Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Giving Up Navel Gazing Lint for Lent

My mom is Catholic, but she didn't raise me Catholic. I was born during the time in her life when she had left the Catholic Church.

Mom had attended an Episcopalian church when she was a kid. Her dad used his work truck to drop her brother and her off every Sunday. She'd sit in the bed of the truck on top of all the wrenches and other plumbing tools, wearing her best Sunday dresses. After my grandfather dropped them off, he'd return home to piddle around in his workshop while Mom's mom lazed in bed reading. Not the Bible. My grandmother had been raised Catholic, but for some reason she left the church sometime in her young adulthood. Her marriage to my mom's dad was her second marriage, the first ending in divorce, so maybe that's why my grandmother left the church, since divorce is a big no-no from what I hear. I'd think divorcing your husband who beats you would be a legitimate reason to get to stay in the church, but what do I know? Again, I wasn't raised Catholic.

Years later, when my grandmother divorced my mom's dad and remarried another man, a Catholic man, she joined the church again. I don't know how that happened. I suspect it has something to do with annulling the first marriages and saying a few prayers on the rosary like my mom had to do when she converted back to Catholicism on her third marriage, too.

Needless to say, when my mom was a kid, my grandmother would not read the Bible in bed on Sundays while her kids were in church, but instead, she'd devour her favorite paperback romances and pulp magazines. My grandmother's intellectual father had named her Jean Valjean after the protagonist in Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, but it didn't seem to influence her appreciation of literary fiction.

As the years passed and technology evolved, and each Sunday my grandfather would drop Mom and her brother off at church, my grandmother switched from only reading pulp fiction to also listening to her radio programs and then onto also watching her favorite TV shows.

My grandmother probably couldn't tell you the Twelve Apostles' names, but she could rattle off the twelve most popular American celebrities of any era.

You might be wondering about my mom's dad's religious faith. I don't honestly know much about it. He was pretty quiet about it. He was a plumber, an inventor, a tinker-er in his workshop. He read Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and pulp mysteries. He never went to church or talked about God that I knew of, so I would have suspected he was agnostic had it not been for the time, when I was anorexic, and he said to me, "You shouldn't say bad things about your body. God created all people in His image, so if you insult your body you're insulting God."

Those wise words from my not-very-churchy grandpa probably helped heal me of my eating disorder more than the shrink my parent's were paying for. I barely went to church as a kid, but still, who wants to mess with insulting God?

When my mom married her first husband, she quit going to her childhood Episcopalian church and converted to her husband's Catholic faith. Mom always says she was a "better Catholic" than her husband ever was, even though he had been raised in the church. Mom religiously got all four of their children and herself ready for church each Sunday morning and arrived on time. Her husband, if he bothered to show at all, would stagger into the back of the church, still half-drunk from the night before, and stand with the other husbands who showed up late and would be the first to leave.

When Mom found out her first husband was cheating on her with his secretary, she divorced him and quit going to church. Mom never stopped believing in God or Jesus or any of that. I suspect she just got sick of the hypocrites at church, so she stayed at home most Sundays with her feet propped up on the ottoman. Her feet were always hurting since she had to get a full-time job as a dental assistant, standing on her feet all day, staring into people's mouths, making enough money for her and her four kids to eat bologna sandwiches and sausage burgers most nights.

Mom married my dad in 1969. They were not married in a church, but inside the home of a minister. Or was it a judge? Even if it was a man of the cloth, I don't know what kind of minister. Not a Catholic priest, I know. But I'm not sure if he was Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc. My dad's mom played the organ in her Methodist church, so dad attended it regularly growing up, but as an adult he preferred to stay home and watch professional golf to attending "those boring sermons that will put you to sleep." I feel sorry for someone who gives a sermon so boring people would rather stay home and watch professional golf. Jesus Christ, that's boring.

When I was a kid, our family would go to church sometimes, but mostly we stayed home on Sundays. Mom read the Bible nearly every day, and she read me part of it from time to time. I kinda got a Cliff's Notes version of the Bible. The big thing I got out of it was this:

1) Love God.
2) Love people.

Pretty simple. Even I could remember that.

Mom didn't only read the Bible. Both of my parents are voracious readers. I rarely went to church growing up, but we went to the public library at least once a week. When I was really young, before kindergarten, Mom took me to storytime at three separate libraries three days a week. No wonder I'm a librarian. I wonder if I had been taken to church as often as I'd been taken to the public library if now I'd be a nun? Probably not. I like sex and kids too much.

Both Mom and Dad love to read bestsellers. Dad especially likes mysteries and thrillers. "As long as there's not too much blood and gore," he says. "I can handle the language and the sex, just not the violence. What can I say? I'm a lover, not a fighter," he'd say, reclining in his La-Z-Boy, his popcorn littered chest hairs poking out of his wife beater.

As a teenager I didn't like to laugh at my dad's rare jokes, because that would contradict the angst I felt around him, but even I would laugh when dad would talk that way.

Mom loves mysteries too. She's read every Perry Mason book ever written. She also likes Janet Evanovich and Lisa Scottoline. She likes romances and other "chick lit" by authors like Nora Roberts, Fern Michaels, and Barbara Delinsky.

Like her mother before her, Mom doesn't just like to read. She's a TV junkie. Mom grew up listening to radio dramas such as The Shadow. When she was old enough to walk to the local movie theater with her brother, and later her boyfriend, she saw every movie released. Unlike her own mother, Mom could probably name all Twelve Apostles in the Bible, but she could also name the twelve most popular American celebrities of any era. You do not want to play Trivial Pursuit against this woman. You will lose.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do when I wasn't off getting drunk with my outcast friends was sit on the front porch with my mom and chat. We talked about how our day went. We talked about our favorite TV shows and our favorite books. She was always trying to get me to read one of her Harlequin romances and I was always trying to get her to read whatever my current favorite book was.

"The Color Purple?" Mom would ask. "What's it about?"

"Oh," I'd swing my leg and graze my bare toe through the dirt of her wildflower garden. "It's about a poor black woman during the thirties who gets beaten and her kids taken away from her and she learns how to stick up for herself."

I'd look up and see my mom's face. It looked like I'd just told recommended she read a book about child pornography or bondage or devil worshipping or something.

"I want to write a book like that when I grow up," I'd say.

"You should write romances or mysteries. They'd sell better." Mom would say, but not in a nagging way. Mom never nags. She does her own thing and lets her kids think for themselves.

"The Color Purple is a Pulitzer-Prize winning book. It's made Alice Walker famous and I'm sure she's made lots of money off of it. She probably gives it to charity. That's what I'm going to do when I make money off my Pulitzers," I said. My teenage self so earnest and sure.

"Well, to start out, to make a living at it, you could try writing a romance. You'd be so good at it. Way better than these published authors, I'd bet." Mom would look over at the stack of paperbacks sitting next to her lounge chair. She would read each of then, return them on time, and checkout another stack. When I was thirteen, I used to be embarrassed by my parents whenever we'd go to the library. They would each carry in a sack full of books to return, and reuse the same sack to check out just as many more books again.

My parents are such nerds! I worried to myself when I was thirteen.

My parents were such a good influence! I think to myself now that I'm a professional librarian.

I wasn't just around books growing up. Ours was the household where the TV was on, whether or not anyone was in the room, all day and all night until mom would finally turn it off as she went to bed. Sometimes she'd just fall asleep on the couch with it on.

My mom is such a TV junkie, it was not rare of her to come knock on my bedroom door and say, "Becky, quit doing your homework and come watch Dynasty with me. This is a good one!"

My parents were also big movie buffs. Each year around the Academy Awards my parents would haul me along with them to whatever movie was up for Best Film that year. When I was was a kid, if you asked me what my favorite film, unlike most girls my age who would say "Annie" I'd say "Annie Hall".

As much as I come from a family so heavily influenced by pop culture, I'm often embarrassed by my ignorance of things others in our culture think is such basic knowledge. Once, in my early twenties, a friend of mine made fun of me for spelling lent with an "i".

"Lint?" he laughed. "It's not the stuff you pull out of your belly button. It's Leeeeeent. The time you give something up to show your devotion to Christ or some such dogma."

My friend was not a strong adherent of the faith, and yet even he knew more about lent than I did.

I remember my mom celebrating lent a couple of times when I was a kid. She always gave up chocolate or fried foods or pie or something, but it always seemed to coincide with the times she had decided to go on a diet. We never talked about why she was giving up something she loved for forty days. I figured "lint" was just another crazy weight-loss plan.

Well, now, you know, I'm going to church. And I'm learning things about the Bible. It's the weirdest thing.

This morning, I logged onto Facebook and followed a link to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church's website, which has this information about lent, or, oops I guess it's capitalized: Lent.

Lenten Season

Lent is about knowing something deeper.  At Grace Covenant, some of us choose to give things up—like chocolate, social media, or something else.  Some of us take on a new practice in service to others.  All of these choices are done in remembrance of Jesus’ time spent in the desert overcoming temptations to use power in pursuit of wealth and popularity. (emphasis mine)

This Lenten season we also give special focus to prayer and the significance of that most beloved prayer in Christianity, The Lord’s Prayer.  We invite you to “Go A Little Deeper” with us to prepare your spirit for the message of Easter. Join us for these special services and for every Sunday in Lent.

And whatever each of us chooses to give up or to do in service, may it be life-giving, healing and a sign of God’s presence in the world.   

Ash Wednesday Service               March 5, 2014 6:30pm

An intentional reflection of what this season means for each of us

Palm Sunday Service                      April 13, 2014 8:50am and 11:05am

Mama Rosa the donkey returns for the parade of palms!

Maundy Thursday Service            April 17, 2014 7:30pm

 A solemn celebration of the Last Supper

Good Friday Service                        April 18, 2014 7:30pm

Chancel Choir presents Kansas City composer Mark Hayes’ Requiem

Easter Sunday Service                    April 20, 2014 8:50am and 11:05am

Celebrate the day with deep joy, glorious music and symbols of rebirth and hope!

I was blown away by this sentence:

All of these choices are done in remembrance of Jesus’ time spent in the desert overcoming temptations to use power in pursuit of wealth and popularity.

Power in pursuit of wealth and popularity. That's what I struggle with daily. That's been my main worry since I first decided I wanted to be a novelist, way back in the days when I'd sit on the front porch with my mom and play Initials.

"ESG," Mom would say.

"Easy: Erle Stanley Gardner," I'd reply. "HL," I'd say.

"Uh...not the lady who wrote that Mockingbird book you like...um... she has a masculine sounding name, but not George Eliot...um..uh..oh, HARPER LEE!" Mom would say. "Now let's play with movie and TV stars. That's easier. I'll start. JS."

"Jimmy Stewart!" I'd guess.

"You're right! You're so good at this game."

I was good because it was our favorite game to play together next to Scrabble. It was special mother-daughter bonding time.

So I understand now, thinking back on it, that the reason I'm so down on myself for, at the age of 43, still not achieving my goal of being a Pulitzer Prize Winning author--not even a fucking Harlequin hack--is because I've been indoctrinated by our popular culture to think that the more fame and fortune I acquire in my pursuit of publishing, the better. I must subconsciously think giving my mom bragging rights about having a famous, published author for a daughter is better than doing things my own way, following my own path out of the wilderness.

I'm no famous author. I'm no movie star. I'm no celebrity. But that's OK.

This navel-gazer has decided to give up staring at her belly lint for Lent. I will try, for forty days and forty nights, to not worry about why I'm not a Pulitzer Prize winning author and instead, focus outward on the world I can help heal with my words.

Instead of using my writing for power in pursuit of wealth and popularity, I'll do my best to use it to love God, and love people. It's as simple as that.