Gabriel turns Two: Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Body and The Nativity

Two nights ago my husband and I bundled up our kids and pilgrimaged as a family to a large scale live nativity put on by a large, vital, conservative church in our area. The sets were unbelievable; the costumes amazing, the actors pretty good and the live animals totally topped off the experience, especially Donkey whose soulful eyes looked like they really could've seen the birth of Jesus.

Scenes were depicted from the prophecies of Isaiah, through selected snapshots from the gospels, like when Jesus calms the storm and invites the little children, all the way to the crucifixion, the empty tomb and the women running off to tell the clueless men, and finally the ascension, replete with functional elevator lifting the white-robed Jesus to heaven. A true living story, portrayed visibly, tangible for children and adults alike to witness; A true story living, ripe with an invitation to enter in.

Of course I could have done without the cheesy "creation story" video about "the fall" and "man's condition" at the beginning of the show, just as I let a slightly audible sigh of frustration escape when they corralled everyone in front of another TV for an evangelistic, "if you want to know how to have have a personal relationship with Jesus, call the pastor or join our discovery class" shpeal before letting people into the cafeteria for free refreshments.

I am a believer and I wonder every day how to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Acknowledging that Jesus gave his life for me does not teach me all that much about having a personal relationship with Jesus, just as saying "I do" to my husband doesn't really equip me to know how to have an intimate marriage. For example, imagine I said "I do" to my husband via a telegraph while my husband was verbally unreachable in a foreign country, with no promise of becoming reachable by telephone, much less in person in the immediate near future?" What if the telegraph I got from my lover simply said, "I will be with you in spirit, and someday I'll come back for you but even I don't know the day or the hour?" How then do we create an intimate marriage? Simply by believing we are married? Perhaps a start, but not a catchall.

So I wonder how the language of "check box A to receive Christ as your personal savior and have a personal relationship with God" comes across to non-believers who come to hear the story of Christmas, and find themselves engaging with the story of Christians.

The story of Christians is might and full of grace: God came into the world and offered a free gift -- the gift of life, given at the cost of God's own self in Jesus, and God's promise of freeing redemption, the Spirit to help us transform this world and bring us to God for eternal life, demonstrated as trustworthy by the resurrection -- is mighty and full of truth and grace. The live nativity scenes conveyed so powerfully many aspects of that story, bringing to light God's entry-point into the world for the people gathered under Creation's stars this Christmas season. Yet the witness was cheapened for me that night by the strings attached to the live nativity experience. Yes, free entrance. Yes, free parking. Yes free sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies, water and hot chocolate. Oh, but it turns out there are strings, and the sense that rather than a story born witness to, there is an agenda for sale. You have to watch the videos with all the prepackaged Christianity-in-a-formula stuff. And hear about the churche's great programs. This is not a free gift. It is an "outreach event" of magnificent proportions.

And yet, would a more liberal, or even Emerging church have created such a magnificent live nativity as a home for the story of God's coming into the world? Would we have been organized enough or committed enough to telling the story as we find it in scripture? Would we have invested the time, money, energy and talent to bring the most important story in the world to light this Christmas? Perhaps because conservative churches take a "face value" approach to scripture, theirs is a gift of commitment and actions, whereas in recognizing the ambiguities of faith, it is so easy for us liberals to let our faith become diffuse; easy for us become more socially concsious, (a good thing) and more accepting others different from ourselves (also a good thing) while losing our first passion for the story in which we find our Life.

So I am grateful that God has ordained the more conservative parts of God's body to proclaim simply and boldly the Story in which we find ourselves -- our better, where God finds us.

And yet I am hopeful that one day, conservative churches will trust God enough to tell story on its own terms. I am hopeful that when the Story is told, truly free of strings, that the message will shine through in a compelling way, and people will be drawn to the story and its reality without clever ploys or switch and bait evangelism. I know for me, I would be much more likely to openly read about the offerings of a church if I attended a live nativity that told the Christmas story -- or even the Christian story -- without agenda, simply as an offering freely given as as service to God and the community. I celebrate that hope this Christmas.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advent for Real

It's advent and I'm expecting. Pregnant. Busy; the mother of two energetic, fairly high maintenance, wonderful, exhausing born children, and mother of the being-under-creation within my womb, who goes with me shopping and sleeping and stressing and learning to fine small moments of peace and joy.

I hate suburbia these days; burdensom to me are the expectations of the culture shaping my kids and pressing in on me, though I try to resist to the best of my ability. The professional birthday parties, the pressure to start your child's resume' of extracurriculars at age 18 months, with a reasonable curriculum vitae by age 6. The feeling that you should be keeping up with the Joneses -- that if you are not, you will be guilty, either in eyes of your culture and peers, or in the eyes of your child, who cannot help but covet the neighbor's cool stuff and hyped-up activity roster. Yes, I hate suburbia, and yet it's where I live, and I'm as much a product of it as a critic.

I wonder how much I can opt out of -- how to find that balance of being the the world, but not of it. Each year I try to convert my major Christmas shopping list into Heifer donations, and every year I guilt trip myself into thinking that for this or that reason so and so will be hurt if I don't at least get them a little something tangible. My reasons are always good (I think.) Aunt Jessi will feel hurt because she is going through a divorce and lives very close to Aunt Pat, who just had a baby and received a generous Baby box, with a little something for the whole family. So I am trying to wean those within my circle gradually, to bring some semblance of balance and sane enjoyment of advent back into focus.

I wonder how holy Mary felt during the grueling donkey ride on her way to submit to the census. Who wants to travel pregnant during the holidays because of a government mandate? And then there were surely issues with Joseph. Was he pressuring her to make love before Jesus' birth? Did she feel guilty when he went around the corner to "take care of himself?" Did they blame each other for not getting there in time to find a room at the Inn? The mother mild probably did not wander in gentle bliss during her days of Great Advent Expectation. And yet she was not disqualified from bringing God's incarnate love into the world!

Maybe there's a message here for us -- the journey of advent doesn't have to be bump-free in order to be a journey toward the birth of God's love in our hearts, our families, our communities and the world.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Birds of a Feather

Last night a friend (who happens to be my ex-husband) stood in my living room and announced matter of factly that he wouldn't want a President "like him," but rather one who is educated, excellent at interpersonal and cross-cultural diplomacy and intelligent about domestic and international policy. The only problem is my ex is highly intelligent, educated in interpersonal and cross-cultural communication, politically saavy and from blue as Blue's Clues Massachusetts. So yeah, he does want someone, "like him," only more...presidential. So actually what he meant was that he wouldn't want someone who is "like them," as in red neck right wing, black and white-thinking folks who want a president who's SURE about...whatever, and with whom they can enjoy a) a beer and b) a prayer breakfast. We all want to follow someone who seems like, "one of us," only better. And we all want to connect and develop friendships with people "like us." Tolerant people can't tolerate intolerant people. Intolerant people tolerate each other quite well. Birds of a feather flock together, so they say. And "they," are right.

Maybe it's not so bad to enjoy the company of people who compliment our tastes and enhance the melodies of our lives in lovely, pleasant ways. But what of the John Coltraines who project entire songs of dissonance and rhythmic chaos into our ears, sending the screeching notes headlong into our brains, our neighborhoods, even our churches, if we are lucky? I have a theory that for most of us, it is harder to love an annoying or emotionally threatening person who inhabits our precious communities where we go to be safe, secure and affirmed than to muster a genuine grain of compassion for a murderer behind prison bars. So what do we do if we follow a God who invites us to love our enemies as the best proof of our spiritual caliber?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Excerpts from Memoirs of A Book Flirt

What Women Want

What do I really want? I ask myself this question, sometimes wistfully, occasionally almost with a violent urgency. The fear of wasting this tiny lifetime looms on the horizon of every milestone, peering at me from the contours of daily routine. The close of another day finds me wondering, Is this as good as it gets? Can I live with that?
As a woman, the What do I really want? Is not like asking a five year old whether she prefers broccoli or ice cream. If you put this question to my daughter, she’d say, Ice cream, yeah baby! But ask me what I’d choose and my response would be that, on the one hand, I want broccoli because I want to live a long, healthy life and would prefer not to die prematurely of heart disease or cancer. I’d also like to avoid getting fat if possible. Equally, I want ice cream because I like it. And I want it. And doesn’t self-love include indulging in simple pleasures? So yeah, ice cream. But really, for the long term I should stick with broccoli. Except, tomorrow’s no guarantee, so carpe diem and go for the Mudslide Sunday.
At least half of my wants stand across from each other in tight-fisted, arms-crossed opposition. This leads me to wonder: Am I especially neurotic, or is ambivalence an unavoidable fact of being female, like menstruation? Fixated on this question, my eyes scan Border’s immense shelves full of everybody’s two cents, which would make a lot of sense if everybody’s two cents didn’t conflict just as much the viewpoints expressed by the little green men inside my head. My eyes flit intensely, searching the sea for a few good books with whom to trade secrets, desperately hoping to unlock the mystery what women –including me –really want, really deep down beneath all the angst and inner conflict.
The first of my co-conspirators is aptly called What Women Really Want: How American Women are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class, and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live. It’s written by a pair of unlikely collaborators: The top conservative and liberal female pollsters: Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway, who’ve teamed up to look at trends, statistics and points of convergence in the lives and priorities of women.
Did you know that 60 percent of women between ages 40 and 69 are single these days? Most of them aren’t terribly upset about it. They’d rather be single and celebrating than married to Mr. Wrong and stuck. The authors put it this way: “…the search for Mr. Right has been edged aside by the quest to become Ms. Right Now.” For better, worse or just different, female standards are skyrocketing, especially when we get ourselves one of them college diplomas. As it turns out, college educated and professional women are more likely than equivalently educated guys to say their main reason for remaining single is because they haven’t found the right person. Strong, financially independent women are living great lives and aren’t interested in making changes for someone less than amazing. Having been married to a severely wrong Mr. Wrong, I cheer them on. I think it’s tragically sad when people give up their dreams and marry someone less-than-special or really-not-good because some kind of “should” compels them onward. Of course there are also girls who get married mostly so they can wear a pretty white princess dress or for the social privilege of casually referencing, “My husband…” in conversation. These strike me as perfectly insane (yet perhaps not uncommon) reasons to marry. Wouldn’t it be better to stay single than to lose your own soul?
On the other hand, being married to a really wonderful (but not perfect) guy, I wish everyone who desires it the chance to experience committed love at its precious, sometimes painful, unbelievably beautiful best. It’s worrisome when I hear statements like this one from Fran: “For me to marry I’d have to find the male equivalent of me. That hasn’t happened yet.” Doesn’t that sound a little…um, self-centered? Not to mention dull. And besides, I’m not that easy to live with, so I definitely wouldn’t want to be married to my male equivalent. God help me!
Let’s see what the pollster ladies have to say about couples: Lots more older women are “shacking up,” mostly so they can retain a late spouse’s financial benefits, like healthcare, pension and social security. Then, there are adult children who want to make sure their piece of the pie isn’t chewed up, swallowed and excreted into the Depends of a new spouse. In other news, divorce is holding steady at about 50%, and women seem perfectly capable of being happy post-divorce, regardless of whether or not they find a new guy. On the other hand, people who are married are more likely to have emotionally and physically satisfying sex lives than single folks or cohabitants who reside together outside a marriage. Another check plus for wedlock is its great wealth-building potential.
Now if you’re thinking of giving marriage more than the old college try, you may want to increase your odds for success by picking somebody who shares your values and goals. People with similar worldviews are more likely to play well on the same team when it comes to marital happiness and longevity.
This just makes sense. Personally I could not have sex with someone who drives around town with Bush-Cheney stickers. Grand old party dinners, with “the children” dressed in frilly red dresses and slick hairdos? Please. Also, I wouldn’t want to marry a homophobe or aJim Haggi worshipper, however sincere (and misguided.)
On the other hand, while abortion may be the lesser of two evils in some situations, the thought of sharing my vagina with someone, who (however well-intentioned,) earns their living making short work of embryos and fetuses makes me shiver, like a chill from being wet in February.
So I guess one thing I’ve figured out about what I want is this: Someone in favor of a decent wage, healthcare and quality education for already-born people, who also believes in providing for due consideration of tiny humans swimming in a sea of creation as they prepare to make their grand entrance into the big, wide, scary, wacky, wonderful world.
From what I’ve observed, so many conservative people are pro-birth, but once they get you out alive, you’re liable to be abandoned to a sucky life, unless you can beat the odds and pull yourself up by your diaper straps.
Then again I hear liberals trying to make it a 1-0 equation, where the woman’s rights trump all consideration of the human being undergoing creation. A woman’s body is sacred; so is the life she creates from her body. Can’t we at least agree that woman first view the little human inside her womb before she closes her eyes and spreads her legs for an abortionist to “make it go away?” Yes, it must and will, regardless of the law, always be a woman’s decision to carry a child to term or induce an abortion. But insisting she consider alternatives and confront the tiny human she is about to destroy does not deny her procreative rights; it holds her accountable to weigh this decision from a place of truth and gives her a better chance to choose a path that comes from reflection, rather than panic. And it insists that human life deserves consideration, while upholding the sacred decision only a woman can make. After all, isn’t it hypocritical to give inalienable rights to those of us who manage to emerge, while denying even the right to consideration for a human life still getting underway?
Yet democrats depend on a base that passionately believes it’s 100% all about the woman, while the life or death of a fetus is absolutely none of society’s fucking business. Then equally and oppositely, republicans count on a base that coos and gives thousands of dollars for the rescue of embryos, while tending to get excited about a woman-centered-approach only when doing so is the most effective way to save fetuses. No thanks Mr. Red. No thanks Mr. Blue. I’m a purple kind of girl! Well actually, periwinkle, to be specific. Now boy was that a rant, and a tangent, and long, but it couldn’t be helped. Probably you hate me now, but that can’t be helped either. But don’t hate me because I’m beautiful – if only you saw the stretch marks on my stomach, you wouldn’t be jealous!
Here are some fun facts about America’s female citizenry: while some women are choosing a high—powered career and having kids later, other’s want to find a way to have it all – now. More women are packing up their babies along with their briefcases for business trips, spawning a new hotel industry of nanny services and other kids’ programs. 10% of business trips taken in 2003 included children!
The desire for meaningful work and meaningful motherhood also seems to be the driving force behind the growing segment of women going into business for themselves and their families, discovering balance in life by creating the jobs they want. Women now own 26% of the nation’s 20.8 million companies. Women-run companies tend to emphasize collaboration over competition. If men decide to emulate this trend in business, human beings might successfully stick around longer than the relatively short-lived stint of the dinosaurs. But maybe that’s like asking sperm not to compete for the egg. Speaking of eggs, technology is helping a lot of old eggs turn into new people, as many women who put career ahead of the baby carriage are now running wildly after the carriage with a nice heavy purse in hand. Increasing numbers of wealthier, less fertile women wanting a squirming bundle of their own genetic material is great news for the make-a-baby industry. One child in a hundred is conceived thru fertility treatments.
Clearly, the question “Can a woman have it all?” depends on what she wants. If she wants a mommy track or to start her own business, the answer seems to be “Yes!” If she wants a career that is equal to men in status and salary, the answer seems to be “No,” or at best, “Possibly, at a very high price.” Today the percentage of executive-management positions filled by women is only 18.8 percent. Does this make the feminist movement a failure? Does it mean women can’t do what men do? Or does it mean we’re smart enough to know that status and salary are not equivalent to joy and satisfaction?
My dad always says the reason most politicians are bad is because most of the good people know better than to play a game where cheating is part of the rules. And the good ones who try to play fair get kicked out of the game, or decide to leave.
Is there any hope for a different kind of world, where every bottom counts more than the bottom line? Yes, there are signs of hope. Lakes and Conway say that both men and women would prefer to work for a woman if their company was downsizing. It seems obvious why: for most women, the bottom line is people and their families, whereas for way too many male employers, the bottom is the bottom line.
Here’s the real bottom line: At the end of the day, when we go into the grave, whether we meet our maker or live on in the memory of the people we touched, winning doesn’t matter. Making a difference for the better matters. Loving matters. Doing something risky or embarrassing because it’s right matters. As Jesus said, the first will be last and the last will be first.
Another sign of hope for a woman-friendly world: Teri Hatcher notes in her part-memoir, part-self-help book, Burnt Toast, that it’s her personal goal to quit acting if a time comes when she can’t get a job succumbing to plastic surgery.
Now just because women are making the world a better place doesn’t mean us gals are just gentle curves and melted sugar. Alanis Morissette has a way of putting it, let me see…I’m a bitch, I’m a mother, I’m a child, I’m a lover, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint and I do not feel ashamed. I’m your hell, I’m your dream, I’m nothing in between, you know you wouldn’t want it any other waaay. Well truth be told, there is some in-between, and truthfully men really do want and need a break from the drama from time to time. This is why smart wild women learn to choose their full-moon adventures wisely. I want to be the kind of bitch who wields power like a martial artist moving gracefully and unstoppably through a “don’t fuck with me” ocean of compassion. My goal in life is to be a fabulous, wild, loving bitch. Bitch without the bitchy – accept once a month when that’s not realistic.
Seeing the title Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, I have mixed feelings. I like the boldness of the title. No shame, no apologies, just “here I am.” And I like the juxtaposition of “praise” and “difficult women,” joined in an unlikely conspiracy. I take it as a challenge to greater self-acceptance. “Difficult” is a label I got stuck with as a kid. Even nowadays, there’s some stickiness left from the old label, but a new tag that reads: Passionate troublemaker who shakes things up with mischief, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.
“Difficult” sounds like “burdensome.” I don’t want to be a heavy load on someone’s back. I’d rather just be trouble where it’s needed. Or mischief of the kind that leprechauns make; mischief that unravels the old order and establishes a new balance that’s light and free and green.
After scanning the table of contents, which contains catchy headings like, “He Puts Her on a Pedestal and She Goes Down on It,” I open to page forty-four of Bitch. I find a perfect summary of feminist biblical critique, which I wish I’d read when I was a confused undergraduate majoring in Christian Ministry.
See if you don’t think this cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Of course the problem with the Bible is that is suffers from Tom Cruise syndrome, which is to say that it leaves an impression that men are the stars of the story, when anyone reading it knows that the women are the interesting part.” The author, Elisabeth Wurtzel is particularly fixated on the adventures of Delilah, the biblical babe who seduces and disempowers Samson, a riotous Israelite, who Wurtzel compares to a Hamas boss. She goes on and on about women’s sexual power, men’s fear of it and eventually the thing gets kind of dull, except for a vivid description of Madonna’s Movie, Body of Evidence, which is “predicated on the notion that a young, conniving woman can carefully choose older lovers with weak hearts – in the physical, not the emotional, sense – and engage them in sex so grueling that she finally fucks them to death by way of coital heart attack. Of course only weeks before the death dance, her men always rewrite their wills, making her the sole beneficiary.” So really, who has the problem: Strong, manipulative women or pathetic, hormone-enslaved men? My answer? BOTH! Why are we still playing the blame game? It’s as old as Adam and Eve.

Gray’s Anatomy: The inside scoop on Dr. Drama

My eyes scanned all around Borders for Gray’s Anatomy, but I couldn’t find the damn reference book. Sure there were plenty of anatomy books neatly shelved: texts by Barron, Netter and McMinn, but apparently Gray’s Anatomy not a current hit in the actual medical world. Such is the difference between TV medicine and the anatomy of real life. And standing boldly in the gap between unfiltered reality and soap opera fantasy are the real-life doctors who write their best stories and turn them into books. These memoir-essay-novel-medical journalism-lifetime-television-style books can be found in a subsection of “Medical Reference” aptly designated “Medical Narrative.” The stuff you’ll find under Medical Narrative might rightfully be called, “a reference for the rest of us,” or What Being A Doctor Can Teach You About Life For Dummies. A few multi-syllabic words here and there make you feel almost smart enough to pass the MCAT, but medical narratives are basically human interest tales that wrestle with the two basic facts of human experience: life and death.
I’ve always found it fascinating that of all the animals, human beings seem to be the only meaning-seekers. Meaning-seeking is pretty much what medical narrative is about: regular people in white coats who hold life and death daily in their palms; semi-normal people called doctors gazing through exhausted eyes at the ethical fuzz lining the scientific limits of medicine; reflecting on the idiosyncrasies and worth of a human life, and occasionally fucking a coworker suffering equally from too much life and death on too little sleep.
David, the man I married, is a medical student; as much as I’ve always admired his calling, I used to worry he’d get laid with some sexy female clinician who knew the trials of his day better than me, his wife. But I’ve discovered in David a love and loyalty that leads me to trust, however (perhaps) naively, my Love will be faithful. I keep this faith even thought David looks irresistibly sexy in scrubs – so sexy, in fact, that I asked him to wear my favorite pair on the first night we made love, which he did, though later he told me it felt a little silly wearing his work clothes to a poignantly romantic soirée. David did it for me. He is the best.
Sharing my life with a medical student, I know something about the reality behind the “real-life” medical narratives. One thing that holds true in real life is that physicians, students and patients are all living with the same (human) condition. Last year one of David’s favorite teachers killed himself after he lost his job and reputation to an amphetamine addiction. His wife suffered from multiple sclerosis. People knew she was sick. Why didn’t anyone know he was sick? Why did the school fire him instead of enrolling him in detox? Did his white coat bestow on him a superhuman status that was just too much to bear?? For all the medical dramas and narratives, do we still expect men in white coats to fly above it all like Superman?
Also really true is that being smart – even smart enough to get into medical school, doesn’t get you maturity for free. Wearing a half-length white coat with a “student doctor” badge doesn’t solve issues of race, abortion ideology or binge drinking. It does lead to large student loans that will eventually be paid off, and in the end, it leads down one of two paths: pride or humility. If you are a patient about to go under the knife, you may prefer pride. Mostly, you’re better off with humility, because true humility has two best friends: good judgment and compassion.
Apparently there’s a “human side of medicine” story for every medical specialty, judging from the sheer volume and diversity of tell-all literature about physicians and physicians-in-the-making. Books on E.R. narratives and Neurosurgery seem especially popular. The author behind A Pediatrician’s Journal probably edited out a few things when the journal went from Mead notebook to matte hardcover. Intriguing is a book about an OB’s medical screw up and eventual redemption, as well as a tale whose central characters are cadavers. The cadaver book, called Stiff, apparently made the New York Times Bestseller list. The old adage that fame comes easier when you are dead has just acquired some new evidence.
Carrying so many brilliant moments of utter humanness confidentially within one’s own soul naturally might breed a certain desire to confess, lay bare and be heard. And what better confessor than an anonymous readership?
Still, I can’t help thinking maybe all these doctors saw the celebrity status of TV doctors on ER, Scrubs, House, MD and Gray’s Anatomy and suddenly began to feel a little more profound, human, heroic…and possibly more shelf-worthy than before. Typically in publishing media there’s a book, then a movie. With the medical drama genre, it seems like the screen drama has really helped birth the books, helping a new generation of medical sagas make their way to the shelves. Such a role resolves (for me anway) an ancient mystery concerning the reproductive etiology of fowl: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” I think we can reasonably deduce that although usually the egg comes first, now and again the chicken kicks things off -- maybe prove it’s bad to get stuck in a rut. So alright, the chicken probably doesn’t think deeply about conceptual ruts, but the chicken is valuable for its metaphorical function, and therefore should not be killed for Caesar Salad without due consideration and respect.
Sitting on a packed shelf, a slim maroon book glimmers in my direction, and I chuckle under my breath as my eyes scan the title: s Kill as Few Patients as Possible. That’s every doctors goal right? Except Dr. Kevorkian, of course. This baby’s written by a guy named Oscar London MD, WBD. Nice, classy name, and MD always looks convincing a book jacket, I’m clueless about the WBD, besides three letters too man? Sometimes I wish ridiculously credentialed people would focus on the most important information, like whether they graduated from a fake online university or a real school, and whether or not Excess letters aside, we can all agree it’s a pleasant and positive goal to kill as few patients as possible, especially when such a worthy goal is undertaken with a spirit of humor.
I open the glossy paperback and feel the rough, off white pages as I glance down the table of contents intently. The chapter headings are splendid. A sampling:

Rule 8. If You Don’t Believe in Prescribing Valium for Anxious Patients, Be Sure to Take One Yourself.

Rule 28. Praise Nurses and Your Patients Will Live Forever or Die Happy.

Rule 3. If You Can’t Save Your Patient’s Life, Find Someone Who Can.

Rule 38. When She’s Absolutely, Positively Sure She Isn’t Pregnant, Get a Pregnancy Test.

Rule 52. Remember A Malpractice Lawyer in Your Prayers.

And perhaps most intriguing,

Rule 45. Call in Death as a Consultant.

You can find Consultant Death on page 78, where he stands in a physician’s corner, mouth curling eerily in sinister pleasure each time a doctor errs on the side of error. Death is depicted as a Physician’s ultimate accountability. Accountability is good but there’s a danger when a good doctor making a one-to-one correlation between death and failure; it’s tantamount to making immortality the measuring stick of success. And that’s too much to bear, too unrealistic, unforgiving and unrelenting – the thought of never dying, I mean, – and a good physician knows when medicine means helping someone make their peace and move toward the Great Beyond of God’s love with honor and sanctity. Since the days when doctors apprenticed into a trade, rather than cramming into an MCAT parade, the best doctors have known being a friend to the dying as part and parcel with being a true healer. A loving hand, a simple presence can bring more healing than another last-ditch attempt to prolong a life that’s journeying toward its natural end. Today a doctor may feel compassion, but she probably hasn’t absorbed the wisdom of a mentor comfortable with life, death and the Spirit that transcends both. She may know all about antibiotics and morphine, but little about how to do nothing as a way of healing someone’s soul. And even if she’s in sync with this ancient rhythm of life and death, she may feel pressure work efficiently throbbing from the HMO that employs her, and after a long grueling day or week or year, she may not be able to sit with her dying patient as long as he needs. Time to call a chaplain or someone uniquely suited to shutting up in a demeanor of accepting love, a stand-in for the Loving Presence that we sense waits for us in the Great Beyond.
I spent a year being student chaplain at Cooper Hospital. I was part of a program Clinical Pastoral Education, and we got to sit with dying people and people having babies and everyone in between. People seemed eager to open up and talk with me – maybe because I liked being with them, or maybe because my badge made me out to be an authoritative, real chaplain, rather than the small, young and inexperienced student chaplain that was my true identity. I guess the idea was to help us grow into bigger shoes. And probably to put the patients at ease. After all something to a clergy title that conveys innuendo of a direct line to God. Something not captured when that clergy title is preceded by the word “student.” Vocational equivocations aside, I learned a lot. Mostly about shutting up.
Another title for chaplain could be “bedside manner specialist,” since our badge and training enabled us to practice the human side of medicine with a remarkable degree of credibility. We treated people’s hearts and spirits while the doctors concerned themselves primarily with treating bodies. I loved everything about the experience except one of the senior chaplains who gave me hell because my strength is messy human beings, not anal paperwork. Isn’t it better to be sloppy with administrative poop than with people? I think so.
Gray’s Anatomy (the TV show) portrays human beings behind a surgical residency program. Now lots of people get woozy thinking of about the mess of childbirth, much less the thrill of open body cavities undergoing bloody reconstruction, yet a lot of these same people are enthralled by Gray’s anatomy, which while not overly graphic, frequently shows generous amounts blood and guts. What mystique about surgical residency subdues and surpasses the familiar sensation of nausea? Frank Vertosick (which sounds too much like vertigo-sick,) says on page three of his book, When The Air Hits Your Brain that the myth and mystique of brain surgery began with a guy named Harvey Cushing, father of American neurosurgery. Cushing apparently was a media-loving aristocrat who, according to Vertosick knew that, “the brain was better PR than blocked colons and gangrenous legs,” and kept his cigarettes in a sterling silver case. Long before Gray’s Anatomy was on Good Morning America, Cushing made the cover of Time magazine.
Despite the stereotype of the brilliant neurosurgeon, Frank Vertosick insists that grit is more telling than outrageous intelligence quotients in the birth of a brain surgeon. Despite the seventeen-year haul from high school to licensed neurosurgeon, Frank insists that while you can’t be stupid, you don’t have to be the smartest person on earth to twiddle your fingers around the gray matter of a human being. It’s just brain surgery.
There is a certain mystique about someone who sculpts and tweezes around the human mind. And I like Vertosick’s style – he’s funny and refreshing. I think I’ll stick around for a while, maybe ask his book out on a second date.
Here we are, on page four over a vanilla latte made with almond milk from home and a free sample of Border’s Café Trios decaf coffee. It’s late in the afternoon. I imagine neurosurgeons making more mistakes in the afternoon. I wonder how many lives have been forever changed by a miniscule error late in the afternoon, or simply the untrained hands of a newbie. Has anyone ever studied it? Would they dare?
Perhaps surgical residencies are so long to reassure the public, completely comprised, as it is, of potential surgery recipients, that the training is sufficient. Vertosick says “neurosurgery, like all surgical fields is a cult, a religion with mandatory rites of passage,” and that further more, the passage of time achieves the “unstated goal of turning out people who not only can do neurosurgery, but also look like neurosurgeons in the Cushing mold: gray, chain smoking males.” In the end Vertosick comes back to my original point: “The longer the program, the older and more persuasive the surgeon. A twenty-five-year-old man can pilot a space craft to the moon, but please keep him out of Mama’s head.” Vertosick fails to address the issue of women in brain surgery entirely. And come to think of it, if a female were to operate on my gray matter, I might inquire into her menstrual cycle and schedule my surgery to coincide with a hormonally balanced stage of the game. Women, no offense, I am sure some of you are hormonally well-balanced at all times of the month, but I know myself, so I’d rather not chance it when it comes to my thinking parts. After all, I’m already forgetful and ditzy about my keys, my wallet and buckling the kids in their car seats; if I lose much more of the wrinkly goo, I could become an official corn flake, with consequences I’d prefer not to ponder.


There are many cultures around these days, including pop culture, yogurt culture, subcultures, native cultures, family culture, cultural relativism and the all-encompassing, “other cultures” used by members of a dominant culture to talk about everyone else’s culture. My American Heritage Dictionary defines “culture” as “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought,” as well as, “the breeding of animals or growing up plants to produce improved stock,” and also “to grow microorganisms.” So it seems to me that “culture” is a synonym for “everything” and also a euphemism for eugenics. A culture, whether biological or social, is set on producing a specific kind of organism, which may be a law-abiding right-winger, an extremist lefty or a colon bacillus – which is a rod-shaped bacteria found in all vertebrate intestinal tracts. Turns out all of us have a rod up our ass. Go figure.
Now according to cultural expert, Clotiare Rapaille’s new book, The Culture Code, “The only effective way to understand what people truly mean is to ignore what they say.” This quote is found on page 14, and is in the context of discovering what Americans want in a car.
Rapaille’s point is an interesting one: when people are asked a direct question, they respond with an intellectual response that seeks to match what they assume the question-asker wants to hear. But when it comes to behavior, people rarely make decisions based on purely on intellect, and when the moment of action is at hand, the actor is probably no longer considering the agenda of a long-forgotten questionnaire or interviewer. In the end, we just do stuff, and don’t know why. We think we are so high and mighty, God’s thinking creatures, but when it comes to what we do, we typically act from deep down in our primitive center, for worse or better, depending on what sort of animal lives in our soul. Rapaille has made his life’s work figuring out “code words” that correspond to our core emotions – the driven, visceral ones found in our so-called reptilian brain. On page 83 I discover that the American code word for nurse is MOTHER. According to Rapaille, this is a positive association. I’m going more for mixed bag, emphasis on the bag. To be fair, I had a great nurse care for my after my C-section. She brought me water and reassurance at all watches of the night, just like my real mom did when I was a baby. But last week when I had an upper-endoscopy without sedation – it was a totally different story. My reason for declining anesthesia during a procedure that entails a Gastroenterologist shoving a black snake with a camera attached right down my throat, through my esophagus and waggling it ‘round my stomach and upper intestine? I’m breastfeeding (publicly, when possible) and the knock-me-out drugs are not approved for nursing women. Also, generally I think of “sedation” as something reserved for uncooperative pets and mental patients. In Europe, most people undergo upper endoscopies without sedation; it’s really a very American thing to elect much greater medical risk to avoid two minutes of genuine unpleasantness.
I survived sedation-less, thanks to the good European blood transmitted to me by my mother. The gagging, think-I’m-gonna-die experience lasted two minutes and was done, leaving both my esophagus and my mental faculties fully intact, thank God. I was ready to nourish my hungry son and resume public breastfeeding. I figured by now my little guy was probably trying to suck my husband’s nipples, perhaps hoping against hope to induce the rare-but-existent phenomenon of male lactation.
“She doesn’t have to stay long – she didn’t have sedation,” said my doc to the nurse, who briskly took vitals and left me to observe the feet of sedated patients peeking from behind plastic pale green curtains, my only auditory stimulation the occasional, but operatic fart of a neighboring colonoscopy patient. After what seemed a protracted waiting period, given my physicians instructions, I signaled a nurse, politely announcing my readiness to leave. The nurse got up in my face and quickly moved from condescension to pseudo-yelling, speaking to me like I was a mentally case trying to escape lockdown to visit my long-dead Uncle Herm in Yonkers.
“Sit back, Ma’am. Ma’am, you need to sit back.” She declined to offer a clinical reason for my detainment, or her condescension. Normally I am quite assertive, but Ms. Attitude R.N. was so intimidating that I caved when she said, “just one more set of vitals and then you can go.” It didn’t seem worth the fight, since I assumed she meant one more set of vitals now.
Obediently, with a great sense of humiliation, I lay back like a good girl and watched her walk away, with no evidence that my final set of vitals was on her list of things to accomplish imminently. Furious at being disrespected and manipulated, while my son was surely languishing without suckling access, I was done being a good girl. Now I know my patient rights, and for the sake of my son, as well as my mental health, which seemed in jeopardy should I spend even five minutes longer in this holding tank of sedated farters and irritating, overpowering nurses, I implemented my right to refuse treatment. Calling out in as friendly a tone as I could manage, I intoned urgently, “I’d be happy to sign the consent forms for refusing treatment, but I really need to go now.”
What ensued was a raised-voice battle of wills, in an exchange that went like this:

Nurse: You can’t leave yet. We have policies here.
Me: I have a right to refuse treatment.
Nurse: You already had the treatment.
Me: I’m still being treated with this IV here, (gesturing) and I would like it removed.
Nurse: Ma’am, we have policies.
Me: I have a right to refuse treatment.
Nurse: We have policies here.
Me: (getting louder) I have a right to refuse treatment.
Nurse: You can’t just leave. We have policies.
At this point, a friendly East Asian, male anesthesiologist walks by, and observing the ruckus underway, glances toward my chart sending a look of superior scoffing toward my power-mongering nurse. “Why?” he says with condescension. “She didn’t have sedation.”
Usually I sympathize with nurses, who do most of the hard work, while the physicians walk arrogantly around offering commands. On this occasion, I thanked my lucky stars for a nice cocky doctor who could tell a nurse-gone-wrong she was out of her fucking mind. I had personal revelation about why, according to Repaille, the code word for doctor is HERO. And I suppose it’s not a shocker that code for hospital is PROCESSING PLANT, with outpatient centers like the Endo Center chock full of medical cubicles augmented by shower curtains rather than potted plants or family photos. The nurse-mother connection is a little fuzzy, but becoming clearer: I think it’s just this: When we were babies, most of our mothers came, even during the night to love and care for us. But as time went on and we asserted ourselves outside their parameters, a lot of our moms became control freaks about the wrong things. They probably felt helpless, underappreciated and freaked out themselves. My nurse-gone-wrong maybe felt those things too, and her coping mechanism was to cling with a tenacious grip to her ridiculous little mantra about policies. Nurse or Mother, we have a right to refuse treatment.
Speaking of mothers, let’s talk about the motherland. If you’ve ever wondered when it became clear you would turn out to be an American (or Dutchman or Clansman or Bushman)? Rapaille says on page 23 that if you’ve been raised in a certain culture up to age seven, that’s what you’re stuck with, psychologically speaking. Even if you are embarrassed to be an American these days, it’s tough nuggies. You can’t just redefine yourself as a Canadian because it’s a nicer, less controversial country. Why? Because your emotional road mapping is pretty much done by age seven, and that includes emotional identification with your tribe or nation. After age seven you can call yourself a Canadian or a Farci, but deep down you’ll suspect you’re still an American.
Folks, I know this is disappointing, but at least you can still wear a Canadian flag on your backpack when traveling abroad. You don’t have to let your feelings rule your flag or your fate, cause even though you walk, talk and feel like an American, selecting a symbolic solidarity with a less offensive nation may at least point out to others that it wasn’t your fault you were not immersed in Canadian culture before age seven; that while you can’t change your cultural identity, you are in fact one of the good guys, out to change your culture. Or at least mitigate its damage done to everyone else’s culture.
Since you have to live with the damage we do ourselves right here at home, you might as well enjoy a positive spin on something usually thought of in the negative: In Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Pop Culture Is Making Us Smarter, Steven Johnson argues that today’s couch potatoes are more sophisticated than past generations, and that there has been a gradual ramping up of the nuance and complexity of entertainment both giving rise to this enhanced sophistication, and in response to its presence in pop culture consumers. Maybe this is true, but here’s the rub: does ability to see moral ambiguity in the lives of sitcom stars into equal ability to perceive moral ambiguity in international relations or anything else that really matters? We may be able to follow a sophisticated storyline, but we’re still buying the line, hook and sinker. We feel for the characters we are intended to feel for, we justify the sins of those characters with whom the subtext teaches us to sympathize; we are washed along with the music and witty jokes and complex dramas, until we land exactly where the producers intend we should come ashore. The fact that we can be manipulated in more complex ways is a credit to the sellers of pop culture (Hey neat! Now we can make the rats push the wheel and follow a maze to get cheese!), but it certainly is not a finding in which we consumers should find either solace or a sense of pride. Will a day come when sophistication is measured in critical thinking and compassion, rather than media nuance?
Michael J. Silverstein, co-author of Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer, is another believer in the magnificent complexity of the modern creature known as Consumer. For Silverstein, consumer is a creature of considerable intrigue, as he sets his inquisitive gaze on the oxymoronic purchase patterns of average people who will spend top buckaroni for luxury items with an emotional payoff (like botox and bathroom fixtures) while simultaneously experiencing joy by bargain hunting for the world’s cheapest Macaroni. As though describing Homo Habillus first mastering the use of crude tools, Michael J notes on page 7 that, “Buying and consuming have become skills as fundamental as driving a car or using a computer.” Of course he’s right. I am willing to spend ten grand a year to send my daughter to a Quaker school where she will be intentionally taught that all human beings have value. On the other hand, the only time I purchase clothing from anywhere but the clearance rack is when I am shopping at Goodwill, which is where I usually shop in the first place. My local Goodwill is located twenty feet from a community noted for robust wallets and decent fashion. So I wait three or four months until the really fabulous people discard their really fabulous clothing, and then I enjoy it for $3.99 a pop.
Now here’s a useful tip-off, complements of Michael J: Some dollar stores and like-minded discount retailers trick you into thinking you’re getting a good deal by serving up products in smaller packs than the regular store’s standard. How clever! And deceitful. I admire that kind of marketing, but now that I know, I’ll be sure not to fall for it ever again.
Simplicity is not really a current American value, but it is a value that refreshes. Simplicity freshens in a completely new/old way that has nothing to do with purchasing and/or using a pricey facial spritz. Simplicity doesn’t shrink your pores or restore suppleness: it expands your spirit and restores a sense of wholeness. Space is made for breathing, which formerly was sucked up in consuming and deciding which things to consume.
Speaking of consumption burnout, I’m sitting in Starbucks today because for once I can’t stand another moment surrounded by endless book jackets jumping out from every corner and shelf, screaming for my attention. I spent over $70 this morning at Barnes & Noble, so I could walk out of the store with my books, minus setting off the alarm. I did this in desperation, to avoid spending more time enduring bookstore sensor overload this afternoon. Bookstores are wonderful things, really. But too much of a good thing can drive a person mad.
In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less; How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction, Barry Schwartz overcomes his abundance of subtitles to show how a culture of limitless choice with a premium value on individual autonomy is a setup for depression. Choice and freedom as culprits in our nation’s epidemic of depression? Yuppers. Flipping to page 212 it turns out that Amish people living a quaint, choice-limited existence in Lancaster, Pennsylvania have an incidence of depression less than 20% of the national rate. Why? Because they don’t expect a lot of choice, they aren’t particularly peeved about the lack of choice. Without the expectation of freewheeling self-determination they are not queasy about buying into community – and being knit into a close social network is a proven recipe for psychological wellbeing. Plus, minus all those choices, sucky things can be chalked up to “the way things are” instead of being construed as personal failure to “choose” wisely. But we mainstream Americans think we can self-determine everything. We imagine we have more control than we really do, so when things suck and don’t work out, we blame ourselves, but are unable to fix our situation. So we feel helpless; then we get depressed. Perhaps doctors ought to prescribe an Amish conversion instead of Prozac.
Short of exiting common society, what recourse do we have to find a little sanity and simplicity in our modern age? In his chapter, What to do about choice Schwartz gives some ideas. Among them: self-imposed limits, such as giving ourselves only two options in a given choice-making scenario, just as we might stick with two drinks per cocktail party. Another suggestion: think about how much energy you expended hemming, hawing and weighing prior to some recent decisions. Then, “ask yourself how much your final decision benefited from that work.” I, for one can say with absolute confidence that my brooding ruminations are not worth it for what they get me, which is usually nothing, except stress-induced heartburn. Anyway, most of the time just making a choice – any reasonable choice – and handling the consequences would be simpler, and really a huge a relief from all the brain-tapping, contingency mapping that takes me away from my life right now. Schwartz says when you’re ready to spring for something, and you’ve given adequate, but not excessive consideration to your choice, embrace, accept, enjoy what you’ve got, and I really see this guy’s point. Savoring a nice hot mocha, sensing the espresso poking through the chocolate, warming from the inside out is much more pleasurable than wondering if I’d have been happier going with a caramel macchiato. After all, there’s no prize for wasting the most energy twiddling potential regret between your thumbs. Or toes. And if you’re stumbling over larger-looming regrets that missed macchiato, consider this anecdote from page 231: “I have a friend, frustrated over his achievements in life, who has wasted countless hours over the past thirty years regretting that he passed up the chance to go to a certain Ivy League college. ‘Everything would have been so different,’ he often mutters, ‘if only I had gone.’ The simple fact is that he might have gone away to the school of his dreams and been hit by a bus.”

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Addiction of Angst

Isn't it so much easier to type a diatribe of our own opinions than to turn hate into love? Bashing other people's choices, opinions and hypocrisies is satisfying -- but only in a temporary, ultimately sick way, once vitrolic reaction takes hold and grows bitter, spiteful little roots. Chronic angst is different than than occasional healthy venting, or the first fresh release of uncensored truth. Chronic angst is like an auto-immune disease: A mechanism originally designed to protect and heal our bodies from external violations goes awry on overdrive and starts attacking our own tissue, killing our healthy cells. Where there is sickness in our bodies, or in the world, we need a balanced response that ultimately results in healing for the body of God, whose cells each contain the DNA of truth and grace. We need to channel our acute awareness that something is wrong into creative healing action. In the process we'll eliminate the toxins of hate, chronic angst and cynicism, all of which cause necroses of our souls.

I am often a victim of my own addiction to venting my opinions. I never have a shortage of opinions, and many of them tend on the critical side. But what good does this accomplish when the venting becomes recycled jargon that polarizes and poisons rather than uniting people in healing acts of new new creation? How can truth become a blade that divides falsehood and oppression, yet gently smoothes on a gentle salve offering a way forward in peace, reconciliation and love?

This is the mystery of Christ. As followers, what is the Spirit whispering? Is it time to be still and know that God remains with us in every blog, every thought and word, each time we caress or tear a person's heart. Sometimes hearts need to break in order to come alive. But will they break a room of healing transformation or a room of condemning scorn like a syringe of death? How will we treat our enemies who Christ loves?

This is the test, which we are bound to fail and pass many times on our journey, And always God's arms will welcome us home, regardless of success. We need only a humble spirit that cries, "Abba." "Amma."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Dark and Stormy Night to Sooth the Soul

It was a dark and stormy night, though less so in my spirit, whilst the rain pummeled my car in a sea of endless red break lights dotting a steamy, rush hour commute from my New Seminary to my dear little home full of lights and supper and children.

Whole worlds could have been shrouded in myst, sprayed with water fountains of tire backwash; whole universes concealed in cloud cover and early darkness; the season of traveling in darkness upon us. Safer to travel in amidst the stormy night, tucked in my warm vehicle, knowing I can't see what's ahead, sensing each passing truck could snuff my existence of the planet in a vroom of hyroplaning tragedy. Safer to sense the tenuousness of moments; the mystery of worlds shrouded in blankets of powerful steam, pressing down from above, sheltering our souls like a womb.

Traveling home, never knowing how long it could take, hoping I'd get there alive, in one piece, but sensing the lovingness of the stormy shroud, holiness seemed there, among the eternity of bodies on their way home.

Sometimes it is easier to worship by night, in the storm, when the daylight sunshine and clear skies aren't visible to mock the palpable, impenetrable mystery of God.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Storms Lifting

Storms cry out their cloudy, thundery sobs and eventually there is no more water to pour out onto the earth. At least until evaporation recycles the moisture for the next cleansing cry of water from the sky.

A lull as settled on my soul. I'm doing better. Calmer, happier...still a little unsettled and windy, untrusting and glum in some sideroom of my heart, but moving into the day after the storm, as waves slowly crest, a little gentler with each tide.

A temporary resolution with my mother; no miracle. None expected. I know she loves me, and what is possible with that love is unknown. My inner moorings need to find their way through letting go of expectations, of knowing I don't control the ocean or the orbit of the earth around the sun, or the pull of the moon and heat and unfettered impulses on my mother. None of it is mine. What can I cling to? Only the Nothing that is God's whole love wrapped around the world and carrying all its hopes and pain and wonder. For me, this is what it means to trust.

Some books came in the mail today; I buy books instead of getting my nails done. Skimming is almost as good snacking, though the two go best together. I've read three pages of Zen Among the Magnolias, and four from How (Not) To Speak of God.

Monday, November 06, 2006

First Seminary Class -- Day 1

Professor: female Korean Fullbright scholar, Mdiv, Phd in sociology of religion.
Classmates: All male. Three Korean Presbyterians, One white American presbyterian, one white disencranchised Reformed Church of America, Emerging-oriented person from the Netherlands, and an African American former Catholic, Baptist. Plus me.
Course title: Christian Approach to Other Religions
How to Love a Wacko

(Sinners Version)

Recently I heard someone preach about how loving people is a priority, and loving people is really hard. Really really hard, because we're all wackos. You're all wackos. I'm a wacko.

Being a wacko means you're different from other people. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try (or they try) you won't get them, and they won't get you either. Being a wacko has cool aspects, like being unique, funky, quirky -- a veritable individual stamped with all the fabulous strangeness God could come up with on the day of your conception, and every day thereafter after. But being a wacko also has drawbacks. Because most of us are screwed up, scarred, angry, afraid and vulnerable -- and all that's there, lurking under the surface even when everything's swimming and people are smiling and life seems good over coffee with a friend or a nice response to your blog, or the smell of children sleeping peacefully.

Most of us are time bombs, just waiting to go off when a wacko comes along and has the audacity to press the really horrid irksome buttons one too many times in just such a way that the button being pressed activates certain nerves around the nipple, sending us into a storm of undignified rage or angst, pity party or a fuck-the-world cynical funk. Once in a while the wacko is just some slick-haired dude practically trying to kill the world with his sports car while the base amps beat like club armageddon. But what really brings out the destructive, evil impulse in our souls is when the wacko is our sister or brother, mom or dad, best friend or the special person who is supposed to faithfully share your bed and kitchen til death do you part.

Right now, my mom is the Judas of my heart, with my father in the background with his eyes bulging uncontrollably from his mad bald head.

There are times when we feel totally screwed, hemmed in on every side by bad options, and the ultimate choice ism annoyingly enough, simply to hate or love. Sometimes it's possible to do both at one time, but sooner or later grace or condemnation wins, by the slightest tip of the balance, like a plate falling off a waiter's noggin.

Right now the plate is on my head, piled high with much-too-greasy portions of wounded hate for my mother, (and my father two, though it's more a cold, sinister numbness, like quiet, mostly resigned hate) and on the other side of the plate, in a small, humble pile is something resembling a cross between mashed potatoes and compassion and the serenity prayer written in my rice.

Recently I took a risk, putting my heart on the line with my mom, when I knew she might easily ravage it and destroy the last remnants of my ability feel happy and comfortable with her -- to genuinely open up myself to her and hope with a degree of faith to receive a love that doesn't hurt. Oh my mom wanted to be there for me, but just like always, she just fucking couldn't. She always tries, and in the things that matter to me, she can't come through. Just doesn't, can't...what can I say? What can she say? She just couldn't do it. And it's worse because I know she loves me, yet always with a love that hurts me. And what's even worse than that is my behavior.

In desperate pain, I have embodied cold hatred and ravaged soul these last few days, and I'm so sorry, because I know I've hurt my mom, and I know part of me wanted to, wanted to use my feelings to punish her for doing this to me. And I'm embarrassed when it comes to my mom, I'm still acting like a kid -- seeking to be loved, when it's time to grow up and seek first to love rather to be loved. And yet, why should I have to be the grownup with my mother? Why do I always have to be the mature one, accepting her even I pay the price for her sins? She was supposed to take care of ME, and love me and teach me to trust. But no.

Yes, our most fearsome enemies are probably always going to be the people we love who let us down when we need them. And only through Jesus, with a little help from the eight-fold path of buddhism (ala, "life is suffering -- it'll suck less if you accept it") can we redefine our true need and realize somehow it's possible to find life beyond our injuries of crushed expectations and love that hurts.

I've asked God to forgive and help me, knowing it would take a miracle, because the sickening grease of betrayal and unmet needs, helplessness and hate runs so deep and long, like a twisted river from the garden of hell. And I don't know which way this one will go, because I'm just another wacko, and I find this burden too much to bear. So I just wait, fluctating between love and hate, hoping soon Jesus will show up and be yoked to me and show me a way of carrying this burden that would make it easy and light, more like a privelege than a punishment for someone else's goddamn sins.

Who will win, hate or love? I'm praying love but I know I'm not strong enough to overcome hate's pull on my own -- it's too stong, the wounds too deep to resist. I don't have much confidence in my ability to love a wacko so painfully close to my angry, bleeding heart. Yet somewhere in my hate is the truth that I love enough to hate, and maybe under all that hate, God can dig up the love and replant it in a different, gentler garden, with stakes to help it grow properly, and fertilizer and a tender hand to water the dry places, with lots of sunshine to make up for the dark cold of winter. And maybe someday Spring will come in the Narnia of my heart. And I will love again, for the first time with the grownup love of God. This is my desperate prayer. Amen.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Okay, so I've decided to post some portions of my book. So read, critique -- I'd love responses and constructive feedback.

Memoirs of a Book Flirt
By Jemila Monroe


This book is about life, breasts, politics, love and religion, among other things. So if you think these things are taboo to discuss, or make fun or genuinely explore, you’re reading the wrong book! Get out of here! This book about being human – especially about being a woman, mother, spiritually quirky, political periwinkle in today’s mad crazy world. If that’s you – or could be, this book is written in your honor, with love.


Why does anybody flirt? Maybe a girl flirts for the attention, the giddy ego-boost and the rush that follows. Or maybe she aches for the touch and taste of something new. Or just perhaps, a girl flirts in search of an extraordinary connection – an electric union with someone whose plain existence draws the nutzo pieces of life together in a way that makes sense – or makes the senselessness tolerable and finally beautiful.
I love books because each has its own personality and quirks, and sometimes we click with an electrifying chemistry. Each new page offers the hope of an answer, or an epiphany that make the search for answers seem trivial. My mind glides over each tantalizing string of words and ideas wrapped in a smoothly titillating cover; I feel less alone, more alive anticipating the thrill of new ideas; the miracle of someone else’s thoughts surviving all the way to my hands.
Each book offers a whisper of newness, a momentary freedom of spirit, a satirical bite of truth or a ray of warmth that melts the feeling of isolation that is so sickeningly normal these days. Of course there are plenty of reads that just make me sigh enough to annoy other bookstore patrons before I wander off to the café’ for another mocha latte. You know some books are so bad they actually make you feel good about yourself, because you think, “Gee, I could write better than that.” And sure, such thoughts are not the noblest of comforts, but they are balanced by the full knowledge that someone else will happily rip to shreds whatever remnant of my thinking makes the long road trip from my convoluted brain to a shelf in Albequerque.
Besides, putting down someone else’s work is usually a sign of insecurity. Which brings me to a confession, which is that my familiarity with classic literature is hodgepodge at best, with a flare for getting the idea from the first two chapters and finishing off with the epilogue. Anyway, the thought of reading something written in archaic English, with absurdly small font and a lot of obscure historical references at the close of a long day sounds kind of like running a marathon twenty minutes after giving birth. Not my idea of a fun and relaxing most nights. Not that I don’t think I should real more classics: I keep telling myself I should, I will, yes, I even cracked open War and Peace a few weeks ago. But my son promptly tore out page 11, and began chewing on it. Then he ripped the page into three parts with great glee, clearly deriving more enjoyment from that one page than I was getting from the heady introduction. And gosh, just contemplating a read of Homer or Shakespeare sounds worthwhile for two seconds before catapulting toward the couch for a fresh episode of Desperate Housewives. Am I the only one who feels that Shakespeare is a synonym for “headache”? And okay, so Jane Austen’s characters are sort of witty, but unlike Austen’s ladies, I just can’t seem to settle down at the end of the day – even to finish Pride & Prejudice. I suppose it’s because I haven’t got enough sense or sensibility. So to compensate, I scour books for pearls, company and advice. Pearls for raising my kids wonderfully and still existing as an individual, real, live person –namely, a woman; Advice for surviving divorce and attempting the first healthy relationship in my family’s known history; advice, or at least some theraputic laughs for living through the Bush years; Companions for the lonely road I walk away from Christian fundamentalism and toward something more like Jesus, knowing that most of the time I have no clue what this means.
Books are like little paper friends I meet along my way. And in a sense I am like an itinerate Israelite: making my way across the desert, creating alters out of books rather than stones to remind me where I’ve been and who I’m becoming, how I worshipped or lost faith or foundBut where is my metaphorical desert, in real time and space? Just around the corner, past (too many) strip malls, there’s a place with smooth round black café’ tables and an endless stretch of books. They call this place Borders.
So with a stack of books by my side, and a mostly-hot chocolate mocha in my hand, my flirtatious book journey begins. My goals? To assemble the pieces of a life, hoping that what I uncover turns out to be redemptive and funny. Meanwhile I’m praying I’ll find God’s face crinkly with warmth and understanding, mischief and good tears; God laughing with me when the puzzle fits together or doesn’t; The crazy epiphany that makes answers irrelevant.

P.S. (Or Prologue Part II)

Book flirting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, unless an affair ends so badly that the book in question finds itself ripped from head to tail and violently sucked away into mouth of a Dirt Devil. In which case the flirting part of the relationship would safely be assumed to be over, bringing me back to my original point that book flirting doesn’t happen in a vacuum When I was deciding on the best venue for meeting and entangling with the books for this project, I couldn’t decide between Borders and Barne’s & Noble. Both are relatively near my house, since I live in the middle of Strip Mallville, U.S.A. Neither is an endearing small bookstore owned by a sweet granny with big eyeglasses and a nose for quirky novels. Nor has either chain been the topic of a romantic comedy about what happens when Meg Ryan’s beautiful small bookstore is bought out by Tom Hank’s big bad Fox and the two fall madly in love despite the ruthlessness of American capitalism.
So I took my time in appraising the remaining merits (and demerits) of my potential book flirting venues. Borders is slightly closer to my home, by about 500 feet and a rotary; it also possesses a spacious, open-feeling café, with round black tables and chairs, and enough space between each for a person to lapse into another world without smelling someone’s belch from next door. Border’s likewise has nice setup for new and bestseller books, which are laid flat on their backs, revealing attractive, colorful covers; Each book announcing its presence, yet waiting attentively in the missionary position.
The Barnes & Noble in my town has a more claustrophobic café area, but they serve Starbucks coffee, instead of the coffee-flavored water featured at Borders. Barnes & Noble seems to have greater selection of interesting titles…or at least titles that peak my interest. But the real assets of Barne’s & Noble have little to do with books, and everything to do with quality of life: tasty lemon water free pf charge, and a lovely Thomas The Tank Engine table occupying Kid’s Corner. Really, overall, Barnes & Noble has a more pleasing feeling, a sumptuous message to your subconscious that you’re on a special outing – a cherished moment of quiet with yourself, a night out with your girlfriend, or a date with someone who could be become your lifelong lover. For all these reasons intangible reasons, Barnes & Noble was about to get picked for my flirting zone until this really unfortunate thing happened.
I was eight weeks postpartum after my son Gabriel’s birth, and feeling just a little depressed. It was one of my first outings with my husband and our new baby, and we decided to head for Barnes & Noble, with plans of snagging some hot drinks and browsing around for some fun tidbits. Little Gabriel was busily trying to lift my shirt, intent on yanking my breast into the open air; meanwhile David was ordering a soy milk hot chocolate with a touch of coffee on my behalf. My hearing was more attuned than normal, perhaps because of increased sensitivity to baby cries calling me from deep sleep, and I happened to overhear barista ask David whether we were hoping for a boy or girl with the next baby. First I thought this guy must have a prophetic gift or a side job at the psychic connection, because David and I had just been discussing the possibility of a third child! “How did you know we were thinking about having another one?” I exclaimed, awestruck.
“’Cause look at you, you’re expecting. Duh.”
“I already had my baby,” I said pointedly, trying to maintain my composure.
“But you’re having another one,” insisted the foolish barista.
“No, I’m not,” I said, my irritation – and humiliation increasing.
“C’mon, you’re pregnant! I mean you are pregnant.”
“No, I’m really not, I’m not, and you’d better make it up to me, because you just called me fat.”
“You don’t look fat…you look…healthy.”
Healthy? He didn’t just say that. The foolish barista should stopped digging the second after he opened his mouth; there was no way out of that hole, except maybe by way of free coffee – for life!
Pregnant and postpartum are very distinct phases of a woman’s reproductive life, and confusing them out loud is practically a mortal sin. If you’re not sure, don’t ask. Just tell the lady she looks especially beautiful. If she wants to tell you she’s pregnant, she’ll tell you and be flattered you noticed her glow. If she’s not pregnant, she’ll still walk around feeling beautiful, and you’ll be grateful you kept your nosy trap shut!
Well the flustered barista gazed up from the profoundly deep hole he dig himself and promised me a free cup of coffee to make amends. He even gave my daughter milk and cookies on the spot. But later when I came to collect my coffee he said, “No now, we’re too busy.” Oh, so he has time to insult a lady, but no time to finish making it right? I began to retreat backward, my my face getting redder by the second. On my way out, I announced my plan to permanently boycott Barnes & Noble, while Bargain Books, listened respectfully. A few of the self-help titles actually validated my feelings. I thanked them profusely, as I walked out the door and headed for Borders, now the official winner of my little contest. Of course a few weeks later, my hormones a bit more settled, I reduced
Barne’s & Noble’s sentence to a partial boycott, as I reflected on the importance of free lemon water. Then half way through writing my first draft, in, during a trip to Barnes & Noble, I felt the sudden, profound desire for a mocha. I sped toward the Café’. Glancing over at the cash register, I saw the barista, still in his hole, and the humiliation arose once again. We recognized each other immediately, with an appropriate sense of awkwardness. I tried to be kind and civil, while I secretly pondered writing a book called: What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting but People Think You Are. But before I could imagine the table of contents, the poor barista did a brave thing: he opened his mouth and spoke:
“Look, I’m sorry, about last time. I’m always saying what I think and getting myself into trouble,” said the barista.
I retorted, “Do you make a habit of calling women fat?” “I didn’t call you fat…at least I didn’t mean to…and I wanted to give you the free coffee, but my boss was right there and I just couldn’t do it then.”
“Yeah, okay, I get the whole boss thing. You wanted to give me the coffee. Yeah, okay, no hard feelings.”
I forgave the barista, mostly. But I was still feeling scarred. I mean the guy did call me fat. As he handed me a perfectly blended mocha and ignored the cash register in front of him, he said really kindly, “Here’s me keeping my promise.” Redemption is always sweetest when it comes in form of chocolate and coffee swirled in a hot, soothing mixture. And at that very moment I realized the bible is right when it says, “In everything, God works for the good of those who love Her.” That’s Romans 8:28, with a feminine pronoun inserted because let’s face it, women are the experts when it comes to turning insults into free mochas. So I began to let my bitterness melt and filed the whole fiasco under “funny stories. Sympathy even welled up in me for this poor barista who clearly suffered from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. One final positive thing came out of the mistaken pregnancy incident and its redemptive conclusion: Right after I sipped down my mocha, I took a step toward preventing future mistaken pregnancies and joined the gym. Someday soon I plan to start going regularly. In the meantime, I’ll just be thankful book flirting doesn’t demand a perfect figure.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Am I an alien?

Do you ever have those days or weeks or lives when you're just not sure what the hell you're doing or even what you should be doing? I can paint and write and parent okay -- but I'm perfectly aware that others are better at all of these things than me. I'm a ridiculously deep thinker, but not a scholar; a woman but not really a lady, an envelope pusher in some circles, but out in the world, I'm anybody's goody-two-shoes once my best stories have lost their six second shock value.

I've written a manuscript and I'm wondering if it's every going to see the light of anyone else's iris, much less join a community of other books on a shelf somewhere in Wisconsin before being snatched up by an eager hand, belonging to someone who's life is about to be qualitatively improved. Should I even bother to go through the painful purgatory of editing something that maybe should just be printed as is and used for toilet paper? Anne Lamott says everybody writes shitty first drafts. I'm thinking maybe I should quit now and join the stay-at-home moms group at my church and learn to cook, both of which would be a whole new direction for me.

Then there's my spirituality. God knows there is so freagin much that I JUST DON'T KNOW. And then other things I'm convinced of, except I also deeply hold the opposing viewpoint somewhere else in my brain. And everyone else seems to subscribe to this group or that group. The right or the left, the humanistic atheists or principled agnostics, the evangelicals or the liberal intellectuals or nominal catholics; the cultural Jews or the Emerging folks who are trying make Christianity all about the nation of Israel's history, or Emerging folks who are fairly neo-evangelical, committed to staying within the (generous) bounds of traditional orthodoxy...and I'm here looking on, seeing so many artifical constructs and none of it fits together perfectly -- yet I long after God with a buring love and I trust God...but not necessarily the so-called God people talk in each camp. Not the God of constructs, or human attempts to synthesize history or scripture, or even experience into something cohesive. Because neither history nor scripture, nor experience is truly cohesive or objective. But even when I'm not sure who or what God IS...I still sense a God of love...I still believe in redeeming grace; Grace which comes in the cross, and in whispers, in the love of man, in my baby's soft magical belly...and I wonder if I'll ever have a place to call home, besides my wonderful family and the eventual loving embrace of God. So I wander, with my little green antennae pointed up, looking for signals from other aliens in this strange world.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Spiritual Lessons of a Four-Year-Old

Four-year-olds don't do well when tired (the same could be said of adults.) When Nika is due for sleep, she seems desperately unable to behave, and it confounds me how I've traveled back in time to those two-year-old tantrum days. "I don't want to!" "Uh uh! Mmph." A leg kicks, a foot stomps, an arm flails, while Nika's beautiful face contorts into an angry face that's pretty comical. But when usual measure to invoke cooperation fail, the comedy is over and I become sad annoyed and stressed. A consequence is inevitable; not only is this kind of behavior not sustainable for me, I cannot abandon her to her impulses; she must learn to practice self-control that she doesn't yet posess. And she needs to sleep.

Tonight here's the shakedown:

Me: Nika, that's one...two...three...okay, you're showing me that you're tired, so you'll need to go straight to bed after supper."

Nika: (Wailing) Naaaooo, I don't like being in bed. I don't want to, uh, mmmph (wail)

Me: Nika, if you need to cry some more, you'll need to go to your room. When you're able to calm down you can come out and sit with me while Daddy makes dinner."

Nika: But I caaaan't stop crying. Errr.

Me: I know it's hard, when you're ready c'mon out

Nika: (More sniffling, alternating with sub-wails)

Eventually Nika wanders out of her room and rubs up against me, still sniffling. "I want to stop but I can't, but I want to be out here."

I pull my daughter on my lap; I can see she's really trying. I smooth her hair and snuggle her sniffling little body. Periodically a sub-wail erupts, and I rub her back until she breathes deeply again, her small, lean body rising and falling in my arms. Now I'm not annoyed. Compassion takes over, because I see her trying, really doing her best, and I remember times I've tried to stop my own tears. And it is hard. We read a favorite story, called I Love You So... while Daddy cooks up some chicken tenders and cucumbers.

"Mom, I don't like going to bed right after supper."
"I know baby."

A few mild protests and a pullup later, Nika is tucked in bed. She's not thrilled, but the wild flailing is gone, and my sweet girl is snuggled under her covers. She requests her "baby song" -- a song I created for her while she was growing inside me.

Little one, precious one, your mama loves you
Little one, precious oe, your daddy(s) loves you
But more than all of this, there's a God in heaven who loves you so much...

And when I walk out of her room to the evening before me, I God's using this parenting adventure to teach me something about God's own heart for you, me and every other Godkid. I'm glimpsing something of the way maybe God feels during our shananigans, our best (if imperfect) recovery attempts and our moments of peaceful gratitude.

There's no formula for raising a child. Maybe there's no formula for God's parenting either.

I imagine God doing her best, trying to simultaneously hold and shake and discipline us. God wondering whether to punish us or draw near and plop us on Her lap with reassuring kisses to our little precious heads, full of hairs that only She can count. Does God ever wonder what to do with us? Does God sigh with exhaustion and love and relief when we finally surrender and soothe in Her arms?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Diary of a Baby's First Cheerio

"Pick me! Pick me!" shouted all the cheerios in an eager chorus not at all like the Booklyn Tabernacle Choir.

From fattest Os to the crumbliest, everyone wanted to be Baby's first cheerio, but who was picked? ME! A warm hand curled decisively around me, pucked me up and dangled me in the air, making all kinds of delicious, instructive cooing sounds.

"Gabe! Your very first cheerio...look at that! Would you like to try it?"

Just then I saw my buddy Samual Alfred Julius emerge from the box.

"Look at Mama...Gabe, watch this!"The lady put Sammy plop on her tongue, and with a crunch and a gulp, Samuel Alfred Julius entered the land of esophageal transformation.

Meanwhile, the lady continued to dangle me and gentle press me to the ten-month-old baby's little pink lips. Which utterly refused to budge open a crack, as though to say, "What you are trying pull on me, Ma? I know that's just a toy!"

And before I could say, "Eat me," the little boy picked me up, with remarkable dexterity and began waving me wildly, like a frisky kite, or an airy rollercoaster. Notably, the boy had an impish grin, periodically looking mischieviously at his Mama, bring me close to her face and bursting out in ridiculously joyful cackles.

I sighed. Today would not be the day I'd get to enter the pure cheerio-virgin esophagus of the ten-month-old. Finally the mother lifted the boy from his chair and placed him on the floor to play, shaking her head -- clearly amused. I slid down the tray into a little blue corner; an exiled cheerio wondering, "Will I ever enter the promised land? Or will I die in the desert of family trash, whilst someone else gets to be Baby's first cheerio?

I watched from a distance as the boy crawled off, in mad delight, wildly searching for books to topple, blocks to mouth and Sister's hair to pull with glee. The boy's mother cast a sympathetic look toward me and then turned to go, instantly scooping the boy away from a computer, where he was about to delete her blog. "Gabriel! C'mon, let's go get that blue ball!"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Have a Vent
Share a blessing

The problem with everybody is that everyone is neurotic (read: human) and today it's irritating me. I'm just so aggravated with liberals and conservatives (what the heck, Donald Rumsfel doesn't consider waterboarding torcher? If it isn't, why would using it get information out of someone who otherwise refuses to speak?) I'm annoyed with the sexist tendecies and assumptions of our society and I'm also irritated with angry feminists and I'm annoyed that blogger makes it really difficult for a technophobe like me to upload photos. Also I'm rubbed the wrong way by the fact that chocolate is fattening, as well as yummy. And I'm annoyed that I'm so judgmental and angsty and hypocritical. And I'm also being very negative, which is not healthy!

So I'm opening up this blog for anyone to write in a vent and also to write something a)has warmed their heart or b)create a prayer or blessing for someone on this post. The hope is that together we can release our angst and transform it into goodness -- or at least the precurser to goodness, which is the ability to laugh in the face of badness.

My heartwarming story:

This afternoon my son Gabriel fell asleep in my arms. It was nice to kiss his sweet, sleeping face, this little man put in my home and heart. Of course I knew as soon as I tried to put him in his crib there'd be hell to pay...or at least lower-lip trembling wails. And there was, but no one can take away the memory of that perfect sleeping little angel. And he's actually being pretty well-behaved today, except for occasionally trying to delete this blog or knock over my mocha mug.

My prayer:

My God bless you when you're bitchy
When you're alone, or glum or itchy

My God be your hero when you're in need
And on a good day, help you remember to do a good deed

May God bless Iraq, and Palestine, Israel, Sudan, America and Mexico
May God bless my enemies: Donald Rumsfeld, excessive hormones and people who make inappropriate pregnancy comments (read: Are you having twins, girl?)

May God go before you and behind you, and give you a great behind. Amen.

Let the venting and healing begin!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sin Story

I wrote this poem originally in response to Stacy's post on Open Source Theology about how we experience sin and redemption in our daily lives.

Sin is trying to look like I have wings to fly, when I should be swimming

Saying the right thing for the wrong reason

Living separate from the truth I sense

Forgetting how to love

Keeping love away somehow

Being careless with a being’s heart, even if that being is me

Wanting a better stomachfor myself more than a full stomach for a hungry person

Pretending to be small

Pretending to be big


Failing to love

Absence of love

Coldness that doesn’t seek warmth

Sin fills the spot designed for truth and grace

When that place becomes empty




Feel the need, the pull

Let the pull bring you toward the first hint

Begin turning around to face yourself

Face God

Repentance that brings joy

A child comes home

A lover returns

No longer utterly alone




It’s okay

There’s a little warm fire warming the cold parts

Time will heal



Love covers a multitude of sins
My ten month old son has no idea he's going to be a big brother soon. Nevertheless, recently he's developed a keen interest in babies. Namely an interest in hurling his big sister's baby dolls with an umph and grunt generally reserved for heavy lifters at the gym. The implications of this remain unknown.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Good News

Good news was promised and my eyes droop after hosting a playdate between two overtired four-year-olds and then supper involving three boys (ten months, six years, eight years), the two four-year-old girls and all four parents. My living room looks like a cheerful warzone, if there were such a thing. Now the abbreviated good news:

In short, the good news is that hot, sexy celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna are taking an interest in Africa's children. Now people may debate the politics of international adoption; certainly there are many valid issues to put on the table: Like how do we care for kids in need without becoming condescending to their culture and their birth families? And how do we separate the issue of upper-middle class Americans with fertility difficulties from the matter of children genuinely abandoned or orphaned in countries struggling with AIDS, sex discrimination, etc? For pete's sake, need to make sure vulnerable families are not exploited for their baby booty! Yet in spite of these serious concerns, when famous people with great bodies and botox-inhanced faces get involved in humanitarian work, "making a difference" starts to seem alot sexier. And THAT is good news.

And with the success of the new show, Ugly Betty, by next year, the perfect body and botox face may be a little passe' and the new SEXY might be a little more attainable without photoshop. Yet more good news.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Bad News and the Good News

Apparently the US government is more interested in protecting its arse than safeguarding actual American values like freedom of speech and human rights. According to Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank, our government prevented Oxford scholar, and critic of US foreign policy, Tariq Ramadan from accepting a position at Notre Dame, invoking the Patriot Act's provision for "ideological exclusion," a provision that applies to those who endorse or espouse terrorism. After failing to produce evidence of any support for terrorism, they have now denied him a visa for contributing 600 euros to French and Swiss humanitarian agencies that provide aid to Palestinians. C'mon, Ramadan, didn't you know it's bad U.S. policy to um help people? Or at least it's naughty to help people who have a beef against the people we helped get nukes!


And Tariq Ramadan's lawyer says, "Although the U.S. government has found a new pretext for denying Professor Ramadan's visa, the history of this case makes clear that the government's real concern is not with Professor Ramadan but with his ideas," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer, who is lead counsel in this case. "The government is using the immigration laws to silence an articulate critic and to censor political debate inside the United States."


And if you're salivating for more news to make you wish you were Canadian, this from Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank:

Jonathan Turley (Law, George Washington University), in a brief but passionate cable TV interview last night, first, on the President's new power under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (unless the courts strike the Act down) to imprison without trial anyone whom a tribunal appointed by the President himself or the Secretary of Defense declares an enemy combatant:

It's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president. In fact, Madison said that he created a system essentially to be run by devils, where they could not do harm, because we didn't rely on their good motivations. Now we must. And people have no idea how significant this is. What, really, a time of shame this is for the American system. What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values. It couldn't be more significant. And the strange thing is, we've become sort of constitutional couch potatoes. I mean, the Congress just gave the president despotic powers, and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to, you know, "Dancing with the Stars."

So what's the good news? There is good news...or at least hopeful news. But it will have to wait til tomorrow, because Gray's Anatomy is about to come on.

Unintended irony, really. I promise good news tomorrow. And I'm not a politician, so I may even be telling the truth!
Princess Belle Is A Vagina Doctor (and other celebrity updates from a four-year-old)

My four-year-old daughter Nika ran to me, pressed her angelic face close to my ear and whispered shyly, "Princess Belle is a Vagina Doctor."

Clearly, there was a trace of mischief wrapped in that sheepish announcement.

Was it the recent memory of accompanying me to the obgyn for a prenatal checkup, or just age appropriate genital fascination? Or Nika's attraction to the medical profession could be pinned on Daddy, who is third year med student. Either way, I was amused and proud. And it seemed fitting that Belle, an ambitious bookish young lady should pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology. I thought to myself, "Won't that be nice for Beauty to finally put her booksmarts to work! What about the vocational pursuits of the other disney princesses? Did Nika know about their career paths too? Wondering led to asking.

"Nika, what does Snow White do?"

An impish, proud-yet-embarrased grin spread across that four-year-old face as she leaned forward with the plain answer:

"Butt Doctor."

"How bout Cinderella?"

"Surgeon Doctor."

"And Princess Jasmine? What does she do?"

"She goes around. She just sits and goes around."
People Who Think Too Much Annoy Other People

Apparently some people don't think much about the meaning of life, or whether conscience is a social construct designed to provide tribal cohesion for survival, or a divine piece of our gray matter installed (or evolved) by God to help us atune to Truth, God and the American Way. Gosh, that the last part really snuck in -- turns out I've been partially brain washed like all good Americans, but back to the point. Some girls and boys go through childhood and never ponder, at two in the morning, "Do I exist, or am I merely a figment of my imagination?" I was not one those kids lucky enough to pass my childhood in blissful ignorance of the big, serious, pretty much unanswerable questions. Instead, I was the one askng stuff like, "What is a soul?"" from the time I exited the womb. Or very shortly therafter.

I seem to be one those existential, spiritually driven-yet-conflicted people who annoy others who were previously content to picnic next to the soccer field, chatting up the latest exercise equipment, their child's brilliant science project or abysmal homework habits, or a recent morsel of neghborhood gossip, like whether Jimmy and Anne have an open relationship and if anyone else saw Jessy Sue's breasts looking unnaturally perky at the Thomson's barbeque. Okay, I have a problem judging people who don't think about "the important things," and I'm a hypocrit too, because I watch Desperate Housewives. If that didn't lump me in with the best of them, here's a more embarrassing confession, when I look at belly, which, after three pregnancies looks like a cross between an elephant's ear and a map of Arkansas, I sometimes ponder getting some work done. Someday when I can afford it, of course. The difference between me and the people who don't think about "the important things" is illustrated in my very next thought process: "How can I justify a tummy tuck when people are starving in Africa?" I stroke my chin and almost start to hum as I dig fo a decent rationalization, a morally appropriate justification for plastic surgery in the face of world starvation. When I can't think of anything besides the Loreal slogan, "because you're worth it," I fil the whole concept in my mental "draft folder." Sometimes you need space from a project before inspiration hits.

So you see, I'm not better than anyone because I think about deep stuff alot; actually I'm betting someday it'll be classified as a syndrome, called Chronic Spiritual Preoccupation Disorder, or something.

But since I'm wired this way, it makes it harder to write off God. God is everwhere, even in the trees and flowers which seem to boldly proclaim both the colorful and viscious games of evolution and the Divine Song of Creation. God is everywhere, and still God plays hard to get. Really hard to get. The Israelites believed if saw God face to face you would die, almost like getting to close to the sun. I get that; the sun gives light and life, but get to close, and your toast. A few times I've felt God's presence like electricity, like pure, awesome energy, and I can say how straightup God face to face might be overload for these measely human bodies. But like Moses, I long to be close to God, to see God for who God really IS.

Or do I? The Isrealites also believe God wanted them to commit genocide because they were special and God wanted them to have a nice place to call home. And then there's the time the Old Testament pegs God as just itching to do in his OWN people and start over. I mean that's how I often feel about a painting that isn't turning out nicely, but I sure wouldn't take that approach with my kids! Talk about time to call the Department of Social Services.

Many Christians buy the violence and rage ascribed to God as an accurate portrayal of Almighty Yahweh, so holy that he cannot tolerate sin. Yet even before Jesus died for our sins, his most revolutionary quality was the love and acceptance he showed for blatantly imperfect people. And he mentioned that it's nothing special to love the people who preen your ego and reciprocate your kindness; being like God means loving your enemies too. So I wonder how to reconcile the immature and violent behavior attributed to God in the Old Testament with a God who is most holy because he loves even those who don't love him back.

In the gospels, Jesus says, if human beings, sucky as we are, know how to give good gifts to our children, would God give us a stone instead of bread? Or a snake instead of a veggie lasagna? Jesus says we have Creator who cares even for sparrows when they fall. A Christ who suffered and died, rather than exact revenge on his betrayers, who told his friends, "those who live by the sword will die by the sword." Does this fit with a God who wipes out his kids cause they're acting all adolescent on his ass? Or a God who destroys cultures and people groups because they're mistakenly worshipping wooden dolls? God is not without mercy in the Old Testament. Many times God is described as compassionate, patient, long-suffering and faithful. But isn't that the worst, when you think you can trust someone, and then boom, you screw up and now they want to kill you?

Many evangelicals use this three choice argument to tell people about Jesus: He was either Lord, Liar or Lunatic. Here's one for God the Father: Either he's gotten better with time (we can all hope to age like wine, right?) He's a capricious, sometimes loving, sometimes violent being who cycles through the stages of an abusive relationship with his people. Or the Old Testament got God wrong somewhere; there was a breakdown of communication, and we're misinterpreting God. The fourth option is that like me, God hates multiple choice questions and prefers to come up with her own answer, which is currently a secret. Please God, I promise, I won't tell. Of course, I'd probably tell, at least if I knew it wouldn't tick God off enough to send me Beyond before my time.