Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aw crap, it's summer again

This time every year I start to obsess about where my girls will go to summer camp. I like our daycare. They’re organized and love what they do. But with daycare, let’s face it, after a few years your kids have been to Super Expensive Theme Park, the Mosquito Nature Preserve, Land of Bouncy Pounce, and World of Ubiquitous Soft Drink enough times to run the tours themselves.

Also, DramaQueen is going to absolutely die, I tell you, if forced to remain there all summer.

The summer camps have been promoting themselves for several months now. Fliers come home from school. The local parent mags publish summer camp editions. There are summer camp expos at the local malls. You get the impression that there are endless choices. Yum yum yum. Language camps and art camps and circus camps. You could create a camp sampler – a week of clay sculpture here, a week of soccer there. This could be the most enriching summer of your child’s life!

And then the winnowing begins. The cool art camp is 80 miles away in a section of town you’ve never even heard of. The soccer camp runs from 10 am to 3 pm. The gymnastics camp SAYS it has before and after care – if you work from 9 am to 5 pm and your office is 10 minutes from the camp site (BTW, no one in this state works 9-5 because your lunch hour is unpaid). The cool performing arts camp is $460 a week. The reasonably priced funky-sounding camp is…definitely funky, and not in a good way. The drama camp starts at age 9, so Firecracker would have to go to a different location and, on yeah, it doesn’t have before or after care EITHER. (I’m really ticked off about the lack of before and after care options. I suppose that’s why most people end up at daycares, and why if you go to the Aquarium on a weekday you’ll find yourself among 32 field trip groups, each with their own brightly colored t-shirts.)

I’m now down to two options:

Option A. A small, family-owned, sports facility offering a smattering of gymnastics, cheerleading, hip-hop, martial arts and swimming. Relatively close but in the opposite direction from my work. Refreshingly minimalist when it comes to forms and requirements. No obvious whack jobs on the premises.

Option B. The Y. Different specialty camps every week as well as equestrienne and swim camps. Very reasonable, even for non-members. Not too far but in the worst possible location as far as traffic flow. Not entirely sure I will be able to exit the parking lot during rush hour. Suspect commute could be longer than anticipated via Google Maps. Weirdly complicated lunch/snack purchase program. There seem to be three or four different configurations for lunch, lunch + snack, snacks + drink, smoothie Thursday, pizza Friday, all of which has to be nailed down and paid for in cash on the Monday of camp week. Yeah, right. The base level is pack you kid a lunch, 20 oz of water and THREE snacks. My kids will starve, probably.

DramaQueen is vehemently opposed to any sort of martial arts participation. I don’t know why. She wants Option B just to spite me for even considering Option A. She also has some odd notion that she wants to go to horse camp. This from the girl who complained about the smelly farm field trip. Firecracker, however, wants option A because she saw the students practicing Tae Kwan Do and she can’t wait to get in there and do some kickin’, which I think would be really cute.

I'll be glad when the decision is made.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Culinary Triumph

I did it! I made Dear Husband a gluten-free delicacy - key lime pie. And it is delish. I crushed up some gluten-free gingersnaps with butter for the crust. The filling was just a can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 egg yolks, and a 1/2 cup of a specialty key lime juice.

I am feeling so pleased with myself.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter, yadda yadda

The Easter message at church was a bit on the bland side. Well, a lot on the bland side. In general the whole service felt a bit lackluster, as if everyone was just too tired to celebrate. Or maybe I just felt that way. The girls balked at going to the kids' church, even though I knew the big service would seem dull to them. Firecracker drooped onto my lap, and DramaQueen soon followed course, cuddling up to Dear Husband.

I've mentioned how annoyed and tiring I find the wall-to-wall noise of our church. The music is both a strength (for those who like that sort of contemporary music) and a grave weakness. I just don't think music that whips up an emotional breeze is truly moving. When an entire service focuses on the rousing up-beat worship songs, something is lost. Reflection, contemplation, rest. And one thing that annoys the living daylights out of me is the fact that the band plays a sort of elevator music during the prayer. See, we can't even have quiet for prayer. Ugh.

Our pastor is a nice guy, but I've given up hope of ever hearing anything that isn't aimed at the entry-level church goer. We are always and forever for the unchurched. Once you're churched you're supposed to find a group in which to deepen your faith. I want to be welcoming. That's great. But I would like sometime to hear a thought-provoking sermon or even, wait for it, a serious sermon. I'm not asking for a sermon like I once heard in which the pastor kept alternating between huge swaths of Greek and commentary. Or even the sort of hard-core expository preaching insisted upon by the denomination I work for. But I read sermons posted by RevGals, and nothing my pastor preaches comes close.

I also question this method for attracting the unchurched, as if they are going to be drawn to the blandest and safest church. What about those of us who are relatively sophisticated, culturally astute and engaged? Suspicious of the simplistic and vapid? If I were a new visitor to this church today, I would leave thinking that I had wondered into white-bread worship - pleasant enough but stripped of nutrients. The only reason I first joined was the quality of the preaching. You know it had to be good for me to put up with contemporary worship music in order to hear it. But that pastor left, and I've had time enough to see what the current one plans to do. I'm there out of loyalty to the members who supported us during the roughest hours, because of the congregational care pastor, because the congregation never hesitates to help the poor and hungry and ill. I feel guilty to be so dissatisfied. If I went to a different church, would it be any different really? If I went to an Episcopal church, would I get fed up with the liturgy and wish someone would show some effervescent energy?

But there was a moment during the offering that I thought was pretty powerful, as long as I avoided looking at the weird film footage of a very white Jesus and the stock photos of people in prayer that flashed on the video screen. A song that felt alive and real. I gather it is derived from a collection of odes from the early church. I found only one version on YouTube. It's pretty good, but our choir, which is quite large, really kicked it.

Another good thing - they had free jellybeans.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Different Sort of Praise

I'm not one for Christian praise music, so sometimes I have to grab something out of the secular world that makes me feel celebratory. I often find secular music more uplifting than the stuff we sing in church. Christian music just tries too hard.

This lightens my heart.

And then, this song has always struck me as truly reverent and joyous:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Merging onto the Highway to Hell, or Happy Easter, Ya'll!

I’m not feeling very Easter-y. This year the whole narrative arc leaves me cold. I think I’ve been so wrapped around in religiosity that I want to rip off the garments. I have no capacity for the emotional cataclysms people seem to feel when they think about God and Christ. I had no sudden conversion, no breaking down in tears at the awesomeness of it all. I find it almost impossible to worship in environments where people sing songs like “My God is an Awesome God” (I mean, blech) or wave their hands about (“lifting holy hands,” which is a phrase I would like to banish entirely from everyone’s speech as one of the most overused expressions ever). I don’t feel like I’m worshiping anything. I feel like I’m at a concert and might as well flick a Bic while I’m at it. This double-mindedness is about to drive me nuts. I can’t just let it go or put in on Jesus or whatever—pick an evangelical phrase about how I’m supposed to behave.

I am a natural skeptic. I’m not cold, but I find it hard to suborn logic to feeling. I so often feel like a fraud among Christians that I think I ought to just hang out my sign as an agnostic. After all, if you don’t buy half of what the church tells you, most of Christendom will pronounce you an agnostic or heretic anyway. Take the crucifixion. There is no way in hell (and perhaps that’s where I’m headed) that I really believe that God demands a blood sacrifice as part of the divine justice system. He’s supposed to be the supreme deity and not Moloch, right?

Second, I seriously doubt that you go to hell if you don’t say the magic Jesus prayer, that God set it up that way just because he wanted to and he can do anything, including being a petty tyrant. And I do get tired of hearing how God’s ways are not our ways, as if we are simply supposed to swallow that God’s ways are better than ours when we can bloody well see that our ideals at least are more humane and loving than consigning people to the roaster for all eternity. God has to be more moral than George W. Bush, surely.

Third, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t like evangelism. Yes, it seems to have come a long way since the days of just knocking on doors and harassing people on the street, but it’s so agenda-based. Is that really what Christ meant by the Great Commission? Tell people they need to believe in Jesus? Now we’ve started wrapping this up in “outreach” and good deeds and community action, and seeker friendly churches (crap music, cappuccino and no dress code). The agenda’s still there. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many frakking books to tell people that it’s good to form relationships and meet the needs of the community. Someone’s making a lot of money out of relational evangelism. Relational evangelism means be friendly with them until you can haul them into the fold, add their tithes to the building fund, indoctrinate them and then launch them into the heathen waters as relational bait to lure others. That’s called being winsome.

To completely empty love and works of the agenda is called “Social Gospel,” which I’m told is extremely bad for you, because it doesn’t forcefully enough shove a dose of Jesus down the throat of the lost. No totting up souls on a scorecard. No carefully schooling seekers that there’s Jesus and then there’s the highway to hell and calling that “loving your neighbor”. No stoking your personal sanctification engine.

I’ve got to this point and I don’t know why I’m so annoyed. It isn’t as if there are no Christians out there doing good without an agenda. There are plenty. There are plenty at my church. They do a hell of a lot more than I do. I just have a head full of religious catchphrases that I hear day in and day out, and trite expressions about Christ and why He came and what it means. Impatience with the same old outpourings. Impatience with my own inability to “get” it. Impatience with the noise and franticness of contemporary worship. Impatience with always being careful about what I say.

I’m just plain tired of Christianity.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Welcome to the kinda sorta not really revolution

You hear about a movie that everyone is raving about. It sounds intense. It sounds as if it were well-acted and crafted. Boy was I looking forward to seeing Revolutionary Road. Then I did.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this movie sucked.

This is why it sucked:

1. There is no evidence anywhere that the Wheelers have any traits or interests that would give the idea that they are special. Most people who think they are special are working with some premise: I’m an artist, I’m a writer, I’m a film director. Something. Other people seem to think they’re special, too. Why? I mean, we get one scene of Mrs. W after a community theater production flops, but she just seems irritable and ticked off; you don’t get the sense that she’s devastated, hurt to the core. Their house contains no books, not art, no anything to show that they aim to be different or unique. How are they cultivating their delusions?

2. Because we get nada as a back story, no insight into whatever grandiose dreams these two were nursing, the Wheelers come across as dull, petulant, and really boring. They start out that way and they end up that way. There are no car chases, conspiracies, alien invasions, nudity, graphic sex, or sparkly vampires, so I really needed some character development.

3. Where the hell are the kids? They have two kids that they manage to stow away somewhere whenever they need to have a scene without kids. Lucky folks. A 24-hour-oncall babysitter must live next door.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio seems to think that if he’s playing angry he should point his finger a lot. He also looks fairly ridiculous trying to be furious.

5. Actually, all the fight scenes look fairly odd, as if they were on stage and had to really tear up the scenery to make it convincing.

6. LC still looks like he’s about 12.

7. Uh, what’s so awful about these suburbs, anyway? I was expecting evidence of some stifling oppression but it didn’t really come through. Are we supposed to think the neighbors are awful and dreary? That all the houses look alike (they don’t)? Am I just supposed to accept that suburbs = soul-destroying misery?

The one thing that didn’t suck was the crazy next-door neighbor who came out of the asylum long enough to tell the Wheelers the truth about themselves.

As an aside, there were some really peculiar dated references. At one point April tells Frank that he’s one of the most beautiful things in the world: a man. Yeah, right. Then during one knockdown fight Frank tells April that any woman, any “real woman” would just love to have children. It made me think of the scenes in Rebel without a Cause in which the father is wearing an apron, thereby signaling his emasculation by the big bad woman. The crazy neighbor refers to April as a ball buster. She’s not a “real woman” and he’s not a “real man.” In the end Frank, we are told, is dedicating himself to the kids – the woman’s job. Don’t know what to make of that, but I found it odd that the movie did not in any way comment on these gender stereotypes. I suppose if they had been wildly bohemian in the first place, I would have pondered the role restrictive gender stereotypes played in their downfall, but since they were so boring to begin with, it doesn’t seem to matter much.

In the end I didn’t care what happened to Frank and April. I felt no sadness over their fates, because they had no life in the first place.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I'm not just on the grid, I'm on the griddle

I have now discovered the joys of Twitter. It's like eating cotton candy while you walk around a fairground filled with noise and bright colors. You can follow celebrities on Twitter, which goes to show that just because you're rich and famous doesn't mean you don't waste a whole lot of time. I adore this. You can even follow Stephen Fry, which makes me happy. He's in Labuan Bajo right now, by the way, wherever that is, and has been bitten by mosquitoes. See? I and 375,824 think it is worthwhile following Mr. Fry to receive these exotic updates.

Twittering has also led me (via Rainn Wilson who is, like, such a riot) to this site about Sockington, the cat who blogs and twitters. Top that.

So while the rest of you are contemplating the resurrection, I'll be launching pithy nothings out into the vasty blackness. Given that no one is following me, it could be an exercise in futility. But I did figure out how to feed my twitters into my Facebook account,which has maybe 60 captive friends to appreciate my pith.