Thursday, September 26, 2013

An "O.C." Reunion That Might Be Acceptable All-Around

I'm just taking a wild guess about this.  But, here goes.

Recently, the TV show "The O.C." (which ran from 2003-2007) celebrated its 10-year anniversary.  Of course, I only heard about the thing a little over a year ago, so I don't have that long of a history with it.  Some people, though, have loved and adored it from its premiere episode all those years ago right up on to the present day.  And many, if not most, of these long-time fans would love to see a reunion.  But, there are apparently some problems with this reunion concept, not the least of which is the reluctance of a couple of the main stars of the series to do such a thing.  I don't really blame them for this.  Life goes on; other appealing and challenging projects present themselves.  A reunion may seem a bit like going backwards to something that -- even though it was a wonderful cultural phenomenon -- might be best left to iTunes and DVDs.

On the other hand, I feel a bit bad for these scores of faithful fans.  So, I have been wondering about an "O.C." reunion format that might be amenable to those who may be a bit hesitant to participate.

I get the impression that when most people think about a reunion, they think about a continuation of the story.  They imagine the original actors reprising their roles, bringing the tale of the Ryan Atwood and Company up-to-date.  To my mind, there are difficulties with this concept.  The series ended on a very satisfying note, bringing the hope of happiness for each of the beloved characters.  Each fan has his/her own idea about the details of what the future will hold for Ryan, Seth, Summer, and everybody else.  Of course, we are given some clues, such as a glimpse of Seth and Summer's nuptials.  A lot, though, is left to the imagination.  And this, to me, is a good thing.  If the story were to be continued -- a la Josh Schwartz -- there is a lot of risk.  Because of the necessity for tension in stories -- not everything will be happy -- many fans may find themselves being let down.  And even if everything ends happily once more, it may not end happily in the manner each die-hard fan has been imagining for the last several years.  The show left all of us with many warm, fuzzy feelings and good memories.  Introducing controversy into that equation is at least a little bit dangerous.

There is an alternative, though, to this.  Instead of continuing the story and requiring Ben McKenzie to once again don his white wife beater, maybe there could be a rather informal gathering of the cast members to reminisce.  Each actor could choose favorite scenes to be shown, describing his or her memories and feelings.  Anecdotes could be told.  There could be a general atmosphere of levity.  This would require a minimal financial investment and would not require a great deal (if any) preparation by the actors.  Mischa Barton could even participate, even though her character died tragically at the end of Season 3.  And I know many people would enjoy that -- seeing "Ryan and Marissa" together again on TV, even though they'd be appearing as their real selves.  Perhaps audience members could submit questions -- either in advance or in real time -- via Twitter or some other internet mode.  It could be a lot of fun for the fans.  It could even be fun for the cast members and Josh Schwartz.  No pressure on anybody.  Just a celebration of what is -- at least to many people -- one of the biggest television joys of our time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This 300 Sandwiches Thing

Have you heard about it?

There is a lovely woman -- in her mid-30's -- who is dating this dude.  He apparently loves sandwiches.  She explains that, to him, sandwiches mean love.  Like hugs or kisses or sex.  I guess they have this deal.  He told her that if she makes him 300 sandwiches, he'll get her an engagement ring.  He says that women think it's so hard to keep a guy, but it's really not.  All you have to do, according to this man, is do something nice for him -- like make a sandwich.

Are you choking on your Coca-Cola.  I pretty much did.

Now, to be fair, I do not know this couple.  I do not know their relationship.  I don't know this guy's heart or his sense of humor.  But, this is what I see.  I see a guy living with a woman, having sex with her, and getting her to make him all these sandwiches.  And she is doing it all (especially the sandwich part) because, in her heart of hearts, she wants what a lot of women want -- a happy marriage and family life.  And he knows it.  And he has her dancing like a puppet on a string.  What a louse.

A good man will not buy you an engagement ring because you do nice things to keep him.  Now, I grant you, when you love someone, you do nice things for that person.  But, NOT because he requires you to do them to earn his love and commitment.  A good man will buy you an engagement ring because he wants to give himself wholeheartedly and unreservedly and permanently to you -- as a gift.  An UNCONDITIONAL gift.  Of course, he would hope that you would love him and give yourself to him in the same way.  But, it doesn't have anything to do with making sandwiches.  Or granting sex privileges.  There is no price or cost for the gift of unconditional love.  You don't dangle love like a carrot in front of somebody and tell them to jump through hoops to get it.  That is emotional manipulation.

I have been married for 26 years.  Do I have a perfect marriage?  No.  It has had, and will continue to have, its ups and its downs.  My parents were married for over 50 years.  Their marriage also had its good and bad times, its happy and sad years.  And from my own marriage and that of my parents, I have learned a few things.  Being married and staying married and loving your spouse never involves an "I will love you if you do x, y, or z for me" attitude.  Loving your wife means hauling the TV into the bedroom when she is in the first trimester of pregnancy, where you can watch your football games while simultaneously stroking her hair, so she will not feel alone and abandoned while she lies exhausted and nauseated in the bed.  Love means comforting your wife if she has to carry the almost unbearable crosses of infertility or pregnancy loss.  Love means seeing your wife's beauty if she loses her hair due to chemotherapy.  Love means holding your wife close to you in bed if there is a time when she is not able to have sex with you due to a health problem.  Loving your wife means taking a few minutes before you go to work in the morning to help her clean up the barf from the toddler's stomach bug.  True family love means helping the kids with the homework assignments that reduce them to tears, picking nits out of their hair during the school-wide lice infestation, attending countless early morning or late night soccer practices, listening enthusiastically to your children as they enthusiastically learn to play the accordion, or sitting by their beds in surgical recovery rooms as they undergo repeated procedures for congenital orthopedic conditions.  Real marital and family love involves a lot of fun, to be sure.  But, it also involves a great deal of self-sacrifice, of putting "the other" first, of patience, of compassion.

So, I guess what I am saying is that even though dating and engagement should be a joyful, happy, fun time, it should also carry with it some of the attitude that will enable that initial, exuberant, feet-off-the-floor love to become a lasting, life-long, committed love.  And an essential part of that attitude is learning to view the other person in the correct manner -- with respect, dignity, and appreciation.  You need to learn to serve, rather than be served.  And demanding sandwiches in return for an engagement ring -- a beautiful gift that is a sign of a commitment to a life-long, selfless love -- is no part of this equation. 

I see around me these days many young women (and, by young, I mean ages 22 to 35) who really want to marry and have a family.  And I see a lot of guys with the attitude of "Mr. Sandwich."  And I see these young women bending over backwards to please these guys, to earn their love, to get that ring with all that it promises.  And I have seen a lot of disasters unfold, which are especially sad when they take place after the wedding ceremony has been held and the babies have arrived.  So, I just want to encourage you beautiful, young women to have some confidence and self-respect.  See yourselves as being worthy of the truly good love of a truly good man.  Real love does not involve "party trick deal-making."  And as my father said -- many, many times -- "It is better to be single than to marry the wrong guy." 

And to you guys who are good guys who have been messed with by less-than-good women, I apologize if I sound like I'm being too hard on men in this post.  I know that many men are very, very good -- worthy "husband material."  And I know that there are women who seem more interested in the ring and the dress and the reception than in the actual marriage.  That sucks, too.  So, basically, it goes both ways.  Good marriages start with people of good character who are authentically good to each other.

Finally, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

For The Women --
     1. Would he still stay with you and consider marrying you if you didn't make him any sandwiches?
     2. Would he still stay with you and consider marrying you if you didn't sleep with him?
     3. Is he the kind of man who would stay with you if you were infertile or had other types of health problems?
     4. Is he the kind of man who would appreciate your beauty even if you had some stretch marks and hemorrhoids from child-bearing?  How about as you get older?
     5.  Is he the kind of man who would treat you with affection (both emotional and physical), even if you couldn't have sex for a little while -- such as after giving birth?
     6.  Is he the kind of man who would be a good father -- putting his children's needs before his own?
     7.  Is he patient, even-tempered, and good-humored?
     8.  Does he make you feel cherished and accepted JUST AS YOU ARE?

For The Men --
     1. Would she still want to marry you even if you couldn't afford an engagement ring or a fancy honeymoon?
     2.  Does she care about your work, your stresses, your anxieties -- or are you just a source of fun and entertainment?
     3.  What is more important to her -- your happiness or the home decor?
     4.  Does she make a habit out of gossip?
     5.  How does she react to the antics of Miley Cyrus?  (a.k.a. -- Is she compassionate?)
     6.  Is she the kind of woman who would be a good mother -- putting her children's needs before her own?
     7.  Is she patient, even-tempered, and good-humored?
     8.  Does she make you feel cherished and accepted JUST AS YOU ARE?

Monday, September 23, 2013

How People Get Conned

I am kind of a push-over.  And a bit of a people-pleaser.  And easy to guilt-trip.  And sorta naive.

So, I have been conned more than once.

This has led me to examine the methods used by con-artists to con me.  I have noticed these methods being used on others, also.  I thought I'd give y'all a little heads-up, based on my observations over the years.  This post is also a warning to myself, for I fear being conned again in the future.  In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if I am currently being conned.  But, anyway...

First of all, con artists are friendly.  The bad ones are overly-friendly, thus they are not quite so successful.  The good ones, though, are friendly in just the right amount.  They retain some self-respect and even a tad of aloofness in their friendliness.  But, friendly they are.  This is necessary to establish first contact with you, to develop a rapport, or even a kind of seeming friendship. (Notice that "friendly" and "friendship" both contain the same root word.)

Secondly, con artists are sure to communicate to you the idea that they hold values in common with you.  They are good at "reading" people -- at seeing what you hold dear.  These values may involve politics, religion, education, marriage, parenting, sex roles, abortion, contraception, Natural Family Planning, money, healthcare, diet, exercise...  Whatever values are most important to you, skilled con artists are quite adept at discovering.  And once they discover what is important to you, they are quite good at behaving as though they share those values.  They can deliver Oscar-worthy performances.  They may also sincerely agree with your opinions.  In fact, good con artists often target those of their own religious and political affiliations.

Thirdly, adept con artists see what people need or desire, and they develop their "business" in an attempt to fulfill that need or desire.  Do you need more money because you have been laid off or your children are going to college or you have been a victim of the financial crisis?  You can choose from a variety of pyramid schemes to earn that sought-after higher income.  Or one of your church buddies might offer you his "investment services" (a.k.a. ponzi scheme).  Are you suffering from health problems, but lack insurance or success with "regular" doctors?  Well, there's always someone willing to hook you up to some electrodes and give you a mystery potion to cure what ails you.  Are you out-of-shape and need exercise?  Join our health club for a very reasonable fee, but be sure to sign up for a few extra services (for a lot of extra cash) in order to really reap the benefits you deserve.

Even people who could not really be called "con artists" can be pretty adept at pressuring you into doing what they think you should do.  Some of these people aren't even earning any money.  They might just gain satisfaction from having others do their bidding.  They have some kind of idea of themselves as leaders called by God.  They may be operating under the impression that they have been uniquely chosen by their Higher Power for a special mission.  Or they might believe their own delusions and actually feel like they are doing good for society.  In this day and age, with all the scary things going on in the world, it is not hard to convince people to follow after you if you promise some kind of delivery from the stresses and fears of modern life.  This is especially easy to do if you have some kind of "evidence" to back you up, combined with an air of confidence and (at least what may seem on the outside to be) a happy life yourself.  If you behave as though you possess what others want, and if you have some basic leadership skills, it is not that difficult to attract a following, of sorts.

And if you start to question these manipulative people?  They will often guilt-trip you, accusing you of not being a true Christian or dedicated student or faithful friend or loving spouse or conscientious parent.

And if you stand your ground with a con artist (or any person trying to exert undue influence)?  It will really tell you a lot about his or her true character and motivation.

The bottom line is this.  Your ability and right to make your own decisions for your life -- about your religion, your politics, your money, your family -- should be respected by others.  And a good person will respect your autonomy, your dignity, your choices.  Of course, good people can have disagreements about things, even about values.  Good people may try to influence others, but it will be done in the right spirit, without veiled (or even overt) threats concerning anyone's immortal souls, educations, or finances.  And nobody will take their friendship away from you if you don't behave according to their will. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Of Circuses And Saints

This seems to be my week for getting irritated with things I see floating around the web.

Today's doozy is this:

"If your church's worship feels like a circus, don't be surprised if its members act like animals and clowns."

The guy who came up with this gem is a "Professor of Theology and Church History."  He is Catholic, I assume, based on where I saw it.  And when I saw it, I was ever so thankful for Pope Francis and the things he has been saying lately.

If you are not Catholic, you may not really understand what this guy means.  If you are Catholic, you probably have a clue.  Based on the context, I assume this professor is especially enamored of more traditional liturgical worship.  Perhaps he is a fan of the Latin Mass, polyphony, chant, hymns, chapel veils, and a quiet, peaceful, contemplative atmosphere during Mass.  And the things he might think of as a circus?  I might be going out on a limb here, but perhaps he is referring to a more modern musical style for liturgy, which may be comprised of Praise and Worship Music, accompanied by drums, electric guitars, the bass, and a certain amount of congregational hand-raising or swaying in the pews.  He may also be thinking of the presider asking the people to greet each other before Mass begins, the priest occasionally coming down among his flock during the liturgy, and a congregation that is a bit more spirited at certain points throughout the Mass (such as at the Sign of Peace).

Now, first of all, I just have to take issue with the whole tone of this professor's statement.  It is arrogant, condescending, and disrespectful.  It sounds to me like something the scribes and pharisees might have said in Jesus' day when they saw our Lord surrounded by and speaking with all of the "sinners" out in the countryside.  This professor is taking an unnecessary and cruel swipe at people who are probably sincerely seeking God.  I am reminded of how the "righteous" people in Jesus' day reacted when he ate dinner at the homes of tax collectors and allowed "sinful" women to do such things as cry their tears on His feet.  I mean, come on, referring to your fellow Catholics as "animals and clowns?"  If I were a non-Catholic thinking of converting and I heard this coming out of the mouth of a respected professor of "Theology and Church History," I'd probably make a hasty retreat from RCIA.  Catholics, and all Christians, are called to meekness and understanding.  This statement is the antithesis of those things.  (Heck.  Maybe I'm not being very meek or understanding right now, either.  Oh, well...)

Secondly, as Catholics, we recognize that there are different forms of spirituality.  What helps one person in his/her journey to and with God may not help another.  What helps a person at one point in life may not help at another.  That is why the Pope and the Bishops and the priests allow (and, occasionally, "put up with") different types of worship in church.  I'm not saying the Mass should be warped into some kind of nearly unrecognizable form.  There is a need for observing what is necessary.  But, the more "traditional" voices in the Church sometimes tend to take on an air of all-knowing superiority in this area.  Deciding what is allowed and not allowed is, many times, a matter for each Bishop to decide.  And, perhaps, allowing certain things -- such as hand-holding during the "Our Father" -- is being made in wisdom and understanding by our pastors for the edification of many of the people in the Church.  So, in my opinion, some of these people who consider themselves to be the more "faithful" Catholics should just bite their tongues and refrain from putting unkind statements on the internet.

I know I could be blasted here by the Catholics who are more "in-the-know" about Catholic things.  I could be accused of approving of liturgical abuses, and such.  I do not intend to approve of liturgical abuses.  But, there is room for at least some diversity in church worship.  And we need to allow our Bishops and priests to do their job, part of which is to know and guide their individual and diverse flocks, giving space for the things which might edify the particular people who make up each one.

For example, I enjoy attending the Latin Mass occasionally.  The music is beautiful.  The language is stirring.  The atmosphere is very contemplative, assisting me in reflection and prayer.  There are many people who feel that their souls are truly at rest when they attend this traditional Mass.  It is a beautiful thing.

BUT, I also LOVE going to St. Monica's in Santa Monica.  The 5:30 pm Sunday evening Mass is my favorite.  As you enter the church, the ushers greet you in a way that actually makes you feel welcome.  Often, the person sitting next to you in the pew will greet you, also -- in a warm, authentic manner.  The priest asks the people to say hello to each other before Mass begins.  And the people do it, in a way that is meaningful and unifying.  I have never felt so welcome in a church in my life.  They have an extremely talented band at St. Monica's, consisting of keyboards, drums, electric guitars, and bass.  There is a large choir, each member of which could easily win "American Idol."  I kid you not.  Their music consists of a mix of styles, mostly modern and Praise and Worship, but some more traditional music, also.  And it is AMAZING.  The pastor clearly knows and loves his people.  His sermons are uplifting and always help you on your spiritual journey.  On Mothers' Day, we moms were asked to stand around the altar during the Consecration.  Some of you are probably completely freaking out now, but that's okay.  My daughter Andrea -- a pretty traditional Catholic, herself -- told me afterwards, with a big smile on her face, "You looked SO happy."  And I was.  I have gone to St. Monica's four times, the first time almost 20 years ago.  I believe the pastor all those years ago was the same one who is there presently.  That first time I went, I was at a very low point in my faith -- the lowest in my life.  St. Monica's is the reason I didn't leave the Church. 

Andrea, who has a film degree, told me that she thinks St. Monica's is so special for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it is right next to Hollywood, so it is a parish attended by many of the Catholics in the film industry, thus accounting for all the talent.  I'm not just talking about the music, either.  You should hear the lectors.  Mind-blowing.  Also, as Andrea reminds me, Hollywood is a pretty cut-throat, high-stress, competitive place.  The pastor of this wonderful parish is well aware of that fact, and he has created a community for his flock where they will truly fit in, belong, find comfort -- and be able to exercise their irrepressible creativity.

So, I guess that's why I get ticked off when I see statements like the one made by this professor.  A lot of the more conservative Catholics would probably look at St. Monica's as an example of what he meant when he made his little assertion.  His totally unfair assertion.  Because I know from my own life and the lives of people I have encountered that some of the best Catholics -- Christians who will help you through thick and through thin, who will be there for you when you are aching and in need, the saints of our day -- might be the so-called "animals and clowns" from those so-called "circuses."

And this is why I am so grateful for Pope Francis.  Because I think he's putting the emphasis back where it needs to be in the Church.  Yes, there is a place for rules and regulations.  But, in the end, people's spiritual lives are the priority.  Helping people to have a relationship with God is the priority.  And people of all different stripes are sincerely looking for God -- gay, straight, male, female, transgender, rich, poor, old, young, married, single.  So, if you like the traditional Latin Mass, that is wonderful.  But, not everybody is made that way.  So, don't take cruel, needless, low-class swipes at those who might march to the beat of a different drummer.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Joe and Jennifer


You know?  The football dude and his lovely wife.  I have been having fond recollections of them lately.

Joe Montana was the glorious quarterback for the 49ers back in their 1980's hey-day.  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so that was "our" team.  My dad was a great fan of the 49ers and -- I must say -- he was a bit miffed with me because I never paid any attention to them.  Until, of course, Joe Montana and Dwight Clark joined the team.  And then my dad was miffed with me because it seemed I was only paying attention to the 'Niners because of Joe and Dwight.  That is a little bit fair, but not entirely.  It's just that when this Dynamic Duo joined the team, I was of the age where I could finally begin to truly appreciate the sport.  And the way the players' uniform pants fit them. And the way Joe's blond curls peeked out from beneath his helmet.

So, anyway...

As the story goes, my Auntie Norma worked for a Catholic parish in the Bay Area.  The pastor of this parish was the Chaplain for the 49ers.  I think this was because the owner of the 49ers, at the time, was an Italian Catholic dude.  Now, my aunt, she loved to talk.  She was delightfully chatty.  So, apparently, was the pastor.  Therefore, I was privileged to be treated to many wondrous tales of Joe and Dwight.  Please, don't get me wrong.  Joe and Dwight were fine young men.  No scandal was involved.  In fact, upon occasion, I used to go to Mass at the church where my aunt worked, even though it was not my regular church.  Oftentimes, the homilies would be tales of how Joe Montana exemplified the qualities of our Lord Jesus in the Gospels.  I kid you not.

Being fine, young, attractive, single guys, Joe and Dwight did date.  Dwight was the first to succumb to marriage.  And his wedding was held -- I bet you can guess -- at the parish where Auntie Norma worked.  I think she was allowed to surreptitiously watch the ceremony from some hidden alcove in the back of the church.  Joe?  He took a bit longer to find the right gal.  And it seems that he lived for a while with Dwight and Dwight's new bride.  Dwight's bride would sit up with Joe after he came home from dates, and dispense good advice to him about the ladies.  Such was the tale, anyway...

Eventually, Joe did find The One.  She was a beautiful, tall, blond model named Jennifer.  They met while shooting a commercial -- something having to do with shaving.  If memory serves, I believe she got to stroke his face in the commercial while he looked all pleased as punch.  It was a cute commercial.  As I heard it told, Jennifer invited him out after the shoot, because it was held in a city unfamiliar to Joe, but familiar to her.   So, taking pity on him, she offered to show him around.  And that, as they say, was that.

Anyway, all of us back home in Redwood City were a bit suspicious -- at first -- of this gorgeous creature who (whom?) Joe brought home from the commercial.  She seemed a bit of an interloper.  We wondered what kind of character she possessed.  Was she just "after" Joe for superficial things?  Like his good looks, his fame, his cash?  We observed the situation -- always with the assistance of my aunt who was "in the know" -- very carefully.

Word came to us, though, via the Chaplain, who spoke to my aunt, who spoke to the rest of us more distant onlookers, that this lady was quite wonderful.  She and Joe were soon married.  You can guess where.  I believe my aunt was again allowed to take up her post at the back of the church to observe the nuptials.  It was quite a grand time.

Joe and Jennifer are still married.  They have four beautiful kids.  While living in the Bay Area, they attended Mass at the church to which I have been referring.  I used to see them there, because Jennifer stood taller than most of the men and was the most striking woman I had ever seen in person.  She used to do her hair in a little blond ponytail, tied up with a black ribbon.  She was a doll.

And this whole thing taught me a lesson, because I had always assumed that a drop-dead-gorgeous model would be sort of a snob.  You know?  Rather aloof?  But, Jennifer Montana was the farthest thing from that.  Joe, himself, was rather shy.  Lots of people thought he was arrogant, but he really wasn't.  He was just shy.  If there had been Twitter at the time, I'm pretty darned positive that he would have had nothing to do with it.  Jennifer, on the other hand, was a warm, outgoing lady.  She kind of bridged the gap between Joe and the fans.  She softened his rather hard image quite a bit by the way she spoke about him and by the way she, herself, would interact with his fans.  I heard a story once that their family was at the fair and a bunch of kids ran up to Joe for autographs.  He -- according to his usual habit -- evaded them.  His wife, though, turned to the kids, smiled, and spoke to them about how Joe was just a private person and was enjoying the day with his family.  She assured them of his appreciation for them.  What a lady.

I also noticed that after they were married, Joe seemed to relax a bit.  He appeared more content.  He became a wonderful dad.  I saw a video recently of one of their sons, who is playing football this year for Tulane (I believe).  What a lovely young man -- big smile, outgoing, happy, great attitude.  And I felt so grateful that, all those years ago, some agent, somewhere, thought Joe should make a shaving commercial with a striking blond bombshell of a gal.  And I was also grateful that I had a Catholic aunt, who loved to chat.  Rest in peace, Auntie Norma.

Friday, September 13, 2013

God Is Not A Gumball Machine

You know what I mean?

This post is just my little old opinion.  I'm no theologian, or anything.

It just seems to me that, at times in life, we kinda expect God to be like a gumball machine.  Or a vending machine.  We want to put the right currency in and have delightful things come out.  We have a desire -- a good desire.  Or a need -- a real need.  Or a terrible situation that we want to see put aright.  So, we have our Masses said, we do our Novenas, we pray our Rosaries, we pray in our own sincere, heartfelt words -- our currency -- and we try to have true Christian hope that God will grant our petitions. 

Please don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with any of that.  It's all good.

Sometimes, though, I see a little bit of a problem.

Sometimes, I see people fast and pray and do all the "right" things, and their prayers are answered according to their wishes.  They get the "gumball."  And people talk about how they got the desired outcome because of all these spiritual things they did, or because of their holiness, or because of their great faith.  Sometimes, people even encourage those who have a real need by telling them that if they just have faith enough that their prayer will be answered in the way they hope.  And when their prayer is answered "positively," everyone celebrates this great faith, the great spiritual efforts put forth.  Everyone talks about how good God is because the desired outcome was granted.

But, you know, plenty of times our prayers don't seem to be answered.  At least not in the way we want them to be.  There is plenty of effort by the "prayer warriors."  Nobody seems to be slacking off.  But, employment or health or the return of "prodigal" children does not happen.  And I kind of worry about this.  I worry that the people who don't have their prayers answered in the "right" way will feel that they did something wrong.  That somehow they are not deserving.  That God does not love them as much as He loves the people whose "wishes come true."

I think about this a lot.  And I began thinking about it more yesterday, because I read an article in which a Christian woman spoke about how many of her Christian friends and acquaintances became atheists because of the financial crisis.  They felt like they had done everything to the best of their ability to please God, and then He didn't seem to be holding up His end of the bargain when they lost so much -- jobs, homes, life savings -- in the economic crash. 

Now, I know plenty of people who have lost much, who don't seem to get their prayers answered, and they still have faith that God is there.  They have faith that He is using everything for their good.  But, it must be pretty tough for them when they see Christians rejoicing over someone else's good fortune, when they hear people talking about how good God is because he granted x, y, or z to someone.   I also wonder if, at times, people who want to be "good" Christians don't express their hurt and disappointment in the way God seems to be treating them, because they don't want to set a bad example for others.  They don't want to give scandal.  So, I think -- perhaps -- that there are times when people try to have faith, or try to give an outward impression of having faith, when they are really struggling inside and the rest of us just can't see it.

What to do?  I don't really know.  I guess I have just come to a place in my life where I feel that the only real alternative -- the only way for me to have faith -- is just to speak to God honestly.  I try to speak to Him about my life and others' lives, what I like and don't like, where I am happy and where I am disappointed.  I just lay it all out for Him.  And then I try to trust that He is there.  I try to trust that He loves me and everybody else, too.  I ask Him to get us all home to Him, somehow.  And I try not to talk too incredibly much in the face of other people's pain.  Because, in wanting to help somebody out, I can really talk too much.  So, now, I'm trying to be quieter, to just listen more, to just be there.  I don't talk about all the prayers we should do or the faith we should have or even how I trust God to send a good outcome.  I don't say, "I trust that God will fully heal so-and-so of their cancer." (Believe me, I have heard people say such things.)  Because I don't know that God will do that.  But, I do believe God is with us and loves us.  I don't always understand why He allows what He allows.  And I'm not going to pretend that I do.  I'm not going to put on an act.  So, I will just try to be present to those who are hurting, and I will just try to trust in the presence of God.  And I will trust Him to handle it when I get annoyed with Him for allowing crap to happen in the world.  He's big enough for that. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Have Figured Out What Is Going On

It is the 60's again.


Except, this time, the "hippies" have left their VW vans behind and have gone to grad school and are busy gathering "data."

Lest you think I am poking fun at these "new hippies," let me assure you, I am NOT.  I was born in 1963, and when I was a little girl, I always had a real fondness for the hippies.  Of course, my mother told me stories about how they used LSD and jumped out of windows.  That was not so impressive.  Thence, when I actually encountered hippies in real life, I was a bit timid, being aware of their potential unpredictability, and all.  But, I admired them, as well.  I admired their disdain for material goods, their passion for civil rights, their desire to make society better for the poor and underprivileged, their hatred of war, their comfort with their bodies, and their less-than-prudish attitudes about sex.  (Okay.  So, that last thing?  Maybe they took it a bit too far.  But, hey, they were reacting to a society that was, perhaps, a tad too "uptight.") 

Eventually, though, the hippies kind of faded out.  The 1980's rolled around, along with a new mind-set.  Conservatism was "in" again.  Guys sported short hair and women's hem-lines dropped, giving the impression of a renewed sexual propriety.  (Was this an illusion?  Yes, in many ways.  Plenty of sex was still going on.)  People became more interested in pursuing material well-being.  A negative outlook toward taxes and the "welfare state" developed.  Why?  Maybe because there were many mistakes made in the implementation of a lot of liberal ideals, mistakes which did cause pain for the middle class.  So, in the 80's, we young people decided to get MBA's and make ourselves lots of money.  (I, though, became a teacher.  You should have heard some of the crap I got from the business students at my university.  These business students used to strut about in their suits and ties and shiny shoes, making fun of the rest of us non-business students.  I shit you not.)

Time rolled on, of course, and the weaknesses and pitfalls contained in the ideas of the "Reagan Revolution" began to show.

Thus, here comes my little hypothesis:

The hippies of the 1960's never really went away.  They just sort of went stealth.  They finished their educations, dressed more normally, got normal jobs, lived in normal neighborhoods, and gave up drugs (mostly).  And -- most importantly -- THEY HAD BABIES.  And they raised these babies with their liberal (now known as "progressive") ideals.  But, did they send them off to live in communes and VW vans and to grow their own organic food?  Well, some of them did.  HOWEVER, a lot of these 60's hippies earned good money and sent their idealistically-raised babies to the finest universities, where they earned undergraduate degrees and graduate degrees, and learned things such as history and law and economics and public relations and data mining.  And now these children of the hippies have come of age, and are flexing their well-educated muscles in a way their parents never could.

So, I give you:

The progressives of today.  Young, idealistic, enthusiastic, fresh-faced.  And SMART.  And CONFIDENT.  And MOTIVATED.

Motivated to do what?  To make this world a better place -- truly a place of equality and freedom and justice.

And I hope they do it.  I think they are much better prepared to do it than their parents were.

But, I hope that in working toward making our society a truly "great" one that they will carefully attend to the lessons of the past.  I hope that they will not altogether discount traditional ways of looking at things and more "conservative" voices.  (Not the d-bag conservatives, but the nice ones.  I truly believe that there are at least a few of those hanging around in coffee shops somewhere.)  Because, as my very wise father used to say, "Before you change the way something is done, you should look at why it was done that way in the first place.  Maybe there were good reasons."  Yes, sometimes things have been done in certain ways for all the wrong reasons.  Although, that is not always the case.

And that brings me to a little request I have of my fellow conservatives.  (All right.  I know I'm not all that conservative.  But, whatever.)  Please don't make fun of today's younger progressives.  Don't treat them with disdain and contempt.  Don't call them communists and fascists -- for they are absolutely NOT that.  They are intelligent people of good-will and you should treat them as such.  Impart any "wisdom" you feel you have in a way that is respectful.  If you don't, anything beneficial you have to say to them will fall on deaf ears.  They are bright.  They truly want a better world.  Work with them. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Next Summer, I Am Getting A Bikini

If I'm still alive and kicking, anyway.

But, don't worry, I won't be wearing it to any public places.

It's just that we have, in our backyard, what is known as a dough-boy pool.  It's one of those above-ground pools, which is composed of a metal frame and a vinyl liner.  You get into and out of it via an attached ladder.  The one we have is fairly large.  And it is wonderful.  We live in a canyon in SoCal, where it gets roasting hot in the summer months, so this pool is something which my family enjoys immensely.

As a "more mature" woman, I always buy one-piece bathing suits.  Why?  Well, you know how it is.  Stretch marks from childbearing, a few drooping parts, some rolls where there used to be smooth tightness.  All the signs of age and experience.  And I wish to spare others the sight of such phenomena, as a general rule.

But, this is the thing.  One piece bathing suits are a pain in the ass.  You have to haul them up over your whole non-smooth, slightly rounded, middle-aged self and straighten them out painstakingly.  And getting them on and off when your skin is damp?  Don't even talk to me about it.  Also, with all the fabric, they tend to drip a lot more when you emerge from the water, which is quite inconvenient if you have to go into the house for some reason.  Your tummy stays pale all summer long, too.  How sad is that?  Because even if you're not going to attempt to rock the half-shirt look, a white tummy staring you back at you from your mirror during July is just depressing.


I am getting a bikini next summer.  Only to be used in my own backyard, in my own dough-boy pool.  Yes, my family will have to deal with it.  But, I have faith in their ability to suck it up. 

And if you want to know what finally inspired me to come to this conclusion, here is a little story:

The summer after I graduated from high school, I was privileged to spend five weeks in Europe.  During one week of the trip, I was a passenger on a Greek cruise ship that was equipped with a swimming pool.  The ship stopped at various Greek islands, where we were able to disembark and (often) go to the beach.  It was a fantastic time.  And one thing I noticed were the various older ladies wearing bikinis.  One of these women, in particular, I will never forget.  She was probably in her 70's.  She was not overweight, but she was quite "wrinkly."  She had wrinkles and sags and bags everywhere, like most women in their 70's probably do.  But, she boldly wore her bikini to the ship's pool.  She swam and splashed and sunbathed enthusiastically and unashamedly, along with her companions.  I had never seen anything like that in the States.  I was really impressed by her confident, fun-loving, youthful attitude.  Another thing that impressed me about the situation was that none of the European travelers seemed to notice or care.  And I found myself being slightly sad that we, in the good old USA, aren't more like these easy-going Europeans.

I have thought of that lady from time-to-time, over the years.  This summer, though, as I hauled my one-piece swim suit up and over my fifty-year-old frame, I thought about her a lot.  And I decided, "Dammit. I can have a bikini, too.  And I will have a bikini.  Next summer."  Although, I am not as brave and admirable as that lady on the Greek cruise ship, so y'all don't have to worry about seeing me in it.  Unless "y'all" are my husband and kids. ;-)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Standing With President Obama

Let me preface this by saying that I didn't exactly vote for President Obama.  I don't agree with all of his positions.  Sometimes, his manner kind of gets on my nerves.  But, neither do I believe that he is an evil man.  And I admire many of his ideals.

Now President Obama is kind of between a rock and a hard place with this whole Syrian situation.  Many opinions are being flung at him from near and from far.  Members of Congress, members of the press, celebrities, ordinary American citizens, the Pope, leaders of other countries, and the Syrian people themselves are all weighing in.  This is NOT, of course, inappropriate.

What is inappropriate?  At least in my opinion?  I have been seeing a great number of snarky, rude, ignorant, uninformed statements being tossed around over the "airwaves" (as we used to call them in the olden days).

Why do I believe this to be inappropriate?  Because, at some point, President Obama is going to have to make a decision.  He will have to choose our country's course of action in response to the alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, by Syrians, on Syrians.  And, when he does, if the citizens of our country are seen by the world as fighting in an uncivilized manner with one another, if we are seen as a country divided and coming apart at the seams, it is just going to make the situation in Syria worse.  The "bad guys" in Syria are going to look at how we -- in the United States -- can't even get along with each other and they are going to use that to their advantage.  They will use our bad behavior as an excuse not to change their own bad behavior, and even, perhaps, as cover for more bad behavior. 

Please don't think I am saying that we should all shut our mouths and line up like complacent sheep behind President Obama, no matter what he does.  I am not saying that.  In a country in which freedom of speech holds pride of place, all should be encouraged to express their points of view.  But, because we do have this precious right to speak freely, we need to understand that we bear some responsibility for how we use that right.  We need to express ourselves in an informed and educated manner.  We need to speak in a way that is measured.  Our tone should reflect some sense of appreciation for the inherent complexity of the situation.  We need to be thoughtful and classy people.  This is my idea, at least, of what it means to be an adult citizen of the United States of America.  Because, yes, we have many "rights."  But, those rights bring with them a need to behave in a mature, civilized manner.  Otherwise, we just hurt our country, our world, each other -- and ourselves.

So, when the rubber hits the road and President Obama makes what has to be one of the most difficult decisions of his life, I hope we can be respectful toward him.  I hope we can appreciate all the factors that are going into that decision.  I hope we will realize that there is sensitive information to which he is privy and the rest of us are not.  I hope we will stand with him, as the man we elected to be our President, even if we disagree with him, showing the world that we are, truly, one nation (whether or not we all concur about the "under God" part).