a little something extra

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

the annual amaryllis

A brief break from the spiritual stuff, to describe a delightful little holiday tradition that has grown up in my family.

Once the nest was well and truly empty (and with five kids, that takes a while!) my parents started sending a set of gifts out to the children just after Thanksgiving. "Advent gifts," they called them, keeping with the Roman Catholic seasonal calendar that marks the four weeks leading to Christmas. Never mind that we'd all just seen each other for Thanksgiving; the Advent gifts were always sent to our homes, wherever they might be.

For the first several years, the Advent gift was a five-gallon tin of gourmet popcorn. Already popped, that is. Five gallons of unpopped popcorn would make an almost unimaginable volume once it was popped! The tin was always beautifully decorated, and the popcorn was always delicious -- "plain" flavor (that is butter and salt and nothing else), cheddar flavor or toffee flavor, which was my personal temptation.

However, several of us lived alone, and five gallons of popcorn is a lot for a single person to get through even over the full four weeks of Advent. I would always open mine at home, but started taking most of the contents to whatever theatre employed me at the time. Actors can be pretty much universally relied on to snarf up whatever you put in front of them, so my popcorn found its way to good homes inside the casts of A Christmas Carol. Even when Joemybro moved in with me and we made our popcorn a joint effort, most of it still went to the actors.

A couple of years ago, though, there was no popcorn. Instead a much smaller shipping carton appeared on my doorstep. Inside I found a large bulb in a small pot, with instructions for its care and feeding. Amaryllis!

It must be acknowledged that I am no gardener. Neither thumb is green. Not even a little bit. My amarylli always bloomed... but they also always fell over. I have yet to have a bulb make it through the year to the point where I would supposedly "winter" it, then wake it up to bloom again.

But yesterday, this year's annual amaryllis arrived. And hope, like Christmas, appeared on the horizon again. We'll see what color blooms arise from the red tin pot now ensconced on my table.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Church of What's Happenin' Now (part 2)

Contemporary people tend to assume Christians are morons.

George W. Bush isn't helping.

I don't know whether people in past eras had the same problem. I don't concern myself with that reflection much -- it's enough of a hassle to deal with in the present.

Telling someone I'm a Christian tends to have the same effect I observed years ago, when I dyed my hair blonde. People who had known me for years, who knew how bright I am, suddenly started treating me like I was less intelligent. So it goes with "outing" myself as a Christian. Nevertheless, I do it. I am a one-woman crusade against the notion that you can't be smart, I mean really, compellingly, breathtakingly smart, and be Christian.

But that is really beside my subject matter tonight... Christianity vs. organized religion. Or, why the two should not be assumed to include each other.

For the last couple of years, I've been studying the four Gospels traditionally included in the Bible. I'm sure when I'm really deeply familiar with them, I'll branch out into the Gnostic texts. For now, though, these four will do me.

And as I study them, a little bit per day, I find nowhere that Jesus specifically called for people to worship in organized groups. So, working with the idea generally accepted among organized religions that Jesus was infallible, I conclude that organized group worship is optional, not compulsory.

Tripp has tried to make the argument to me that Jesus assumed people would worship in organized groups, since that was an essential part of the Jewish culture he grew up in. As you can tell, I'm not buying that argument. If Jesus made assumptions, that would make him less than infallible, now wouldn't it?

So, given that organized worship is one option for Christians, it follows that the set of people who worship in organized groups is not an exact union set with the set of people who are Christians. (Venn diagrams! I love Venn diagrams.)

When I "out" myself as a Christian, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a churchgoer. Nor should same be assumed of anyone who says they're a Christian, or says they're a churchgoer. One does not necessarily imply the other.

For most of my adult life, I chose not to worship in groups. After an early, highly emotional parting from the Roman Catholic Church in which I was reared, I was left with an enduring suspicion of churches. And way, way too many churches lived up, or rather down, to my suspicions. Way too many of them put into policy and practice the opposite of the great, inescapable-if-you-wanna-be-Christian commandment, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. And I was not willing to stand up and be counted among a body of people that said they endorsed that commandment, then turned around and made rules that opposed it. So, no church for me. I visited a church every now and again, Catholic or in one of the Protestant denominations, but always found myself so angry and appalled at the evident hypocrisy (strong word, I know, but it was strong feeling) that I could not return after one visit.

Over several years, a few friends from different walks of my life introduced me to the Society of Friends. I researched the Quakers for a year before I went to a Meeting. I discovered that I liked Meeting, that the Society of Friends' body of published testimonies (as close as they get to policies) didn't appall me, and that I could go back. So I did, and went to Meeting off and on for a couple of years. However, I never penetrated the community any further than that. After a couple of years of semi-regular attendance, I don't think a soul at that Meeting could have told you my name.

Upon moving to CA, I was delighted to discover that there is a Friends Meeting in Orange County. I was not delighted to discover it's a 45-minute drive away. After one session there, I was troubled by the bad earth stewardship of driving that round-trip, so I decided to investigate my nearer options. Hence, SOTH, whom I researched much more quickly and effectively than I had the Quakers.

That's all for blogging tonight, and for the next few days. Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Church of What's Happenin' Now (part 1 of many)

My friend Tripp is largely responsible for drawing me into the blogosphere. Organized religion is a big part of his blog content, though far from the only thing you'll find there -- you'll also get updates from early married life, musings on travel, and gig dates for what I have all faith is a damn fine Irish band.

One would expect Tripp to blog a lot about religion. He's a professional. I, on the other hand, am an amateur, and have found it hard to get started blogging about my religious life. (Not to be confused with my spiritual life... but that'll be another post.)

Then in a phone conversation last week, my mom gave me the title I needed to get started. She told me about "The Church of What's Happenin' Now," a recurring sketch on "Laugh-In" (which I am too young to remember) that starred Flip Wilson (whom I am not too young to remember) as Reverend Leroy.

These days, I'm attending a church that could easily be called "The Church of What's Happenin' Now." Let me tell you about them. Other posts will cover my history prior to this church, my definition of fundamentalism, and my deep doubt that I will ever properly join a church.

This is the congregation I've been attending for the last couple of months: Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ. (I'd give you a link, but their site has been down for a few weeks.) I've since discovered that there are at least three other congregations in this area also called Shepherd of the Hills. We have a lot of hills... apparently, they all need shepherding.

UCC is a hippy lefty Protestant sect that came about in 1957 from a combination of Congregationalist, and Evangelical and Reformed Churches. Their motto is "God is still speaking," -- this in my twisted mind made the leap to "The Church of What's Happenin' Now."

Shepherd of the Hills (hereafter SOTH) has as its senior minister a Welshman who rejoices in the fabulous name of Sion Huw Anwyl. He goes by Huw or Dr. Anwyl, pronounced more or less "ann-wool". And he may not think his name is fabulous, but I do. He has the sonorous voice and inimitable accent one would expect of any Welshman, and he does things like jaunt over to the University of Tehran to give guest lectures. But at any SOTH service, one will hear twice as much from lay people as one does from Dr. Anwyl. The ministry staff at SOTH also includes a Native American minister who leads a weekly Song of the Earth service on Saturday afternoons, and the hardest working man in the director-of-music-ministry business.

The congregation most weeks is about 50-60 people, including a very active youth and children's contingent, a choir of fewer than ten people, and a band. This is the first church I've ever been to that has a band. Depending on who's there, you might hear a great pianist, a keyboard player, percussionist (hand instruments, not trap set), trumpet, flute, guitar and bass.

That'll get us started.

Friday, November 18, 2005

It's Encourage Rich Day

Rich M., college friend of sister Shannon and periodic Christmastime visitor thanks to the fact that our parents lived relatively close to each other, has a blog here. He has recently been blogging about the National Novel Writing Month, in which he's participating.

Rich is a smart, entertaining writer who's throwing himself with all his energy at the triple task of:
-- creating a novel that will satisfy his internal requirements of coherency and intelligence, and

-- forming the habit of writing every day, and

-- breaking the practice of editing (and shutting himself down) while he writes.

So go forth to Brain Squeezings, Rich's blog as conveniently linked above, and throw him some encouragement in his comments section!

Rich, if you're reading this, say hi to Atlanta for me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

absence makes the heart grow

and then you wind up with a whopping case of cardiomegaly. (Sorry, I'm in a relatively sour mood today.)

I haven't been blogging because I've been working on outside writing projects with looming deadlines. Now that the first drafts are done, I have a few days to wait for feedback. Back to the blog!

Last night I attended my theatre's annual Board and Staff Dinner, held at the production facility a couple of miles away. That building houses our scenic and prop manufacture shops, prop and costume stock storage, the paint deck where scenery is painted before it's loaded into the theatre, and the offices of most of the staff in the production departments. I love that kind of facility, and this was the first time I'd been to the one this theatre owns and uses. We were assigned tables, and I wound up having the chance for extensive, very pleasant conversation with several staff and board members I knew slightly. So, though I didn't want to go in the first place, I wound up having a good time.

Similarly, earlier this week I attended a concert by the John Alexander Singers, the chamber choir that forms the core of Pacific Chorale. They did a lovely mixed program in the acoustically friendly basilica of the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. (Yes, swallows, etc.) Another singer from my section in P. Chorale had a spare ticket and was friendly enough to offer it to me. Though my usual desire after work is to go home and stay home, off I went to an evening of lovely music and good fellowship. They sang Allegri's Miserere, which I had only heard on recordings before; a contemporary minimalist piece called "Rothko Chapel" (which renewed my wish that I had visited the actual Rothko Chapel when I lived in Texas), and a Palestrina mass. Which sounded like every other Palestrina mass, but I like Palestrina so that's ok. It was beautifully sung.

The moral of these stories is... if I don't want to go to a social engagement on a weeknight after work, I should probably go. My instincts are off.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

happy outcome

I mentioned in an earlier post the calendar conflict between a freelance job with this company, and this performance by Pacific Chorale. I'd emailed a note to my section leader and the Chorale's manager, with the request that they share it with the artistic director. In it I explained the conflict and told them that while I couldn't participate in this performance, I would be happy to rejoin the Chorale after New Year's if they were up for that. I also told them I would come to last night's rehearsal to drop off my music for the concert I wouldn't be singing.

Pacific Chorale takes itself very seriously. Very seriously. Potentially-intolerant-to-any-outside-conflict seriously.

So imagine my pleased surprise when I was greeted at rehearsal last night by the Chorale's personnel manager, who told me they would be delighted to have me back after New Year's for the last two concert programs of the season. Easy as pie.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Day

I cast my first ballot in Orange County today. My polling place is my local public library, and I was happy to discover a short line of people waiting to vote when I got there this morning.

This was the first time, though, that I've voted on a ticket that included not a single actual candidate for office. Welcome to California, Land of the Proposition, Home of the Referendum.

There were eight propositions and four referendi on today's slate. I voted three Yeses and nine Nos -- I'll leave it to you to research and speculate where they might have fallen.

In other news, I notified the chorus that I would not be able to sing the holiday concert because of the work timing conflict I mentioned in my previous post here. But, I told them I would be delighted to rejoin them for the Brahms in the spring if they're up for that. No word back yet.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Time conflicts and priorities management

Such dry terms that essentially add up to the outraged cry,

"What do you mean, I can't do it all???"

I have an offer of a freelance job, in an area where I want to work, with artists I want to work with, on a project I want to work on. And it conflicts with Pacific Chorale's upcoming holiday concert schedule.

That same freelance job also shows all signs of conflicting with PC's spring performance of the Brahms German Requiem (which I have heretofore only sung in English).

Sadly, it looks like I'm going to have to depart from the ranks of Pacific Chorale, thus whacking the legs out from under my sole extracurricular artistic/social connection.

Damn. But I want to do the freelance job, it's a good opportunity for me. Just, damn.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

family linkage

A couple of recent achievements:

Sister Shannon ran the Marine Corps Marathon in under 4:18, and came in in the top third of finishers for the whole race,

Dad got a great review for the production of Macbeth he directed for the Wilmington Drama League,

... and Nephew Connor exerted himself to new heights of cuteness for Halloween.

Everybody throw some good karma towards my sister Colleen, who's having surgery tomorrow. (No, of course there are no links for that... ew...)