Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Clan of the Cleaning Closet

Let me just admit right up front that I am not Suzy Homemaker.  As a matter of fact, my poor house suffers for my lack of skill (and my skill suffers for lack of desire).  If I could do what I wish, I would hire Merry Maids and be done with it, but that—alas—is not to be.  Thus, I have a closet full of cleaners where, front and center, a bucket stands as proudly as if it sported a chest full of military regalia because it contains those I actually use.  Lurking in the corners of the closet, the completely useless cleaners that I have rejected plot to hold their positions in the cleaning closet.

Concerning these cleaners and all their grandiose claims, I have to say that I am disappointed.  One bathroom cleaner, for example, declares that it gets rid of mold, mildew and soap scum.  It fails, however, to mention that it needs any help from me.  This should be considered false advertising, and I really think that there should be some sort of petition to force them to reword such egregiously false assertions. The bathroom cleaner sits securely in the bucket, its little so-called “scrubbing” bubbles smirking with the knowledge that no bathroom cleaner exists that will work on its own. Yet.

In the far right corner, the carpet cleaner sits smugly after infiltrating my home under cover in the box of my new vacuum. It works so poorly that we took out the carpet rather than use it again but it comes by its smugness honestly, because throwing it in the garbage is bad for the environment; thus, its place in my cleaning closet is secure. In a rigid line next to the carpet cleaner, a phalanx of dishwasher soaps stand at attention, secure in the knowledge that—like the carpet cleaner—they are safe from disposal because of environmental issues. Ironically, they secured their places in my closet by posing as “environmentally friendly—phosphate-free.” Each of these pretenders marched in without the dreaded phosphates and lacking as well any ability to get a dish clean.

A bottle of lime and rust remover, a can of turpentine, and three containers of window cleaner huddle in the opposite corner, with varying levels of content, bequeathed to me by "friends" who moved out-of-state and did not wish to carry their cleaners with them. Most of these offer no real use to me, but remain in the closet because my husband has declared that “they will come in handy one day.” They sneer at me as I pull out my bucket and every once in a while they crowd one of their ranks so that it will fall on me when I open the closet door. I swear I hear them chortling as I chase the rogue can or bottle that rolls across the floor after landing on my toe.

With the addition of huge containers of Pine-Sol and other cleaners purchased in bulk at the wholesalers’ club, these products threaten to spill out of the closet altogether, at which time I fear we will no longer be able to use our hallway and will have to enter our bedrooms through the windows. That being unacceptable, I suppose the best course of action will be to move out-of-state, sell the house, and let the new owners take charge of the clan of the cleaning closet.

Christian Terms Defined

Working, and practically living, in a University setting, I have had the opportunity to get to know people from many different backgrounds. I appreciate the opportunity to know people who believe differently than I do, and to learn to understand different ways of thinking. I wish to understand my friends in the terms in which they wish to be understood, and I want my friends to understand me in the same way. This note is not intended to preach at anyone, but was inspired by a conversation with a respected professor who was surprised that I define myself as an Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian.

In the course of debate, many people have said things about “Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians” that indicate that there is a rather wide chasm between the way that an Evangelical Fundamentalist defines some terms and the way a secular person might define them. My purpose for this note is to give some definitions from the perspective of an Evangelical Fundamentalist that some people define differently than we do, so that we might understand one another better. These words are: evangelical, fundamentalist,  interpretation, and inerrancy. Since these are words that I use either to define myself or to explain how I have arrived at the core beliefs I cherish, I want my friends to understand how I define these words, so that they may understand me better.

  • Evangelical – An evangelical Christian is called to share his/her faith with others. Plain and simple.
  • What Evangelical might mean to some Christians but does NOT mean to me:
    • That I must push you until you believe what I believe, or you are so annoyed with me that you hide behind furniture until I am out of sight so as not to have to talk with me
    • That I must thump you over the head with the Bible until you see things my way
    • That I am in any way to dictate to you what you must choose to believe
  • Fundamentalist – In mainstream Christianity, those of us who call ourselves “Fundamentalists” refer to certain fundamentals that are essential to our beliefs. These fundamentals, in my denomination, are as follows:
    • The Deity of Christ
    • The Virgin Birth
    • The Blood Atonement (that is, Jesus paid the price for my sin with his blood)
    • Bodily Resurrection
    • Inerrancy of the Scriptures
  • What Fundamentalist may mean to some Christians but does NOT mean to me:
    • That the Bible must be interpreted word-for-word literally
    • That anyone who interprets something differently than I do will not go to heaven
    • That I must thump you over the head with the Bible until you see things my way
  • Interpretation – The Bible is literature. It is not “just” literature; it is God-inspired literature that is, in the estimation of an Evangelical Fundamentalist (see above), inerrant. It contains history, poetry, parables, metaphors, genealogy, and prophecy. Many of these genres call for interpretation, and we all interpret things in different ways. In the same way that you and I might interpret a poem by Walt Whitman in a different way, the Bible can be interpreted many ways. The Evangelical Fundamentalist, like many Christians who do not classify themselves with these terms, is an exegete. We study, compare, cross-reference, pray, meditate, study some more, and in every way do the best we can to try to determine the meaning that God wants us to infer from the Bible. We are not to “pick and choose” what we want to believe (though many do, whether Christian or not), but we are to do our best to interpret the Bible correctly, in context, and as a whole. It is an inerrant book, but not an easy book. The only things on which I remain firm, as far as the definition of “Christian” goes, are the five fundamentals (see above), which I have found to be consistent throughout the Bible. For the rest, there is grace, because God knows I am not a perfect exegete.
  • Inerrancy – This is a term that causes many people—Christian and non-Christian alike—to get our undies in a bundle. It is a term that calls for some grace, because there is legitimate concern that, in some places, the Bible seems to contradict itself. There are reasons for these seeming contradictions, which I am happy to discuss if anyone is interested. I will not discuss them in this forum, however, because my intent here is not to bore you with information you may not want or care about. The Bible was written by human beings, and the Christian believes it was inspired by God. Even among Christians, what this inspiration means for interpretation is widely and heatedly contested. That is because the Bible is literature (see above). Most mainstream Christians believe in the five fundamentals above, and then we do our best to interpret the rest. Those of you who know me best are aware that I do my very best to understand the Bible without putting my own spin on it. If I interpret it wrongly, that is not God’s fault. 
It is my goal to view my fellow human beings with as much grace as God gives me. I see part of that grace as allowing people to define themselves in their own terms, rather than trying to put my own spin on words they use to describe themselves. I think that this is the goal of anyone who truly wants to understand another person. I hope that this has been helpful, and that it will open doors of understanding for the many different paradigms represented among those whom I count as my friends.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

First Confession: A Mid-Winter’s Nightmare

During my childhood, my family and I belonged to the Catholic Church. As a Navy family, we lived in several places throughout the years, and in my first-grade year, we lived in Idaho Falls, Idaho. A naval base so far inland does appear odd, but my father was an instructor at the nuclear submarine school there. I went to Holy Rosary Catholic School, a part of Holy Rosary Church, where we attended.

The church was eerie, a huge building, solemn and quiet. Its stone walls and ornamentation seemed intimidating from the perspective of a little girl. Only the flickering candles pierced the gloom. They sat on a rack in the foyer, in red votive cups, and smoke rose from them, crawling up the walls to the ceiling. Statues of Mary and the Saints served to remind me I would be watched. To the left of the wounded Christ on the center crucifix, Mary stood as tall as I, but on a pedestal so as to oversee the comings and goings without hindrance. Flowers were placed at her feet by the parishioners, in hopes that the offering would get them on her good side. The Saints kept sentinel, dispersed at intervals along the sides of the nave, between the Stations of the Cross, a pictorial telling of the passion of Christ. A communion rail stood between the nave and the altar, appearing to my childish mind as a barrier meant to keep us from getting too close to God. Darkness prevailed inside, especially in winter, and with only the light from the stained glass windows and the candles, the red carpet and rich wood gave it the aura of a funeral parlor. It proved about as much fun, too. In church, we did not relax; there we must be on our best behavior. I remember sitting at mass one Friday morning, with my class and our teacher, Sister Marissa. I sat in the center of the pew, and Sister Marissa guarded the end. As the priest began the blessing of the communion elements, I made the colossal error of crossing my legs at the knee, and Sister Marissa’s eyebrows shot straight up. I sat out of her reach. Unable to rap my knee, she shot me a look that would have withered the strongest of people. I melted into the pew like hot wax from a candle.

My first confession served as my earliest memory of spiritual things. In the Catholic tradition, a person experiences the mercy of God in human terms only through confession. There, sins are purged and man becomes reconciled with God. I made my first confession in 1971, after the Second Vatican Council, but before the changes made there found their way into the day to day living of the Church. Soon after that, confession would be renamed Reconciliation, and seem much less scary. Oh, how I wish that it had happened sooner.

In the middle of January, the most barren month of the year, I waited in line with the other children, with a sense of dread in my stomach that could have rivaled that of the poor souls waiting in line at the guillotine during the French Revolution. The line moved too quickly and yet too slowly. I thought it would never end, and at the same time I dreaded the ending. The door to the confessional loomed like a prison gate. The pale, sweaty faces of my schoolmates as they left the confessional offered no comfort. Just when I thought I would lose my breakfast, my turn came. The confessional, a small room much like a closet and about the size of a phone booth, sported a padded kneeler and a screened portal to a similar, adjacent room, from which the ethereal voice of the priest pronounced penance and absolution. For years, I associated the voice of God with that of the priest from my first confession. Amazingly, I still wanted to know Him.

Two priests presided in our Church: Father Roger LaChance, who was a good friend of my parents; and Monsignor Verheuven, a rather intimidating individual with a strong German accent and a stern disposition. The Monsignor spent little time with the children, and never darkened the door of the school. He looked and sounded just like the German General Burkhalter of the T.V. show Hogan’s Heroes. He terrified me. I slipped timidly into the confessional, hoping that Father Roger’s voice would float through the screen. A gentle and caring man, he loved the children of his parish, and we all loved him. While confession loomed as a scary prospect for a child, it seemed less so with Father Roger. He knew me well enough to understand the reasons why I did the things I did. He saw through all of us children, and loved us anyway. I remember him as my first human example of how Jesus would act. It would be acceptable to lay open my seven-year-old heart to Father Roger.

I knelt down, since I was allowed only the choice of standing or kneeling, and God might strike me down if I stood. I stumbled through the opening phrases of the ritual I had memorized. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. This is my first confession.” Having gotten through the first part, and gained some confidence, I mentally rehearsed which sins I was willing to confess. I lied to my mom, but she caught me because she said it was written all over my face, so maybe I don’t need to confess that one. I called my brother a jerk, but that one shouldn’t count because he is one. So ran my thoughts, until the nasal tones of a stern German accent startled me out of my wanderings. Monsignor Verheuven. My stomach sank.

He was supposed to say “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”, and he probably did. To me, however, he may as well have said “You’re headed straight for hell, you rotten kid!” His tone frightened me so much that I forgot what my next response was to be, as well as which of my sins I had deemed tame enough to divulge. My response should have been, “Amen”, but I became flustered. Sins…I’m supposed to say my sins, I thought to myself, as I tried to regroup. “I lied to my mom, and I called my brother a jerk”, came out of my mouth, because the sins that I had decided to confess had flown from my mind. Next, I should have repeated the prayer of sorrow, but I was too busy praying that God would get me out of there. My mind could process only the fact that now the Monsignor knew I had fibbed to my mother and called my brother names. I was in deep kimchi. For all I knew, Monsignor Verheuven had a hot line to God: he was, after all, a monsignor, whatever that was. It sounded important enough; I figured he could send me up the river Styx without a paddle. Where, oh, where was Father Roger?

I couldn’t remember my penance. The rest of the day passed in a blur. At home, I prayed while I waited for the judgment to fall. I am sure I said enough Our Fathers and Hail Maries to cover my penance, but I never again darkened the door of a confessional. After that first experience, I pretty much stuck to the communal penance services, wherein the congregation as a whole silently confessed their sins to God, and the priest gave a general absolution. Even long after we left Idaho and Monsignor Verheuven became just a very scary memory, I still avoided the confessional. I’m sure that a corner of Purgatory is reserved in my name for several millennia. Thank God I don’t believe in Purgatory.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Technophobe Hell

I have been debased by a Dell. My computer laughs at me, as do graphing calculators, stereo/video equipment and my husband and children, when they see me trying in vain to use any of the above. I push buttons intended to make these machines do my bidding, and they say, “Yeah…right. Whatever,” and then do what they want to do. Such is the existence of a technophobe in an advanced society.

I was okay with the electric typewriter. As long as I was equipped with a lot of white-out, I could cover my typos and get on with my life. But now we use computers with word processing software, and that software thinks it knows more than I do what I want on the paper. When I casually mention that perhaps, since I have a degree in English, I might know something about writing and thus it should do as I say, it rolls its eyes at me and does what it wants. It is possessed of things called ‘templates’ that are supposed to make my life easier, but instead make it a living hell. I will call my computer Lucifer.

If I want to type a numbered list, I can go to the taskbar and hit the numbered list thingy, and Lucifer will miraculously format my numbers for me. It can be a beautiful thing, as long as I don’t try to dictate how I want those numbers formatted. If I have the audacity to attempt to put more than one paragraph under a single number, God help me. Once I hit return, Lucifer obediently labels my new paragraph with the next succeeding number. “But I want that paragraph on number two,” I protest, and Lucifer smirks.

In an attempt to seem complacent, I make the two paragraphs one, then type what I want for number three, thinking I can then go back and separate the paragraphs under number two. This does not fool Lucifer, who proceeds to change the numbering so that the new paragraph is number three and my number three point is once again number four. “I only want three points,” I snarl. Lucifer dares me to try to change it. I will not be outdone by a pile of silicone, plastic and wires, however. Did I mention that I’m a bit na├»ve when it comes to computers?

I hit the number thingy on the taskbar again to remove the numbers, and I try to number my points manually. I type “1.” on the first point and Lucifer numbers every following paragraph. By this time, having somewhat of a temper, I’m fuming and typing so hard that the table is shaking and my napping cat glares at me. I delete what I have written and try to type it again, manually numbering from the beginning. I finish the first point and hit return, and successive numbers magically appear on each paragraph.

At this point, I call my husband, who is an A+ certified computer techie. He has, by the way, been trying for years to convince me that WordPerfect is better than Word and I’m sure it is, if you’re an A+ certified computer techie who knows how to command a computer in DOS. I tell him that Word is easier to use, at which he throws back his head and laughs, because if it was so easy, why would I be calling him to help me? “Besides,” I reason, “I need to use Word in school because that is what the schools use and it must be compatible.” I have him there. So now I have my techie husband typing on my computer, muttering under his breath that this would be easy in WordPerfect, and I swear I hear Lucifer give a maniacal laugh.

Lucifer also controls my blog. When I wrote my first entry, I forced…um, I mean asked…my husband to become a fan, and then asked my friends to read it. Mary, one of my three BFFs and a veteran blogger, read it and posted a comment, and I was so grateful that I wanted to post a thank you, but I couldn’t figure out how to post a comment on my own blog. Lucifer is probably laughing so hard he’s peeing his pants.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I just started a blog because...I don't know. I love to write, but after I chose the best background, I sat staring at it and thinking, "Okay, that's nice. Now what?"

I guess it would be appropriate to say a little bit about myself. I am a Christian, a wife, a mother, a grad student and soon to be a teacher of English Composition as part of my grad program at Eastern Washington University. I like quirky humor and I'm not into drama. I am the consummate Grammar Nazi, which, as I have discovered to my chagrin, does not keep me from making mistakes. Often as I'm correcting others.

I am the crazy cat lady who lives on the corner. I would not be surprised to see young children daring each other to run up and touch my door, and running like bats were chasing them from a cave if I actually peeked out. Unless my birthday is somehow posted on this blog, I will leave my age to the reader's imagination. Somewhere between thirty and dead.

That's enough for a start. If I say it all tonight, I will never have anything to say, and that would disappoint my devoted fan.