Diane Stranz on American Life

Play a Musical Instrument

Check out this short, to the point, blogpost by a man named Chuck:  Play a Musical Instrument.  Chuck’s blogpost cites an MIT study to the effect that playing a musical instrument can increase the size of the cerebral cortex by 30%.  My son’s fabulous violin teacher Colby Howe (at the Main Street School of Music) mentioned this study to me yesterday . . . except he says those results were found in adults who began learning a musical instrument no later than age 11.  This further supports my belief that it is a fundamental human right of personhood to be taught how to make music at a young age, and all discussions about educational reform simply must take this fundamental right into account.

We have public Pre-K for 3 year olds, and Dr. Shinichi Suzuki has designed a simple and effective method for group violin instruction beginning at age 3.  Would it really be that difficult to make Suzuki violin instruction a compulsory component of Pre-K 3 programs in the U.S.?

This past May I saw a news story on The View about Chinese high school and college students using IV drips to ‘get an edge on the academic competition’ (since IVs enable them to study for 12 hours straight without having to take breaks).  NO, NO, NO CHILD!  ‘Learning under compulsion takes no hold upon the  mind’ (Thomas Jefferson), most individuals need regular breaks from study in order to remain sane and ensure retention of the material being studied . . . not to mention that holding one’s body hostage in the name of ‘learning’ is not progress towards the full-flowering of human potential but yet another form of societal punishment.

I don’t agree with much of what I hear on talk shows like The View and The Talk (on the rare occasions I watch), and what appalled me greatly was the insinuation that ‘maybe American students should consider trying this IV approach.’  OMG, NO, NO, NO AGAIN!  The first century christian writer Didache said there are two ways through life:  the way of life and the way of death.   The Way of Life is expanding the intellect of children by teaching 3 year olds to play the violin and playing classical music during reading and study periods to reap the intellectual benefits of The Mozart Effect The Way of Death is hooking young bodies up to IVs in order to facilitate ‘learning under compulsion.’

Please, America, let’s not let our current economic challenges terrify us into pursuing ‘the way of death.’  We do not have to compromise our right to a joyful life in order to become economically whole, and no one should be a slave to their jobs or to their so-called ‘education.’


In Praise of Things Irish

Soundtrack:  Wolfstone, Tall Ships (from Pick of the Litter: The Best of Wolfstone); Joe Burke/Michael Cooney/Terry Corcoran, The Bells of Tipperary/Miss Galvan’s (from Piping Hot:  Celtic Bagpipe Collection); Altan, Mo Choill and Cherish the Ladies, Roisin Dubh (from There Was A Lady:  The Voice of Celtic Women)

. . . in honor of St. Paddy’s Day and the Old Tipperary Inn, lower Greenville Avenue . . .

I am primarily German from my father’s side of the family and Louisiana Cajun from my mother’s side . . . but somewhere in there I just HAVE to be an itty, bitty, tiny bit Irish or life would even be more unfair than it already is (and we all know how unfair THAT is!)   When you are living true to yourself, Creation assists you on that path by providing ‘meaningful coincidences’  and I have noticed a pattern of meaningful things taking place in my life on St. Patrick’s Day . . . and I know that is no accident, and serves as a reminder that St. Patrick’s Day is actually a holiday WORTH observing (some clearly aren’t . . . especially if they were created by Hallmark).

This past St. Patrick’s Day I attended the Texas premiere of American Violet in Hearne, Texas (www.americanviolet.com — it opens April 17) and spent the day with a good friend I hadn’t seen in 23 years.  It was a day which will clearly be one of the best I have this year, and beats ANY day I had last year! (smile) (Friday the 13th’s are always great days for me as well . . . but that’s a different blog post).

I am positive that Eden and ‘the Fall’ existed and happened in some dimension of existence beyond the 4D capabilities of earthly reality, as all myth and metaphor so exist per Carl Jung (FYI:  physicists have scientifically verified 40 dimensions, have evidence of 100 more and suspect the actual number is infinite) . . . BUT!  If I had to guess where on earth is closest in spiritual and physical reality to Eden, I just have to think it is Ireland.

First of all, Saint Patrick is no ‘namby-pamby’ saint.  The man’s life was a genuine and true, hard-core, rugged adventure story, worthy of comparison to The Iliad or The Odyssey any day.  I mean, show me a real man who walked his walk instead of talking a talk, and you’ve got Saint Patrick.  He practically single-handedly brought civilization to the wildness of Ireland (I’m not a huge fan of civilization over wildness, but that’s just because now we live in civilization-overkill where any genuine wildness — be it spiritual, personal or in nature — is so rare it is practically an endangered species.  Such was obviously not the case in St. Patrick’s Day and time).

And because of St. Patrick, Irish monasteries existed at the time Rome fell — which was a saving grace for humanity’s future.  Not until Thomas Cahill published How The Irish Saved Civilization in the late 1990’s did the Irish gain widespread recognition for having literally saved the intellectual and artistic fruits of civilization from destruction by the Huns (and others) after the fall of Rome.  [This is a book highly worth a read, available at any decent library if you are too cheap and/or poor to buy it for yourself.]  So thank you Thomas Cahill.

And thank you Michael Flatley for introducing the world to Irish step-dancing.  Can you imagine how much we could cut down on juvenile delinquency if we had flourishing community centers where there was ALWAYS some sort of just-for-fun dancing going on?  I know I’D be there.  I never missed a school dance when I was in high school if I could help it, because dancing is just FLAT OUT FUN.  Religious groups who ban dancing are exacerbating the very problem they seek to avoid:  why would teenagers sneak off alone and unsupervised if they could, instead, be having a blast dancing pretty much any night of the week?  Talk about re-directing premature and as-of-yet-unfocused and random sexual energy!   Really, too many religious groups are their own worst enemy . . . there is a REASON why the ‘preacher’s kid’ is usually the wildest and most out-of-control kid around. 

Here’s a link to a YouTube video of the Connemara Irish dance group (all female): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHx4guRdniE&feature=related, and here a link to classic Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytcZIfvSWW4&feature=related.  Flatley’s much older now, of course, but my sons and I happened upon him on TV last fall (a global dance program) and he still looked pretty good.  He also choreographed a guest stint on Dances with the Stars a few seasons back which was phenomenal.  Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YHCqwlFSHw.

The Irish brew some mean whiskey, they’ve proven to us that yes you CAN actually survive and thrive on a simple diet of almost nothing other than potatoes (if you don’t deep fry all the nutritional value out first) AND you do not even want get me started on how awesome I think bagpipe music is!  Love it, love it — oh give me a man who plays bagpipes and wears a cute little kilt to go with ’em (not all the time, but with bagpipes in hand?  Hell yeah).  If I didn’t think Mel Gibson was such a weirdo as a human being, I’d say ‘give me a peaceful version of Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart‘ but . . . he lost my respect with that atrocious mock-Catholic movie he made a few years back, which shall go unnamed.  (To which you say, “Lord! Is it even POSSIBLE to devise a peaceful version of Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart?” IDK!  But I can dream the impossible dream, can’t I?  It’s all good.) 

4/14/09 UpdateLet’s change that to Liam Neeson in Rob Roy, especially since the following dialogue from Rob Roy is SO ON POINT:  “Hey Rob:  ya know why Calvinists are against shagging standing up?”  “No, Carl, I do not.”  “The fear it might lead to dancing!”

Each song in today’s soundtrack is available through I-tunes, so AT LEAST go listen to the free teaser for each one, if nothing else.  They’re fabulous and there’s a wealth of fabulous Irish music just like it out there.  So quest!  And find it! 

Mo Choill reminds me of a quick story, then I’ll end.  In 1997, I was handwashing my hot red Mazda convertible on my landlady’s driveway one beautiful spring afternoon (yes, those were the heady days after my first divorce when I got in touch with my inner beatnik — sigh.  When I wasn’t holed up writing, I was driving my convertible or chatting with interesting strangers at the Whole Foods Cafe on lower Greenville in Dallas.  Not that I’d want to go back in time, but still.  Good memories).  So, I’m playing There was a Lady:  The Voice of Celtic Women on the car stereo, and Mo Choill comes on . . . and up walks my landlady’s “super christian” son-in-law (except when he relaxed and let his hair down, he was a really nice guy).  He exclaimed, “Wow!  Who IS that singing?  She sounds like an ANGEL!” 

I love sharing things I enjoy, so I was excited he liked the music.  I said, “She DOES doesn’t she?  This is off a Celtic women’s CD . . . ”  At which point he immediately looked horrified, backed away from me like I had the plague, and sputtered, “Oh, no:  all that Celtic stuff is the work of the devil!  You need to quit listening to that, Diane.”  Then he ran quickly into the house, I guess to avoid having his eardrums further seduced by the wicked, wicked music I was playing.  So of course I did what every good Christian should have done in the situation:  I protected that G-D CD like my life depended upon it so I’d have it around to play today while I wrote this blog post! 

Got to go pretend to be productive with my day.  Sorry this post is one week late:  I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was full of dancing and wicked, wicked music and beer and/or whiskey . . .  and the love of a good man or woman (your own, not someone else’s) (!!) (It IS possible to be moral AND fun, and by golly I intend to prove that!)

My Life Would Suck Without You

Soundtrack:  Kelly Clarkson’s My Life Would Suck Without You  (duh . . . obvious).

A cluster of ‘synchronistic’ events happened in and around Tuesday March 10th which gave rise to this blog post.  I was retooling a scene in my screenplay where a secretary and I discuss how the marriages of the attorneys I worked with were primarily about social obligation and financial obligation instead of  true love, red hot I’D-DIE-WITHOUT-YOU PASSION . . . and that got me thinking about the topic of romantic love and relationship.  (Which is dangerous for someone who’s single, right?  HA!  I agree!)

Then that afternoon my upstairs neighbor came down to say hello:  she’s a Muslim from Pakistan and she just returned home from being over there four months nursing her brother.  She has two beautiful American daughters who are in college here in the D-FW metroplex, and BOY was I surprised when she informed me one daughter traveled to Pakistan and got married two months ago.   I knew she didn’t have a romantic relationship with anyone living in Pakistan, so I, being the stupidly naive person I tend to be, assumed she went to visit, happened to meet someone she fell madly in love with, and they went ahead and got married quickly.  (I know, I know:  I’m a retard). 

No, the reality is (of course) that the marriage was arranged and the daughter likely never met her fiance before she traveled to Pakistan to get married, per her family’s instructions.   My heart bleeds for this young woman, because even though each of my neighbor’s daughters adhere to the religious restrictions imposed by their orthodox parents and Mosque, you can SENSE their passionate desire to break free  –the American passion for individual freedom having had as much, if not greater, influence on the molding of their personalities and character as their centuries-old cultural and religious traditions. 

In this day and age, an arranged marriage is A HORRIBLE THING TO DO TO YOUR CHILD!!!   Yet when I went back to working on my screenplay, it was SHAZAM!  Here we  Americans have all the freedom in the world to marry only for love, to choose our mates for ourselves, and what do we go and do?  Enter freely into the practical equivalent of an arranged marriage, by marrying someone we don’t love because there is SOMETHING ELSE WE WANT FROM THE DEAL WHICH WE THINK OUTWEIGHS GENUINE LOVE AND MARITAL HAPPINESS.  What are we, total idiots?

Then I opened my Blockbuster Online movie which had just arrived — having no idea what movie it might be, since I had to shuffle my queue randomly at the last minute because so many movies were ‘wait-listed’ and currently unavailable — and the movie is Chris Cooper starring in Married Life . . . and damn if it wasn’t just TOTALLY about all these same relationship issues.  Cooper’s character is a wealthy businessman who has a terrific wife, but he’s grown slightly bored and takes a mistress.  One line from the movie particularly resonated with me.  Cooper and his wife are visiting with grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon, but all Cooper can think about is what pretext he can use to slip away and see his new mistress.  So he tells his wife he has to go into the office because of some unexpected, pressing business matter, and here’s the narrator’s great line:  “It has always been the privilege of the affluent to use their business as camoflouage.”  OH MY GOD IS THAT SO TRUE!  And it’s BACK TO MY SCREENPLAY, because affluence was a major negative in the story it tells.

THEN the next night on American Idol (Wednesday March 11th) Kelly Clarkson sang her new song My Life Would Suck Without You,  and listening to her lyrics was like wrapping up this multi-day contemplation on romantic love in a vein I support and agree with:  choosing to be with the one you love, loving the one you’ve chosen to be with and realizing that ‘loving someone in sickness and in health’ means you do not expect your lover to be perfect.  As Clarkson’s lyrics say:   

I know that I’ve got issues, but you’re pretty messed up too:  either way I’ve found out I’m nothing without you and we belong together.  You’ve got a piece of me and honestly, my life would suck without you!  Being with you is so dysfunctional, but I can’t let you go.

P.S.  My mother informed me this morning that March 21st is officially “Single Parent Day.”  So, here’s a shout out to all my fellow single parents.  Don’t forget that, in the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin,  “Beer is the evidence that God loves us.”    (As is wine, Jack Daniels, Gilbey’s . . . pantry staples one and all.)

Tapestries of Art will Change the World

Soundtrack for this Blog Post:  Ambrosian Junior Choir singing Suo Gan from the movie Empire of the Sun; Yo-Yo Ma playing Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission; Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Farewell from Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War

Why each of my blog posts from now on will recommend a ‘soundtrack’ to be played while reading the post, and, possibly, even quote a poem and/or painting and/or work of classic literature you should reflect upon as well:  Dorothy Day said that ‘Beauty will save the world,’ all true art contains beauty in abundance, and I believe in the transformative power of both beauty and art.  The purest form of beauty, in my opinion, is God’s natural Creation unadulterated by man (i.e. the beauty of nature, in all its wildness) — but art is God’s spirit expressing itself through man, so art is also a vehicle for beauty.

I especially believe in the transformative power of TAPESTRIES of art.  What is a Tapestry of Art?  It’s an interwoven blend of more than one art form in which the experience of the whole becomes exponentially greater than the sum of its parts (i.e., experiencing multiple, interrelated art forms at once can open dimensions inside you FAR beyond what experiencing one artform alone does) (being who God created you to be is all about nourishing, expanding and expressing your inner life — so, no, memorizing Bible quotes is NOT where it’s at).

This is why people are so affected by movie soundtracks:  because if you experience a song which just FITS with the scene you are watching, you are experiencing two powerful art forms at one time:  music and film.  This is why I also cannot complete a screenplay without also recommending a specific soundtrack to go along with it: the music which goes along with the story is not some random, unimportant part of the film that is best left to the discretion of someone else.  I am the artist crafting the art form which is my film script, and crafting the soundtrack is as much a part of my art as the story itself.  (At least this is how I feel.)

The Art Tapestry Project

Along these lines, I eventually plan to create, using artists who live and work  in my own community, The Art Tapestry Project:  a poet writes a poem, then a musician writes music inspired by the poem and records it — then a painter creates a painting inspired by BOTH the poem and the music.   The resulting collaborations (13 to 20 in number) would be published in a spiral bound booklet with a CD for the music.  When lying flat and open, the poem would appear on the left, a color reprint of the painting on the right, and the recipient of the Art Tapestry experience would listen to the relevant CD track while reading the poem and reflecting on the painting.  AMAZING EXPERIENCES would follow, I am positive.   (I contribute this idea freely to the public domain: feel free to rip it off and do it in your own community.  Go art!)

My first experiment in this direction was having Dallas painter Larry Harran paint while listening to a recording of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, then we exhibited the final product at a performance of St. John’s Passion by the Dallas Bach Society (this was in 1997).  It was totally awesome, and led to the inspiration for the Art Tapestry Project described above.  But soon thereafter is when God led me into being REALLY REALLY poor — to the point where my second husband Jeff and I were actually homeless for a short period of time — so all of those cool ideas had to be shelved . . . UNTIL NOW!  WHOOPEE!    (If I can figure out how to digitize pictures of Larry’s art, I will eventually try to add them to this post.)

That’s all I have to say for today, but I will definitely write more on this topic in the future since it is so important and foundational for positive world change.  It is not really political activists who will change the world, but ARTISTS and LOVERS and — especially — the LOVERS OF ARTISTS!!  (smile)  I have been an activist at times in my past, and plan to be again in the future:  so I’m not condemning activism.  But to place activism above truth and beauty is like trying to get the tail to wag the dog.  (And by all means go watch Barry Levinson’s 1998 movie by that name — Wag the Dog — starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.  ESPECIALLY if you want fuel for political activism!)

Poverty, Relationship and the Banality of Evil

Yesterday my high school friend Debi (isn’t Facebook such a great way to reconnect?) asked me a thoughtful question about my vow of poverty which caused me to spontaneously spill out an email which has morphed into this post.  (Note:  the soundtrack for this post is slightly old school —  Pink’s Get this Party Started.)  

At the core of my vow of poverty is to live each moment of my life as if money is completely unnecessary and doesn’t matter.  One thing I have noticed is that people often allow the pursuit of money to impoverish their personal relationships — and I’m not just talking about the pursuit of wealth (as in big money).  I’m even talking about the pursuit of the basic money necessary to survive.  If you consistently put people first, it is EASY to eventually find yourself poor, trust me.  Just ask a single working parent who stays home with her kids when they’re sick . . . .

I worked my way through college, and senior year my sole source of income was a job at my Aunt’s bookstore (a job I had worked for over six months and LOVED).  One Friday my mother called as I was getting ready for work:  my grandmother had fallen, was in transit to the hospital, and no one was able to go be with her but me.  I called my Aunt (opposite branch of the family) and she said if I did not show up that day, I was fired (this was only my second time to ever miss work, but the first time had just been the week before:  I had the flu).  That my own flesh and blood could fire me under these circumstances is nothing less than the banality of evil at work . . . but boy was she a ‘good Methodist’ on Sundays!  

I say that sarcastically, having been burned repeatedly myself by hypocrites pretending to be Christian.  My second ex-husband, a largely uneducated manual laborer, is currently in an employment arrangement which is nothing other than white slavery — all because he lacks  social and economic power and his employer, Don, knows it.  Don loves three things in life:  money, his church, and cheating his employees any which way he can.   Go figure . . . .  In his defense, he tithes their unpaid wages to his church AND slavery is permitted under Old Testament law, so I guess it’s all good.  (That was sarcasm again:  just making sure we’re on the same page.) 

Back to my Aunt firing me:  I had no idea how I was going to make it without my job, but of course I chose to go be with my grandmother (and yes I was fired) . . . but thank God I did, because as I held her hand and cried with her she slipped into a coma, never came out of it and died a week later.  I could have never lived with myself if I had put my FEAR of being without a job ahead of being there for her in her hour of need.  And I’ve made those choices throughout my life — before and after taking the vow of poverty, but especially afterwards — and although God is faithful and always opens windows when doors close, still it often means just barely getting what you need, not what you want (or THINK you need).

Jesus summed up God’s law as pointing to one thing and one thing only:  that God desires us to put relationship above all things  —  relationship with God and then relationship with other human beings.   In the early 90’s God brought me into close relationship with a number of people seduced by ‘Christian’ New Age principles precisely so I could experience for myself  how these seductive ideas subtly erode the spiritual lives of all who embrace them.  One massage therapist friend justified his callous treatment of his girlfriend (i.e., ignoring her to practice yoga and meditation, like many ‘Christians’  ignore loved ones to go to the gym or watch a ballgame . . . ) by telling me he was at a stage in life when he couldn’t be ‘bothered’ with the burdens of relationship because he needed to focus on his spirituality.  My immediate thought:  “God, man!  There is nothing else TO spirituality but RELATIONSHIP!”  I mean, for REAL!  Can you say ‘narcissistic wolf hiding and cowering within a (false) spiritual sheepskin’ or WHAT?! 

This also reminds me that when I was too poor to have a car, I rode the bus frequently in Dallas and got to know a few people who also relied exclusively on mass transit.  This one woman appeared to observe a vow of poverty similar to my own, but she was so obnoxious in how she CONSTANTLY talked about ‘Jesus this and Jesus that.’  

People:  your relationship with God is a personal and private matter you just do not need to TALK about constantly in casual conversation!  You do not witness to others through words but through living a life of love, integrity, acceptance of ‘others as they are so they can see what they can become’ . . . as Jesus did.   When someone observes that you live fearlessly, with integrity and strength, such that he approaches YOU about what ‘makes you tick’ — i.e., you haven’t approached him, he’s approached you — THEN pull out the bible verses and talk about the difference that relationship with God makes in your life.  I mean, hello!  What do you think Jesus MEANT when he told us each to not be like hypocrites who preach their spirituality on every street corner?   He was CONDEMNING public preaching, absolutely.

This ‘stranger on a bus’ grew to know and trust me, and finally confided that her husband had a drinking problem and complained constantly that she was always gone from home . . . attending church and Bible studies!  At first I kept my thoughts to myself — I knew I couldn’t have an influence if I ran her off speaking Truth before she was ready to hear it — until the day SHE admitted, “Maybe God would rather me be at home trying to save my husband and my marriage instead of being at church constantly.”    

I wanted to scream “DUH — DO YA THINK?!!!”  But of course I just praised her for having finally hit the nail on the head, and used her opening to gently speak my mind on the topic.

While editing the above paragraph, after publishing the post once or twice already, Joan Osborne started singing in One of Us  ‘what if God is just a stranger on a bus, trying to get home?’  Since I forgot that song was in this playlist — one I haven’t played in awhile — the coincidence doesn’t seem accidental.  By the way, if you’ve never watched the TV show Joan of Arcadia, for which One of Us is the theme song, see if your local library has the series on DVD (it’s no longer on TV).  It’s an awesome and painless way to learn how God REALLY works — because the theology of Joan of Arcadia is simply impeccable.  Barbara Hall, if you’re listening, you did good.  [Hall, a Catholic who grew up a Southern girl as I did, created, wrote and produced Joan of Arcadia.  You go girl!  There’s a great bio piece on her on the Random House website:  http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=11573]

If you put relationship first, then in the workplace you will be an employee who does not shy away from speaking up on behalf of coworkers who are being discriminated against or otherwise treated unfairly (when they ask you:  I’m not saying you should intentionally focus on ferreting these things out.  You are there to work, so your focus should be on work.  TRUST ME that people who need help will come to you without you doing anything to solicit that).  But because ‘power corrupts,’ most people with ANY amount of management authority in the workplace will let the unequal power of the employer-employee relationship go to their heads, such that you will end up fired or otherwise transitioned out of a job by standing up for what is fair (this is the impetus behind whistleblower laws, though they are so limited and largely ineffective). 

I have been squeezed out of jobs — jobs I had performed excellently, by the way — SO many times by doing nothing other than responding to a work situation in a way which showed that I cared more about the ‘least of my brethren’ than job security . . . so OF COURSE I observe a vow of poverty, because it’s either that or risk getting an ulcer!  HA!  Oh!  Oh!  The opportunity to insert a favorite quote which is relevant!  I can’t pass THAT up!!   This is from C.S. Lewis’  Introduction to The Screwtape Letters (which you MUST read if you haven’t): 

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’  The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint.  It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps.  In those we see its final result.  But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.  Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern. 

Finally, to have a deep and meaningful relationship with God requires spending a lot of time alone with Him just as you would spend time with a person, because He IS a person (even though he is not a human being . . . and not all human beings qualify as ‘persons’  the way I mean . . . but that’s a whole different post).  I have OFTEN during my life, especially after I took my vow, experienced an inner knowing that God wanted me to drop everything (even if it meant missing work) to spend the day alone with Him, in contemplation, inner dialogue, solitude . . . and if THAT approach life to life won’t make you materially poor, I don’t know what will, frankly!

June 2010:  Last week someone asked me if I blog, and I said “I started a blog last year but immediately had to deprioritize it, so I only wrote a few posts.”   Knowing she planned to check it out caused me to re-read these posts for the first time in ten months, and this story of the stranger on a bus who was failing her husband by spending her time at church has been on my mind.   So wouldn’t you know,  I ‘happened’ this morning to come across the following, from a speech given by Keith J. Miller in 1991 (Keith is an oil entrepreneur-turned-Christian writer who co-authored with Bruce Larson the original ‘Emerging Church’ book in the 1970’s;   I have no respect for the whole ’emerging church’ spectacle/spiritual sideshow, but I agree that the following is the Truth):

We work too much. Religious work is one of the best ways to keep from facing your reality if you are Christian, if you are using it to calm the pain, because that it what all addictions are, attempts to cover the pain of this spiritual disease.

I discovered this disease in my own life. When I was a child, my father couldn’t love me because he loved my older brother. I felt like nothing. He took him fishing and wouldn’t take me. Work was the thing I chose to be somebody. I think a lot of us do that. It is easier than love.

When I grew up, I burned out. Then I found God and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I was so happy that I began to go crazy telling people about it. . . . . As I began to put my work addiction into a religious work addiction, then I abused my own children like my father did me, only I did it in the name of Jesus. A lot of people do that. It is very painful. Your kids don’t know whether you are at the bar or the Bible study. You are just not with them.

So, my vow is not really about money:  it’s about the REALIZATION and ACCEPTANCE that making choices in accord with God’s will is most likely going to lead to a life of material poverty — because God’s priorities are absolutely, 100% NOT the world/society’s priorities, and if you act on them, the world will seek to punish you by pushing you out of the economic marketplace.  This is a passive-aggressive way of ‘murdering’ you (as the world murdered Christ) because if you cannot afford food and shelter you MIGHT just really die off . . . in a way which protects the perpetrator(s) from earthly accountability!  (i.e., No one goes to prison when a homeless man dies of exposure and malnutrition).

But the faith part is trusting Jesus’ testimony (Matt. 6:25-34) that God won’t let that happen . . . or, if He does, it is because He has His own purpose in allowing you to suffer at the hands of the world, and He is pursuing a purposeful plan which is structured in some miraculous way that He will eventually make it all up to you, in His own time and way.   For me personally, the prospect of eventually securing a nomination for Best Original Screenplay and getting to be at the Oscars as a participant makes up for a lot.  And getting to speak out publicly —  through my books, blog and website — about how my experiences with poverty have shown me what God desires us to change in the world makes up for a lot.  But the fact that all five of my living children are turning out to be AWESOME men and women of God who share my values (because I did everything within my power to give them as much of myself as I could) makes up for EVERYTHING!!  They are my joy incarnate.    

Bottom line thought for the day:  DREAM ON, DREAM BIG . . . and trust that if it is GOD who has inspired those dreams (and not your puny, petty ego) He’ll do miraculous, eye-popping things to help you accomplish them.  Even if it means you have to endure being destitution-level poor in the process!  It’s all good.  (No sarcasm this time.)

P.S.  Yes, I know I am 45 and Pink is half my age such that where do I get off calling her music ‘old school’??   Go ahead, slap me if you must . . . but I have no shame.  My kids keep me young at heart.   If it makes you feel better, by the end of the post I was acting my age and listening to Bruce Springsteen.  So chill.  I know I have gray hairs ( a few)!

Hand-made clothing and thinking for one’s self

I believe part of the answer to America’s economic crisis is a return to self-sufficient local communities, including local small-scale farming and the establishent of individual and community gardens, as well as a shift to regional small-scale manufacturing to produce the FEW goods of necessity which justify automated mass-production.  I do not think, by and large, that clothing production should be automated — except for local small-scale plants which produce basic, hardy cloths (denim for example) used as a ‘staple’ for many different things besides clothing.

Accordingly, I believe deeply in the value of handmade clothing (really I believe deeply in the value of handmade almost ANYTHING:  a person truly close to God is a person who knows how to work with his hands and loves working with his hands and VALUES working with his hands!  It is almost sinful to be blase about the value of your own hands). 

This morning I was trying to find information online about a wonderful festival I attended outside Dallas in 1997 called ‘Sheep to Shawl.’  At that festival I met a couple who run a small sheep farm in Duncanville and who sell the wool from their sheep (which they shear themselves) to local individuals who card and dye it by hand, then sell to local purveyors of knitting yarns.  Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.  Anyway, in doing that google search, I happened upon the blog of knitter and free-thinker Donna Druchunas, a resident of Colorado (you’ve got to love that state).  I hope Donna does not hate me (or sue me!), but I am going to reprint an excerpt of one of her blog posts here, because it is just too wonderful:

Do you know how to think for yourself?  I didn’t learn this important skill until I was almost thirty years old.  In grade school I memorized times tables and spelling, in high-school I learned how to pass standarized tests, and in church I was taught to follow rules simply because they were written in the Bible.

Today, someone got pissed off at me on the Knit Design group because I said that I think that many knitters suffer from an inability think for themselves regarding their knitting because they got gipped in school. Instead of learning how to think, we were mostly taught what to think. This has consequences in many areas of life, including knitting.

We were talking about the differences between line-by-line instructions and charts, and I said that in my classes, I find that many people have troubles with charts because they try to translate each symbol into words and then translate the words into stitches on their needles. The techniques I teach allow knitters to move directly from symbol to stitch, without looking at the chart legend every few stitches. I try to help my students learn how to read their knitting, so they can also memorize the patterns they are working on and free themselves from needing to slavisly follow line-by-line instructions or charts.

When I teach lace knitting classes and show my students how to read their knitting so they can anticipate mistakes as they go, by matching their knitting up to a chart, instead of blindly following instructions without paying attention to the fabric on their needles, I always have 2 or 3 students who are so excited to learn that THEY are in charge of their knitting and that they can decide what is right and wrong in a pattern for themselves.

Too many knitters go along blithely following the line-by-line instructions in a pattern without understanding how knitting stitches are formed, what the shapes of garment pieces should look like, or how the stitches on their needles work to create the pattern stitches they are trying to make. Without these skills, they are destined to remain chained to patterns, always worried about what to do if there’s a mistake in the instructions. How freeing it is to grow past this beginner stage!

The person on the Knit Design group who attacked me, said I was being insulting by criticizing the US educational system. Far from it! Criticizing a faulty system has nothing to do with insulting the people who have gone through that system. The students in my classes are intelligent and bright women. But some of them have gotten ripped off by an educational system that did not give them the confidence or critical thinking skills they need to realize that they do not have to follow rules and stay inside the lines! I hope that confidence and independence are two things I can impart to all of my students, regardless of their knitting skill level or past educational history.

Do I still knit from patterns? Sure. Sometimes it’s relaxing to make a design that someone else has figured out for me! But my ability to understand the underlying logic of patterns and the structure of knitting stitches and garment shapes, means that I can continue even if there’s a mistake in the pattern or if I want to make some changes to the design to suit my own tastes and body shape.

If I didn’t learn to think for myself for almost thirty years, that just shows that it’s never too late to gain the confidence needed to stop being a follower.

Question Authority is my favorite motto and it applies in knitting as much as anywhere else!

Please check out Donna’s blog for yourself — and learn to knit!  My daughter Bethany knits (although I am ashamed to admit I do not:  I do cross-stitch and used to do crochet in my youth, but that is the limit of my needlecraft skill). 

Donna can be found on the web at www.sheeptoshawl.com.  

Diane Stranz

On Euthanasia and Other Complicated Issues

My mother told me yesterday she was going to a Memorial service for an elderly neighbor who had just died:  D. A.   She said the sad thing is that his wife had to approve ‘the plug’ being pulled.  Something didn’t sound right.  “Wait,” I said, “Isn’t this the same neighbor you mentioned last week who has been on oxygen for two years, and his problem is that his airways are so constricted he can barely breathe?”  “Yes:  he was telling me his airway was down to the size of a straw, and that is why his health was failing so rapidly.”  Okay.  But how did he suddenly end up so incapacitated he was on life support such that his wife had to metaphorically ‘pull the plug’?

As I questioned my mother more about the facts (as I am wont to do), I discovered that the reality is that when D.A. ended up in the hospital for the third time in two months, his doctors approached his wife about withholding oxygen (while he was under sedation) since he was clearly dying and was certainly not going to do anything but further deterioriate until the point of death.  I said to Mom, “He wasn’t unconscious and unable to make this decision for himself?”  “No, but he was asleep because they had sedated him.”  OH MY GOD!  That’s not the same thing as ‘pulling the plug’!   Basically the doctors asked his wife to give them permission for them to withhold oxygen and let D.A. die via asphyxiation instead of allowing the sedation to wear off so they could ask him directly.   This is the idea which appalled me:  that they deprived D.A. of the right to participate in the decision when it was his life after all.

It also made me wonder how painful that type of death is . . . and it made me think about the fact that if D.A. and his wife had been at home and he had suddenly said — upon prayer and reflection — “Honey, I’m in a lot of pain and discomfort here, and we both know I am not going to get any better . . . and I’ve made my peace with God and I am ready now to go, and to have YOU let me go . . . could you please disconnect the oxygen tank and let that happen for me?”  the net result could have been a criminal conviction of homicide for his wife.  Yet these doctors are completely immune for a similar conviction because (I assume) they have ensured all appropriate paperwork has been worded so as to cover their asses (sorry to be crude).

Which gets me back to my real point:  I do not condemn fertility treatments across the board (although I have a problem with with most of them, considering that orphanages are full of children who would LOVE a permanent family and home) and I similarly do not condemn abortion or euthanasia across the board even though I believe that 95% of the time abortion and euthanasia are the wrong choice.   A certain level of suffering is redemptive (even during the process of death) and I have read many accounts by women who later in life deeply regret that their youth, fear, rage and/or lack of wisdom and discernment caused them to choose abortion earlier in life.

That said, these are deeply personal matters which should be left in the discerning hands of the individuals involved.  This is especially so since EVERY TIME ‘we the people’ try to get involved en masse as a corporate body (i.e., by making it illegal for individual to exercise free will and free/legal choice) all we seem to do is create even more injustice, suffering and heartache than what already exists on its own.  And surely God doesn’t intend THAT!

Despite my Catholic upbringing — which subjected me to more than one gruesome film about abortion — I became a pro-choice legal advocate in my 20’s for one primary reason:  watching movies like Behind These Walls and learning the history of abortion in America before it became legal convinced me that without doubt human suffering is increased when abortion is banned legally, across the board.  Class distinctions heighten, and injustice based on wealth (or the lack thereof) increases, because the rich ALWAYS have the right to a decently performed abortion by a medically-trained individual, whether abortion is ‘legal’ or not.  And there is MORE loss of human life when abortions are done illegally because not only do the fetuses die but so do many of the women themselves.  The number of women who died as the result of ‘wire hanger’ and other non-medical, secret homemade abortions during the years abortion was banned in America is staggering.  If you care about human life, you must care about the woman’s life as much as the fetus’, amen.  If you do not, then you are just a misogynist (a hater of women).

But!  I also love the movie Vera Drake and have compassion for its (fictional) heroine:  a grandmotherly former midwife who helps desperate women (who are usually single and poor) abort fetuses using an age-old method of douching with lye.  She is loving and compassionate, and she does what she does without pay because she has compassion for women who feel they have no other recourse.  She sincerely believes she is doing a service, and she did not deserve a jail sentence because one (out of hundreds) of the women she helped had complications.

Similarly, check out the true story of Hungarian gynecologist and Holocaust survivor Gisella Perl portrayed in the movie Out of the Ashes starring Christine Lahti.  Dr. Perl was ardently pro-life until she discovered that in Auschwitz, pregnant women would either be summarily executed or subjected to gruesome ‘experiments’ by Dr. Mengele.  So she started performing mercy-abortions.  The fact that she did this came back to haunt her and was held against her when she applied for U.S. citizenship after WWII, since abortion was illegal in America.  Uh!  Talk about none of us having ever had to even REMOTELY walk in that poor doctor’s shoes!

This brings two Gospel passages to mind:  Matthew 9:13 (Jesus said, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice”) and a passage I cannot put my finger on at this moment (but which I know exists) about how neither Jesus nor God Himself are sitting in judgment of us:  if left alone with our own decisions, we will each eventually effectively judge ourselves in all the ways necessary . . . not to mention that the fabric of Created reality is PERMEATED with divine justice, such that consequences and karma and ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ happen of their own accord in God’s divine time, whether we feel that we can see and perceive that or not.  It is just reality.

Peace, Shalom, and Good night.  Diane Stranz.

Disclaimer:  Post fueled by liberal doses of Fantasia Barrino singing I believe:  

“I believe in the impossible, because I feel it deep within my heart.  See, I strive to be the very best, shine my light for all to see, because anything is possible when you believe!”