Wednesday, October 31, 2012

religion? no thanks

I've discovered my favorite chapter so far in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment by Robert Capon.  Allow me to share a few paragraphs from chapter 10, entitled Interlude on an Objection.  I've taken the liberty of highlighting a few statements in bold.
Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.  Religion consists of all the things (... behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God.  About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make.  The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans).  The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection.  For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten.  The church is not in the religion business.  It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade.  The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business.

The Gospel of grace: salvation freely given out of love.  Now comes the question: if we are sinners no matter how hard we try to be good, then why not just go ahead and do all sorts of bad, seemingly pleasurable activities?
The reason for not going out and sinning all you like is the same as the reason for not going out and putting your nose in a slicing machine: it's dumb, stupid, and no fun.  Some individual sins may have pleasure still attached to them because of the residual goodness of the realities they are abusing: adultery can indeed be pleasant, and tying one on can amuse.  But betrayal, jealousy, love grown cold, and the gray dawn of the morning after are nobody's idea of a good time.
On the other hand, there's no use belaboring that point, because it never stopped anybody.  And neither did religion.  The notion that people won't sin as long as you keep them well supplied with guilt and holy terror is a bit overblown.  Giving the human race religious reasons for not sinning is about as useful as reading lectures to an elephant in rut.  We have always, in the pinches, done what we damn pleased, and God has let us do it.  His answer to sin is not to scream, "Stop that!" but to shut up once and for all on the subject in Jesus' death.
Furthermore, the usual objection... that people will take such graciousness on his part as permission to sin, is equally nonsensical.  For one thing, he made us free, so we already have his permission—not his advice, mind you, nor his consent, nor his enthusiasm—but definitely his promise not to treat us like puppets.  For another... the whole idea of people actually being encouraged to seduce maidens, or water stock, or poison wells by the agony and death of Jesus on the cross is simply ludicrous.  We ourselves, thank you very much, are all the encouragement we need for dastardly deeds.
I am left, therefore, with the unhappy suspicion that people who are afraid the preaching of grace will encourage sin are in fact people who resent the righteousness they have forced themselves into.  Having led "good" lives... they seethe inwardly at any suggestion that God may not be as hard on drug pushers and child molesters as they always thought he would be on themselves.

That explains things better than I could. Thanks, Robert F. Capon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

about me

I'm reading a book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron which aims to help people get their creativity flowing in the midst of recovering from life's messes and wounds.  The author suggests some writing exercises and encourages artists to be kind to themselves while being cautious around anyone who, by their words or behavior, threatens to hinder creative recovery.

I'm going to share some of my work from the book here.  If you don't agree that I should do this publicly, you don't have to stick around.  Go suck on a lollipop or something.

Writing is, especially today, an activity I'm doing as a way to care for myself.  And I'm more motivated to write if I know someone's reading it, so here I am.

So now... some exercises:

1. My favorite childhood toy was my raggedy-ann doll (that's me with her in the photo above).  I named her Melissa.  She had a red heart sewn on her chest and wore a yellow flowered dress.  I think I became attached to her because she was softer than the other dolls that had plastic faces, and she was easy to carry.  One time I forgot her at a restaurant and I was so distraught my Dad had to go back and get her.  I'm sure I had many conversations with Melissa, though I don't remember them.

2. Best movie I ever saw as a kid: I liked Annie, mostly because of the songs.  I would sing "Tomorrow" over and over again, and I was rather upset when my teacher chose Jessica instead of me for playing the part of Annie the little orphan girl.

3. My favorite childhood game: Scavenger hunts.  I still really like them.

4. I don't do it much but I enjoy playing board games and cards.  Kevin and I did this a lot when we were dating.  We'd get together with my sister, Stephanie, and her husband Rob and play Settlers of Catan or Rook.  And I loved playing Canasta with large groups of people while camping at Saltspring Island.  I haven't played that one in so long that I've forgotten how.

5. If I could lighten up a little I'd... um... have more fun??

6. If it weren't too late I'd elope rather than have a wedding ceremony and all that.  I think weddings are expensive and overrated.  It's the actual marriage that matters most.

There are more of these exercises.  I might share them with you later if I feel like it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

brothers and mice

Paula, a broody twelve-year-old, had mice, each in its own shoebox.  She set them in a row on the dining room table, sat down and grabbed hold of her dress which was the color of stop signs.  She looked from one box to another, trying to decide.

She lifted the lid of the first and inside was the tiniest of her mice, the youngest.  Her name was Binky.  She was curled up, small and weak, amongst pink baby cloths with her eyes shut.

Paula’s older brother, Charles, approached and peered in at Binky.  “She stinks!  Let’s give her a bath!” he said, and disappeared into the kitchen around the corner.

He returned with a Tupperware container of warm sudsy water, plopped her in, and with one of the cloths began to rub her wee head.  Binky squeaked in protest. 

“You have to wash every part,” said Charles, and proceeded to rub the mouse all over.

“You’re hurting her!” said Paula.  And when he wouldn’t stop, the mouse squeaked again.

“That’s too rough!  Don’t!” said Paula, hitting him on the arm.  But it was too late.  Paula began to cry.

“Oh, shut up,” said Charles.  “You’re not a baby anymore.”

With a wincing face, she scooped up Binky and held her to the light.  “You have to have hands gentle like a breeze, or you’ll hurt her.”

She examined the mouse.  “Aww, poor thing.”

“I don’t see any owies,” said Charles.

“They’re not the kind you can see,” said Paula, “They’re the worser kind.”

Charles shrugged then carried the bath container away.

“Oh, Binky, why didn’t you do something?  Why didn’t you bite him?” she said.  She lowered her into the box, covered her with the remaining cloths, and put the lid on.

There was commotion inside the second box.  Paula tried the lid but it was stuck.  How many were in there and what were they doing?!  While she heard rustling and the scratching of feet, vague and fragmented images emerged in her mind.  Images of flesh and fur and tails.  It made her feel as if she were choking and locked inside a hot, fog-filled and crowded room.

She pushed that box aside and opened the third one.  Inside was a mouse, larger than the first, whose name was Alien.  He wore an outfit, a yellow shirt and blue pants.  Paula smiled.

Her other brother, Henry, snuck over.  “Why does he have clothes on?”

“’Cause they look nice,” said Paula.

“He doesn’t need ‘em on.”  He picked Alien up by the tail and swung him into his other hand.

Paula inhaled sharply and froze.  “Oh no,” she whispered, “Oh no, no, no.”

“Come on, little guy.  You’re just so cute.  I can’t get over it.”  He pulled at the mouse’s shirt.

“Henry,” said Paula, “I want his outfit to stay on until he gets a playmate.”

“Aw, I just wanna look at his fur,” said Henry, and tore off the shirt.  When he tried for the pants, Alien bit him hard on the finger.  Henry cursed then dumped him into his box.

Paula picked up the shirt, put the lid on, and ran to get her mother’s sewing kit.  It took much longer than she was hoping, but she managed a rough stitching job and put the shirt back onto Alien who sniffed and looked around tentatively.

She put the lid back on again and pulled the fourth box over.  The lid came off easily and she looked in at nothing which, at the same time, was a very big something, a giant invisible mouse.  She had read about this one when she was doing a school project on cruelty to animals.

This one had been seized and taken to a secret drawer wherein her captor stuffed pieces of cotton ball into her mouth, then tortured and violated her with various objects.  The mouse survived, Paula knew that much, but she couldn’t finish reading about it for she was in anguish.

She knew it wasn’t really her mouse, yet there it was in the fourth box.  She picked up the imaginary animal by its tail and threw it out the window, but it scurried back in and that’s when she realized she couldn’t deal with all those mice by herself.

Paula stacked the four boxes in the corner of the living room and waited expectantly for ideas of what to do next.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

the sound of crying

The stone was small and brown, pockmarked and worn by rain.  When Kendra spotted it in the neighbor’s lush wet grass, she thought she heard someone weeping and picked it up.

When she entered the kitchen, her father raised his eyebrows above the edge of his newspaper.  “Watcha got there?”

“A rock.”

“Oh, you found one?  Tell me about it.”

Kendra began to fidget.  “Well, it’s brown.”

“Uh huh… where’d you find it?  By the back shed?”

“No.  It’s from next door.”

He pushed his cup of coffee aside, rubbed his fingers through his black hair, and put down his newspaper.  “Kendra,” he said, “That’s not acceptable.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t trust the neighbors.  I hear they’re just like the Catholics.”

“What’s wrong with Catholics?”

“They’re strange.  They’re not real believers like us.  We are the Christians and we know what we're talking about!  Catholics, on the other hand, have it all wrong.  They worship Mary.”

“How do you know they worship Mary?”

“Your grandfather said so.  And when I tell him about that stone, he’s going to be furious!  Put it back where you found it, get one from our own yard, and never go to the neighbors’ again!”

The next day Kendra kept it hidden in her pocket.

“Did you get rid of that stone?” her dad asked.

“No.  I want to keep it.”

Kendra’s grandfather barged through the front door with an air of superiority.  “What’s this I hear about a rock?!  Let me see it!”

She stepped back.

“Kendra, this is not up for negotiation.  I’m warning you!”

Kendra tried to escape out the open door, but he grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled the rock from her pocket.  “This thing is going to be the death of you!”

He chucked it hard, trying to get it out the door and off the premises, but with a loud crack it lodged into the adjoining point between the two walls.

And to this very day it remains the Corner Stone.    


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

writers festival: saturday - 2

After my “happy birthday” moment, I made my way over to the Initiation Trilogy put on by Electric Company Theatre.  It was based on poetry by Marita Dachsel, Elizabeth Bachinsky, and Jennica Harper.

As part of the audience, I walked through three theatrical installations.  In between each one, we’d gather in a room where we could have refreshments and divvy up into our groups again.

I won’t say much about the actual installations because I don’t have the energy tonight to describe it all to you.  There were themes of sexuality, feminism, and identity.

Later I walked.  Around the corner from Waterfront Theatre was a sign:

Cats Social House
test kitchen - restaurant - bar - socialize  

I imagined the place full of felines—cats stealthily pawing their way in through the door, curling themselves up onto the bar stools, mewing at the bartender for milk.  Some of them wore hats.  Some sobbed their horror stories of being declawed or spayed or tortured by small children.

I didn’t go in.

Instead, I went into a small shop called Crafthouse.  Inside were paper mache cats a couple inches tall, blown glass birds, flowered bangles, framed sheep with faces made from crossword puzzle answer keys, and other various treasures.  When I reached for the door to leave, I noticed the handle was a First Nations cat’s head.  Cats are everywhere.

Outside a group of mallard ducks waddled around sort of aimlessly amongst fallen leaves on cobblestone.  I admired their amazing webbed feet.

I was woman and alone, so I felt it was best for me to head home before dark.  The bus passed by a corner building called Covenant House.  The sign showed a picture of a hand and dove which reminded me of help and hope.  A purple flower came to mind and I thought of where I’ve been in life’s journey and I was grateful to simply be.    

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

writers festival: saturday - 1

I was much more relaxed the next day.  On the SkyTrain I sat near a window and wrote in a small, pink notebook on the way to Waterfront Station.

When I got on the bus I forgot which way I was supposed to insert my ticket into the grabber machine so the driver helped me.  He seemed depressed.  I began to imagine what his life might be like.  Maybe someone close to him recently died or he was going through a break-up.

Maybe he didn’t like his job.  Did he feel used?  Oppressed?  And I thought about how his work was very important.  If it weren’t for him, we’d have to walk an awful long way.

What could I do to make his day better?  I didn’t know, so I just sat there and loved him.  I mean I held my heart open for him, if that makes sense.  A wordless prayer.  When I got off, I said, “Thank-you.”  And meant it.

Granville Island didn’t even seem to be part of Vancouver.  It felt like a secret magical place, a refuge for creativity.  I walked along the cobblestone sidewalks, stepped in and out of artsy shops: hand carved buttons and yarns of all colors, pottery, paintings, leather-bound journal books, and handmade puppets.
inside a shop called Kimdoly Beads

I bought two small wind-up toys at Kids Market, stocking stuffers for the children.  I also bought a round stuffed raccoon with large, gold-speckled eyes and a “fridge rover,” a magnetic car that drives up the refrigerator door when you let it go.  I took in all the colors, the flashing lights, the kites hanging from the ceiling.

Tibetan singing bowl
When I entered Grandharva Loka, a world music store, I was met with bonging and clanging.  A customer was playing around with a large concave drum.  The store was tiny and packed with instruments I had never seen before—a Satar, Tambura and Dotara, a Tibetan singing bowl, a rocking chair with strings attached to its back.

Eventually I rested on a wooden bench near the entrance to the Public Market.  A young man ran by with an armful of french bread, his white apron flapping.  He reminded me of Alfredo Linguini in Ratatouille.  I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke as an orange Vancouver taxi drove among the crawling cars along Johnston Street.  Two gray-haired ladies sat down beside me to munch on roasted chestnuts they bought from the street vendor.

I loved all the sights and sounds.  And I heard a small voice, an inaudible song upon the breeze.  All this is for you. 

I thought, Yes, now is a time to celebrate my birthday.  It doesn’t come until June but, you see, every day is the best day to celebrate your birthday if you can only remember.

So... happy birthday!

writers festival: friday

Friday morning I put on my gray sweater, coat, black jeans and necklace, the silver one that looks like a tear drop but is actually a lopsided symbol of infinity.  I said goodbye to the babysitter and the children and embarked on my adventure of traveling to The Vancouver Writers Fest.

Believe me when I say it was a huge adventure because I’m a full-time, stay-at-home mother of two young children.  In other words, a slave of sorts, who cannot go about any daily task without a whiny interruption or seven.

Me?!  The nincompoop housewife, out to the Big City all by myself?!  Unheard of.

I was a wee bit nervous.

I drove our Explorer, a vehicle that’s a little too big for me and a little too small for Kevin, then boarded a train to the sky.

Across from me sat two couples who looked to be in their forties.  It was their first time going to the sky.  I knew that because they were having problems with the ticket machine in the parking lot when I first arrived.  Funny that we all ended up in the same train car.

I smiled at them.

But enough of the SkyTrain that doesn’t actually go to the sky.  After asking a few different people the best way to get to Granville Island, I got off at Waterfront Station and noticed a woman on the sidewalk who looked like she might be waiting for a bus.  Her hair wasn’t the white kind of gray, but the dark kind.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “Do you know where the nearest bus stop is?”

“It’s right here,” she said.

I looked up and pointed.  “Oh, the sign’s right there!  Is this Bus 50, the one that goes to Granville Island?”

“Yeah,” she said.  “You going to the Writers Festival?”

Later I found out her name was Gail, that she had a terrible sense of direction and wasn’t afraid to admit it.   Nonetheless, together we found our respective venues and bid one another goodbye and good luck.

I entered the Improv Centre, got my ticket and all that, then sat down in seat #11 only to realize that in trying to find the place I had become more anxious than I wanted to admit.  No, I thought, this isn’t about being stressed.  It’s about enjoying myself.  So I spent the next fifteen minutes focusing on breathing and staying in the moment.

There were five empty bar stools with microphones on the stage and behind that a backdrop of a castle wall with a distorted window.  I’ve been trying to figure out… of all backdrops, why that one?

Anyway, a moderator and four authors walked on stage.  The authors were Jessica Westhead, Rebecca Rosenblum, A.L. Kennedy, and Anne Fleming.  A.L. Kennedy was hilarious, and I really liked the piece she read, but sadly I can’t remember a single one of her jokes.  Afterward, I bought her novel The Blue Book which is about “a nomadic psychic who makes a fortune by fraud but gives generously to charity.”  And she signed it for me.

At about 3:00pm I found a small cafĂ© and ate a lunchy dinner, one piece of cod and fries with a lump of coleslaw.  All the while I felt rather awkward sitting by myself.  The waitress delighted in her work with a soft smile and bouncy step.  That inspired me.

I was tired, but wanted to look around a little so I took some photos of the area and made my way back to the bus stop.  The bus was so full I thought the overflow of bodies might start squishing out the windows, but I was fascinated.  Do some people really travel like this on a daily basis?

I boarded the SkyTrain and faded in and out of sleep until reaching the final station where my golden Explorer chariot awaited.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

just dreamin' a little

In another life, I would be...

a) An actress - I was once told by one of my high-school humanities teachers that I'd make a good actress.  She said so based on me reading a part as one of the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth.  I enjoyed being a witch.  I think acting would be very fun but I've never taken a single drama course in my life, unless you want to count playwriting.

b) A counselor - In my fourth year of university I took a psychology course called "Interpersonal Helping Skills".  I loved the class and got an A+ in it.  I began to consider pursuing a career in counseling, but realized it would take a heck of a lot more schooling, and at that point I was pretty much burnt out and tired of writing essays.  And anyway, now look who's needed (still needs?) a bunch of counseling... ahem.

c) An artist - I'm already an artist (in process), but in another life I'd be a single artist with no children.  I'd rent a simple apartment (aka studio) or a tiny house in the middle of town.  I wouldn't have a car.  The weather would be mild all seasons of the year and I'd walk everywhere.  I would paint, sketch, write, play the piano and guitar and maybe the cello.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Loving Life: part 9


i'm stuck between the pages
of all you refuse to say
and all i have inquired

your skin grows hotter
your lips go tighter

do my words go to you?
your silence an angry stone

i watch you shutting down,
folding into the blurry red pages
of this, our book of lonely wandering
and quiet, desperate pining

please stop hiding

Friday, October 5, 2012

the thing

There’s something inside of me I can’t identify and it needs to come out.  It feels like darkness, like slept-in blankets and blurry dreams, or dirty laundry.  I get up and walk over to my piano, stare at the keys as if they can reveal to me this hidden thing, but nothing comes.

I turn and grab a single, wrapped piece of gum from the plastic bag on my desk.  I love the smell and taste of pink Dubble Bubble gum but it loses its flavor after about thirty seconds.  It’s like chewing on cardboard, so I take it out of my mouth and begin to play.

I stretch it and wrap it around my finger.  I twist and pull until it’s like an umbilical cord, then I squish it and stretch it out so it’s like a thin fragile membrane.  I squish it again and then pull it out long until it breaks.

Yes, I think to myself.  I can write about gum.  So I roll it into a ball and stick it beside my tea mug, and I type.  When I look at the clock I see it’s almost one in the morning, that I’ve been sitting here for three hours and only written four paragraphs.

That’s disappointing, and the thing I can’t identify remains within.