Oct 27, 2008

The Faith Life of the Party

I am depressed over the acrimony expressed during this political race. Mud slinging, fearmongering, assassination attempts. And that's just the run for church secretary.

Joking aside ... My husband Larry says it hasn't been this bad since 1968: we were locked into a war we didn't want, King and RFK had been assassinated, there was the Chicago riot at the Dem convention; plus we were going through the great Sixties social upheaval. Flash forward 40 years: social upheaval, terrorism, economic collapse. In the midst of this comes Focus on the Family's doomsday letter, filled with the worst case scenarios if Obama were to be elected. It read like a synopsis of a "Left Behind" book. Ridiculous, corny, paranoid. Now I know the same thing goes on from the other side. Bill Maher (God loves him!) regularly excoriates McCain and Palin. I half-expect it from a nihilist like Maher, but not from people who claim to follow Jesus, who commanded us to "love one another."

I recently watched the John Adams series on HBO. Some things surprised me: Thomas Jefferson anonymously hired someone to write a defamatory letter to destroy Adams' reputation. It worked: Jefferson won the election. They also tarred and feathered people during the Revolutionary War. So much for even micro evolution. We haven't evolved much.

Here are some other facts about our founding fathers you may find curious. Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian; he was a deist. He was also a slave owner and adulterer. He 'authored' the Jefferson Bible, in which he cut out everything Jesus said that he didnt' like (deity, atonement, resurrection). Benjamin Franklin was a deist and a hedonist. And the genius behind our constitution. George Washington was baptized Episcopalian but some claim he was a deist. He stopped taking communion. John Adams was a Unitarian Universalist; they believe everyone gets in. Yet the Christian Right holds them up as model Christians. They weren't! They were model leaders, filled with wisdom and flaws, and up to the task as it was presented in their day.

Well it is a new day. I do want my president to have a core belief in God -- in a just and loving God, whom the prez knows he must answer to. I'd be more comfortable if he shared my faith; but George Bush did, and look where the US went these past eight years. (To be fair, we can't blame one person, we're all responsible) I don't even share the exact same beliefs as my husband. Larry doesn't believe in hell; not the Germanic, Protestant "Hell" of the 16th Century. And boy is he gonna fry for that. I'm more concerned about the way we are scrutinizing each candidate's every jot, tiddle or whisper about faith, then judging their ability to lead based -- not even on their actual faith but our interpretations of their faith. Extrapolating how the world will look if they get into office. Accusing their spouses of being racists or bimbos. WTF?

If we-- you, me, James Dobson-- want to judge Obama or McCain's ability to lead the US based on their faith alone, we would have to go back and apply the same criteria to Washington, Franklin, Adams and Jefferson .. and we'd be render our founding fathers "unfit to lead."

Look, I know there are real issues at stake, issues you and I care about. Some people believe he world will fall apart over these issues. We need to vote our conscience. Personally, neither candidate or party represents the entirety of my beliefs. Some skew to one side, some to the other. I don't think either candidate is perfect; but neither do I find either of them to be horrors or miscreants. In the words of McCain, "he's a decent fellow with whom I happen to disagree." I think that's true about both of them.

I worry that whoever gets the job is going to be in for a heap of trouble. We humans tend to be lazy. We want someone else to fix our problems. Fix the economy, fix people's conduct. Make it work, so I can go back to speculating on the stock market, buy my iPhone and lease that Hummer. Make oil prices go down. Drill baby drill. Throw money and programs at the problem! I just want to to back to my old life . Well, we can never go back to our old lives. The world is changing. America is not going to rule the world forever. And why should we? We're not God.

In the midst of all this negativity, I was delighted to listen to two podcasts on the radio program, Speaking of Faith, which I susbcribe to (free!) on iTunes. host Krista Tippett interviewed Christian politicos on both sides of the divide. The podcasts were terrific: they helped me understand the motivations on each side, the discussions were thoughtful, respectful, and positive. No mud slinging, no tar and feathering. First, The Faith Life of TheParty: the Left, an interview with Amy Sullivan, an evangelical Christian democrat who writes for Time magazine. Second: The Faith Life of the Party, the Right, interview with Rod Dreher, who wrote "Crunchy Cons." I knew Rod in New York. He's a great guy. He's not a fear monger. Whew. Actually they were both a relief and delight to hear. A balm in Gilead.

In any event, I thought I would share some counter programming to all the blecchy angry meanness going on. I can't tell you how to vote. That's up to you. I also can't tell you how to act or how best to love your neighbor. That's also up to you.

Oct 22, 2008

Gift a Tea Cozy for Christmas!

I've been making tea cozies for fun and gifts to friends. My friend Lori Rooney told me about Etsy, a website where you can sell your craft wares. So I opened a shop!
If you are looking for a nice Christmas gift, come check out my etsy store.

All of my tea cozies are made from recycled wool sweaters. I'm helping the environment and the Goodwill at the same time. First I "felt" the wool, washing in hot water and running through the dryer, so the fabric becomes as dense as possible -- keeping your teapot hot is a key to good brewing. They're also machine washable!

Some cozies have more details, like a button opening or a pocket to hold extra tea bags.

Please check out my Etsy Store! And if you've got a favorite old wool sweater that you can't wear anymore but can't part with either, let me know and I can make a custom cozy for you.

Oct 19, 2008

Pumpkin Carvings

It's Halloween time, apparently the second-largest decorating (and consumer tie-in) event of the year ... right between Christmas and ... um, Armistice Day. If you don't believe me, just walk into a crap, I mean, craft store. The crap you can buy to make witches and undead phantasms look cute in a scrapbook is unbelievable. I think just take pics of Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson, those are the real witches of 2008.

I actually love doing crafts. My sister in law Dianna is an amazing craft artist. She does great scrapbooks, and her original cards are works of art. But getting cards from her only makes me wish we lived in Portland, near her. Not just for the cards, but because she is a terrific person. Yesterday another friend in Portland emailed us to join him for pumpkin carving at his place tomorrow. Which also made me mad, that I didn't live in Portland. If I had the frequent flier miles, we'd be there.

Then again, I wish I lived closer to my sister's family in Denver. Phill and Nancy's kids are growing up and I'm missing so much of it. Phill went to Tib't on a mission, Phill and Matthew went hunting last week, Emily got a kitten, she has dance recitals and Matt has speech tournaments. I just feel like I am missing their best years and I feel so sad not to be there. It makes me feel homesick, and I'm not sure where home is anymore. My brother James lives in West LA but he just got engaged and he'll be moving to Switzerland! LA feels less and less like a place I want to stay. but we are here for now. For now. How long have I existed in LA "for now?" Whenever I hear of someone moving away, I feel envious. but to where? Denver, Portland, who knows.

But this is a post about Halloween ... Can't remember the last time I carved a pumpkin. I had to convince Larry to buy Halloween candy last year. "Who's going to climb up 80 stairs?" he asked. And this year, all the safety lights along the stairs have gone out. But last year some kids must have seen the light in the house and the scary dark stairs and thought, "Ooh a haunted house!" We got three kids last year! (well three from the same family). I gave them everything we had.

We probably won't buy a pumpkin, but if I did, I'd be tempted to recreate this one. Which is kind of a fun pumpkin carving and a PSA in one. If you have kids, go to town. And remember, they won't always want to dress up like Belle or Harry Potter. Some day they'll wear a monkey suit every day and go sit in an office. Which IS pretty scary ...

Oct 11, 2008

Observing The New Year

It just turned cold yesterday. It’s clear that autumn is here. For those living in more inclement weather, it’s been obvious for a few weeks. But we had a heat wave the first week of October, so it’s only now reaching us.

Autumn is my favorite season. Summer has vanished, the light has changed, the air has turned crisp, and it brings on a kind of lovely melancholy. I grieve a little, get over it and get on with whatever is in front of me. It’s also the Jewish New Year. Jewish congregations just finished their new-year observances: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Yes there’s a joke in there: “growing up Norwegian Lutheran I thought Yom Kippur was a tasty tuna hot dish.” Yum Kipper. … Groan.

The Lutherans (sometimes called Catholic Lite) did observe the church year, but I really only remember Advent because of the purple candles. Of course we had Lent but we never got ashes smudged on our heads or fasted from anything. We never had anything as weighty as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, the new year, brings in ten days of soul searching, taking stock, repenting, and seeking forgiveness. On the Day of Atonement God forgives your sins and you have a new start for the coming year. Now Jesus did away with the need for a blood atonement, so forgiveness is available any time.

Nevertheless, I think there is something healthy in stopping and taking stock, and fall seems like the time to do it. It is, after all, the end of the previous year’s harvest. It’s time to count what is in the storehouse, and plant for the next year. It’s the beginning of the school year; we’re kind of programmed to start new work in the fall. My own faith teaches me I need to examine my heart and repent of wrongdoing. And I’ve learned in the 12 steps that taking an inventory and getting right with God and others is one of the healthiest, freeing things you can do for yourself.

Moderns don’t really like words like “sin” or “repent.” We don’t really want to admit we might be wrong; we are too afraid or too addicted to activity to stop and look at ourselves. In a world where we declare that everything is permissible, what’s to repent of? But read the news and it’s clear things are FUBAR. But can we admit it? This 700 billion dollar bailout seems like we are enabling our addiction.

I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast in which a young rabbi, Sharon Brous, talked with great passion about the High Holy Days that it almost made me want to be Jewish. She explained that “repent” repent really means “return:” return to who you really are, return to God, return to the person God really meant you to be, leave your wandering and self-absorption and return to what God has really appointed you to do in the world.

Another thing that Sharon Brous said that struck me, is this: at the beginning one may focus on one’s own failings, but soul searching needs to go beyond the self, and examine one’s responsibility to community and the world. Americans are so dang independent (read: self-absorbed) that we have a hard time taking responsibility for the problems around us.

Back in the early 1990s I attended a non denominational church that was heavy into the spiritual gifts. I remember one rambling “prophet” talking about the Jewish new year in “olden times.” He talked about it, and it stuck with me. Ever since then, when the high holy days come round, I think about fasting and praying. But I’m too addicted to food and activity that I don’t do it.

Well, this year I decided to do it. Larry’s got a lot on his mind regarding some work, he needs to make some changes in his job and … well, while I have this book in front of me, Larry’s vocational path isn’t so clear. So I did it. It helped that I was out of town for a couple days working on a short film. It’s a lot easier to fast from food when you are holed up in a La Quinta Inn in San Jose, and the closest munchies are pork rinds at the 76 station food mart.

For me, the hardest part about fasting from food … besides not eating … is deciding to do it. Ask me in a month if I’ll do it again soon and I’ll say no. It just takes up so much psychic energy. But once I make the decision it’s a lot easier. When the waves of hunger come, I tell my stomach, ‘you’re not hungry,’ and it shuts up. I do drink that Master Cleanser lemonade (lemon juice, grade b maple syrup, and cayenne pepper). I drank a couple V-8 juices and some Gatorade, so it’s not like I was totally fasting. But it’s enough to get my mind and time off of food.

Days one and Two, my energy level on the set was fine. The Sugar Free Red Bulls helped. But I think I caught a cold the previous weekend, so that got in the way. I was still working on the short film, so it’s not like I was in some corner praying and meditating. I did put on some music that got me in touch with God, and that was great.

I also got in touch with my real self. When my friend Tim and I were driving back from the set to our crappy motel, we got lost. And I got cranky. Oh and when I got back to the motel my tea bags were gone, so I went down to the hotel desk and said the maid had thrown away my tea bags. A few minutes later I found them. So I had to call the front desk and apologize for being one of THOSE kind of people. The next morning Tim and I were driving back to the set, stuck in the wrong lane, and trying to merge, a wall of cars zoomed past and no one would let us get in. So I rolled down the window and flipped tehm all off. Tim laughed out of shock. Poor guy. Did I mentione we met at chuch in New York? “This your true heart. This is your true heart on fasting. Any questions?”

Okay, so stuff I can pray about when I finally get quiet and have time to listen.

By Day Three (Wednesday) I wasn’t tired at all. We finished work and I flew back to LA Wednesday night. Thursday morning I woke up, cold in full bloom. I finally sat down to get quiet, pray, and listen. My mind wandered a thousand places. Then the Daytime Theraflu made me sleepy. It was daytime Theraflu! I knew, because I accidentally took it last night thinking it was Nighttime Theraflu and it kept me awake!

So I lay down and slept for a few hours. Note to self: things to work on this year: not getting colds, paying more attention in prayer and meditation. Not to take over the counter cold medicine before prayer and meditation.

Thursday was officially Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. But since I started my own personal “days of Awe” later, I decided to keep fasting and wait until Larry and I could get away Saturday night and pray together.

Larry and I planned to get away overnight Saturday night to pray together about the upcoming year. Problem was, we didn’t make any reservations. He told me later he assumed I was going to do it. Well, you know what they say about ass-u-me. So Friday night I spent two hours online trying to get a hotel in the desert or the beach. I made a list and emailed them to Larry for his thoughts. An hour later he hadn’t responded. He said he saw the email, he just didn’t think he needed to open it. Grr. So I tried to get something on Priceline and it rejected my bids! It said, “up to half off” so I stayed above half! That damned William Shatner. What a freaking liar! Finally I thought about the ranch where I’d gone to write my book. I wrote down the number, handed it to Larry and asked him to call while I took a hot bath. “But you know him more than I do,” Larry replied. As if that was the point.

So after my bath, Larry and I had a little discussion about our communication breakdown. I kept calm but I was direct. Larry said it felt like he got blindsided. Okay so there are some more things to work on.

We didn’t go anywhere for Saturday night. But we ended up taking a beautiful drive up to Mt. Wilson, Larry’s namesake. The sky was clear, and it was remarkable to think that only a week and a half ago we were enduring a heat wave. The view was spectacular, too. We sat up near the observatory and prayed. Well, I wrote.

I had formulated a list in my mind of things I wanted to write down.

Lose weight.
Get back into yoga
Find a good 12-step sponsor and at least two regular meetings.
Be a better wife.
Root ourselves in a spiritual community.
Lose more weight.
Take inventory more often.
Work on solo show.
Be less of an asshole, especially when driving, or when nice, Christian friends are driving and I’m in the passenger seat.
Help Larry make his important decisions without telling him what he should do.
Get out of the way.
Let go and let God.

But when I started to write, I felt compelled tow rite as if I were Larry. Imagine what was going on in his head, the fears and concerns he was facing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I wrote what I felt God would say back to Larry. I then wrote from my point of view and what I felt God would say to me. It turned into about 13 pages. Only then did I write my list. And I don’t think I mentioned the weight thing. After all, I’ve been fasting for six days and my jeans feel loose.

In the end, when I looked back at what I wrote, I was taken by how much grace God has for both Larry and me. He doesn’t reprimand or shame us. He is firm with us, especially when he sees our character flaws. He is concerned that they go unchecked because he loves us. But he is always patient and hopeful even in his rebuke. For example, when I wrote down, “I don’t’ feel like I’m a great wife.” God replied, “well that’s not true. You have areas you need to improve, but you’re doing a great job. And remember you were by yourself for so many years, you’ve only been married two. Don’t expect Larry or you to come ready-made into a relationship.

Larry and I have been married two years. Marrying Larry was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. Of course I get frustrated, I get complacent and lazy too. But I know that the purpose of marriage isn’t to make my life convenient –– it’s to change my character, and to help Larry change his. There’s no better place to bring my character issues than to the one person who has promised to love me and stay.

And I really do wish I could bring more of these observances into my life: taking stock, honoring the season. Not that I’m going to become Jewish. But fasting and prayer is a pretty good thing.

Larry and I drove back down Mt. Wilson and shared our thoughts about the afternoon. I didn’t read him what I wrote. I think I should live it.

He stopped and got Indian food to take home. It was the only time in the last week that I wanted to eat. I’m ending my fast on Monday morning. I think I’ll have Lamb Korma for Breakfast.

Oct 9, 2008

Dysfunctional Family Funbook

Larry and I just returned from a release party for Catheryn Brockett's debut book, The Dysfunctional Family Funbook. Catheryn and I met in New York. She's a talented actor and comedienne, and we both took writing workshops with Terrie Silverman. Terrie has now produced three published authors in my group alone: Andrea Askowitz, Catheryn and me.

While I was in class, agonizing over my life, writing and yanking out my guts, Catheryn just came up with this idea and plugged away, one game at a time, and voila.

The book's title begs the question, "why didn't anyone think of this before?" Well, Catheryn is that kind of ingenious. It's just what the subtitle calls it: games and activities to keep you sane your whole visit home. It's snarky and funny, but it's also got a great takeaway: sanity and recovery.

This was my favorite page, and I remember when she was working on it in a mock-up, well before she found her agent and publisher. "Match the correct expression with the correct "feeling word" or emotion.

This will make a great holiday gift. In fact, you might want to buy them well before Christmas so your friends have a chance to use it when they will need it the most.

Here is a link to the Dysfunctional Family Funbook on Amazon. But I urge you to buy it at local bookstore THIS WEEK and help DFFB land on the NY or LA Times Best Seller list!