Posted in Writing

Poem: Sinking Ship

Sinking Ship  

Tragedy oft befalls the man
That seeks to save another’s sinking ship
Your hero’s badge will not float
If you both go down like DiCaprio

So beware you of Savior Complex, you lovelorn and you Martyr Saints
For bleeding hearts beat twice as fast but half as long
Beware you Duty-Bound and Samaritans passing through
For eyes that see, but do not look, may miss the dagger of a thief

So let compassion have its place
Among you fair-hearted nobles, no doubt
But never let your heart rule your mind
Lest twisted fate turn you the beggar
And you pay the price for wrongs
You never did un-right

“Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.” -Prov. 26:17

Posted in Life

BBC’s Sherlock Series

As previously discussed, I do have a curious love/hate relationship with TV. I cannot just sit down and watch TV. I have to have a reason, an impetus. About a week ago, I was writing in a library. Not having much luck, I stumbled across the DVD shelf. I needed something to keep me from taking myself too seriously. I browsed the titles, and ran across the BBC Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberland and Martin Freeman.

I had read a few Sherlock Holmes stories, and found them interesting, but slightly heady. This promised to modernize the stories, and set them in 21st century England. I was doubtful of the claim, as typical attempts to “modernize” classic literature usually fall flat. But desperate for entertainment, I checked it out. (I’m sure Cumberland in his trademark jacket had something to do with it. *Ahem*).

I got it home, and found that I had stumbled across TV gold. There are only three episodes per season, and three seasons to date. So, every night, for less than a week, I watched the entire series.

Cumberland is flawless as the eccentric Holmes, although he is much younger than the typical Sherlock. He starts the series in his mid-twenties. Freeman is about ten years older, but the age difference between them not only plays well, but actually adds a subtle touch. Freeman does a well-nuanced Dr. Watson, and I quickly remembered from him the British version of The Office. (He played the character that became Jon Krasinki’s Jim).

The Sherlock series centers more around the relationship between the two men, rather than the actual mysteries they solve. Which, I think it is a smart move.  Crime drama is a dime a dozen. But, crime drama that takes the time to flesh out timeless, intricate characters is much more compelling.

The attempt to modernize them did not disappoint. As a true millennial, Holmes copiously texts, and in the last season he has an iPhone and a MacBook. Watson blogs their adventures, using the original Doyle story titles. The blog goes viral, creating Sherlock’s fame. One time, while leaving a courthouse, Holmes and Watson are surrounded by the British press. Holmes is unappreciative of the attention and quickly grabs a hat off a random coatrack to hide his face. “How can I be a private detective, if I’m famous?” He growls. He leaves the courthouse, hiding under his stolen newsboy cap.

The resulting pictures in the British press are the iconic image of Sherlock, in profile, wearing the hat, and shrinking into the collar of his tunic overcoat. Sherlock is also a sometime-reformed smoker. He relapses frequently, much to the chagrin of Dr. Watson and others. This is of course, a nod to the pipe wielding detective of lore, but laced with our modern television standards of frowning upon tobacco use.

There are also frequent references to YouTube, and a disgruntled ex-lover of Sherlock’s dishes on him to the tabloids and then tells him, “I have to dash. I’m appearing on the One show, and I haven’t made it up yet.”

The cases are essentially Doyle stories. However, they may tackle ten or fifteen stories with each episode. Each episode is driven by a larger case, but the duo may take on smaller cases in between. Sometimes the Doyle titles are just vaguely mentioned as Watson blogs them and Holmes shoulder reads them with derision.

The cases do sometimes feel a bit archaic. In a generation used to NCIS and Law and Order, stories like The Hounds of Baskerville, which centers around a big-foot-esque creature who haunts the mountains, feel a bit obsolete.

They get around this by tying the stories to government conspiracies, or psychopathic terrorists…  which at times feel slightly cartoonish. National security, the CIA, and British intelligence make appearances, but Sherlock, as an independent, only lives on the outskirts of these communities. Once they are called in, he is ousted and is not at all disappointed.

Holmes, while adept at forensic science, must rely on the sweet affections of Molly Hooper, the lovelorn assistant at the morgue, who lets him use the morgue’s equipment as his own lab, in hopes for his returned affections.

But, Sherlock’s larger than life genius, and his trademark British wit in comedic timing are what makes the show. I anxiously await Season 4.

Posted in Writing

Poem: Dead Electric

Dead Electric

Tangled wires laid limp
Dead power in their veins
Did they know what it was they held?

….An explosive natural force
Designed, harnessed and poised for purpose
To empower the dreams and plans of men
To destroy good or evil in its wake
To incinerate the night and the secret whispers that it holds…

But in a heap of tangled wire
In a drawer
In a closet
On a shelf

They languished there
But amused…
… reality TV

Dead electric

Posted in Writing

Poem: Under the Stairs

Under the Stairs

Under the stairs I saw you there
Furtive glances, dirty deeds
Under the stairs you hid it there
Your secrets, your torrid little games

But I saw you there, in rolling camera view
Masked through cracks and railings
In isolated words and private laughter
I saw everything (or at least enough)

Then I saw you wipe your mouth
And say, “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
But I saw what happened under the stairs

And I still cannot look at you straight
Until I see you weep
For what happened…
..under the stairs

Posted in Writing

Why do I Write?

Someone asked me this the other day. I had never been asked this, and thought it was a peculiar question. Why do I write?

I spend most of my time these days thinking about what I write. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars to be educated in how I write. I’ve spent most of my adult life conjuring up who I write for, and have spent many brain cells and a good deal of money, defining and developing where and when I write.

But no one had ever asked me that question–Why do I write? I just stared at them dumbfounded. I stumbled around and gave them some kind of incoherent answer that probably made them wonder how I could possibly write anything worth reading, when I clearly couldn’t find a cohesive idea with two hands a flashlight. So, now, sitting in the quiet of my office, illuminated by the light of an LCD screen, I think I am able to make sense of why I do what I do. (I think).

I always knew I was going to be a writer. My early childhood memories included an aunt, (who at four years older, functioned more as a cousin) who was obsessed with reading. When I was six, she was ten and I thought she hung the moon. So, I too, began devouring The Baby Sitter’s Club, Nancy Drew, and Sweet Valley High like desert water, so that we could discuss them during our shrimp flavored Ramen noodle fests. (She also taught me to paint each fingernail a different color, wear mismatching shoelaces, and introduced me to Amy Grant and Charlie Peacock. The latter, along with Steve Taylor, would infuse my teenage angst thinker/poet period).

As soon as I was old enough to write words and sentences, I began writing stories. I was already an imaginative child. But being completely surrounded by the works of all these professional writers, I found it so easy to pick up their words, phrases, rhythms, and general ways of putting things (which I would later learn was called “style”). I could mimic them to describe the plots and characters I was already dreaming up. It all felt very natural. When the adults in my world were amazed at what I was doing, I loved the way it made me feel. It made me feel as if I were special. Unique. The other kids looked at me like I had just learned how to drive. I was a celebrity.

Being of modest income in the early 1990’s, the only computer we had was a DOS machine with a blinking orange cursor against a black screen. It only did word processing, but that was all I needed. I taught myself to type, and found it a much more efficient way to compose my stories.

No more erasing. No more rewriting an entire sheet of notebook paper because I wanted to change one line or because the handwriting was too messy. I never looked back.

I wrote my first novel on that machine. It was about an abused girl who ran away from home.  She stole money for a plane ticket and flew across the country and nearly died in a Michigan snowstorm. I looked up airline numbers in the phone book and called them to find out how much the plane ticket would cost. (My eight year-old self recalls that the reservation agent wasn’t too helpful. My adult self wonders why she didn’t hang up). I remember the thrill of printing out the first draft on our dot matrix printer. It had to have been at least eighty pages….

In those early days, I had such a strong sense of knowing. I knew that this what I was going to do for my life. It was as clear as the blue sky. It wasn’t even a task of becoming. I was a writer. It was already done. All I had to do was grow up and my future was there, just waiting for me.

At the library, I read grown-up instruction books on writing and tried to understand them. At twelve, I applied to a writing correspondence school. They also offered a high school diploma course, so I figured I would do both. I received a very nice personalized letter stating that while my writing was good, at my age I didn’t have the full range of life experience necessary to complete the assignments. They wished me good luck in my writing endeavors, and even made kind comments on my admission piece. It took me a long time to understand what they meant. I wanted to whine back, “But pleeeease?! Junior high sucks!”

Having already picked my life profession, the rest of my life was about training for it. I subscribed to magazines I thought I wanted to write for. I read each issue cover to cover. I read the contributor blurbs to keep track of what kind of writers they used, and how much experience I would need. I read more books. I took a job at a bookstore. I discovered Steve Taylor and analyzed his lyrics to learn the arts of satire and editorial social comment. I devoured my English classes. I worked on the school newspaper. And the school’s literary magazine. I wrote poetry and read it in school talent shows. And people loved me for it.

I may have been socially awkward, but I was deep. In my ninth grade Algebra class, a girl I had never met told me she loved my poetry, and that I had inspired her. She handed me a small spiral of her handwritten poetry and asked me to read it. We were peas in a pod until graduation.

It was in my senior year, though, that I had my defining moment. I was sitting in the school newspaper office writing some sort of editor’s column. Whatever the topic was, it was dear to my heart. As I pounded out the words and phrases, I had this profound, overwhelming sense. I was doing exactly what I was created to do.

I remember having this analogy about a spoon. A spoon can be used for many things. It can be used to fish things out of a hard to reach place. It can be used to scrape dirt off a surface. It can be turned handle up and used to spread condiments….And it will do all of these things to varying degrees. But only when the spoon is used for its created purpose, will it work best. Sitting that day at that computer, I was that perfectly fulfilled spoon. My heart felt as if it would burst. I could never be anything else. I would never be fulfilled.

In college I vacillated on being either an English or a creative writing major. But my work on the high school paper and some very practical thoughts on job security ended with me declaring journalism. From time to time I still wonder about that. What if….?

After graduation, I tried to be a secretary. It was the worst three years of my life. If I didn’t quit my jobs, I sabotaged them by being toxically unhappy. The only time I was happy was the one summer I worked at a boat dealership.

It was right in the middle of the great crash of 2008. John McCain suspended his presidential campaign to go save the economy, and GM executives flew into Washington in private jets to ask for a bailout. The world was ending, and everyone was scared. No one was buying new boats. The salesman ambled around the dealership clasping their hands together and asking each other if they’d like to buy boats. There was nothing to do.

So, I discovered Jane Austen and began my passionate love affair with Oscar Wilde. I also wrote a novella about an art student who marries a guy to give him a green card. People asked me what I was doing and I told them. Someone asked to read it. They loved it and passed it around the office. I was a celebrity again. Then they eliminated my position. (Couldn’t imagine why).

So, now back to the question of why I write. I could spend ten pages rambling about the joy of writing. About how it is only behind a keyboard that I feel completely alive. About how it allows me, a petite youngish woman in some no name town in Texas, to contribute to the cultural conversation. About the thrill of knowing that maybe, just maybe, among the din of a hundred thousand voices, someone will hear me and I can make a difference. About how each day it gives me a new chance to add something to the landscape of art and culture. I could say all of these things, and I would not be exaggerating.

But, I think my answer is most echoed in the sentiments of Anne Lammott. She wrote that her answer to this question is, “Because I’m good at it, and because apart from writing, I am completely unemployable.” I love you Ms. Lammott. You are my hero.


Posted in God

What to Expect at a Non Denominational Church

I’ve heard this from people over the years. “If I go to your church, will they be like…handling snakes or something?” or, “I went to a non-denominational church with my friend one time, and if FREAKED ME OUT.” So, today, for anyone hesitant about what it would be like to visit at non-denominational church, let me set the record straight.

Christians are very excited to have new people come to church and they will be very accommodating and welcoming. And, no, there will be no snakes, and if there are…run. Those people aren’t Christians, they’re just plain crazy. Beyond that, here’s what to expect.

Preparing for Church

Dress Code
In the past, people were expected to dress up for church, “Sunday best,” as they would call it. Now, society has become overall more relaxed with dress and so have churches. The majority of non-denominational churches don’t really care what you wear. They are mainly just glad you came. Business casual is safe for most places, and many churches even have a casual dress code. Just keep it modest, though. This is a place of worship. While many people do go to church to get dates, sexy clothing on Sunday morning is not how to do it.

A good rule of thumb when dressing for church, is if you can wear it to work, it’s fine.

Service Times
Depending on the size of the church, there may be several service times to choose from. This allows for early risers, late sleepers, and Sunday work schedules. Some churches will have absolutely identical services during each time slot. Others will vary them, with different music styles, etc.

Most churches meet each Sunday morning, but a few have an additional service on Saturday evening. This allows for friends and family members that attend another church to visit without disrupting their own worship schedule.

The service times can be found on the church’s website.

Children’s Church
When you arrive at church, the first thing you do, is drop off your children in the children’s church. Children are welcome to attend the main Sunday service, but it is geared toward adults. Instead, there are special age-specific programs for them to attend during the service.

Children’s churches are broken up into different classes by age group or school grade. Many churches have elaborate children’s programs, complete with their own wing, or even building. Age appropriate lessons on the Bible will be provided, and also time for socialization or play.

Teachers are church members, usually non-paid. Larger churches may require a background check, but smaller ones simply take willing volunteers as long as they are generally known by the leadership.

Most children’s programs require more than one adult volunteer per classroom, and will frequently have teenage assistants as well. This is for classroom control, but also provides assurance that the children are never left alone with any one worker, should an unsafe worker slip through the screening process. Parents are welcome to sit in on a children’s church class if they or the child, are unsure.

The Service
A Sunday morning service at a non-denominational church usually lasts about two hours. In decades past, they would last indefinitely. But, now church leaders are mindful of shorter attention spans and grumbling tummies. Each segment of the service has a set time frame. Sometimes the service will go over, but not much longer than fifteen to twenty minutes.

Worship Service (Approx 45 min)
The worship is the music portion of the service. A live band comprised of church musicians called a worship team will play worship songs. These are songs with lyrics expressly about God or directed at God. Some of them may be original compositions from the worship team members themselves. Others are songs written by professional recording artists and distributed through the Christian music industry. During this time, you are expected to stand and sing along. The lyrics are usually displayed on an overhead screen for your convenience.

Announcements/Offering (Approx 15 minutes)
The timing of the announcements and offering varies, but directly after the worship portion is the most common place. During this time, you are asked to sit, while a leader announces any upcoming events, or anything else of note. Many churches will now do video announcements. These can range from simple slideshows with narration, all the way to creative and entertaining pre-recorded video segments.

It is free to attend church, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost the church to run lights, pay any full-time staff, etc. They pay for this with monetary donations from the congregation called tithes and offerings.The Bible instructs Christians to give their church a tithe, of ten percent of their income.

Most Christians figure this in to their regular monthly budget, and come each week prepared. The church has a pulse of how much money their members regularly give and they rely on it to cover their regular operating expenses. If there are extra expenses, such as a building repair, replacing music gear, special guest, etc., they may ask the congregation to consider giving more.

Giving money into the offering should be done at your comfort level. A non-member, and especially a non-Christian, should never feel obligated to give money. Christians learn to tithe when they have been in the church for a while and they feel ready. A newcomer should simply feel welcomed. Be wary of anyone pressuring you to give money, especially if they say that “God” told you to give money. This is bad practice based on fear rather than faith.

Sermon (About 45 minutes)
Also called the message, the sermon is meat of the service. At this time, the head church leader, called a pastor, will take the stage. He or she will usually read a short passage from the Bible. Then, for the next forty five minutes or so, will speak on what the passage means, and how it applies to the modern Christian life.

In bygone times, sermons could be long-winded hellfire and brimstone extrapolations that lasted indefinitely, or complex and and sleep-inducing Scriptural analyses.

However, today’s pastors use all of the modern examples and techniques for public speaking to keep their listeners engaged. They will use humor, stories, pop culture references, and anything else they can think of to let their unique personality come through, while explaining the timeless truths laid out in the Bible. The sermon will conclude with a prayer and then usually the service will dismiss.

*Prayer Line (optional)*
Sometimes the pastor will not directly dismiss at the sermon’s conclusion. Sometimes he or she will make a call that basically states anyone who felt moved by the sermon’s topic can come and receive prayer.

Members can come up to the front of the stage, and church leaders will pray over them. This time can last indefinitely, but usually after about ten minutes, the pastor will dismiss the service for anyone who is not receiving prayer.

This is the time that many non-Christians, and even Christians from other denominations can find intimidating. Members may begin to speak in tongues, fall down, laugh uncontrollably, or may engage in other bizarre (but perfectly safe) acts.  If these things make you uncomfortable, this is fine. It is actually perfectly acceptable to leave the service at this time if you don’t want to participate.

If you choose to stay, know that any strange behaviors you may witness, are not requirements for Christian life. These things are more advanced Christianity, designed to enhance the experience of those who want them.Many good, well-respected Christians never experience these things, and no one faults them for it.

Non-denominational Christians are aware that their practices may seem intimidating to others. The last thing they want to do, is alienate non-believers or make them feel uncomfortable. They will never subject you to something you don’t want to try, and are usually open to honest, non-judgmental questions.

If you do ask for prayer and you begin to feel uncomfortable, at any time you can politely thank the leaders for their time and concern and they will stop the prayer.

If you find you enjoy the Sunday morning service, consider attending a mid-week event or service. Churches are designed to be sort of open entry clubs, where people of like faith and belief can come together to find support, friendship and love. They can help you carry your burdens, support you in your life, and laugh with you and grow with you, for decades to come.