Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Church: part 1

I have been visiting a church down the street for the last few weeks. I’ve attended three Sunday services and an organized mingle-session for youngish adults. I’ll save the young adult gathering for another post (plenty to say about peers, silence, and small talk) and concentrate here on the morning services. I’ve had lots of conflicting thoughts about this experience and figure writing is as good a place as any to muddle through them.

I’m only recently able to sit still in church for an hour and a half without either a) leaving the room because the discomfort is unbearable or b) playing along and faking a smile, while anger smolders. My relationship with Church is complicated. I chose this particular church to visit based on proximity. Plus I knew from visiting years and years ago that it was neither fundamentalist nor Pentecostal. During each of the services I’ve attended, the hour and a half is spent in a gradual mental progression.

I start out very critical, irritated by choppy transitions and church-speak. Some phrases have no place outside the context of steeples and hymnals and well-dressed do-gooders. Phrases like reveal yourself, heavenly father, glorification, sanctified and rain on us, sound especially foreign after a long absence from church culture. Language that only makes sense in a specific setting automatically separates my experiences there from real life. For example, when I’m among educators discussing pedagogy, the phrases cross-curricular, higher order thinking, and scaffolding are meaningful in that context only. While these terms illuminate issues important and commonly understood by teachers, they don’t mean much to non-educators. Inevitably, specialized language is exclusive to those who have had similar training and experience. The same principal applies to Christians. For a spiritual organization to pride themselves on inclusion and acceptance and sensitivity, using a dialect that is meaningful only to initiated insiders doesn’t make any sense.

The next thing that strikes me is the disparity between intense intellectual content and a passive congregation. The songs we sing in unison have some wild lyrics. We announce, with questionable conviction, that we are addressing the King of Earth and Heaven. “All we have belongs to you,” we promise. But other than verbalizing these outrageous statements, there’s no other indication we believe what we are singing. That doesn’t sit well with me. Either Someone is actually taking note of my musical announcements, or these songs are excessive. I can’t help but wonder if there is a less risky way to participate in the singing. Anything I say, or sing, can be used against me.

But what happens next surprises me. I soften. The irony and the divergence, while distracting, don’t ruin the experience. In the three times I’ve visited, a realization puts me at ease and I no longer feel the need to attack or argue or complain. The first Sunday, I realized that part of my squirmy feeling was because I was a stranger and felt like an outsider. Since I grew up as a pastor’s kid, I’m used to church feeling like family. It’s strange but understandable that being a visitor, observing as a newcomer, feels uncomfortable. The second Sunday, I realized the people on the stage were exercising some strengths along with some weaknesses. Not all the songs we sang fit the lead singer’s vocal style. The speaker wasn’t a professional. The technician didn’t synchronize all the visual graphics. Basically, the service was imperfect. I can live with that. The third Sunday, I was reminded that every person there had a story. The point of spending 90 minutes together was to validate each person’s experience and point to something greater, something eternal, and to make some sense of all this mortal fumbling.

Last in my mental progression was a settled feeling, like someone took a sheaf of piled-up papers, picked them up in two hands and tapped the long side on a table and straightened things out. Or maybe I can describe it this way: I caught the scent of something I’ve missed. It was as if I had grown up with an ocean view and the beach as a playground. After spending several years far away on a land-locked prairie, I suddenly caught a whiff of salty air. That’s what if felt like to be surrounded by quiet, kind people. To sit, to listen and to sing. To watch sunlight fill the West-facing window and set my mind on things above.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Safety first

There's a full time lifeguard on duty at our house.

He sits above the fridge and makes sure there is no running, no horseplay, and no unnoticed kitty treats.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Excellent Notion

A brain storm: keep cleaning wipes within reach while baking. Wipe up spills immediately. Worked like a charm.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Brilliant Idea: Cleaning + Books

So....wanna hear how I solved the world's problems?

Okay, not the WORLD'S problems, just that little dilemma of a messy apartment and no time to read.

So. Here's what I did. Listened to an audio book, while cleaning! It worked great. I just puttered away, unearthing the kitchen counters while listening to Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig (ironically, a book about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the author's struggle to overcome ceremonial washing. Among other things).

The kitchen is BEAUTIFUL (I toyed with the idea of sleeping on the linoleum) and I have a new book to add to my completed pile. Win win!

Book report is coming soon.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Weekend: Cookie Baking and Computer Building

My primary goal this weekend was to get the apartment cleaned up. You could describe our place as "cozy" and we'd both know that you really meant "crowded." It looks, as my mom would say, very "lived in." Some happy people and some happy cats live here. You can tell from the blanket-nests full of kitty hair, the piles of books on every flat surface, computer parts in the living room, glue sticks and paper scraps on the kitchen table, and a sink full of dishes.

Guess what? I didn't clean. Instead, I worked on a blanket I'm giving a friend whose baby is due in 2 weeks, ran errands, planted ivy in a hanging basket on the porch, read Diane Ackerman in a frenzy ('cause the list of books I'm dying to read keeps getting longer...if I could just finish the one I've got), had a heart-to-heart with my sister over coffee and zucchini bread at the cafe I like so well, tried not to interfere while Husband and Friend built a computer, and transfered a few loads of laundry (loads that Husband started...I just threw the clean stuff on the bed, and moved the wet clothes to the dryer). And that was all Saturday.

Today, I decided I wanted to make cookies for a birthday party we attended this afternoon, and needed baking supplies. Since it is March 1st (FINALLY! Spring, will you give us another chance?) I got it into my head to find a shamrock shaped cookie cutter. This morning I drove all over town, to 5 different places looking for one. Couldn't find one for the life of me. Settled for alphabet cookie cutters, to just spell a cookie message with. I finally got home (sure Husband had given me up for dead, since I had announced a quick run to the store to pick up butter and sugar, and was gone for over an hour) and tore the kitchen apart in a baking frenzy.

I'm messy in the kitchen. I used to fantasize as a child about how I would be a cooking whiz someday, creating delicacies in a big, grown-up kitchen that stayed magically clean, like commercials for soap where day-old, hardened spills are wiped away instantly. I'm pretty much a grown up now (past the mid-twenties, it's probably too late to cop out) and I am still just as messy. I really do try, but sugar cookies and frosting just don't lend themselves to a spotless workspace. Don't get me wrong, I clean before I bake, and clean up after myself. But the process itself looks like a scene out of that movie Twister. Instead of a mile-wide swath of destruction through cornfields, you can see the scope of my baking in a swath of powdered sugar, egg shells, food coloring, and buttery silverware. But let me tell you what. The result was worth it. YUM.

The weekend is almost over (technically it's already Monday morning...groan). The apartment isn't any cleaner than it was on Friday, but what fun.