Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rick Neuheisel lands head coaching position!

And all the Bruin alumni chanted "U-C-L-A! Fight, fight fight!"

Yeah, I'm glad. Read the full story here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

La vie en bleu

La vie en bleu

I don't get the blues very often (in fact, like lots of women, my blues are more cyclical).

This time, though, I'd say the slump began in July and has steadily gained momentum in the last six months. I wouldn't call what I have depression. Rather, I feel more like I did in Morocco or France... a feeling of sustained effort to stay optimistic, happy and productive. What I'd really like to do is veg out in front of reality TV and see other people make their dreams come true.

In the old days, no one took drugs for these kinds of emotional downturns. In my family of origin, no one took drugs for much of anything. Jon teases me because when I get a headache, he suggests Tylenol and I say "No thank you." Then he reminds me that the headache will go away if I take the pill. Then I remind him that it will also go away if I determine the source (sleep deprivation, hunger, menstruation, stress) and actually do something about that source. In my case, headaches are almost always associated with fatigue and sleep works every time to cure them.

So I don't like to use drugs for those amorphous things like headaches and nausea, ear infections and runny noses because I feel like I'm adding sugar to coffee or getting a face lift or declaring bankruptcy without having a plan in place for how to budget to prevent it happening again. Addressing symptoms by understanding where they come from seems too important.

But the blues - well today, drugs are often suggested as a way to "reset" the dial of emotional well-being. If you can dig out of the unrelenting pressure of low energy and pessimism, you might be able to get a handle on the stuff that's bothering you and resurface. I do understand this for clinical depression. But I don't think I've got that.

Honestly, the idea that I could get a drug to help me when I'm still sorting out what the causes are rubs me the wrong way. I've identified what I think are the sources of these particular blues: a combination of business related stress in July (which sent me near to the edge) followed by a series of losses for which I have supplied no alternative. Johannah left home, Noah was gone all summer, Jacob started full time high school, I took on two "in person" teaching assignments that were brand new courses (I have to start from scratch, it seems, to teach them), no more graduate school, a painful disruption of online community and very few local friends.

This combination has led me to feeling a loss of place as familiar as moving to a foreign country. It's as though my reliable world of well-being, validation and support got exchanged without my permission and I'm now stuck navigating a new one in a foreign language all by myself. I don't like it.

And I don't know/see how drugs would fix that. Seems to me like what would fix it is a new set of reliable relationships, places that nurture me and don't cost me so much energy going out.

Jon empathized with the burn-out I'm feeling toward my job. The online teaching is a relentless, on-going, daily pressure to be upbeat, on topic, informed, validating, teaching and controlling vast quantities of posts, material and people. He taught three courses this fall and told me he has no idea how I've been doing it for 8 years. He's so ready for a break (which he is taking and I am not). I don't take breaks except a week or two at a time.

As the New Year approaches, I find myself holding my breath. Which is not good, if you know anything about how critical oxygen is to the brain and staying alive. I want to take some time to think about how I can address the symptoms first. Being unhappy isn't the worst thing. Being unhappy and not knowing why is.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

So what'd you get?

As of Christmas Eve morning, the Coldwater Creek jewelry Jon had ordered for me had not shown up at our business box. CC said it had shipped, USPS said it had arrived and the UPS store where our business boxes are said it had not been received. I watched Jon "clandestinely" make phone calls and inadvertently heard the gist of the trouble. I pretended not to.

Two hours later, he came to me with bad news: "Honey, one of your primary gifts got lost in the mail. I'm so sorry." He proceeded to give me the blow by blow and I commiserated with how terrible the UPS store is, how they lost a certified check for me last spring, how this time of year brings out the worst in people and perhaps some under-paid employee of the store slipped the tiny package into a pocket without signing for it.

And then we went about our day, gift forgotten.


Nearing the end of the gift-giving, Jon asked Liam to grab a little brown box left under the tree. He tricked me. Good.

Here's my other favorite gift:

What did you get?

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, originally uploaded by juliecinci.

At 6:00 this morning, Rocky (our dog) woke me up. He does that most days. I let him out, he ran around the yard, took care of business and bounded back into the warm house up to Caitrin's bed to finish the night. I usually weave and bob, and trip up the stairs back to bed myself for the remaining morning hours of sleep.

Not today.

When I got up at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning, I plugged in the tree lights and stretched out on the couch. I stared at shiny bows and the four Target papers we used to wrap our gifts. I let my eyes range over the ornaments: the little cinnamon stick nativity scenes made in church, the photos from when Jacob was born in ornament frames, the abundance of snowflakes that we keep buying every year because we love them and forget we already have dozens.

I remembered.

I remembered when 6:00 a.m. was when everyone got up to open gifts. Jon had a rule that no one could go downstairs until I had put the cinnamon rolls in the oven and he had started the coffee maker. We also liked to set up treasure hunts for large unwrappables (like a mini tramp that hid in our garage located by following a long strand of yarn wound through the entire downstairs, or the year we wrote rhyming clues to lead the kids to the basement where the new foosball table stood).

Nowadays, the kids know to stay upstairs until we call them. Also, their gifts don't require so much assembly. But they are also a lot more expensive.

One year when the kids were small, we were so broke, just about every gift under the tree came from a garage sale. That's the infamous year where I gave Jon a newspaper rack and Michener's Iberia. He gave me a pepper mill. That was the best we could do. We found a Fisher-Price popcorn vacuum cleaner up the street at a Saturday morning yard sale. It became one of Johannah's favorite gifts that year.

This year, we loaded up on games (Carcasonne, Munchkins, Prophecy, Othello, Uno) and the most popular gift: Rock Band for the XBox 360. We have more money and that's fortunate because teens and young adults have far more expensive tastes! We start every Christmas with cinnamon rolls and then eat our traditional red lasagna and green salad for lunch. When we finished lunch, the family split into twos and threes. Jacob and Noah spent a lot of time hashing out the drum beats to Nirvana while Caitrin, Liam and Jon raced around the house sniping each other with AirPop Guns (from Brookstone - they are amazing!). Johannah texted friends and read her new book of short stories. I learned how to work my whipped creme dispenser (it's like the kind they use at Starbucks, but red and for the home).

Then we bundled up and headed to the movie theater (our newest tradition - now a couple years old). This year we watched "Juno." Terrific writing, delightful acting, good story (lots of teenage style references to sex, just in case you want to know that). Nice to get out of the messy house we left behind. Though we did a reasonably good job of bagging the torn paper and unwieldy boxes, I keep finding bits of Styrofoam clinging to every surface that refuse to be swept or sweepered. MaƱana.

Now it's getting on to 1:00 a.m.

Jon and Liam are already in bed, exhausted. Johannah, Jacob and Caitrin can't go to sleep. They've got games on the Wii to try out. Noah has friends over to play Carcassonne. I'm finally spent. Another Christmas in the memory bank.

My grandfather used to tell me all the time when I was young: "All you have are your memories." I didn't know what he meant back then. I do now.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Fantasy Football Champion!

My first year of fantasy football (Team Footsies) resulted in winning the championship play-offs in our league (My record: 12-3-1). It's been a journey I will detail later, but I just had to start with a celebration. Unlike the Cleveland Browns, I'm having a very happy Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Religious Tolerance in the Bogart Family

My extended family is made up of Catholics, committed Christians, a huge step-family of Jews, various agnostics and one Buddhist. The other day, Liam and Caitrin discovered that one of their three grandmas is Jewish. Not only that, but all the family related to her is Jewish as well. How did they not know? I was floored. I then found out that Jacob hadn't known until a week ago! I suppose we're all such tolerant folk, it simply hadn't come up in ten years. Or something like that.

The following conversation really took place moments ago in my kitchen.

Noah: My friend Tony is Heathenist. He worships the Norse Gods. My other friend is Jewish so they are going to see "Alien vs. Predator" on Christmas day.

Me: Ha, ha. By the way, you knew that Cathy's family is Jewish right?

N: Cathy's family is Jewish?

Me: You didn't know that?

N: Why would I know that?

Me: I thought everyone in the family knew. It's a complete given to me.

N: We're never with them at Christmas to see that they light the Menorah and not a tree.

Me: Well, they celebrate Christmas, actually, and not Hanukah so that wouldn't help.

N: What?! (laughs)

Johannah: They're not religious Jews.

N: Then why are they Jews?

Me: They're just Jews, like most of the Jews I knew in Los Angeles.

N: But how would we know then?

Me: I guess it's just so obvious to me and it's so well-known that I didn't realize you all didn't know it. Don't you remember how you used to pray for them to become Christians?

N: Yeah, but I just thought they weren't Christians, you know, like Dad's parents.

Liam and Caitrin: What? Dad's parents aren't Christians? What else haven't you told us?

Johannah: Uncle Jimmy isn't a Christian either.

L&C: He's not? What is he?

Johannah: Nothing.

Me: Well, he's not nothing, he's just not religious.

L&C: So what is he? Alive?

Me: Yeah, alive. That works. And he's not Jewish.

L&C: Well duh.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Crazy for God

Franky Schaeffer has written the one book I'd like to read right now: Crazy for God (subtitle: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back... ). It's a memoir that does what I wish I could do but don't have the street cred to back it up. He writes a book that exposes the unintended consequences of aligning Christian moral ideals with political power in America. He exposes the dark sides of venerated evangelical leaders through the eyes of a son raised in the context of a Christian icon in his father (Francis). In short, with love and pain, he tells the truth.

I got to thinking about all the Schaeffers and the incredible influence they've had on me. I spent two different brief stints at L'Abri in Switzerland: the first in college for a week in 1982 and then the following summer for just over two weeks in 1983. I spent hours listening to Dr. Schaeffer on tape, I ate in their home and the homes of their children, I read as many Dr. Schaeffer books as I could both at L'Abri and when I returned home. I learned that culture and faith need not be at odds. I learned that Christians were supposed to be thinkers with questions, not apologists with answers.

In the fall of 1982, I read A Christian Manifesto by Dr. Schaeffer and for the first time understood that faith was supposed to make a difference in politics, in the larger culture. I do remember harboring some apprehension about the sweeping statement that if the government supported Christian moral values through legislation, it would be good for everyone because these laws would be based on truth (even if secular Americans didn't see it that way). I remember asking myself and my Campus Crusade leader if that posture precluded pluralism, a sacred, primary value in America. I had my doubts, but I still found the book challenging and compelling reading. It's interesting to remember that moment of pause and anxiety, and then to see what has become of the Religious Right. Even so, the How Then Shall We Live? series (conceived by Franky Schaeffer) combined with Reagan's election to office twice led me to my right-wing Republicanism which remained unabated until about two years ago.

In the following years, I joined the Los Angeles L'Abri chapter and attended their local workshops. When I married, I wore out my copy of Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer (who taught me how to make housework an artistic expression, not the drudgery I had assumed it had to be). When I had children, one of the first books I read was by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay called For the Children's Sake where she unfolded a vision of a liberal education - one rich in the arts, music, nature study, literature, composition and nurturing. Our leaders used her book for a Bible study at the Anaheim Vineyard even though up to that point, it had only circulated in homeschooling circles that I knew of. That book had a profound ripple effect in my life and I can say without question that Brave Writer would not be the business it is without that early influence of the Schaeffers on how I viewed a rich education for children. In 2001, I attended a L'Abri conference in Minnesota to hear Susan speak. I also got to say goodbye to Edith in a serendipitous and memorable encounter.

All this to say: when a Schaeffer speaks, I listen. Franky used to bug me. He has a strident (at times caustic) writing voice (which sometimes seems the inheritance of sons whose dads are larger than life public figures - they have to shout to be heard). I remember Franky's conversion to Greek Orthodoxy, I remember his writing about films.

This latest book is something else. He's telling the truth... truths that have been hidden in the dysfunctional family called the evangelical church. I've been blowing my whistle on this movement in my own way for the last seven years. It's not easy. Loads of people want to limit your experiences, tell you that your version of faith was an aberration, that you misunderstood, that the people are the problem, not the theology or ideology, that you are just bitter or had bad experiences, and so on. In other words, evangelicals largely act like siblings in an alcoholic family: pretending it's not as bad as it really is.

I read this linked interview with Franky and want to share it with you. Read the whole thing. Perhaps I'll write more about particular parts of it later. I know I'll be ordering the book today. Peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Mind of Christ

A friend reminded me that I wrote the following in November 2001. It seemed fitting this Christmas season:
"Mind of Christ." Why would Christ have a mind focused on salvation? To me, the mind of Christ must have to do not with the theology of how we come to him, but rather with his mind!

I can't think of the last time someone spoke on letting the mind of Christ be in us so that we become humble (humiliated), less significant in the eyes of men, not regarding equality with church leaders as something to be grasped, humbling ourselves to the point of being misunderstood and possibly left out (by our own--not the world out there, but by the very members of our communities of faith), loss of influence and deliberate turning over of our power to those less capable than ourselves and trusting God to work it all out."
I had this odd sense of deja vu... Seems I've been developing the mind of Christ for the last five years.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Project 365: a whole new view of my life

I started posting a photo a day over on Julie Unplugged 365 last year the day after Christmas. I'm now a few days away from the end of a year's worth of photos. There are many more than the 365 a year represents on that blog. There were days I couldn't contain myself and posted more than one. Of course, later in the year, I found it harder to keep up and perhaps missed a day or two and then made up for them later. I'm proud of the fact that I stuck with it regardless, and continued to post pictures even when I got bored of my own world and uploading photos.

When I began the project, I worried that I couldn't sustain a year long daily project. Peer pressure in the kindest form drove me to the commitment anyway. All my online buddies were 365-ing so I wanted to join them. It's been amazing to see their worlds through photos after only knowing most of them through words for the last seven years. I also met a whole new bunch of bloggers through 365: Scrivener, Jo(e), Jayfish, Ianqui, Billie, and Overread. I learned a LOT from their photos. Clearly this was a crowd who knew a thing or two about photography. I spent a lot of time studying their pictures.

I devoted myself to my camera. It went with me in my purse, backpack, pocket or car. It popped out into my hands at a moment's notice. The kids got to the point where they were suggesting subjects in the grocery store or along the side of the road. I have leapt from the car into traffic, have climbed trees, tables and chairs, have scooched down under bushes, behind walls and in between rock crevices and I've boldly taken photos of perfect strangers! I got much more interested in angles, shapes, shadows, above and below points of view as well as the much touted "bokeh." :)

Everyone says that using a camera with that much regularity will change how you see. And naturally I expected to "see differently" by the end of a year. But I don't think I really grasped what that would mean when I began. For instance, today I'm absolutely fascinated with reflections. I can sit by myself looking at windows, the sides of cars, puddles, shiny table tops, rearview mirrors, stainless steel coffee makers, brass door knobs, tire rims, sunglasses, and on and on... totally entertained, without doing anything else. I enjoy the way colors change and shapes shift. I found myself staring at Jon's glasses and not his eyes just yesterday, enjoying the way the Christmas lights danced on the lenses.

In a philosophical way, it's utterly cool how reflection changes my perception of things I take for granted. I love that. Plus, I'm hooked on the shiny.

I didn't expect photo-taking to change how I see my family. But it has. I'm much more aware of the delightful facial expressions, the stuff they do that is important and insignificant that really captures their personalities and my memories of them. I wish I had known this earlier in their lives! My favorite photo of Caitrin, for instance, is one where she is eating at Chipotle (a scene I'd never have thought to shoot before).

I also got hooked on macro shots. I think seeing things right up close in a way you don't when you are living with them makes me appreciate ordinary objects more. Even something as simple as the silver ring at the end of a notebook or the way my blind looked from the side view all rolled up - these were delightful surprises this year. I was thrilled that I could see!

This year was also filled with Big Events in our lives. Johannah's theater, prom, graduation, and departure to college, my education and graduation, Noah's first year of college, Jacob's marching band, his broken arm, Caitrin sewing, Liam's lacrosse. I've been to California, South Carolina and Chicago.

It's great to have records of all these that are more than posed shots of people standing together! That's what's changed. I take more photos that give a feel of an experience, not just snapshots of people I want to remember. Still, it's been a demanding year in terms of pictures.

I'm glad that the daily-ness of it is coming to a close. I've been obsessed for most of the year and my energy level for uploading, editing and selecting photos has suddenly come to a halt! I have other things to do on the computer and that extra effort to get the photos off the camera, onto the computer, edited and posted feels like work now.

But I always love having the photos so it's rewarding. In fact, just creating this post and finding the photos to include has reminded me of the really amazing spectrum of experiences, color and moments that I'm glad I have on record!

It seems fitting that at the end of a post about a year's worth of photos, that I'd link to my favorite one. Ironically, I don't have to. My banner for winter is my favorite photo of my 365 experience. But since it is cropped in the header, let me post it in full here.

P.S. If you participated in Project 365 and would care to share what you've gotten from it, I'd love to hear it in the comments or with a link to your blog where you post your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jack London on God and gods

This passage leapt off the page at me as I was reading today. Seemed to speak to some of the things I like to write about.
To man has been given the grief, often, of seeing his gods overthrown and his altars crumbling; but to the wolf and the wild dog that have come in to crouch at man's feet, this grief has never come. Unlike man, whose gods are of the unseen and the overguessed, vapors and mists of fancy eluding the garmenture of reality, wandering wraiths of desired goodness and power, intangible outcroppings of self into the realm of spirit—unlike man, the wolf and the wild dog that have to come in to the fire find their gods in the living flesh, solid to the touch, occupying earth-space and requiring time for the accomplishment of their ends and existence. No effort of faith is necessary to believe in such a god; no effort of will can possibly induce disbelief in such a god. There is no getting away from it. There it stands, on its two hind-legs, club in hand, immensely potential passionate and wrathful and loving, god and mystery and power all wrapped up and around by flseh that bleeds when it is torn and that is good to eat like any flesh....

[about that relationship to these human-gods] It was a placing of his destiny in another's hands, a shifting of the responsibilities of existence. This in itself was compensation, for it is always easier to lean upon another than to stand alone.
These passages come from White Fang. I found them really insightful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Campaigning for Rick Neuheisel for Bruin Coach!

Remember when?

My slogan (feel free to add to your own blog):

Gamble on Rick! Best Bet for Bruins!

Go Bruins!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Liturgical Culture (Part Two)

Mark Twain does a great job in Tom Sawyer describing the effects of church on children—the suffocating experience of being made to be quiet on hard benches while an adult's vocabulary is recited over your head followed by a sermon meant to either pacify or incite you.

My Catholic church tried to be more relevant in the 70s, with their contemporary song list, communion served at home services, interpretative dances and processionals on high holy days, and a kiss of peace that lasted about 20 minutes where congregation members and the priest walked through the church greeting each other and catching up for a moment or two before returning to the liturgy. And while I enjoyed these changes post Vatican 2, any time I bring them up my current Catholic friends shake their heads lamenting the sad state of affairs that the church devolved into in the 1960s. Never mind the fact that the Catholics from the 1950s and previous largely lobbied for these changes having grown sick to death of the dead orthodoxy they had inherited.

My own parents attended Catholic schools in the Midwest from Kindergarten to college in the 40s and 50s (Dad is a Notre Dame alum). You should hear what they have to say about "Catholic indoctrination" both in and out of the church before Vatican 2. Let's just say they are mystified that anyone would convert to Catholicism today...

At the same time in the early 1970s, I attended a youth group at Malibu Presbyterian, led by Jesus People college kids (remember the "I Found It" campaign?). I learned that being a Christian had to do with my daily life (how I lived, the ideals I aspired to, the way I cared for others). Reading the Bible and praying were in regular southern California English.

Once I got the gist of faith and practice, of the Bible and its message, liturgy in the Catholic church made more sense. I even enjoyed it (the symbolism, the beauty of the prayers, the Eucharist) and felt like I'd been given a key to faith through the Presbyterians that made my Catholicism meaningful.

Liturgy is most appreciated, I think, when the people following it have made Christianity a deliberate choice, joining doctrinal understanding to faithful recitation. How it is packaged, however, is a relic of another time and cosmology, and requires an act of translation for today's believers. This is what devotees to liturgy often forget or overlook. Their personal passion for being tied to the tradition of church services (the way these liturgical patterns have been handed down generation to generation) obscures their ability to see that they are, in fact, choosing to enter another world when they enter church. They willingly adopt religious practices developed for another time and place and then work to recapture the meaning in them (meanings that were more openly apparent to pre-printing press, non-scientific Europeans of the Middle Ages).

Today, you must be willing and able to do that translation work as you participate. (For some, this is the exhilaration - discovering the riches of symbol and Scripture embedded in the historical prayers and responses that unite them with Christians of all ages.)

But honestly, when I'm in that environment I feel like I've time traveled to medieval Europe. I can't help but ask myself what it has to do with me or the Jesus I find in the Bible. Culturally and cosmologically, I'm out of sync.

Originally, Christianity drew me not because I craved a spiritual dimension to life, but because I was looking for truth I could count on. I wanted meaning, purpose and a reliable moral compass. Jesus was proclaimed as the way, the truth and the life (not church, not a denomination, not a particular religious practice). I looked for a church whose teaching deepened my understanding of how Christianity explained life to me, not a space in which to transcend this world or to contemplate the divine. I put up with the forms of church because I knew I was required to, but I was just as happy to leave them behind when we moved to church-less Morocco. There, we worshiped in small groups and interacted much as Deb suggested in her comments. It was a group experience, created together newly each week.

As I've grown away from that original conception of absolute truth, church has lost any relevance to me. U2 concerts have taken me to that place of transcendence more powerfully than any service I've attended in 20 years. I connect to words and music that speak to me about my ambiguous place in the universe. I don't recite ancient beliefs as though they are factual to affirm a set of cognitive ideas or to plead with a personal God.

Chuck mentioned in his comment that the ancient/future idea put forth by the emergent movement promised some kind of blend between the old and new, but mostly he's just seen the old resurrected. Yes, that's it exactly. To quote Bono, the liturgical church seems "stuck in a moment" (a Medieval moment) it can't get out of and the emergent movement is enamored of it.

I do understand why. Tradition, history, pageantry and the beauty of scripted prayers relieve the participant of having to create shoddy facsimiles of rites that appear to have withstood the test of time. It's nice to rest in these. I get it. But it's equally true that they resemble religion more than Gospel... and I think that must be admitted. Rituals such as "First Communion" or "Confirmation" or even weekly meetings aren't requirements of faith. They are enhancements for those who find that their faith is deepened through them. I'm not one of them.

The attempts of the non-denoms and evangelical churches to be relevant through pop music, Power Point and cafe latte, however, fall equally short for many of us who want more than a sloganized Christianity devoid of a nuanced theology. It's no wonder that there's an attractiveness issuing from liturgical communities. Praying the offices, kneelers, confession, stained glass... these have an exotic appeal after warehouses, gymnasiums and listening to college-style lectures before filtering out to coffee and donuts.

Perhaps some of what it comes down to is how you understand your Christian faith. What is it? How is it nurtured and expressed? More about that in the next installment.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quote of the day: Bill Simmons, Page 2

Over on
The greatest hitter and pitcher of the past 50 years both cheated to get where they were ... and if that's not enough, our all-time hits leader was a convicted felon who bet against his own team. Ladies and gentleman, America's pastime! Is it time to remake "Field of Dreams" and include a scene where Shoeless Joe sells $3,000 of HGH to Moonlight Graham?
That about sums it up, I think.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Liturgical culture

During my time at Xavier, I attended both Episcopal and Catholic services multiple times. I grew up Catholic (as Dcn Scott likes to remind me) and still know the misalette well enough to participate easily in mass. Jon and the kids, however, are not familiar with that style of worship at all. For instance, when we visited the Episcopal church as a family, the younger kids had never taken communion "up front" before and when wine passed their lips, they sprayed it at the priest reflexively, totally unprepared for its alcoholic flavor.

I have numerous friends who've converted to Catholicism, who attend Episcopal (Anglican) services, who have "gone Eastern Orthodox." They love the sense of history, the worldwide community of faith, the style of service, the "bells and smells," the ritual prayers, the kneelers, the quiet, the reverential spaces. I respect them. In the times I've attended with and without them, I'm able to appreciate how and why these aspects of liturgy mediate spirituality, peace and connection to God.

Liturgical services don't, however, do that for me. I've wished they would. I remember attending the Catholic church down the road from us by myself (thinking that being alone would help me over the hurdle since I'm keenly aware of how much my family dislikes any hint of medieval display). I love the space in this local church - theater in the round style, big stained glass windows, modern tile floors, pews (which I enjoy more than chairs, actually). There's a fountain and hardy growing green plants in the foyer.

Families, singles, couples filtered in after genuflecting and crossing themselves with holy water. A steady shuffle of feet was all that could be heard since Catholics are naturally quiet in sacred spaces. The service began. I could never quite get into the music in the Catholic church. I was told that the songs were deliberately discordant so that they would not linger in the mind and become a substitute for genuine worship of God (ironic since the Vineyard's whole goal is to get songs stuck in your head so that you will be filled with worshipful song all day).

The processional included banners and incense. The vestments: circa 1500, the priest: male, the calls and responses: familiar and predictable. I felt like I had double vision; as I watched and participated, I could understand exactly why each of the practices were valued and loved by my friends while at the same exact moment, in my own seat, in my own person, I felt nothing... just a nagging sense of disappointment that this is what church had evolved to, that this was the "best" we could do, that these medieval practices had held on for no clear reason and had nothing to do with the Jesus I read in the Gospels. To me, this style of worship feels like religion, not spirituality, feels like a deliberate religious creation post-Christ, not the natural expression of following Jesus. I guess it's just not how I roll.

I've often wondered what was wrong with me. Why don't I experience liturgy as "waves washing over me" the way my friends do? Why don't I enjoy the classical music? Why can't I find my center and a feeling of transcendence through the quiet and prayers? Why am I not moved by the corporate communion? Why doesn't the depth of history in the church draw me, fulfill me? I have a history degree, for heaven's sake. You'd think that I'd at least find the historical dimension of the church compelling.

In my next post, I'll explore why I think it's difficult for me (and perhaps others like me) to join "ancient church cultures." (I'm particularly speaking of Episcopal/Anglican, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sports: cheating and lying

They're a bunch of cheaters and liars, aren't they?

We have the Patriots spying on the defensive signals of the Jets, tainting Bill Bellicheat's reputation as a "genius coach." Their response? Defend the coach's honor by playing well. And honestly, playing well is what gets them the pass, doesn't it?

The Bengals, with off the field criminal behavior destroying the team last year, were the laughing stock. Had they been play-off bound, they'd be admired for having overcome adversity off the field and pulling together on it.

Bobby Petrino has broken three long term contracts in the last 18 mos, assured Arthur Blank that he would stay with the Falcons the night before he turned up in Arkansas doing the Pig Suey Chant.

The Mitchell Report discloses what Colin Cowherd has been saying for years: Roger Clemens uses. And his usage overlaps with his explosive performances as a pitcher at age 41, better than at 25.

Marion Jones not only has had her medals stripped after she finally cracked and admitted steroid use. Now we have to watch the Olympic committee determine whether or not to take away the medals of her relay teammates... which of course they should. She cheated. Their loss.

Just last year an NBA referee admitted to being on the take with the mob for throwing games.

You just have to wonder how deep all of this deceit and desperation to win goes. Too much money in sports. Loss of virtue follows.

What I wonder is how long the public can enjoy sports when there is the threat of the other shoe dropping to undo all that celebration and success.

The Christianity I never knew

If someone had raised me in a Christian faith where the goal of life wasn't to keep out of hell but to live in a thoughtful, responsible, peace-loving, "option for the poor" kind of a way and had founded those ideals on the teachings of Christ and had then suggested that this way of life is sourced in God, I might have held onto God more easily.

If I had been told that the Bible is written by people like me attempting within their contexts to identify that thread of spirituality we like to call God through their direct experiences, their imaginations and their cosmologies, I would have held the Bible with a more open hand.

If the church had been peopled and run by a variety of personalities, genders, races and education levels, I might have imagined that Paul's words "There is neither Jew nor Greek... male nor female..." were true and worthy of my own devotion in how I treat others.

If Christians had been on the cutting edge of caring about science, history, and archeology because they knew that their beliefs could be modified or enhanced by further developments, I would have happily stayed on.

Graduate school was the first place I ever encountered this kind of faith. Understandably, I miss it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Angles alight

Angles alight, originally uploaded by juliecinci.

Every year our kids (Caitrin, to be specific) nag us to hang lights on the house. Every year we promise to do it. But you see, we have this two story nightmare that requires risking limb and life in order to hang them from the rooftop. For the first several years of living in a home, we hung the lights indoors so that the windows were lit up from within (and so our empty living room holding one Christmas tree would escape inner darkness since not a lamp could be spared for the otherwise furniture-less space).

The only real use of the living room at that time was "belly-ball," a game we played nightly where Jon made up rules faster than we threw a ball at each other's heads.

Once we hauled couches and coffee tables into that space, the twinkle lights moved outdoors. The trouble is, however, that neither Jon nor I have any artistic sense whatsoever when it comes to dressing a house for holiday cheer. My attitude is pretty much - throw those cords with bulbs on them over a bush or across a doorway, plug them in and see? Pretty lights!

This year we hit a new low. We didn't want to spend a whole $2.50 for a second strand of white lights on white cords. So we dug out the accidentally purchased racing icicle lights and decided to climb a ladder to hang them.

A caveat: Ladder climbing is one of those tasks neither the tall nor the short enjoy in our family. During our engagement period, a tall male friend fell from a ladder and was paralyzed neck down. In high school, I fell from a ladder and was rushed to the ER where I rec'd care from hott 20 somethings... at least, that's all I got out of it.

The point remains, we fear ladders around here. So Jon, who wouldn't climb to the top of the ladder, sent me up to the tippy top... because since I am not 6'4", I have to be on the tippy top in order to reach the apex of our door's entry way while he could reach from one rung down, though more precariously... apparently. He did hold the ladder for me and for that I am deeply grateful.

Basically we were reduced to this method of light-hanging: hammer a nail into the siding about 1/8" deep, fling the icicle strand over the top hoping not to dislodge said nail (we did dislodge several, in fact, which ricocheted off our heads), drape remaining strand in general direction of corners, scramble down ladder before tripping over feet in clogs (not the best shoewear for ladder climbing, I discovered) and thank Vastu Shastra, the Indian God of the doorway, for protection .

When we finally plugged the lights into the outlet, we were stunned to discover that they were on acid! These little lights don't know the meaning of "Silent Night." They look like the bili lights of a nightclub! I can't stop laughing every time we turn them on. Correction: every time they turn the neighborhood on. I wondered why we saw street walkers in our shy little suburb. Now I know!

Anyway, Caitrin is thrilled. She sat watching them for a full fifteen minutes one night. Sometimes daring and personal risk outweigh artistic sensibility.

Red light, green light Christmas

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yoga and me

Each Monday night, I drag myself to yoga. Yoga is for my body. My body appreciates it. Proud Warrior, Moon Salutations, Snake Goddess... these are the poses that twist and stretch my tired computer chair muscles. We end each yogic session with "Shavasna" (fifteen minutes of relaxation). I usually fall into a deep sleep. Needless to say, most people love yoga.

But wow does my mind hate it. I mean, it detests being asked to be quiet for a full 75 minutes. I walk in and immediately it starts in on me. How long will we be at this? Gawd, I'm bored. And where did that roll of flab come from? You're not as good at this as you used to be. And I wish the comedy writers' strike would end so I could find out what happens to Jim and Pam.

While I bend into triangle, my mind runs over the errors of my fantasy football ways. Why do I keep thinking Calvin Johnson will have a big game? As I roll my body to seated pose from forward fold where our yoga instructor reminds us to "enjoy that nice feelin' you get when you come up," I'm too miserable thinking about unpaid bills, emails from friends I've ignored and Christmas gifts I was supposed to order online last week.

The closer we get to the end of our practice, my mind becomes desperate. What "Q" word can I play to get ahead in that threeway Scrabble game? It throws up all kinds of mental clutter: college crushes that went nowhere, friendships that haven't developed, dissatisfaction with being 46, anxiety about the state of my business, longing for California and sunshine, irrational pissed-offness at the Bengals.

My brain is resentful that I've exchanged graduate school for yoga, which catered to my mind, made it feel appreciated and encouraged busyness and mind clutter. Three hours parked at a desk left me energized and happily distracted. Yoga is more like signing up for a weekly lobotomy.

Sometimes things get so out of hand for my mind, by the time we lie on the floor on our backs, tears come out of nowhere. My brain is angry, gives up and lets go. I can never even tell you why I cry or what it's about. Then I crash and am sound asleep. Many weeks my "braid down her back" instructor has to specifically call to me to "wake me up."

Needless to say, I don't do yoga during the week. I always tell myself that I will. But I never do. My mind won't allow it. It starts screaming before I ever get near the mat.

And that's why I make myself go to the sessions at the YMCA every week. I keep thinking that eventually my mind will have a complete meltdown and shut up for fifteen minutes. At least, here's hoping.

Tonight as I left, knowing this was the last session until the new year, my instructor thanked me for coming saying, "I always like watching you. You commit to yoga so wholeheartedly. I can see you leaving all of your life and home behind in your efforts to do your practice."

Ha! If she only knew. Or maybe she does and that's why she's encouraging me. By the way, I love her. And that's why I keep going back, despite the weekly onslaught of reasonable reasons I could justifiably miss, after all, there are about Shut up Brain. Time for yoga.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Lists

Christmas lists are zipping into my in-box like spam, accompanied by hyperlinks to ensure accuracy. One list included the comment in all caps: I DO NOT FEEL ENTITLED TO THESE GIFTS AND I REALIZE I AM PRIVILEGED TO GET ANYTHING.

This is the same kid who asked for donations to the Elizabeth Glazier Pediatric AIDS Foundation two Christmases ago. This year's list includes items from environmentally and economically responsible companies... you know, green, clean and not mean to labor.

Another list specified clothes from the "other" company where the raptor logo is tattooed even on the boxer shorts. I'd bet their day laborers don't get Christmas off.

A third list read like the Sunday ad for Best Buy: gaming chair, iTunes card, CDs, Guitar Hero, Mario, earbuds for iPods.

The future fashion designer in our family asked for a dress form (and offered to pay half of it with her cookie business money seeing how expensive they are).

The oldest has not submitted a list, but careful listening over the last several weeks helped me to find what I consider the best gift under the tree. It will go unmentioned at this time as I don't want him to accidentally stumble on this blog and read it ahead.

What stands out to me this year?

No more Legos, American Girl dolls, Nerf guns, bows and arrows, board games, Rokenbok cars, knitting and sewing kits.

No more bikes, trikes and unicycles.

No more Playmobiles, foosball tables, trampolines or dress-up clothes.

We've moved all the way into technology and fashion mode around here. Clothes and electronics are about all they want any more.

I drove downtown today. I parked and walked. I went from store to store shopping, passing funky little holes in the wall selling Greek gyros or old, used and rare books. I breathed the frigid air, covered my ears with a scarf and hoofed it to the places that held the gifts my kids had requested.

It felt nice to shop on foot, to not hurry through a mall, to hold knit cotton in my hands or to thumb through a book, to smell old paper and ink. I liked the sting of cold on my nose and the way walking cheers me up.

When the kids were small, I ordered every gift by mail order catalog (in the days before the Internet especially). It saved me the trouble of traffic, parking, hauling babies in strollers, long lines and competing for toys.

Now that they're older, I wanted to touch the things I bought for them. I liked being alone and thinking about each one, holding in my hands something that I knew would be really valued (not just played with).

This is what it means to have older children. Shopping is no longer about restocking the toy cabinet. It's my chance to spend time with the accumulated knowledge I have of their tastes, needs, wants, and whims... and then to fill them the way only a mother can.

I usually hate shopping. Today, I loved my kids through shopping. It made all the difference.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Democratic debate on NPR

Normally I can't tolerate NPR. Something in my genetic make-up causes me to swerve into the median divide on the freeway any time the "oh so serious-acoustic guitar" bumper music smoothes the wrinkles between segments. And what's with the NPR tone of voice? Commentators barely speak above a controlled, tight-waisted skirt whisper. The men rumble at low pitches, barely breaking the alto range. When they're alarmed by some disturbance south of the border, the ciudad in question is prrrrronounced with appropriate tequila accent. Ay caramba!

Call me pop culture [Hey Pop Cultcha], but I need more caffeine in my talk radio. That's why I stuck it out with Rush for so many years even after uncrossing the wires in my right wing brain circuitry.

So let's just point out that it takes a considerably interesting story to draw me in (which "All Things Considered" rarely is--the hammer dulcimer? its construction?... Consider fewer things NPR).

The Democratic debates made me stop my scrolling radio search. And because the debate was on radio, I was undistracted by Kucinich's bulging pockets (ht: Colbert) or thinning hair.

What happened as I drove through the city listening to Barak, Hilary, Dennis and Senators Biden and Edwards (and some other names)? I lost some of my enthusiasm for Obama (just not able to tackle the issues memorably), gained some respect for Clinton (her baritone certainly helps her gravitas) and found myself positively rooting for Dennis "speaks two languages" Kucinich. There's a guy campaigning like he's got nothing to lose, which, in fact, he hasn't.

Kucinich showed me through his answers to the debate questions that I had swung, like a swing voter should. I agreed with his attitude about immigration, for instance. He stated what we all know: we aren't going to deport illegals and they fill jobs we need filled. But we also should know that they deserve better—a pathway to citizenship, proper treatment as employees, and the potential to grow into better jobs.

One of the questions posed by a listener:
When I call a government agency, I am instructed to press '1' if I want English and '2' if I want Spanish. When is our government going to deal with its citizens in English, the national language? When will they stop catering to illegals using Spanish?
Each debater had the chance to respond, but Kucinich was terrific. He jumped on this one. Apparently Ohio had wanted to pass an "English only" law back when he worked in the state legislature. He defeated the bill when he showed the congress that the founding documents of the state were written in German.

His point? That the strength of this country lies in the diversity of immigrant influences and the eventual assimilation into our nation. He went further, When will Americans stop being so isolationist, English-centric in their outlook on the world? He passionately argued for Americans to study foreign languages, to become interested in the world beyond our borders, to recognize and admit that we are now an interdependent, globalized world. When the two towers fell, he said the Washington Post had to advertise for Arabic speakers. Why? Because Americans have not learned that they need to know and understand people beyond its borders.

I loved his passion for this topic. It was one of the few responses that drew real fire from a candidate. Part of what I loved about it is that he took a genuine stand (that English only is not just unrealistic, but un-American). He then pushed the listeners to consider how they have turned their backs on the world beyond our borders yet have inherited a country founded by immigrants (our ancestors). I liked his emphasis on the centrality of globalization.

I wouldn't vote for Kucinich. What I wish for is someone to show that kind of "no holds barred" risky opinion who is also articulate.

Clinton earned a couple points in my book when she was asked (and answered first) "What don't you know?" She responded, "Oh my goodness. All kinds of things. There are loads of things I don't know!" And she chuckled. Not one other candidate admitted not knowing. They used the question as a way to show what they wanted to achieve in office and then "didn't know" if they could help Americans see how great Americans are, or how powerful they can be, blah, blah, blah.

I can't remember a single thing Obama said. I remember Edwards' accent and nothing else. The rest were indistinguishable from each other.

Twill be an interesting season...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Johannah's home!

Ohio State Finals Week

OSU students, originally uploaded by juliecinci.


I really loved seeing a college campus in the snow. That's one experience I never had on the west coast.

A driver's education

Jacob, now sixteen, attends driver's training in a dubious building without neon sign. To locate the "cell" where he is taught how to handle the perils of the road, one must walk past the Marine Recruitment office and American Insurance. Patriotic little space there.

In the windowless, airless cube, five other teens and one instructor with shaggy hair and 1970s glasses frames convene to watch videos that include messages from "our President" - George Herbert Walker Bush.

We pay $500.00 for the privilege of these classes which run 6-10 three nights for two weeks.

When I arrived to pick Jacob up tonight, the video was just ending and I noticed that Jacob wore his ear buds while watching. I assume he read Bush Senior's lips. We were "required by state law" not to exit the room until 10:05 p.m. sharp... even though I arrived at 9:59 p.m. and class was clearly over. To literally kill the remaining time, the kids played hang man on the one white board in the room. Two girls wearing flannel pajama pants begged Jacob for his iPod. He handed it over, reckless teen that he is.

They yanked the white cord between them and cranked up the volume... then shouted:

"Don't you have opera on here? I heard you have opera." Click, click, click goes the wheel.

Jacob nodded.

"You have Disney too. Lots of Disney." More clicks.

Jacob said, "Well, yeah." And in fact he does. Loves every musical score right down to Alan Menken's pinkie toes.

The girls then bounced off four feet away to another wall having the following conversation:

"Oh my God. I HATE Disney songs. I can't stand Disney."

"Me too. I hate Disney too."

"Oh! This is that song! I love that song. What's it called again? Oh! From Monster's Inc. I LOVE that movie."

"Oh me too. I love it too."

At that moment, the clock struck 10:04. Everyone turned around to comment, "Only one more minute!"

The two girls dumped the iPod into Jacob's bag and then flipped around to look at me. They giggled and whispered looking back and forth between Jacob and me. The iPod abuser said, "She's his girlfriend. She has to be."

"Oh my God. Is she? She has to be."

"Um, excuse me. Are you his girlfriend?"

I looked up, "Me? Oh heaven's no. I'm his mother. But I love you!"

10:05. Everyone jumped the three steps to the door. As we walked to the car past the marines and insured, I told Jacob what the pajama-clad girls had said about the two of us. He responded, "I know, I heard them. That's just ridiculous. I mean, no offense, I'm not saying you look old, but I mean what are they thinking? Maybe they meant you were the director guy's girlfriend."

My ego balloon deflated on the spot. I had thought that in poor fluorescent lighting, I could pull off 16 for a full five minutes.

Then Jacob shook out my wrinkled ego and reassured me, "I'm sure they meant me, Mom. No way did they mean that guy. I mean, that's how weird and annoying they are - that they put you with me."

So I, um, felt better.

He drove home, almost turning left in front of a car at a green light until I screamed stop and rammed my foot into the dashboard, to, you know, slam on the brakes. I suggested for tomorrow night: less Disney and more attention to the "history of driving" videos. Might actually learn something.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Bruins take on Trojans today

Chanting: Do it again!! If we win and Arizona loses, there's a teensy chance the Bruins can get to that Rose Bowl.

Edited to add: Unless Karl Dorrell is your coach. Unbelievable!! Let's ask all our sports fans out there - if your D stops the Trojans on third down at the 2 (that means three downs they've used their muscles and stopped the Trojans from scoring), but there's a holding call against the Trojans and they could repeat third down from around the 10-15, what would you do?

Naturally. You decline the penalty and force Pete Carroll to decide whether or not to kick a field goal. You *dont'* give John David Booty space to throw a pass into the endzone, you don't force your defense to have to hold up for potentially two more plays...

And so, yes, on the next play, SC scored. Who didn't see that coming? KD, of course.

His head on a platter.... that's what Bruin Nation is calling for.

Bruce Springsteen tickets

I bought myself a Christmas gift this a.m.: a single ticket to the Boss's concert on March 22nd in Cinci. I was online right at 10:00 a.m. as the purchasing terminal opened. I got in fairly quickly and noticed that my tickets were for the floor (no seating). Being 5'2" and female, I already knew what a challenge that space is for watching concerts (having barely lived through it at a U2 concert a couple of years ago). So, as I've done countless times in the past, I asked to be shown different tickets.

Unlike those countless other times, this time I was booted to the back of the line and had to start my search over. I was shocked! Usually you keep your place and they simply shuffle the seats to give you a better look at what's available right then. There were no choices apart from "Best Available" so I couldn't define my search up front.

After giving up the floor, I wound up in the rafters. Grrrr. I have a nice angle to the stage and I know there will be big screens etc. But still. I'm just mad that I gave up the floor. Should have bought them and suffered up close rather than suffering at a distance.

Okay, now that I got that out....

I can't wait for March!!!