Accountability

Just got a call from Zac from the middle school office.

“Mom”, he intoned, “could you remind me to do my homework?”

This is part of the middle school program.  As a sort of goad, they’re supposed to call their parents when they don’t do their homework.  This is not the first time I’ve gotten a middle-of-the-day call from Zac. Never mind that there’s no system in place to *make* them do it; they don’t get graded on homework in 6th or 7th grade. The idea is they “work up to it”, so by 8th grade, it counts towards their grade. This puts teachers and parents in awkward positions, pushing and pulling on reluctant students.  How do you get someone to do something they don’t want to do?

Growing up, I always came home and did my homework right away.  Okay, maybe I napped a bit first.  Especially in high school, with all the college-credit classes, and school starting at 7:30 a.m.  I easily had 4 hours’ worth of work each night – Humanities, Economics, Calculus – by my senior year.  I simply could not get behind on the reading and note-taking and math problems.  I even had a study hall, but usually that period you could find me grovelling at Mr. Dowdy’s feet to help my thick skull ingest more calculus formulas.  It also helped that I was a Type A.

Jonathon, on the other hand, was not like me.  A more laid-back sort, he thought homework was a waste of time. He understood the concepts; why bother with busywork?  Though very smart, he didn’t do very well in school, except Chemistry.  He had 116% in that class.  Whatever.

So now, back to our offspring. 

“No,” I said in response to Zac’s query.  Did I tell you his side of the call is somewhat scripted? 

Meanie!

Yep.  See, we tried already.  We nagged and hounded and wheedled and cajoled.  We’re plumb wore out.  Jonathon’s even used himself as an example, citing the holes he discovered in his learning once he got to college, all from skipping homework. We haven’t a nag left in us. Zac is good at dodging direct questions and skipping out the door whenever he senses a whiff of accountability headed his direction. 

He chuckled a little bit.  “Okay”, he replied. 

“We could take away a dollar of your allowance every time you don’t do your homework.  How would that be?” I asked rhetorically.

“Not good”.

“Or…we could take away an hour of computer time.  How bout that?”

He didn’t like that solution, either.

“Well, why don’t you come up with some ideas then?  What would motivate you to get the work done?”  We discussed a few other logistics about tonight and then signed off.

I started to think of the things I don’t like to do.  But as an adult, of a responsible frame of mind, I do them.  You pay your bills, you buy groceries and fill your gas tank before it runs out.  You bathe (hopefully).  Regularly.  You go to the doctor and dentist. You stomach the things that don’t appeal to you because you know they work together to make your life, and others’ lives, work. You realize you’re the one who needs to do the legwork to take care of yourself.  Your parents are not on the job anymore.  And really, would you want them to? I can’t imagine my 73-year-old mother washing my hair.  Creepy! “Now Susan, you need to lean back a little more..” But you don’t wake up one day as an adult, fully formed.  You grow into it, bit by bit.  You pick up care of yourself a step at a time.

I had to laugh. The best way to get Zac onboard is to make him part of the process. He’s always coming up with ways to make his life better. May this become one of them.

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Anticipation II

His face says it all.

Today, it’s supposed to snow.  We’re under a Winter Storm Watch starting this afternoon until late this evening.  Then, it’s supposed to plain old snow from then until sometime Wednesday.

To say the kids were disappointed not to wake up to snow, as is usually the case, would be accurate.  They didn’t like it one bit. They’d heard of the snow and thought maybe I’d lied about it coming.

Nope.  It’s been so cold the last couple of days, the frosty front leaving us with temps in the twenties at night.  The cats made sure to stay inside.  No fools, those furry frenemies.

Zac wore shorts to school today.  He said it was because he had P.E. today and it’s easier to dress down for it if he wears shorts.  I think he’s trying to temp the weather.  You know if you don’t bring an umbrella, it will rain.  Maybe if you wear shorts in 30-degree weather, it’ll snow. Don’t worry, he also wore the ultimate must-have accessory here in the northwest:  a hoodie.  If all the hoodies in Shelton were placed end-to-end…

Ruby didn’t believe me when i told her it will snow later today.  She said, “No, it won’t!”  As if the only time it ever snows is overnight.  I must admit, it’s the most promising time for the white stuff to fall.  The night is colder; no sun to compete with. Both kids want the snow to be down on the ground on school mornings.  Much easier to stay home and play in it that way. They dream of snowmen, snow angels and hot cocoa with marshmallows.

I ruminate about anticipation.  Wikipedia defines it as being “enthusiastic [it] is an emotion involving pleasure, excitement, and sometimes anxiety in considering some expected or longed-for good event.” We adults have a certain about of trepidation, pondering snow.  We want the cars gassed up, food purchased, flashlights and candles at the ready.  We think of treacherous roads.  We worry over missed work and other obligations. The kids think of playing and the novelty of it all.

I’m learning to look at life this way.  What great things are around the bend?  When will it snow, Lord?  I’m leaving anxiety behind and looking at the good things, the blessings of now and in the future. I’ve often heard that one of the key ingredients of happiness is having something to look forward to. The Bible says “no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no mind has ever conceived the glorious things God has prepared for those who believe.”  Well, let’s go!  I’m ready.  I’m anticipating great things.

Oscar Love

Playing a role of her own devising

I know, I know.  It’s not cool to like the Oscars.  But I do.  It’s a great form of escapism.  All the world’s most beautiful people, dressed in their best, gathering in one place.  For one night, we let go of any character assassination as they appear onscreen.  I’ll never attend an Oscar event, either a pre-party, post-party or the awards ceremony itself.  I’m not in that business, nor do I want that kind of pressure.  How much acreage of your body do you need to get waxed, plucked and tucked?  And how many ice cubes and sunflower seeds does it take to get down to a size zero to fit into that Versace gown?  No thanks.  I’ll watch from my comfy couch, clad most likely in sweats and/or fleece (quelle horreur!) as the stars of screen, television, stage and music preen and flounce their way into the old Kodak Theater.

We watched about an hour and a half of the 84th Academy Awards last night.  Generally, we’ve seen a handful of the movies that get nominated.  I think in 2010 we saw “Hurt Locker” and one other. We were so stunned when “Hurt Locker” won for best director over James Cameron’s insanely amazing “Avatar”.  And it was directed by his ex-wife!  What a coup! The surprises make it worth it.

And enough Billy Crystal bashing!  It’s live television, right?  It’s in primetime, so families watch it.  No bleeps, please.  Billy is a seasoned comedian.  He knows where the boundaries are and he’s been making people laugh for decades.  I didn’t see his monologue, but I loved his comments and his “I know what people are thinking by looking into their eyes” schtick.

I like seeing people get the awards.  They’re always “gobsmacked”, as James Earl Jones stated in a video clip about an award he received.  They thank ridiculous people, even Sheila E. in the orchestra.  But it’s genuine, unscripted joy and excitement.  Google Christopher Plummer’s acceptance speech.  He’s eighty-two years old and finally won an Oscar.  Classy and funny.  The Bridesmaids presenters were hilarious.  And who could forget Angelina Jolie’s leggy stance?  She got people talking.  All I saw when she struck that pose was someone with a great sense of humor, knowing full well all the criticism she would draw and owning her own breathtaking beauty, milking it for all it was worth.  Bravo!

Speaking of all the elite famous, old famous, newly famous and want-to-be-famous all in one room – when else does this happen?  Oh, I suppose the Golden Globes.  I’ve watched that before, too.  I get the feeling anything could happen with the room full of golden stardust and breathless anticipation like that. 

A bit of history from Wikipedia: 

An Academy Award is an award bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)[1] to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. The Oscar statuette is officially named the Academy Award of Merit and is one of nine types of Academy Awards.

The formal ceremony at which the Awards of Merit are presented is one of the most prominent award ceremonies in the world, and is televised live in more than 100 countries annually; however, the first broadcast was not televised. It is also the oldest award ceremony in the media; its equivalents, the Grammy Awards (for music), Emmy Awards (for television), and Tony Awards (for theatre) are modeled after the Academy.

The AMPAS was originally conceived by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis B. Mayer as a professional honorary organization to help improve the film industry’s image and help mediate labor disputes. The Oscar itself was later initiated by the Academy as an award “of merit for distinctive achievement” in the industry.[2]

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929, at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of the 1927/1928 film season. The 84th Academy Awards, honoring films in 2011, was held at the Hollywood & Highland Center Theatre on February 26, 2012.

So let’s not make the Oscars out to be some sort of regular entertainment. It’s not fair.  It’s an awards show. It’s a night of glamour and intrigue and a temporary illusion:  Cinderellas at a ball.  As Billy Crystal said, “So tonight, enjoy yourselves because nothing can take the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other with golden statues.” Exactly, Billy.

Numbers 5

Bad girls...

In the fifth chapter of Numbers, we encounter an interesting ritual.  Once you get past the instructions for lepers, people with discharges (outside the camp), restitution for sins and explanations about “what is given to the priest, stays with the priest”, then it all changes.

Verse 12 to the end of the chapter is about a ritual to decide whether a woman has been unfaithful to her husband. Reading it, on the surface, it struck me as very sexist and demeaning. There’s no ritual for a woman to call her husband on his catting around. But then I read on.

The gist of it says that if any man’s wife “goes astray”, and she is defiled, or he suspects she’s cheated and it’s been kept secret, he can take her to the priest to have it confirmed or denied.  The husband also can do this if a “spirit of jealousy” comes upon him and he finds himself suspicious of his wife (v.14, AMP).  Right away, it seems to all be leaning towards making the husband happy.  Doesn’t the wife have a say in this?

Then I remember the culture and time period.  Women were considered property, and belonged to their husbands.  They did not have rights or a say in much at all, at least not in a public way.  We can imagine husbands and wives worked out the balance of power in their own marriages, within the confines of their local village and its society, much as we do now. 

The husband had every right to take his wife to the priest.  He priest would be a neutral party to decide the matter.  The man presented a grain offering, a tenth of an ephah of barley meal “but he shall pour no oil upon it nor put frankincense on it [symbols of favor and joy], for it is a cereal offering of jealousy and suspicion], a memorial offering bringing iniquity to remembrance” (v. 15). The symbolism is paralyzing in its accusation.  No joy or favor remains in the union as long as the specter of infidelity lurks just beyond human ability to uncover it.

I looked for a picture online of this, but the Bible paints a very distinct picture.  The priest set the woman before the Lord.  Alone.  He took holy water in an earthen vessel, symbolizing us as God’s people, and threw in some of the dust from the tabernacle floor.  One can guess that symbolizes defilement.  The woman’s hair hangs loose, representing vulnerability and intimacy.  It’s a trial and she sits before God alone as her judge. Ultimately, if she has sinned, she’s sinned against God, not her husband.

She holds the meal offering of grain in her hands and the priest has the water.  Then he says a few words after the woman takes an oath, agreeing that she will let the water decide her guilt.  If she has slept with another man, the water will “make your thigh fall away and your body swell.  May this water that brings the curse go into your bowels…” (v.21-22). The New Living Translation says:  “Now may this water that brings the curse enter your body and cause your abdomen to swell and your womb to shrivel”.  Earlier, in the NLT, the priest states that the people will know the Lord has cursed her by making her infertile.  The woman agrees by saying, “So let it be.” The curse, it seems, is barrenness and possible ostracism from the community. 

At this point, the woman would be terrified.  If you trust that God will vindicate you, maybe you relax a little.  But what if you don’t know God that well?  Or what if, unfortunately, you’re not innocent?  The water doesn’t have a lot of power on its own, but the curse attached to it is powerful. 

The priest waves the grain offering before the Lord.  He burns a handful on the altar.  Then he gives the woman the water to drink.  How long before the water takes effect, and the verdict is known?  It doesn’t say. 

One can only wonder what this sort of incident does to a marriage.  What if the wife comes up clean?  Does the husband apologize?  “My bad.”  Or does it drive a wedge between them, forever changing the ebb and flow of the relationship?  If the wife had slept around, then what?  Divorce was an option.  But what man would have her with “the curse” upon her?  Nothing like living under a microscope.  Did priests gossip?  It would be hard to keep an episode like that a secret.

This is still not one of my most favorite portions of scripture.  I have to point out that at least there was a safeguard in place for innocent wives.  Jealous, paranoid and possibly abusive husbands would have to submit to a spiritual authority in matters of the heart. An impartial arbiter would make the decision. Nobody would need to continue living under suspicion and jealousy, haunted by shadows.  I have to see God’s love for women in this.

Inspiration

I have been very short on inspiration this week.  Not to be confused with “Singspiration”, the Sunday night treat that occurred in months with 5th Sundays at our church in Creswell.  We had local talent (ahem) perform religious-themed music in our church sanctuary in lieu of regular Sunday night services.  The blind tuba player was especially memorable. I’ve never heard so many renditions of “Jesus Loves Me”. Generally, the performances were cringe-worthy, fraught with pitch issues, rhythmic dyslexia and forgettable songs.

It’s just been at a low ebb.  I should probably eat more oatmeal butterscotch & chocolate chip cookies, just to amp it up a bit. 

Where does inspiration come from?  It seems to alight like a capricious bird.  This bird migrated to your shoulder from a land far, far away.  You know not from whence it came, nor when it will come again.  It’s colorful and melodious.  Its talons dig into your shoulder until you cry “Mercy!” and write, paint, dance, draw or play music. You ply your craft until you’re spent, breathlessly wondering at the process and whether you’ve created anything worth looking at. That bird, the muse, is always welcome.

But what if it doesn’t appear?  Can you conjure up a facsimile or faux-spiration?

Cause that’s what I”m doing.  I’ve set a writing schedule for myself and time to do it.  I heard somewhere, maybe in the movie “Music & Lyrics” that “Inspiration is for amateurs”.  Professional, creative people power through and do what needs to get done on their book or painting or whatever.  They put the time in honing their craft so that when that beautiful, elusive avian appears, they’re ready.  “Fortune favors the prepared” or to quote Hamlet, “The readiness is all”.

It’s a tough pill to swallow.  Practicing is not sexy. It’s a discipline. I knew when I studied flute, if I wanted to get better and play the more interesting songs instead of just scales, arpeggios and Elvis tunes, I needed to practice.  The most glorious songs can’t be played by those who pick up the instrument or skill yesterday, usually.  {If you’re a savant, you can stop reading now.  I hate your guts and the train you rode in on.  No offense. } The rest of us mere mortals have to care and pay attention and sweat and process and work to get to the next level.  Yes, paying our dues, but also, building skills. I used to spend a lot of time practicing that ol’ flute.  I heard this song

and I was changed forever.  I listened to it over and over on my old tape recorder the summer before my senior year of high school.  Could I play something like that?  It’s Debussy, which means Impressionist or symbolism in music:  Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.  Oh, you thought it was just paintings?  Nah.  Artistic movements weren’t confined to one art form. This song and music like it inspired me to keep practicing and plugging away on my student model flute.  I loved music and sometimes, that winged wonder would perch on my shoulder as I practiced and it was…sublime.  I lived for those moments.  I’m not sure many of them came through in performance, but I kept making myself available for them to occur.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but beauty in any form is inspiring.  This is by no means the only thing that inspires me. What inspires you?

Predestination and Brigadoon

I know.  Those two don’t seem to go together.  But hear me out. 

I stayed home from church last night.  I wanted to watch a movie and I needed a musical.  I saw “Brigadoon” for the first time ever the spring before my freshman year of high school.  My future high school put it on. It was fabulous.  The production had singing and dancing and enormously cute senior boys as the leads (Dan Radmacher and John Wentworth).  Lost in the magic and romance, I wanted so much to be a part of that world. 

Here’s the summarized plotline:  A couple of guys from New York (Gene Kelly and Van Johnson) fly to Scotland to hunt grouse in the highlands.  They get lost and suddenly stumble upon a village.  Turns out the village harbors a huge secret.  It is locked in time and reappears every 100 years.  Every time the villagers go to sleep, when they wake up in the morning, it’s 100 years later.  Their minister, Mr. Forsythe, prayed and made a deal with God to protect Brigadoon from evil outside influences – back in 1754, it was witches – by having the village appear for one day at a time and each day a century has passed.  Nobody can hurt a village in one day, right?  Nobody can leave the village, however, and Brigadoon ahs very specific boundaries – the bridge to the west, the brook to the east, and so on.  If anyone leaves the village and doesn’t return within the day, the spell is broken and Brigadoon disappears forever.

In the movie, Gene Kelly plays Tommy Albright.  His companion is Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson).  Tommy is searching for more than grouse; he’s unhappy.  Jeff is a hard-drinking realist and Tommy’s BFF.  He doesn’t believe in anything he can’t explain or experience with his senses. 

This is not a great musical.  I want to state  that.  It is not on the same level of “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” or “West Side Story” where every song and dance is amazing and could stand on its own.  Truly, the only good song is “Almost Like Being In Love”. But I couldn’t pass up a chance to watch Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse doing their thing.  They were amazing dancers, beautiful and full of grace.  They didn’t even have to speak.  All you needed to know about how they felt came through in their bodies in motion. And my family on my dad’s side is Scottish so I have a soft spot for Scottish anything, except haggis.

So Tommy eventually decides Fiona, the girl he met on his one day in Brigadoon, is the love of his life. He dumps his uptown, high-class society fiance. He left Brigadoon unsure about giving up his entire known life.  He comes to the conclusion that she, Fiona, is his life.  He returns to the site of Brigadoon with Jeff in tow. He loves her enough to make the village reappear, spontaneously, and the movie ends with the two lovers, Fiona and Tommy, embracing. 

Sounds great!  The movie creates all the stardust that Hollywood is famous, or infamous, for.  But really think about it.  Would you give up everything about your life to be with someone new?  Tommy knew Fiona for one day.  He met practically everyone in the village.  The village population might swell over time, but it would never appreciably diminish.  He would never drive a car again.  He would never drink an old-fashioned again or listen to jazz.  He would not see his family or friends again or go to a job in a high-rise again.  Could you let that go?  No electricity?  No TV, movies, or libraries? 

It boggles the mind.  Yet Tommy did that.  He surrendered his whole known past existence to be with his one, true love.  And Fiona was right there with him.  But really, what did she give up?  Nothing.  She got the best part of the deal – a new husband, fresh ideas and hands to work the fields and milk cows, etc.  And of course, fresh blood for the gene pool.  Anybody else concerned about inbreeding?

I have a book I’ve been reading.  It is called 7 Biblical Truths You Won’t Hear in Church  by David A. Rich.  I am reading it slowly because the truths are mind-blowing.  Some I don’t fully agree with and have to chew on.  Take this one:  God predestined some to be saved.  He says that’s the way it is.  We have the illusion of choosing, but it’s just that:  an illusion.  He affirms that God does the calling and the choosing; he appoints and ordains, not us.  Rich argues that if we do the choosing, there’s still room for us to boast.  “I chose Jesus.  Aren’t I wonderful and smart and talented?”

Rich counters that we argue, “Well, if God chooses, then he knew who would accept Jesus.”  But God doesn’t react to us.  He knows the ending of the story.  He foreknew, but He also predestined.  They are two separate things (p. 51). 

Now I’m meddlin’!

But then we get into the argument of , “If God chooses, who is blame?  Who can resist His will?”  We don’t get any more of an answer (p. 53).  We aren’t going to understand this, any more than Tommy could understand why he fell in love with a 200-year-old beautiful Scottish virgin in a disappearing village.  But he was meant to, and he knew that. Sometimes, all you can do is believe. 

I’m not sure I believe in predestination.  I’d always heard it preached that God calls everyone to Him, through Jesus.  Not everyone wants to give their life up, like Tommy did.  But the ones who do, He already knew would receive salvation.  I realize this argument has been going on since the foundations of the Church were in its infancy. However, I don’t think the debate is settled.  What say you?

Ambivalent Spirals

No, I’m not pregnant, but I am queasy.  I’m helping my stomach settle with chocolate and chili cheese fritos – not chocolate-covered chili cheese fritos, in point of fact.  And cold pizza. So sue me. I managed to get to kettlebells today and work out pretty hard but now I’m back to wondering when my food will make its second appearance. I just want to crawl back into bed and do nothing or watch inane Hallmark channel movies. You know you’re feeling lousy when a Tori Spelling movie appeals to you.

Here is a picture Ruby drew. It’s been stuck to our family room wall for at least a year. I really like it. It seems to depict how I feel without any words.

Tomorrow will be better.