Thursday, March 26, 2009


When was the last time someone spontaneously clapped when you walked in the room?
I honestly can't think of a time it's ever happened to me (except when introduced at a show I was playing.)

That is, until recently.

The last few times I've gone to Mandy's house my oldest granddaughter claps when she sees me. A big, wondrous smile spreads across her face and she bangs her hands together as she's walking toward me. I guess you already suspect that I'm going to say that there are no words to express the joy that brings, and you're right. Trite as it may seem, I can't wrap language around the sheer delight I feel when that little termite is happy to see me!. And I got to thinking today: isn't that what we all long for - someone who lights up at the very sight of us? Don't we all want to be that "special someone" - whether it be a romantic relationship, a cherished friendship, or - in this case - the love between a granddaughter and her grandmother?

My maternal grandmother would've been 100 last year. She died in 1995 and I always feared that when she left she'd take a part of me with her. And she did. Mimi was someone that I knew ALWAYS loved me, ALWAYS believed in me, and I am sure, if it had come down to it, she would've given her life for me. She offered a depth of unconditional love I have never since known, even though I know I am deeply loved. I remember going over to her house and playing dress up with all of her costume jewelry and hats, and of course that old mink stole. She lived in an apartment complex on North Loop, and the great majority of them housed retired folks or senior citizens. Usually when I'd visit we'd go swimming in the pool - she in her white bathing cap covered in floppity flowers, and me, a waterlogged prune who dragged her feet when it was time to get out. But I always knew that getting out around dinnertime meant that we were going to walk over to Luby's, and she always let me get Jello even though I rarely finished it. She'd chastise me for wasting perfectly good food and would also remind me she paid good money for it. But the next time I'd promise to eat it all and then inevitably left some of it on my tray. We did this dance for years. Bright yellow cubes of Jello just looked so enticing, so HAPPY, so full of promise; but they never quite delivered what I was longing for. I've discovered that there are a lot of things in life like that.

But Mimi delivered - even when she probably shouldn't have. She brought things to school that I had forgotten, she drove me to piano lessons, she took me shopping (which I'm certain was a nightmare for her) and she made me open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches on really thin bread. She'd slather mayonnaise all over the melted cheese (could that have been a factor in my chubbiness?) and and then put a big slice of tomato on top, peeled tomato, mind you. Then she'd put it on a white Corelle plate with a radish, a few celery sticks, a pickle or two, and a little bag of Fritos. She'd pop the top off of one of those little glass bottles of ice cold coke and my meal was complete. MORE than complete. I absolutely loved that lunchtime combination, and to this day I sometimes recreate it just to remember her.

I have so many fond memories of my grandmother, though there are a few bad ones. When I was about eight years old I thought it would be funny to sneak into her car and turn everything on so that when she started the car the radio would blare, the blinker would click, and the A/C would blast her. I hid and watched as she got into her car and it startled her so badly she just laid her head down on the steering wheel and cried. A chasm opened up and swallowed me - I was in anguish that I had caused her to cry. And to this day I'm not sure I've fully forgiven myself for it, even though I had no idea that it would harm her in any way. Of course today I understand how stressful life can be and how little kids have no idea how hard the grown-ups are working to keep things afloat.

And keep things afloat, she did. I am still stunned to know that when she gave birth to her first child at 18, she was alone. And the baby died. How does one recover from that? She endured being married to a violent alcoholic (two times to the same man!) and went on to give birth to two beautiful, strong women, one of which is my mother. Mimi's indomitable spirit has been passed down to her, and my mom has passed it on to me. Sometimes I look at my daughters and see the faces of the incredible women who came before us, and I am so incredibly grateful to be in the mix.

I like to imagine that someday when I leave this earth I'll walk through a door in the distance, and there will be Mimi, clapping.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trust Me

TRUST: –noun
1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

This morning I was reading something about the concept of trust, how hard it is in this dog-eat-dog world to know whom to trust. There are those who trust too much - i.e. they just assume the Pollyanna position, which is to say they give up too much of themselves to people who do not, after all, have their best interest at heart. I have done my fair share of that. It's a game that leaves me wishing I could go back and gather up all of the pieces of myself that were scattered like seeds in the wind.

Live and learn.

What I was most struck by, however, is that the writer believes one of the most detrimental things that can happen to us is that we lose the ability to trust ourselves. She mentioned that sometimes others try and convince us that our view of things is wrong, which, if we believe them, leads to self-doubt. Doing that is a pretty effective strategy if your aim is to control someone. When my oldest daughter was in high school she had a friend who had a two year-old brother. As is often the case in families that house both teenagers and toddlers, the teen was babysitting, and she and my daughter took him to the park. He fell off of a swing and hit is head really hard, and his sister's response was to rush in and authoritatively tell him, "That didn't hurt. That didn't hurt!" I understand not wanting to listen to him wail, but to keep him from erupting she tried to convince him of something that was the complete opposite of what his body was loudly telling him. I wasn't there, but I imagine that at the very least that kid was confused. What do you do when someone tells you that what's right in front of you doesn't really exist? It's sort of like the Emperor's New Clothes. I love that the kid in that story had the balls to shout out what everyone else was afraid to say. Sometimes we don't want to suffer the consequences of telling the truth, because the emperor may get furious and make our lives hell. And so to keep the peace, we stand by the side of the road and admire non-existent clothes.

I think it's extremely common for people to manipulate others by trying to convince them that their perspective is flawed. It's probably somewhat like brainwashing. If you tell someone something often enough they begin to believe it. I think that was largely true in my marriage, and I also think that was true in the religious circles I ran in. My ex-husband was a master at making me think I was crazy, using circular reasoning that always led back to his agenda, his beliefs, his ideas, his plans, and his superior ability to see what was really true. The problem was, however, that he was the one acting crazy. Of course, in the religious climate we were living in that was the setup. Men know. Women don't (remember Eve?) It is your job to support your husband's views and assist him in his plans. Nevermind that he may be walking down the street without a stitch of clothing on.

Likewise, I think a lot of my spiritual journey has been lived out in that type of environment. There's this idea that the people in power know better than you do. If you don't agree with them, you're not seeing clearly. Don't trust your feelings, they say. You'll be led astray by your lower nature, your lack of devotion, and - of course - the devil. I remember it being drilled into me that according to I Samuel 15:23, "rebelling" was just as bad as idolatry and getting involved in the occult. How convenient that when all else fails spiritual leaders can pull out the rebellion card to get their way. Of course I'm not saying that all spiritual leaders are guilty of that, but some are. I remember having a V-8 moment during my Western Civilization class last semester when I recognized a pattern. Over and over and over again I read about the role Christianity played in social and political structure. And what I found was that a great deal of the time leaders used the religious system to further their own political and financial advantage, or to feed their insatiable thirst for power.


I want to believe that people are considerate and humane. I want to believe leaders are selfless and have my best interests at heart. I want to believe that no one would take advantage of me in order to perpetuate their own aim. But that's not the world we live in. On the flip side I don't want to live as a suspicious, jaded, cynical person who doesn't trust anybody. I think the idea of trusting ourselves is a good middle ground. I might trust you. I might not. But I'm gonna stay in touch with what my Spidey-sense is telling me. I think Irish writer Emmett Fox said it best:

"You should gladly take advantage of helpful teaching wherever you may get it; go to churches or meetings that help you; listen to speakers, and read books that inspire you to find yourself; but do not surrender to anybody your own spiritual judgment."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

So today is International Women's Day and I've been invited to join in with other bloggers who are reflecting on women in the Bible. This is an interesting exercise for me, one that I'm afraid may be somewhat pointless because I honestly don't know WHAT I think about Biblical women. I don't really know them.

Oh, but that doesn't mean that I haven't "studied" them. Ever since a conversion experience at the ripe old age of 19, I have been infused with a myriad of ideas about the women in the Bible. I have sat in sermon after sermon, Bible class after Bible class, where certain things have been drilled in me:

- Eve was bad. She is the spiritual ancestor of all who are female, and if we're not careful we'll f*%# up the world just as badly as she did. Stick with the men… they are the ones who are endowed with the wisdom and authority to run this place.

- If you want to be beautiful and commended as "right," then you'll be like Sarah, who called Abraham her master. (1 Peter 3:4-6)

- There's a logical explanation for all of the abuse of women in the Old Testament. It was somehow culturally acceptable for Lot to offer his daughters to sexual predators; for a man in Judges 19 to not only save himself by letting his concubine suffer rape and horrid abuse, but also to dismember her (literally cut her into pieces) to somehow make a point. No need to be outraged, just trust that it's not as bad as it seems and there was a divine purpose behind it.

- Despite the fact that in both the old and new testaments women rarely had legal rights or a status of their own (it was always conferred based upon her relationship to a man - her husband or father) she has immense power in the "higher status" given her by God to serve and help men. This is the proper "Christian" order of things, and if you don't buy in you either don't understand it properly, or worse, you're a rebellious and sinful woman.

I could go on, but quite honestly I don't have the energy to. I'm already imagining the protests from some of my conservative friends, who apparently need these ducks to line up or they will feel threatened. Don't start talking about the feminist uphill climb, they say, because you're just not getting the big picture. And maybe I'm not. But I also don't need to perpetuate some sort of ethereal, blanket explanation that, in my opinion, is mostly smoke and mirrors staged by a long procession of men who like the setup. I'm no stranger to that; I marched in that parade for nearly 25 years.

The other night I spent a few minutes reading blogs and websites about different perspectives on women in the Bible. That in itself was problematic because I haven't been reading the Bible lately. That's because I've been feeling like I can't read it anymore without the words being attached to a mass of ideas that have been drilled into me by well-meaning but intensely dogmatic people. As my boyfriend would say, back then I was drinking the Kool-Aid. But I've given up that toxic beverage and for now all I'm trying to find is some clean water. Anyway, about 10 minutes into my search I grew weary because most of what I found was people squabbling over the meaning of words. There is talk about the Greek and Hebrew languages, how they have been translated, how they should be translated, what the Apostle Paul meant, what the context was, blah, blah, blah. Don't get me wrong - I am grateful for people who will take the time to delve into the deeper meaning of things and challenge long-held systems of belief. But I'm not there. I'm tired of my gender putting me in a position of defense - especially in circles where the Bible comes into play: defending my worth, defending my value, defending my intelligence, my spiritual significance, my competency and my ability to navigate my own life without having to check in with those who have penises to make sure I'm not whistling off to Eden to consort with Eve. And no, I'm not a man hater, a Nazi, or a militant feminist. It's just that this whole exercise has left me sad and a little angry.

In short, I don't really care about Biblical women right now because I have very little hope that I'll ever know their true stories. Yes, I have heard 101 sermons or lectures that take extreme license in "interpreting" these women's hearts and minds. But I'm weary of it all. I am sure there are a myriad of inspiring narratives from the lives of women like Sarah, Zipporah, Bathsheba, Esther, Naomi, Ruth, Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene and Martha. But today they seem hopelessly lost behind centuries of thick, sealed walls, walls designed to cast women in the dingy light of the sub-status assigned to them by an unrelenting patriarchy intent on maintaining control. What did Sarah really feel when her husband passed her off as her sister? What did she do with that? What was it like for Ruth to have to lay at a man's feet and hope to be "redeemed" because without a husband she had no social worth? How did Bathsheeba deal with the death of her infant son? What really went through Mary's mind when she found out she was pregnant? How did she handle the public shame? How did Elizabeth deal with a son like John the Baptist - especially when he was an adult? Why was Martha the "busy" one?

Today I suppose I'm grieving that their nitty gritty stories are lost. We'll never really know. And that, above all, is why I want to tell stories.