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How Not to Write a Sermon

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How Not to Write a Sermon:

I have no holy credentials. Well, I have a certificate from Cathedral College declaring that I’m an official Spiritual Companion, but aren’t we all spiritual companions in our own ways? And a few years ago I took seminary classes on spiritual formation, but never finished the certificate because I got chicken pox. A sign that I was not meant to pastor?

Anyway, only an unaffiliated rag-tag group of Jesus followers like the ones at my church would allow me to preach a sermon. It didn’t start out as a sermon, it was supposed to be a “story,” one in a series about hope. Initially our pastor (who also did not graduate from seminary, by the way) asked me to talk for ten or fifteen minutes about finding hope in grief and loss. No problem, I thought, I’ve blogged about that. Then I was told that it was to be an entire thirty-five to forty minute sermon.

So that’s where my head’s been the past few weeks, and why I haven’t been blogging. Sorry about that. I hope you’ve been managing OK without my brilliant insights. I’m afraid I have none for you today, either, but I’m trying to avoid writing this sermon, so here I am.

Attention Deficit, Depression, and a Drum

In typical ADD fashion, I began in hyper-focus mode, completely re-living my mother’s death, my brother’s death, and even my dear friend’s head-on with a tractor trailer that resulted in a nine-month coma and then death. I sat at the computer from 9 a.m. till the sun went down two days in a row, writing about hospitals and death.

Then, of course, I plunged into depression and stopped writing completely.

I became terrified by the whole project. How am I stuck writing a sermon about a trifling matter like finding hope in death? I’m not even a pastor. But maybe that’s a good thing, because a pastor might be tempted to rely on Bible verses about angels and resurrection and the afterlife, and I don’t even know how to find those verses. (I love the Bible, I just never remember chapter and verse.)

Heaven and eternal life are good, but I want to help the people sitting in chairs on Sunday morning to cope with the very real, very present, very today challenge of grieving life’s losses. “Everything will be OK once you’re dead, and not before,” is not comforting to me, and I don’t believe it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here, now, among us, at hand. But how does that help us grieve? Where does one find hope?

I’ve now pulled out of “the sads,” and my ADD has flipped from fierce focus to bouncing puppy mode. I sit surrounded by dozens of pages of unconnected scrawls and phrases like: Mom-Beth-orange slices; Willie, Uncle Rolphe, winged creatures; MVA letter, gym, miracle; and, I bought a drum. They meant something when I scribbled them.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am. My deadline looms. Today is the day I must pull  it together or be in serious trouble. Which is why I decided to write a blog post instead. Please pray for me!

winter 2012-13 continued 009

Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please Stop

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Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please stop.

No offense intended, but what the hell is wrong with you people? And by “you people,” I mean approximately 99%  of the humans currently living in the United States of America.

Two days ago, I did not know who Renee Zellweger was. Now I do, of course. She’s an actress. Big whoop. And apparently she has “had work done.” Bigger whoop.

I didn’t know who she was because I don’t watch television, and I don’t watch television precisely because this is the kind of drivel they serve up. I do hover around Facebook, however, and Renee started to show up there a few days ago, as you undoubtedly know.

Perhaps your friends posted her picture  — a surprising number of otherwise quite intelligent people did. Anyway, I clicked on the photos to see what the fuss was about, didn’t see much difference between before and after, and went about my business.

But it didn’t stop there — no, by the afternoon, there were comment threads a mile long about this outrage, this abomination, this insult, this . . . well, you probably read them.

Excuse me, but who cares? Who cares if she had plastic surgery? Don’t most Hollywood types? Does it make an actual difference to anything at all?

By the second day, the “serious” journalists and bloggers had jumped on it. But rather than just admit that they like mean-spirited gossip as much as the next plebeian, they had to find an angle to turn this non-story into a socially redeeming or educational moment. Oh, they went on and on about sexism and ageism, and examples for our young girls, and — of course — their favorite subject, themselves: how are WE responding to this major world event?

Please. Just please.

Then, a friend of mine pointed out that Renee’s looks were the top story on every national news show and the local news as well. What? Surely you jest.

Nope – no joke. Top of the news. I guess professional journalists now think they are missing “news” if there’s Tweeting going on that they haven’t covered.

America, here is a news flash: Celebrity gossip is not important. The more you fill your head with crap like that, the less room there is for important or meaningful things. There’s an election coming up in a few weeks that could directly affect life-and-death issues like your healthcare, progress on climate change, and who we bomb next. Google that.

Please stop this silliness.

You’re cluttering up my Facebook page, and I’m having trouble finding the cute kitten videos.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."    The Bible

Beauty

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  

The Bible

Refracted Light and Life

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Light as a metaphor for life — man, has that been done to death! So today I won’t inflict that upon you; instead, I’ll allow a picture to speak a thousand words.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge asks bloggers to show refraction, which (as we all remember from physics class) is the way waves — like light and sound — are deflected and change direction when they pass through mediums of varying densities.

I’ve forgotten most of this stuff (hey, I only took Physics for Non-Math Majors) and had to look it up. Turns out, this change in direction is a result of the wave “traveling at different speeds at different points along the wave front.”

Which may explain why, when I step out onto my porch in the mornings, my body receives a clear message to slow down. Could it be beams of light communicating to my psyche? We are stepping into a different medium now, change course, take a detour, and slow down.

Grab your journal, grab your tea, and refract your life into this world for a time.

Bent Light as Life

Bent Light as Life

p.s. – As I’ve said, I’m not into physics. It’s hard. If you must, you may correct what I’ve said in the comments, but it isn’t necessary. I’ll just forget anyway.

Musing on Dead Leaves and a Dead Cat

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I spread a pocketful of cheerful autumn leaves across the dark mahogany tabletop, smoothing the curling edges flat, admiring the precise indentations of the maples, and examining the green stripes and purply spots on the rust-colored beech. I’ve brought in a leathery brown oak leaf, too, and I place it in the middle of the reds and oranges and yellows.

I’m thinking about burying the cat. First I think, at least it’s not the dead of winter, so I won’t have too much trouble digging a deep hole. Then I think of all the critters here in the woods of New Hampshire, and how they might dig her up. I think how unfair: that I would be burdened with another loss so soon after my brother’s passing. Of all the cats I’ve had, this one’s my favorite.

Mayasika

Mayasika

Then she comes downstairs.

She’s not dead, I just thought she might be because she didn’t appear as soon as I came in from my walk. So my mind wandered into worry and then decided to embark on a full expedition. This is how my mind works since my brother died. There’s a low-level anxiety lurking amongst the dendrites and ganglia in my brain, keeping me ever vigilant and ready for the next crisis or tragedy.

Sometimes the bump on my nose must be cancer. Sometimes I know someone is angry with me, but I don’t know who or why; I just know I’m in trouble. Sometimes, my familiar to-do list will bring on a near panic. Sometimes my cat is dead.

Thing is, the worst has happened. And it happened almost ten months ago. But I’ve only just stopped keeping the cell phone by my bed, finally realizing there will be no more nighttime emergencies. I will not be called into action. I no longer have primary responsible for any person’s health or well-being except my own. My mother is dead; my brother is dead.

Given those parameters, everything is fine. I am still alive. My cats are still alive. I’m doing pretty well, really.

I guess it will take time for my tired reptilian brain to come back to center, to stop anticipating disaster. In the meantime, I go for walks in the woods and collect pretty leaves. And I write.

I Don’t Believe in God Anymore

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I no longer believe in God. I know it’s cowardly to announce this on my blog, not having talked to any of my God-people, but there you have it. Further conversations with people who believe in fairy tales are not going to change my mind.

Two simultaneous straws broke the back of the camel from Nazareth.

On Death

First, I’ve been asked to give a sermon at church on finding hope in the midst of death and grief, and you know what? I can’t. I’m done trying. It’s silly to pretend that there’s a happy ending, that the people I miss are OK now, and that there is a spiritual realm in which they thrive. What factual evidence is there? We either end up underground, dressed in our finest, or we are burned up in an oven and our ashes thrown around. There are no wings involved.

On Prayer

The other precipitating event that led to my conversion was an exchange on Facebook. One person said “prayer changes things” with regard to some dreadful world event or another, and an atheist responded, “Money changes things more. They give the money to the rich and encourage everybody else to pray. I say get political and take the money back.” Basically quit being fooled into praying instead of actually doing something.

At first I thought I could understand why she felt that way — I have a lot of respect for this particular atheist, and I think that some Christians do ignore the Biblical warning, “faith without works is dead” — but then I decided that my atheist friend is dead right. Prayer is just a chimera.

Prayer is a farce. There’s nobody listening. Nobody home. No “creator” that cares, no spiritual force working for good in the world, no power stronger than ourselves. The meaning I used to find through prayer was all coincidence, my brain’s neurological transmitters trying to form randomness into patterns.

I have been duped.

On Toast

This world is not getting better; people are not getting better — there is no hope. The human mind is the highest power there is, and history and politics and Rush Limbaugh prove that it is incapable of rising above itself to envision or pursue any higher state of being.

We’re toast.

Now that I understand there’s no God, I can abandon the silly notion that I have power beyond human comprehension to change the world for the better, or to love people I don’t like, or to overcome character flaws I would like to be rid of. I no longer have to carry around this false gratitude for beautiful vistas or cute babies or the belly laughs of my friends. Nope, it’s all just random chemicals and minerals and electrical fields born of primordial soup to no end. 

I’m free!

A bunch of chemicals and minerals playing in primordial ooze

A bunch of chemicals and minerals playing in primordial ooze

Author’s Note

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge, The Unreliable Narrator. A time-honored literary device, the term was first coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth. He wrote: ”I have called a narrator reliable when he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work (which is to say the implied author’s norms), unreliable when he does not.”

So . . .  consider this post unreliable and expect a return to your fairy tale-laden blogger friend in the next post.

Ten Minute Blah-Blah

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Well, this is a really bad idea, I can tell already. If you start with the word “well,” you are already meandering. But that’s what happens when you’re doing woo-woo writing. It’s like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages,” where she tells her disciples to write every morning for thirty minutes, non-stop free-hand, in order to free up the subconscious.

That may be good therapy and it may be good exercise for the wrist, but it is surely not good form for actual writing. Nevertheless, since I had so much fun with the WordPress Daily Prompt yesterday, and since I am trying to avoid errands and chores and packing for my road trip, I decided to see what the Daily Prompt was this morning, and it’s a free-write:

“Take ten minutes — no pauses! — to write about anything, unfiltered and unedited.”

So readers, don’t blame me — this is a WordPress idea and I am just writing, writing. Though I must admit, as much as I didn’t care for morning pages (mostly because they cut into my more reflective journaling time), I do prefer Cameron’s writing by hand to typing, which I’m doing now.

I rarely draft a blog by hand unless inspiration strikes when I am on the metro or in a restaurant or something. Too much trouble — then you have to type it in, and that leads to micro-editing and pondering word choice, and that’s too many steps for something that’s by nature imperfect, unpolished. At least that’s the nature of my blogs. Good practice for overcoming perfectionism. This post in particular will not be accused of perfection.

I think it’s just dreadful how boring my brain is. I have — oh, I don’t know — forty or fifty volumes of journals dating back to 1970. I never read them, though I do intend to if I ever get off my duff and start my memoir. But if the current volumes are any indication, they are all pretty boring. Blah blah kind of stuff. Like this blog post.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

Who wants to read this stuff? And there are dozens more in the closet upstairs.

I rarely think about who might read them, which is funny, because I do tend to care too much what others think of me. But I recognize that those journals have saved my sanity and perhaps even my life: I must vent and cannot be bothered with posthumous reactions.

I’m pretty transparent anyway, there probably aren’t many surprises except to find out how obsessive I am, when to most folks I appear fairly laid back. The obsessiveness and boring patterns and repeated life mistakes are what makes the journals tiresome.

Who thinks like that? And who would encourage a blogger to dump that crap out on the page? I don’t even like to read stream-of-consciousness writing by the greats like Virginia Woolf. Why would I write it? Why would I subject you to it, dear reader? Because WordPress told me to.

You are SOOOOOO glad that ten minutes is up.

Tick Tock, Tick tock

To Try

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I try. I’ve always tried. When I was a kid, I tried to be good, I tried to be smart, I tried to keep the peace in our house. Kids think the world revolves around them (you may also know adults who did not outgrow this) so they try extra hard to control things, especially in an unpredictable alcoholic household.

I’ve always tried to avoid conflict. It reminds me of the dinner table when I was growing up, where I couldn’t understand my father’s tirades or my mother’s silence in the face of family chaos. I tried to be invisible so as not to become the target of paternal wrath or sibling ridicule.

When I was a teenager, I tried to belong; I tried to be the cutest and the coolest; I tried to act like I didn’t care. I tried to end the Vietnam war.

As a young adult, I tried. I tried everything. I tried to see how many drugs I could take without passing out or going bankrupt and how much tequila I could drink and still drive home. I tried to see how many boyfriends I could run through.

Thankfully, grace abounds.

As an older adult, I tried to get ahead in my career as an environmental lobbyist, and I tried to be a good mentor and manager. I tried to make members of Congress vote against the polluting industries that funded their campaigns. You see how well that worked out.

Trying to Save My Sanity

When I was young, I tried to save my father from the bottle, but he died at fifty-eight. In recent years, I tried to save my brother from mental illness and heart failure. That didn’t work either. He passed away in December.

Nowadays I try really hard. I try to work through my grief. I try to “let go and let God,” to surrender my illusions of control and accept what is. I think I finally get that I can’t control anything except myself, and that’s where I need to focus my trying.

I try to manage my time better. Because I know that life is short and getting shorter with every breath, I try to spend time with safe people doing things I enjoy. I spend quality time alone with God, whether that means journaling, meditating, or being out in nature.

I try not to try so hard, and I remember to schedule time for having fun. I just bought a djembe drum!

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So my trying is a constant, though the object of my effort evolves. Now I’m trying to learn to play the drum.

There are a few constants: I will always try to avoid math whenever possible. I will always try to be grateful. And I will always try to change the world; I think I’m hard-wired for that. That’s not trying to control, it’s trying to hope. I’ll be marching in the streets as long as I can, trying to end endless wars and trying to get action on climate change and trying to promote justice.

Because you have to try.

Trying

Trying

♦ ♦ ♦

Thanks to WordPress for today’s Daily Prompt: “Verbal Confirmation: To be, to have, to think, to move — which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?”   http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/verbal-confirmation/

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