Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Early Morning Alarms

So, at three o'clock this morning, my mother's phone rang. It was the hospital. A doctor needed to speak with her, she was told.

My mother fumbled for paper and pen, and sat silently in bed, waiting to hear that something had happened to my brother. After a few minutes, the woman came back on the line. The doctor was checking the charts, she said, and would be on the line shortly. More silence. My mother tried to remember which hospital the woman had said she was calling from. She couldn't remember.

The third time the woman came back, she said,

"Is this Maria Kirkwood?"

No, my mother said, this is Pamela.

"Oh. This is the wrong person." Click.

So then my mother called my brother. It was only one o'clock in the morning where he is, stationed on the border in Arizona. He assured her that he was fine, and then the two of them wondered-- could it be Ouisi? She might have been so badly injured that her brain was damaged and when she tried to say "Mela Kirkwood" it came out something like Maria. Ouisi could be lying alone in an ICU somewhere with a lethal brain injury. So my brothercalled my phone, and when I picked up he said, in his steady, it's-all-under-control-but-still-darned-serious voice,

"Ouisi, nothing is wrong here, but we got a call from a hospital that didn't make sense and wanted to check and see if you were okay."

Well, actually, what he said was, "Ouisi, nothing is--" and I said,


So we all went back to sleep. And nobody was dead, and I did a web search today, and there are no Maria Kirkwoods within five hundred miles of my mother. And the next time that somebody calls me at three o'clock in the morning, I'll try to remember that there are good reasons to call people at that hour, and to not open the conversation with a gutteral cry of rage.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sunday Frump

I work in an office, a tall, shiny glass building filled with desks and ergonomic chairs. In the morning, I assemble my slacks, blazer, knee-highs and camisole. I pack my work shoes in a bag and walk to the Metro in my sneakers. On the train, I stand amid people who are also wearing this morning uniform, sort of a clothing mullet: business on the top, party on the feet.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Desert: Looking for a Map

I'm not in a good place. I feel frustrated. Let down. Lied to and strung along and abandoned in the middle of a wasteland.

It doesn't feel like depression. Being depressed walls you off from the bright, busy world and shuts you up in a dark and empty place. You want to get out there, where life is good, but you can't. This is different. Here, I'm not separated from the world. I'm just sick of it. I don't want to write, because there's nothing worth saying. I'm usually a chatterbox, but now I don't want to speak a single word. I don't want to read, or spend time with people, or listen to music, or knit, or do anything, because everything seems pointless-- a way of crowding out the silence and the anger inside.

That crazy dash to cover up the God-shaped hole? I see Christians doing it more than anyone else. I sit through a worship service and yawn at the syrupy music. I wince when a pastor brags about the souls that God gave to him to save. I read a religious text, and wonder how anyone could believe the smug, hateful garbage that we as Christians keep putting out. Here's a concept I thought I understood: the Church gets it wrong sometimes, but God is faithful. Turns out that when the Church is really getting on my nerves, I have trouble believing in God's faithfulness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Into the Desert

I was taught that Christians are the only people who understand what the point of reality is. I was taught that everyone has a God-shaped hole inside, and that people who don't know Jesus spend their lives in a mad chase after temporary, fleshly passions, trying to ignore the God they think they don't need and trying to fill the void with things that don't fit. But Christians, we lived life with full satisfaction in each day, because God was with us. I was pretty content that I knew everything that really mattered, and so this made sense.

Then I left Rhea County and found that I was taking a different shape. For one thing, I learned some new synonyms. What we called bleeding-heart liberalism was called compassion by my new church. What we called the reign of secularism was called social justice by the Roman Catholics. What we called being ashamed of the Gospel was called humility by the saints. My brain stretched out to accommodate these new ideas, and I found that the God I'd brought with me from Rhea County was starting to rattle around loose. As I learned more about Jesus, that void got bigger, not smaller. And God didn't fill it any more.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Watering the Seeds of Doubt

I found the following on my old blog. It's an excerpt from a paper I wrote for a theodicy class four years ago.

These are the premises set out for us by both orthodox and popular Christianity:
-Our god is omnipotent, a god of infinite and perfect power, reigning over the natural world and the spiritual realm
-Our god is benevolent, a god of infinite and perfect goodness, caring for us as a parent cares for a child
-Humanity experiences suffering, existing in a fallen state of pain, disease, and violence

This is where the questions begin. If our god is so good, why are we allowed to suffer? Does God not have the power to stop our suffering? Or, if God can prevent human suffering, then is God cruel and uncaring, choosing not to rescue us from pain? 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My First Job, or, Integrity Isn't Worth My Thumb

I was eighteen and ready to spend the summer sleeping in and watching TV. Just a few weeks after I finished 12th grade, though, my mother screwed up the agenda by insisting that I get a job. Way to cramp my style, Mom.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Being Single in Wintertime

I was deleting old files from this computer and found a comic that I drew a few years ago.

Trashy Music and Walls

This year's brainless pop music uses the following lyrical pattern:

1. May I have your attention, stranger
2. I am currently sex-crazed and want to mate furiously with you
3. "They" (an amorphous collective of social peers) disapprove of me as I flagrantly violate their standards of behavior
4. Just to be clear, I will be mating with you tonight only, and have no intention of forming a relationship with you

Britney Spears songs epitomize this pattern-- most recently, "Hold it Against Me," in which the listener has the impression of being propositioned by one of the Chipmunks. Lady Gaga makes it through steps 1 and 2 before getting distracted by la petite mort and spending three minutes expressionlessly dry-humping the air in her "Edge of Glory" video. Pitbull nails all four steps in "Give Me Everything" while rasping and chuckling in a voice that makes me feel like I'm being lightly raped in the ear.

Songs like this make me uncomfortable. Yes, partly because I'm worried about catching chlamydia through the radio waves, but also because I'm worried about living reactively to this model. I'm worried about trying so hard to be not Britney that I live entirely inside my own walls. The personas that these pop artists put on are, sexually, ready at any moment to drop all of their boundaries and rush into total interconnection with a stranger, with no game plan for what happens the next morning. Most psychologists and gynecologists rightly discourage this behavior. The walls that keep us from doing this every Friday night are there for a reason. But I think and live as if all of my walls are as important as the walls that keep me from turning into Nicki Minaj.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In Which I Show Off

I am terrible at most domestic skills. My grandmother baked and sewed and gardened and made lovely shadow boxes and wreathes from vintage notions and quilts. I always wanted to have a house like hers-- smelling of dinner and dried flowers, with treasures tucked into every available space.

Monday, August 1, 2011

You're Scaring Jesus

Or, John 1:10 at the antique store

We just returned from an amazing vacation in the highlands of western North Carolina.

My family has vacationed in Linville nearly every year since before I was born. One of our traditional activities is a day spent in Boone, the city named for Daniel Boone and now known for being the home of Appalachian State University. On this trip, the first that Patrick has attended, we had lunch at the soda fountain in Boone Drug. The waitress, an older woman with fluffy hair and penciled-on eyebrows, took my order by saying "What can I get you, baby?" She shuffled back with a delicious, overflowing mint chocolate milkshake. "Drink on this, honey," she said, "I gave you a little too much." (You know you've left Northern Virginia when the waitress doesn't appear to want you to die.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dragging the Monster From Under the Bed

I have never believed in guardian angels. The idea of a divine bodyguard, with the sole assignment of following me around and protecting me from bad things happening, is a superstition belonging to middle-aged women with fluffy hair and a collection of Precious Moments figurines. It's unrelated to Biblical descriptions of angels, and it doesn't play out convincingly, since lots of people (including me, sometimes) have horrible things happen to them. So if guardian angels exist, they are either bad at their jobs or only assigned to a few lucky jerks.

And the flip side of this is, I've always been skeptical about fallen angels, too.

Barracuda: A Family Tradition

One of the major milestones of my childhood was being old enough to participate in the Barracuda game. I used to go to bed sulking when we visited Granee and Granddad, knowing that the grownups were sitting around the table in the breakfast room and playing late into the night.

Barracuda is a version of rummy that nobody else has ever heard of. We don't know where it came from and why it's called what it's called (although we speculate that it's because typical gameplay involves a lot of watching and waiting and then a sudden fit of activity). Since the great-grandparents are no longer living, we can't ask them. But we still play it, just three generations of us now, always pausing at the beginning to say "Who's keeping score? I don't remember how to keep score. Barney, do you remember how to keep score? No? Look, here's last year's score pad. That doesn't look right. I think we did it wrong last year. Does anybody know how to keep score?"

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Letter to My Brother, or, Don't Fear the Wesleyans

Hey, kid. Remember all those years that we hated each other's guts? All the fights we had over toys and chores and schoolwork? Remember how we'd stand in the living room and scream back and forth, and then you'd throw something at me, and then I'd slap you, and we'd huff and puff with rage for about five seconds before hearing The Mother's key in the lock and realizing that, if either of us told on the other, there would be a Reckoning? By the time she had her briefcase through the door, we had apologized and were busy doing each other's chores and pretending that we had been getting along nicely all day.

Anyway. I'll forgive you for being lazy and annoying if you'll forgive me for being bossy and intrusive. It wasn't easy being the big sibling in a single-parent working household, and you had to deal with me as both sister and custodian most of the time. I didn't have the patience, good humor, or ability to judge priorities that you needed in a full-time babysitter. And you-- well, you weren't the easiest kid to be home alone with every day. I'm not going to forget the Grape Jelly Incident.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Abridged Version

Can't wait two days for the official movie release? Didn't read the book and having trouble keeping up with the films? Waiting in line at the movie theater already and killing time on your smart phone? (You dork.) Then spoil everything with the following abridged version of Harry Potter 7.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Four Ways that Roman Catholics Are Awesome

I have to give credit where it’s due: Catholics are pretty good at what they do. Here are some ways in which Catholics leave Evangelicals in the dust:

Friday, July 8, 2011


Eleven started off with a bang. Three days into eleven, I dug a tube of what looked like pale pink lip gloss out of my Christmas stocking and ran eagerly to a mirror to apply it. To my horror, the gloss was colorless, and I ran just as quickly back to the room where my mother was sitting, happily watching the children playing with their loot.

"It's clear!" I shouted, and flung the offending cosmetic at my startled mother.

At eleven, I had all of the neediness and lack of self-control that I'd had at ten, but also had the firm conviction that I was now a grown-up and should be respected. At eleven, I was furious at Miss Joy for talking baby-talk to us at Vacation Bible School, and for expecting us to call her something as babyish as Miss Joy. At eleven, I grew five inches and found that my hips suddenly banged into doorknobs. At eleven, I woke up one morning to find that the shoes that had fit the previous day were now a full size too small.

My mother checked a book out from the Bryan College library. It was a book on puberty, published in the 1970s. The opening chapter introduced a classroom of well-behaved children who asked their biology teacher conveniently leading questions. One day, the children arrived at school to find that their hamster, which had given birth the previous day, was now alone in her cage. The teacher explained that sometimes first-time parents, too young to emotionally handle giving birth, will devour their offspring.

I didn't finish the book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Listen to What I Mean, Not What I Say

My husband has some directional issues that get worse when he's upset. When he's under no pressure and feeling confident, he knows his right from his left, off the cuff, about 50% of the time. He usually gets it right when he pauses to double-check. But when he's driving and lost, he reaches a point at which he is so flustered that he confuses right and left 100% of the time. So my job is to sit there with the map in my lap and judge at which exact moment it is time to start mirroring the directions and tell him "turn right" when we need to turn left.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Mountaineer's Courtship

Here's a video of a song we learned up in the mountains at Bible camp. It's an old country song and the lyrics vary. Two people sing back and forth to each other, as in the song "There's a Hole in the Bucket." Also as in that song, the female gets more confused and/or exasperated as the song goes on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mortal Sin

I stood on the sidewalk outside of the youth group meeting spot, talking to Carrie. Inside, rowdy teens piled on sofas or chased each other around for the last few minutes before their parents arrived to pick them up. Out here it was a warm, quiet evening on Market Street in downtown Dayton, a place where all the shops closed at 5.

The door opened, releasing the sounds of laughter and one small child. She stalked up to us and stood toe-to-toe with me, staring up at my face.

"Are you a skater?" she asked suspiciously. 

"No," I said, "I fall off of things with wheels."

She leaned closer, wrinkling her nose.

"Are you goth?!" she asked. I looked down at my black clothing.

"I don't know. I guess so," I said. She turned and looked at Carrie.

"Is she going to go to Heaven?" she asked. Carrie and I burst into laughter. She turned beet red and stalked off.

If there was anything to be learned from that experience, none of us figured it out.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Past Life, Part III: Down the Spiral

Humans tend to think in binary: yes or no, on or off, is or isn’t. The fundamentalist traditions are saturated with binary thinking: you are saved, or you aren’t. You are us, or you are them. You take every word in the Bible literally, or you reject the Word of God. Pray the Sinner’s Prayer, and in a moment you switch from the damned to the redeemed. There is not much room for spiritual progress in the pop fundamentalist understanding of salvation.

This is where the Christian compulsion to forgive becomes a bludgeon. If someone has been injured and is still carrying the effects of the injury, we think they haven't forgiven. We don't recognize that forgiveness is a process. We jump on them and tell them to forgive and forget. Just do it. The Holy Spirit will give you the strength. One-step forgiveness, and if you can't handle it then you aren't praying the right way.

Past Life, Part II: The Spiral of Forgiveness

The nightmare comes within the first week of moving to a new place. Here I am, in a house or a dorm or an apartment, and my father shows up. He is creeping around the outside of the building, climbing up the wall to my window. He is waiting in the hallway for me to walk past. He is smashing the locks, opening the door and walking in, laughing at me as my knees give out in fear and I try to crawl away. He is grabbing me and pawing at me, running his hands over my flesh, pressing himself against me as I scream for help. I wake up covered in sweat and shaking. My new home isn't safe.

When I began talking about the abuse that had gone on for the first twelve years of my life, there were two reactions. Counselors and social workers and people used to dealing with trauma listened, and asked questions, and eventually said: "You need to reject the injury that he's done you. You need to sever the relationship, and the way you do that is by forgiving the debt that he owes you. As long as you cherish that debt, he will still have power over you."

But when I spoke candidly with the members of Grace, the people who had sat with him at church and worked with him at the college, they would frown, cut me off and say, "You need to forgive him! God wants you to have a healthy relationship with your father. If you pray, God will help you set aside your anger and be forgiving." Because I was a victim, it meant I was also a sinner. To talk about the injury meant that I was holding a grudge, and that I was judging the abuser instead of leaving the judgment up to God.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Baptist Bingo: Baptism & Infant Dedication, Part I

Baptists are one of several traditions that don't baptize our babies. We are credobaptists, practicing what's often called Believer's Baptism, baptism of adults by full immersion (known as the dunk, as opposed to the sprinkle).

When I was a small child, attending a non-denominational credobaptist church, I thought that I ought to be baptized because I believed in Jesus. That's what people who believe in Jesus do.

Of course, you have to have water to have a baptism, and we didn't have water.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think it Means

It's a small-talk question. "You used to live in a small town? How many kids were in your graduating class?" people will ask. Or, "I went to Thomas Jefferson. Did you go to high school around here?" That one is easy to dodge if I don't feel like getting into the issue: "No, I grew up in Tennessee."

See, there's no telling which reaction I'll get once I disclose that I was homeschooled. Will it be "Oh, that's interesting," or "Really? My brother-in-law homeschools his kids," or the dreaded, "That's so strange. I never would have thought you were homeschooled. You don't seem like it."

It's not a fun conversation to have. For many people, public school is such a basic framework of reality that they can't believe I could grow up homeschooled and not have any resulting mutations, like an extra limb or gills. Having been homeschooled doesn't make me cool, the way that growing up in a foreign country makes people cool. It doesn't make me clever, the way that attending a competitive prep school makes people clever. It makes me. . . wrong. Neglected, probably; repressed, certainly; and absolutely uneducated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Other Kind of Baptist, or, All I Really Wanted was to Play with Power Tools

My church sent some folks down to Richmond to work on houses with other members of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. I was assigned to a crew that was building a wheelchair ramp. The crew leader was a big, stocky man with a mustache. His wife had a puffy dome of permed hair. She was the only other female on that crew, and she was trouble. She was the other kind of Baptist.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"I AM ABOUT TO DIE": Clumsiness, Mortality Awareness, and the Chronic Non-Joiner, Part I

When I was about six, my mother enrolled me in a swimming class. She has a photograph of my bony, blue-white frame being lifted down into the water by a bronzed, Apollo-esque college student with sun-bleached hair. I am crouching in midair, my limbs folding up against my body with fear as the massive, muscled hands draw me down. I am afraid that I am going to die.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Baptist Bingo: What the Sam Hill do you guys believe, anyway?

There's about a 100% chance that at some point this month, I'll go to church and hear a sermon about how we are completely depraved and how God wants to save us, and sent His son Jesus to die on the cross and bear God's wrath for our sins, offering himself as a substitutionary atonement to erase our bad standing with God. Then there will be an appeal for us to ask Jesus to come into our hearts, because only when we freely choose to accept the crucifixion for our sins will we experience God's saving grace. From that point we can rest assured that we are guaranteed to enter into Heaven when we die.

That is the personal doctrine of my church's interim pastor. He is a huge fan of penal substitutionary atonement theory. He's also an Arminian.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Camp

The calendar says it's three weeks until summer starts, but that's a terrible falsehood. The DC metro summer has rolled its smoggy smothering self across the region, bringing heat advisories and color-coded air quality warnings.

As an adult, summer means that my antiperspirant wears out before I reach the Metro station and I spend my lunch breaks in the office instead of outside inhaling VOCs. As a child, summer in Rhea County meant a week at Cumberland Springs Bible Camp, each day packed with swimming, sports, and the fellowship of rambunctious kids.

I hate swimming and sports and fellowshipping with rambunctious people.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I Want My Six Dollars Back

“Can’t I get the price for the men’s cut?” I asked.
“No; you woman,” she said.
“But it’s a man’s cut,” I said. She wouldn’t back down, and I didn’t want to start a fight, so I paid the extra six dollars for the women's cut. I got the same service that a man gets, but was charged more.

At another barber shop, I was turned away; the woman there looked at the picture I showed her-- cut with scissors on top, clippers on the side-- but insisted that she did not know how to cut a woman's hair and couldn't do it.

This is the cut that was billed as a woman's hairstyle.
When I was little, I had long hair. I hated it. It got caught on things, and I had to braid it every night if I didn’t want to wake up with a horrible tangle. I brushed it out smooth and straight every morning, pulling out knots and tying it back, but by the end of the day it always had terrible snarls in it. It was heavy and stringy and annoying and, by the time I was nine, I’d had enough of it. I went to the hairdresser and had it all chopped off.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The End Of The World, Part II: When you come back again. . . would you bring me something from the fridge?

I don't really believe that Jesus is ever coming back. If I did, I'd being living with a sense of urgency, and I'd be getting stuff done.

I'd be a free-spirited, crunchy granola social justice and environmentalism fanatic. I would be involved in AFAC and ASPAN beyond sending a check or some canned food once a year. I would produce a bag lunch and a gift card for every homeless person who stopped me on the street. I would definitely not be wearing business-casual slacks and blazers; I would be in some kind of homespun fair-trade organic Quaker plain dress. I would be so humble that everyone would notice.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End of the World, Part I

My supervisor and I have different approaches to correcting flawed work. When I’ve been assigned to rework a project, I begin by evaluating how the project was assembled, and then I assess which parts of the project can be salvaged.

My supervisor deletes everything and starts from scratch.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Once Two Strangers Climbed Old Rocky Top

Looking for a moonshine still.

Strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top. . .
Reckon they never will.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rerun: Consider the POOR, ABANDONED Lilies

April 11, 2006

My mother received a peace lily as a gift many years ago, either as a wedding or a housewarming present—anyway, the lily is within a couple of years of my age. It’s enormous. Gargantuan. This is a plant that’s over 20 years old, over five feet tall, and has leaves you could use as small rowboats. And my mother, who anthropomorphises everything and panics at the idea of being responsible for something helpless and innocent, finally snapped after two-plus decades of watering this poor thing weekly and turning it to the light. Its presence in the living room just became too much for her.

Here’s what she did. She got up in the wee hours of the morning, muscled the lily out to the car, drove to The Plant Place at the other end of town, and abandoned the lily on the nursery doorstep, with a piece of paper on which she’d written, “Please take care of my baby.”

Now, of course, she’s wracked with guilt, as well she should be. I grew up with that plant. I moved army men and little plastic animals around in the pot and pretended they were in the jungle. I stretched out on the carpet next to that plant and did my schoolwork. That plant was as important to the house as the walls and ceiling. Okay, so by the time I moved out it had started to get so big that it was getting a little scary, but that’s not the plant’s fault. It did a very good job of being a plant. Lived up to its responsibility of plantishness.

My mother is afraid the nursery might’ve put the lily down. I just think it’s a miracle that both my brother and I made it to adulthood.

(Early Happy Mother's Day, Mommie. Sorry for the guilt trip.)

Justice Has Been Done

“I heard they gunned him down squealing like a pig.”
For the innocents killed in Your name:
Lord, have mercy.

“Like a pig. They should have chopped him up like a pork chop.”
For blood that cries out for more blood:
Lord, have mercy.

"It’s about goddamn time, is all I have to say.”
For the gifts of a strong will and a sharp mind, corrupted by the man you gave them to:
Lord, have mercy.

“They should have decapitated him on YouTube.”
For the souls he led astray:
Lord, have mercy.

 “All right, America!”
For the righteous fury that rejoices at his death:
Lord, have mercy.

“Justice has been done.”
For this and every generation in our broken world:
Lord, have mercy.

Orlin Wagner, AP

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Mary Month of May

It’s May, the most awkward time of year between my husband and myself. May is the month dedicated to Mary. We have very different opinions about Mary. We have very different opinions about many things, but the Mary one tends to get us both riled up.
It’s one thing to talk about how Christians should respect each other’s deeply-held beliefs and meaningful traditions. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy and very good about myself.
It’s another thing for a Baptist to watch her husband marching in a processional to place a wreath of flowers on the head of a graven image of the perpetually virginal Mother of God, crowning her Queen of Heaven. That's where the rubber hits the road, and I start acting like a twit.

Baptist Bingo: The Lord's Supper

Baptists are funny creatures. They are complex and contradictory in all of their forms, and they do take many forms. There are some things that you expect from them, which they usually deliver, and other things that you might expect and be surprised not to find. I’m going to be exploring some of the quirks and stereotypes of Baptists in a feature I call:

If you are a Baptist, you probably think that I left a lot of critical things out and put in some junk. Too bad; it’s not your blog. If you aren’t a Baptist but will have the opportunity to attend a Baptist service in the future, keep an eye out for the items on the card. If you fill out the whole card, though, I think you may be spending too much time at church. Go watch a football game or something.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Dreading

My brother has a flair for the dramatic. Sometimes it's loud and flashy, and sometimes it's more subtle. When he has something serious to communicate, he lowers his voice and speaks with a soft, perfectly-controlled intensity. He drops his chin in broody Robert Pattinson form, his dark brown eyes staring out through pale lashes. He radiates tension. What he has to say is important.

Really important.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review

Hey, folks, Easter isn't over until Pentecost. Don't forget to get that dusty Book down off of your shelf and review the Greatest Story Ever Told. In case you haven't read it in a while, it goes like this:

The people were living in darkness, under the rule of fear and death. There were prophesies of a savior, but the people had grown accustomed to their way of living and weren't keeping watch. Even so, the promised child was sent to them, born to gentle and loving human parents. As he grew, he formed a core group of followers and gathered unto himself the outcasts, the have-nots, and the rejects of his proud and elitist culture. Because of the good he did, he was called before the leaders of his people, the ones entrusted with power and supported by the faith of his people, and was tried unfairly, accused of breaking the rules. He willingly went to his death, but when he died the power of evil and death was broken, and he was raised to life as the savior of all. After that, he married his best friend's sister and settled down to raise a brood of kids named after his dead friends and relatives.

Rerun: Wal-Mart

So I was just going through my e-mail trying to clear up some space, and found a link to my old blog. Instead of sitting and thinking and coming up with something meaningful, tonight I'm going to copy and paste! Much easier, and it means more laundry will get done. I haven't worn socks in three days.

Rerun: December, 2005
A couple of years ago, one of those hideous Super Wal-Mart monstrosities opened up in my hometown (population: 6300 and some chickens). The old, regular Wal-Mart was always the hot spot in town; Friday nights all of the good ol’ boys would get in their blue Ford pickups and go cruising around the parking lot. And around and around and around. This brand-spankin’-new Wal-Mart is the biggest thing to happen in those parts for a couple of generations. Right after it opened my brother went in to buy some paintballs, and the cashier called the manager over, and the manager got up in my brother’s face and screamed at him. Apparently the new rule is that minors can’t buy anything that could be used to harm themselves or others, so no paintballs, no over-the-counter medications, and nothing chemical that thuggish menaces to society such as my brother could huff.

Yesterday was my brother’s 18th birthday. I called him up, congratulated him, and told him that now he can legally smoke, get married, and join the military. He said, “Yeah, but I’m not going to do any of those things. I’m going to Wal-Mart to buy Wite-Out. JUST BECAUSE I CAN.”

Update: Now my brother is twenty-three. He just quit his job at the Super Wal-Mart and joined the Border Patrol. Yesterday they doused him with pepper spray and hit him with clubs. He says it's part of the training. I'm suspicious.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rhea County Hijinks

One of the saddest things about living in Northern Virginia is the local news. Aside from the fact that our local news is also the national political news (the local paper is the Washington Post), our proximity to some high-crime areas means that murder is an everyday occurance.

One of the most entertaining things about Rhea County is the local news. Because it's a sleepy region, the top news articles tend to read like the following lineup from this February:


Saturday, April 23, 2011

What is Good Friday?

One of my coworkers is from India. A few weeks ago, we were discussing our plans for the year. He said that there was a certain date he would be taking off from work.

"It's my god's birthday," he said. "It's important to celebrate it."

I have another coworker who is from Hong Kong. She and her boyfriend gave me a ride home one evening, and she asked me what Good Friday is. I think I gave her a quick answer that wasn't what I'd say now that I've been thinking about it. Now I realize that Christ's Passion deserves enough respect and contemplation for me to rise to the challenge when I have an opportunity to describe it to someone else.

So now it's your challenge. Imagine that you've just been asked the following questions. The person you are speaking to is unfamiliar with Christianity and is a non-westerner. You're a block from home and this isn't the venue for an hour-long theological discussion. How do you answer?

"What is Good Friday?"

"What is Easter?"

"What do you do at church this week?"

And for extra credit: What important questions do you think that Christians should be able to answer on the spot?

Ode to Okra

There are some things you have to grow up with to really appreciate. A lot of Appalachian food is like that. Catfish, for instance. A catfish is a bottom-feeder, swimming lazily through the silt in the Tennessee River for year after year after year, growing enormous and taking on a flavor like pond water. And I love it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Heresy for Pastry

"I'm not sure I should be swinging with the Baptists," he said.

"I think you'll like our pastor," I said. "His sermons aren't dumbed down like the homilies at Marymount. And the Bible study is great. You'll really get into it."

"But it's heresy!" he said.

"We have pastry before the service," I said.

"I can do heresy for pastry. . ." he said thoughtfully.

Now he's dating one of the Baptists from the Bible study. It just goes to show that the power of carbohydrates can do more for Church unity than the best efforts of ecumenical theology.


Friday, April 15, 2011

The Morning Commute, Part I

This is a sculpture called "The Flame," perpetrated by Ray King. Patrick and I call it The Wretched Spike. It looks like iridescent cellophane wrapped around a bent coat hanger.
I don't get the "flame" part of it. The outline is similar to a thin candle flame, but inorganic, and the materials are icy, sharp and geometric. It could be the White Witch's wand. It's an aggressive and lifeless mechanism.

That's the start of my commute to work. I walk past the Wretched Spike, then a few blocks to the Metro. The office buildings along my route are glass and concrete, with a few square feet of greenery in front. Since Arlington is a densely developed city, there's not a lot of flora here. The trees are usually ornamental, delicate by nature and stunted by nurture, standing isolated in grates at regular intervals along the sidewalks. Many of the trees have been trying to bloom this month, but a long cold winter followed by a cold and rainy spring have shortened the blooming period. The cherry blossom festival, always a big deal in DC, is centered around the blooming of the cherry trees that line the tidal basin; this year, the trees were at peak bloom for less than a week due to the weather. The city trees along my route are frail and don't last long, but they keep getting replanted. I think of them as the vegetative form of the tiny, shivering apartment dogs that people in my neighborhood keep.

Back in Rhea County, there's not much old growth forest, but the trees are large and hardy. They grow together in a jumble up the ridges and hills, a mix of oaks and maples and yellow pines, with smaller plants like dogwood trees filling in the gaps. The pines grow tall and spindly and sway back and forth in the breeze. One standout is the tulip poplar, which grows tall and broad and dwarfs the surrounding broadleafs. It has large fleshy green and orange petals surrounding a central dense and heavy spike, not unlike the "Flame" sculpture in shape, and after the petals fall, these spikes drop on unsuspecting locals.
That's one of the ways that things are upside-down in Arlington. I'm not supposed to be stronger and longer-lived than the trees around me. Out in front of our wonderful local library, there are tiny ornamental Japanese red maple trees, limbs dipping and bending near the ground in wonderful arabesques. They are a lovely decoration. But trees should also be structural. I miss living in a world that's framed with tree trunks, not I-beams.

The Marriage Bed is Covered with Cat Hair

My husband is a dog guy, from a dog family. Luckily for him, the cat I got off of Craigslist a couple of years ago is pretty doggy.

Frank is a tall, lanky cat with a genetic mutation-- polydactylism-- that gives him extra toes. He has six in the front and five in the back, for a total of four extra toes, and it makes his front paws look like mittens. Frankenstein, the family I got him from called him.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Being the Enemy

When I was smallish-- maybe eight or ten-- I found myself on a bus sitting next to a young woman. We made small talk. I mentioned that I was homeschooled.

Suddenly, the woman's face scrunched up. Her eyes narrowed. Her mouth pursed. And she proceeded to tell me that homeschooling was the stupidest thing that anyone could do, and that I would never learn anything, and that I wasn't learning how to socialize, and that my parents must be real idiots or hate me if they were homeschooling me. She knew better, because she was a public schoolteacher.

I hadn't said anything to her about the quality of public schools in the region (god-awful) or about the benefits of homeschooling. All I'd done was mention that I was homeschooled. I sat there, stunned and silent. Children know it when they've met a bully, even when the bully is an adult, and I thought she must be a nasty, insecure person to pick on a little kid. I also thought she was nuts for terminating a perfectly polite conversation in order to snarl that I was not properly socialized.

But she knew who her enemy was. It was the little kid sitting next to her. I was the upending of everything she believed in and worked for. So she hated me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Black Lipstick and Chevy Pickups

Growing up bookish in a region where a quarter of the population can't read was defining. It meant getting teased by other kids when they saw me with a book. It meant making other kids defensive and angry when I used words they didn't know. It meant exhausting the public library's collection of children's literature by the time I was eight, and it also meant developing a pretty chronic superiority complex when it came to anybody who wasn't as obsessed with reading as I was.

So I was a nerd. A pasty, stringy homeschooled nerd with an overbite. My clothing came from church rummage sales and the local Seventh-Day Adventist mission. Every week at church I wondered if the dress I was wearing had been one of my classmates' cast-offs the year before.

This was Bible Belt fundamentalism in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the fashion among poor homeschooled Bible Belt fundamentalists was cotton floral prairie dresses. I wore old lady shoes: flats with buckles and bows on the toes. My glasses were thick bifocals in huge plastic frames (my paranoid schizophrenic father was convinced that metal frames would attract mind-altering radio signals). There was one year that involved a perm. It was everything you could imagine from a perm on an eight-year-old Appalachian child in 1991. When I was 10 or so my grandmother took me to the Sears in Chattanooga and bought me my first article of brand-new, never-before-worn outerwear: a denim dress with ribbon flowers on the yoke.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It Is By Brains You Have Been Saved

So a bunch of people in my office had babies this winter. I went and bought some board books (the classic work of literature "Hand Hand Fingers Thumb") and left them at the desks of the baby-havers. With a friendly signed note on top telling the recipient why it was such a great book. It had to be signed, see, so that people would know who to be grateful to. 

Orthodoxy is right teaching. Orthopraxy is right action. My husband the Roman Catholic struggles with leaning too heavily on the -praxy side to assure his salvation. Like all good Protestant evangelicals, I lean too heavily on the -doxy side.

Past Life, Part I

There's no line on the ground that shows the change between then and now. I can't identify the very moment that I shifted from conservative fundamentalist to progressive Baptist. Or the moment that I changed from abuse victim to abuse survivor. Or the moment I changed my mind about the role of women in the Church, or about what it is to be saved, or about how good Sunny D tastes (not good at all, as it turns out). Things changed. But some things that were really, really big changed so much that I don't feel, or think, like a person who could have developed out of the person I was ten years ago. That was a life I couldn't wait to get rid of. At eighteen, I was off like a shot, five hundred miles away and never going back.

Now I miss my home town. But I don't miss being me in my home town. It was a crummy childhood. The now me is a lot better off.

When I was four years old, my family moved into a ranch house on top of a hill overlooking a tributary of the Tennessee River. It had a big yard in the front and in the back, brown deep shag carpeting in the living areas, avocado and mustard appliances and matching linoleum in the kitchen and dining room, and glittery popcorn ceilings. The toilet seat in the master bathroom was one of those squishy ones that makes a soft farting sound when sat upon. On the first day we were there, I pushed the lever on the ice maker and ice fell out of the freezer onto the floor. I burst into panicked tears while the babysitter laughed at my reaction.