Monday, August 31, 2009

Saved - or Not

I was raised a Roman Catholic by devout parents, even attending Catholic schools for thirteen years. My husband was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist household. These disparate experiences produced two people who (all belief aside) share a powerful aversion to organized religion. Naturally, our decisions regarding religious education for our children were informed entirely by this attitude. With that in mind, here are some religious memories and maybe an opinion or two.

Once, when she was very young, Eldest Daughter asked me if I would accept Jesus into my heart. It was 6:30 in the morning, I had just crawled out of bed, I had to get to work, and I was really, really tired. "Maybe later," I mumbled.
"But, Mom! Don't you want to be saved?"
"I have to get ready for work right now," I answered, yawning. I was most of the way back to my bedroom before I realized what we'd said. I wheeled around and padded back down the hall.
"Uh, honey? Who have you been talking to?"
"Church people. They come around in a bus. They said we have to be saved."
"Ah. Well, not everybody believes that."
"Do you?"
"No. Not really."
"Oh. Okay." I don't know if she looked relieved, or if I just remember it that way. I offered to talk later, but she lost interest and was spared my ramblings on the subject.

Some years later, in a burst of parental guilt brought on by Middle Kid asking me if I'd ever heard of Noah's Ark, I bought an illustrated children's Bible to read with him. We got through the creation without too much trouble, and Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden, and the birth of their sons Cain and Abel. The trouble came after Cain slew Abel, and then ran away to a far land where he met and married a woman-
"Where'd she come from?" my son asked. "I thought there weren't any other people yet."
"Uh," I said. "Erm. I'm not really sure." (I'm a Catholic girl. We're New Testament people.)
"It doesn't make any sense," he said.
"Well, maybe we aren't supposed to take it literally."
"Hm. Never mind. I think I'll make dinner now."
And that was the end of Bible stories for MK.

When she was in elementary school, Youngest Daughter used to attend church occasionally with a friend. One day, though, she seemed troubled when she got home. When I asked her about it, she said she didn't want to go anymore.
"You don't?" I said. "I thought you liked it."
"Not really," she said. "It makes me feel bad."
"It does?"
"They're always telling us we can't be saved unless we believe in the Lord, and well, I just don't."
Uh-oh. That 'saved' thing again. "You know, being saved is a personal thing, honey. There are lots of different ideas about what it means."
"But do you believe in Jesus?"
"I believe that Jesus wanted us to be nicer to each other. And I think that's a really good idea."
"Oh." She wandered off to play. A little later she came back and said, "I still don't want to go anymore."
And that was the end of YD's religious career.

Recently, I went to a funeral. It was a beautiful funeral, a truly lovely - and loving - celebration of a life cut short. After the eulogies and some wonderful music, the pastor stepped up to give us his pastoral message. "There are two kinds of people here today," he said. "The ones who've been saved and will some day sit at Jesus's right hand in heaven, and the ones who won't."
My eyebrows shot up. I turned to the friend I was sitting with and whispered, "Did he just tell us we're going to hell?"
"I think he did," she said in a bemused tone.
"That's kind of rude," I said.
"Yeah. I think so, too."
I listened through the rest of the sermon, and the pastor quoted quite a lot of scripture (all New Testament, which was at least something) to support his allegation. I kept waiting for him to get back to the subject at hand - the funeral, the grieving family, the good life the departed had lived. He never did. Apparently he thought the family would be comforted best by knowing that some of their friends were going to hell.

Which brings me to a list of theological pet peeves:

1. Old Testament 'Christians.' Does not compute. The story of Christianity lies in the New Testament. The Old Testament should be literature.

2. People who thank the Lord after every sentence. Please. God already knows how grateful you are, and the rest of us won't think less of you if you keep it to yourself. We promise.

3. People who insist on pronouncing judgment on everybody else. Crazy radio personalities, crazy politicians, crazy preachers, crazy people carrying signs displaying their opinions as to where various other people will reside after death. Right back at'cha, folks, because you know what? You're just guessing.

4. Relatives who pray for your soul every day, and then tell you about it. What are you supposed to say to that?

5. God as the Candyman. Be good, and God will give you everything your heart desires.

6. God as the Hairy Thunderer. Be good or God'll getcha.

7. Religious enforcers. You know who I mean: the Taliban, extremist Israeli settlers, the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson. And who can forget the Spanish Inquisition? Ugh.

8. The rapture, and all veiled threats leveled my way with regards to that event. Excuse me. I intend to inherit the earth, so feel free to rapture yourself right outa my way.

On the plus side, I've known some very nice - and very conscientious - people in my life, people who seem to take the spirit of their religion to heart. But that's a post for another day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stuff we don't have anymore

Here's a short list of things I remember well, but which my kids either don't remember at all, or consider quaint and curious.

Television sets without remote controls: back in the day, we got up to change the channel on the television set. There was no channel surfing during the commercials. And some people ended up watching the same channel all night because nobody wanted to get up.

Party lines
: I can't decide if the world is a better place without these, or not. There was so much drama around party lines - sneaking the phone off the cradle and listening in; having conversations interrupted by a crabby neighbor telling us to get off the phone; stopping to chat with your fellow party-liner.

Individual ring tones: I'm not talking Beethoven's Fifth. I'm talking two longs and a short for your house, three shorts for your neighbors', and two shorts and a long for the guy around the corner. Everybody's phone rang every time, and you answered only your ring.

Phones with cords: everybody had a phone table when I was kid, and that's where you sat to talk. Private conversation? Puh-leese - you shouldn't be saying anything you wouldn't say with your mother in the room, anyway.

Phones with rotary dials
: I still love the sound and feel of a rotary dial. Each number sounds different because the dial travels a different distance for each number. I remember a movie where a mystery was solved by someone hearing the sound of a number being dialed and later messing around with the rotary dial until they figured out what the number was.

Metal tv stands with wheels: these were flimsy little things which enabled you to roll the tv into the dining room if there was something special on. Of course, this implies that a) tvs were a lot smaller (and they were! Seventeen inches was considered a reasonable size!) and b) you didn't have to worry about plugging the thing into cable. You used your rabbit ears.

Milk boxes: on the porch. For the delivery of milk in bottles with foil caps. The cream floated just under the cap.

Pedal-operated sewing machines: I really liked sewing on these. Your ability to control the speed of the machine was nearly infinite, limited only by how fast you could pedal.

Push mowers
: I saw a guy mowing his lawn with one of these the other day. I thought, Gosh. He should take better care of his antiques.

Metal garbage cans: I'm sure people still use these somewhere, but in my town it's all big plastic bins provided by the waste removal company. I kinda miss those gun-metal gray cans, with their dents and their lids that didn't fit after the first year or so. Those cans took a lot of punishment - and it showed.

Cranks for rolling car windows up: it's all buttons now.

Typewriters: I still have the little green portable I took away to college with me, but the ribbons are a thing of the past.

Slide rules: yes, I minored in math and I did not own a calculator. When I was in college, a four-function calculator was still a prohibitively-expensive item; I settled for the slide rule and the books of math tables.

Blackboards: and erasers and chalk dust. Last year we got a SmartBoard in the classroom where I tutor - we can now display pages from the computer, or let the kids 'write' on the board and save their writing to a file, or scan text-book pages and display them. No more teachers' pets staying after school to clean the erasers.

Bench seats in cars: three in the front, and three (or four) in the back. We used to wage battles for the front seat and the windows. And some poor schmuck (or, in our family two poor schmucks) had to sit in the middle of the back with no view and no air.

Recess: this was the most important part of the school day when I was a kid. It's when all the socializing happened; when relationships formed or fizzled; when dominance issues were resolved. Now recess in 'structured.' Yikes.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The status quo sucks

Health care reform - that's what I'm talking about. Let's have a little honesty on the subject.

1. The President has recommended goals for reform, and here they are:
  • No discrimination for pre-existing conditions
  • No exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, deductibles, or co-pays
  • No cost-sharing for preventive care
  • No dropping of coverage for the seriously ill
  • No gender discrimination
  • No annual or lifetime caps on coverage
  • Extended coverage for young adults
  • Guaranteed insurance renewal
Raise your hand if you disagree with any of these. And I don't mean you jump three assumptions into the future and disagree with what some sleazy insurance company hack has told you will be the eventual result. Just stick with the facts, ma'am. I'll bet you'd seriously like you some no-pre-existing-condition-discrimination. I know I would, because AGE is a pre-existing condition.

2. It's not Obamacare. The President has not proposed a bill. He has left the writing of legislation to the Congress. You may call it Senate-care, or House-care, or Washington-care. Or, like me, you may call it better-than-the-crap-we-have-now. Whatever.

3. If you believe that anybody in Washington is planning on killing grandma in order to pay for the plan, then you need help. I hope the coming healthcare reform will cover psychiatric visits so you can become a happier and more grounded person in the near future. Oh, and while we're on the subject, most private plans already cover end-of-life counseling. What are we to make of this?

4. If you believe that the government is going to create panels to rule on your treatment options, then remember this: insurance companies have panels to rule on your treatment options. And the people on those panels get bonuses for saving the company money, i.e. denying you treatment. Feel better about the status quo now?

5. If you think that a government plan will limit your options, then you might want to check to see what options you have. Hm. Only the ones your company offers, you say? And your company changes those options every year? And none of those options include vision or dental? (And how about that psychiatric treatment?)

6. Will you be retiring early? Why not? Uh-huh. You have to wait until you qualify for Medicare, because your company doesn't offer coverage for retirees, and no private insuror will provide coverage to a 59-year-old person. Same here. Sucks, doesn't it?

7. Do your young adult children have insurance? Why not? I see - they haven't been able to find jobs with benefits. Well, maybe they should purchase private plans. Yes, I know they'll have to live at home in order to pay their premiums, but that's the way it goes. At least they don't live in a socialist country. Well, except for the socialized fire and police protection, the roads, the schools, and a few other things.

8. Do you hate your job? Why not give it up? You could be an entrepreneur, and fulfill your lifelong dream of owning a book store or publishing a weekly newspaper or designing jewelry or writing free-lance software. Oh, I forgot - you can't get health insurance because you have asthma, or a bad back, or acne, or allergies, or menstrual pain, or Type I diabetes, or a congenital heart murmur, or...

Well, you get the picture.

9. Are you worried about balancing the budget in Washington? What makes you think keeping the status quo will contribute to that goal? Our health care system is on the brink of collapse; it's a huge burden on business right now. If that burden were lifted, businesses would be more competitive in the world market place. Profits and the workforce could grow, which spurs more growth, and improves tax revenues. Stop looking at it as a new cost - it's not. Reform is intended to shift and contain costs. The potential benefit to our economy is huge.

Frankly, people, the status quo sucks. We need reform. Stop listening to Glenn Beck and that scary blond woman who was on The Daily Show the other day, and start praying that reform succeeds.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life gets in the way

of blogging. I'll be splitting my time between traveling and remodeling for the next few weeks. Here's my report on the remodel: we've selected our contractor, laid out the plans for the new kitchen, and chosen our cabinets. We'll place the cabinet order next week (after our trip to San Francisco), which means within four or five weeks, the current kitchen will be demolished.

The new kitchen table, which I had intended to order later in the process, arrived today. It's got a nice farmhouse feel to it - rectangular, with the legs set all the way out at the corners so the top doesn't overhang. It can be expanded to seat eight by unfolding a nifty leaf which stores underneath the table top. It's coffee-colored. I've already done a crossword while sitting at it, so it has been appropriately christened into our family.

I bought the table now because I gave the old one away, along with the matching hutch, to be used at a rummage sale to raise money to benefit a family in trouble here in my town. In the few days we spent without a table, I discovered that it's really hard to enjoy the newspaper without a place to prop my elbows. So I bought the new one, even though it means moving it when it comes time to empty the kitchen. It's a small sacrifice.

So far, nothing awful has happened with respect to our remodel. But that, of course, is because it's way too soon for the adventure to turn dangerous. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And just like that

the squirrels are gone. The nuts are gone, too. This hasn't happened before - that the nuts ran out well ahead of the ripening of the avocados. Honestly, I'm thrilled. I can use my deck without having to sweep it twice a day.

I suppose this is due to our odd weather, which is an accumulation of several years of odd weather. Odd weather has become the new normal - record highs, record lows, weird storm patterns. I'm not sure we'd recognize the weather we used to call 'usual.' Climate change. There you have it in a nutshell. (Pun intended. I apologize.)