like total strangers.

It met in a school auditiorium so it didn't have the benefit of ambient light. But that's OK, most of the churches I'vee gone to met in school auditioriums. I prepared myself for light deprivation depression.

During the service, their modern dance group did a number. I don't understand how dance shapes correspond to lyrics. But dance is a mystery to me. I turn off the Nutcracker. However, I liked how they all moved. Also during the service, a woman stood at an easel and painted on a canvas. In the end it looked like an 8th grade art project, and I didn't get its connection to the sermon. But that's cool, it meant something to her. I don't know how the "Paint By Sermons" Thing has come into vogue, but that's fine. I'll make sure never to sit on the right aisle if I come back.

The LA Times did an article about the church, and they had color laser copies of it on display at the pack of the church, so I read it. It was a favorable article. This church was a cool place for people who didn't like church; a place where seekers and skeptics could ask questions, doubt, and not feel wrong or awkward. That was great. But then I read what the pastor said about their worship music: "We don't do hymns. European music has no place in a multi-cultural church." That sounded prejudiced, in a cocky kind of way. But I needed to see what they did instead.

I'm not some uptight jerk who doesn't appreciate new music. I already have Beck's new CD. I like Sigur Ros and Interpol and "And You Shall Know Us By Our Trail Of Dead."

But this music was torture. For me anyway. Maybe it was fine for everyone else. I realize it comes down to a matter of taste, or whatever music you heard when you had your first spiritual experience. This wasn't mine. This music was 7/11 music: 7 words repeated 11 times. The musicians were probably good. But I couldn't get past the lyrics.

A line in one of the songs was: What can I say?
As in:
You made a way, what can I say?
You turned night into day, what can I say?
These lyrics are gay, what can I say?

To the lyricist: if you are writing, "What can I say?" Please, get up from your desk, go ask yourself, "What CAN I say?"
When you have an answer, come back and write it.
Until then, don't put it in a lyric. And don't make me sing it.

I'm also not a total worship music snob. I like Delirious? and Brian Doerksen, David Crowder when he's not played to death. I love Robin Mark's Revival in Belfast. Because there's melody and lyrics that are good.

I'm more likely to worship when I'm singing

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

As opposed to lyrics that are ALL ABOUT ME

When I think about today, hey, what can I say?
When I think of me, it makes me think of you
And me, loving you.
And I, Yie, Yie, Yie.
I’m so in love with me, Loving you,
what can I say? These lyrics are blasé.

The sermon was great. Faith is nonsense, he admitted. But faith comes from knowing through faculties other than the five senses. Like intuition is not from the senses. Just because we don't perceive God plain as day, doesn't mean he isn't there plain as day. We must admit our faculties to see or know God are broken: by sin or addiction or pride or fear. (Or as I saw on a bumper sticker once: "Don't believe everything you think.") So yeah, the sermon was great.

Overall we had a good time but we didn't coonect. and this is whewre I have to say, "it's not you, it's me." That church is perfect for so many people who don't want to walk into a 'church.' who don't mind the auditorium, who are totally fine with that music. WHo need a palce to ask questions and be skeptics.

But Larry and I didn't connect, and maybe it's just us. Both of us feel like maybe we don't fit with the usual church service anymore. That 45 music -45 sermon thing. We connect better in smaller groups. We connect in something that's more interactive: not sit and listen. Maybe we could get involved in a small group related to this morning's church. Or we could download podcast sermons and listen to them together or with a small group.

Or find our own tribe and utilize resources from this church, like their sermons or whatnot. Who knows?

That night we barbecued at our friend Doug's. Martin and Debbie brought their three daughters, the oldest is 14. Tristyn talked about life in public school, how her friends' parents neglect them, her freind had to ride teh bus home from a quinciñera at midnight because the mom didn't want to pick her up. Her freinds do drugs and drink and have sex because it's fun and cool. And kids at 14 are already saying they're bisexual.

Tristyn recalled a time when she was young. "We could laugh and say boys had cooties. Or switch clothes with my girl friends and walk arm in arm. If I give my friend a hug, someone shouts out, "kiss her, kiss her!" You don't get to be a kid anymore

Tristyn gave us a clear picture of what it is to be a kid. I realized how important it is for us to love and encourage Tristyn and her sisters. Remidn them of how valuable they are, teach them to guard their identity and talents and sexuality and body for the treasures they are worth.

Last night felt more like church to Larry and me.

Karen's search for a non torturous church led her and her husband to a vibrant Catholic church. She loved the liturgy, the sacraments, and the art. Maybe that's Larry's and my next visit: old church. Or maybe we do our own small group thing, and then a different church on Sunday. Or have a barbecue and invite Tristyn and her friends.

I still mourn the loss of that Sunday morning thing. But maybe it has to go.

Oct 1, 2006

Autumn melancholy

I love the change in seasons. But I grew up in Southern California, where those changes are very subtle. So I am attuned to the imperceptible shifts. My my favorite season is Autumn. Autumn here can mean little beyond the lone maple tree on a street meridian losing its leaves. The subtle change in light as the sun hangs lower light in the sky. The temperature dip. And that splendid melancholy.

I think I know why school the Jewish New year takes place now. Of course in an agrarian society, you just finished the harvest. You are truly reaping what you've sown and having to count it out. Btu even now it's a perfect time to take emotional inventory as well. I heard fasting cleanses are best to do in the fall and spring, right around the equinoxes. So it all works out. Equinox, school starting, Jewish new year.

I've been feeling the urge to take stock and look back. Today the sky was gray most of the day. Larry and I were going to meet with friends and pray, but they're down in Long Beach. They had writing deadlines and so did we. So we sat in our respective homes and wrote.

The autumn melancholy is hitting me. Friday night I wrapped my work on a film Change Your Life. I had had a great time. I really liked the cast, crew and our directors. We had such a great time. And ended, so there was a loss.

Saturday Larry and I worked all day in the garage and we were exhausted. I got into an argument with a friend and was left feeling hurt and angry. Saturday night we watched a documentary called "The Flight From Death" directed by Patrick Shen, who co-directed Change Your Life. It was about how humans' awareness of death affects the way they deal with others. (okay so I was asking msyelf to feel bummed)

I had one of those existential angst moments; What if it really does all end at death? It makes this life ridiculous, and sad. Ridiculous for those in Dafur or Haiti who barely get to live. And for those of us who have it pretty good? Why would we be built with these longings for things beyond survival: for meaning and significance, for love? Why would we love things that are destined to die? Why would we love the weak and vulnerable? Why would we be possessed to help those who are less fortunate? If this is it, then so much of my life is sad. Then this is all I've got with Larry, all I've got with my family and friends. And when it goes it's gone. And that loss is astounding.

I remembered in 2003 my life fell apart. I was so depressed I didn't want to keep living. at least I didn't want to live as if I'd be around in a couple of years. When my mother was selling her house and giving away her nice things, I declined most of it. Why do I want a set of Revere wear pots and pans? I don't want to cook, let alone eat.

But I got a certain kind of freedom out of it. I got free from the things that used to hold me hostage: the tyranny of success, the tyranny of other people's opinions. And with those out of the way, my priorities changed. What really mattered?

When things got better (maybe in part to my changed priorities) I realized I needed to always ask myself that question: If this were the last year of my life, how would I want to spend it? What would I want to accomplish, or just do for the sake of doing? With whom would I want to spend my time?

Not surprisingly, I got a lot more done, because didn't make time for unnecessary things. One of the biggest tyrannies ruling my life had been the tyranny of success. Ironicaly, when I finally gave up at succeeding in that career, I did my best creative work.

My friend Ann Randolph told me that had been her key to creating her best work. "Forget it," she told herself. "I've failed at this career, so I might as well do what I want." As a result she wrote and performed two award-winning solo shows, one which Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft went on to produce.

I'd like to go back to living like that: live like this was your last year on earth. Get free from the tyranny of other people's opinions or expectations. Live life in light of my own death, and an eternity on the other end.

It's Yom Kippur and I have some sins that need atoning for. I have some amends to make: to God, to others and to myself.

I love autumn, I think I also love having a good cry. It also makes room for new things.

In several places Lewis has referred to "melancholy" as Sehnsucht . . . the German word has overtones of nostalgia and longing not to be found in any English word . . . It may appear in different forms (melancholy, wonder, yearning, etc.), but its underlying sense of displacement or alienation from what is desired. (Carnell, 14-15) "Melancholy" was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? . . . Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. … It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamored of a season, but that is something like what happened; and as before, the experience was one of intense desire. … It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, 'in another dimension' . . . [it was] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy . . . anyone who has experienced it will want it again . . . I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1955, 16-18)