Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday, Sunday

Sunday, Sunday. Can’t trust that day. I used to love Sunday mornings, but the feeling has gone. It’s just another day. Maybe I’ll clean the bathrooms. Maybe I won’t.

And lately it seems that the only music I listen to is Gregorian chant. Other than a brief blip in my music world (when I got a wild notion to hear Perry Como sing “Papa Loves Mambo”—go figure) for the past few weeks I’ve listened to nothing but the Gregorian chant station on Pandora.

What does this strange behavior mean?

In early October I resigned from the church that I have been attending for a few years. I started going to the church when it was first planted. I became attached and watched it grow. It’s not worth rehashing the details, but in my mind there was a miscarriage of justice and a failure of leadership. I still believe that resigning was right thing to do; it was what my conscience was telling me. And, yes, I prayed about it and the Lord never indicated I was making a big mistake. After leaving I tried another similar church for a couple of months. It was a good church with solid teaching and seemingly a God-centered group of members. But it was so similar to my old church that I had trouble trusting that I would not end up in with a similar sad, disillusioned departure.

Going home becomes a question, not an answer. I’ve been considering going back to the Catholic Church, the church I was born into and belonged to for most of my life. I can’t think of the church without its obvious flaws—clergy who abuse trust and power, a history of draconian rules and practices, and a lack of focus on God’s own word in the Bible. But I found that evangelical churches have flaws too—like pastors with big egos and little formal training or experience. Is fervor for the Gospel enough to qualify a man to preach and lead?

Both the Catholic Church and evangelical churches relegate women to the same diminished role of servants, unworthy of real leadership. The music is different and there’s a different style of worship service. The Catholic Church has strength in the centuries of tradition and the sacred nature of its liturgical worship; it feels more spiritual and worshipful. Perhaps this is why I am recently drawn to a steady diet of Gregorian chant. The evangelical church has strength in its teaching and building cohesive communities. At my evangelical church I knew the pastor well and knew nearly everyone in the church. We ate together and prayed for one another. In the Catholic Church there seems to be little focus on building community. The parishes are all very big and it is not easy to develop relationships and interact with others in the church. You go to church on Sunday, perhaps nod to the people who always sit near you in the same pews at the same time every week, but real engagement in Christian community seems lacking.

I have always loved and admired the social justice undercurrent in the Catholic Church, love that radical element that reaches out to do the work that Jesus taught us Christians to do. Yet there are some (perhaps many) things about the Catholic Church that I do not admire and cannot embrace. Many Catholics just ignore the things about Catholicism that are troublesome Can I return to the church—what I still consider my church—with the attitude that I will accept what I love about it and dismiss the rest?

I don’t know the answer to that question. So, for now, I spend Sunday mornings drinking coffee and reading the paper. It seems odd, empty. Maybe there’s a happy middle ground. I’m praying to hear from God what He wants me to do next.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unique enough

I’m a thrift store junkie. It’s the thrill of the hunt. My heart beats a little faster when I find an Eileen Fisher skirt that appears brand new (retail price over $200) for $4.99. If it’s Monday or Thursday there’s an additional 25 percent off. I’m not exaggerating—I have found things like this recently. Sometimes I’ll buy something for my sister just because my conscience won’t let me leave an incredible bargain like that in the store. And then there is the occasional discovery of pieces of vintage Mexican pottery for $1.99 each. Or maybe 40 pieces of Polish pottery for $40 on a Thursday when I got the extra 25 percent off. I live for those moments. So a lot of my clothes and home furnishings have come from thrift stores. Yes, thrift stores can be disgusting—filthy floors, stinky used vacuum cleaners, whining kids who were kept home from school because they’re sick. Heaven help you if you need to use the bathroom. Toilet paper is a rarity. One of the places where I go doesn’t even have toilet seats. That's why God invented hand sanitizer.

The merchandise is an adventure in itself but I’ve also seen a lot of strange human behavior in thrift stores. Like the woman in the shoe department who was trying on a panty girdle—a panty girdle with enhanced butt pads that I suppose would give you that Brazilian butt lift look. (Yes, they sell used underwear at thrift stores. I do not buy used underwear in case you were wondering.) The woman put on the girdle, decided it did nothing for her derriere, took it off, and left it on a shoe rack. Oh, well . . . guess you just don’t know about these things until you try them on.

I saw a man in a Salvation Army store scanning books with an electronic device. I understand the devices tell you whether a book has any resale value. He culled through the books and selected a couple of grocery bags full of books. Then he walked out of the store with the books with nary a wave to the cashier. Oh, well . . . guess he doesn’t know there’s a special place in hell for people who steal from the Salvation Army. He’s probably the same guy who robbed one local bell-ringer at Christmas.

The thrift store I go to most often does not have fitting rooms. The regulars know to wear leggings and tank tops to try things on. Or they wiggle into the racks of clothes to try to conceal themselves to try on those Lucky jeans. Isn’t it amazing how some women who should be wearing XXXL stretch pants will try to squeeze into a pair of size 4 jeans if the price is right?

My beloved daughter-in-law was here from Seattle over the Christmas break. She’s fearless and loves thrift stores too. So, while they were here, as a twisted rite of passage we took my 7-year-old granddaughter to Unique, the biggest, cheapest, grungiest thrift store in the area. We found wondrous things—a down jacket with a fur collar for my daughter-in-law and lots of clothes for the kids, including a Tin Tin in Vietnam t-shirt that my granddaughter loves. Awesome find! Perhaps even an epic find.

So we’re in the children’s section, intensely searching the racks, barely aware of what’s going on around us. My daughter-in-law looks up, turns her cart to walk in the opposite direction and says, “Too much skin. Way too much skin.”

I hadn’t noticed. There was a man—not a teenager, not an old man, somewhere close to middle-age range—standing bare chested in front of a mirror at the end of a rack in the little girls’ section. Mind you, it was cold outside, kind of a slushy-snowy day, and the man had nothing on above his waist. Apparently he was trying on shirts. We tried to ignore him but he was occupying the one section of the store we had not yet explored. As if the bare chest wasn’t enough, he then stripped down to his underpants to try on pants. Not tasteful, discreet underpants that a man might be wearing in the aisle at say . . . Neiman Marcus . . . but grubby multi-colored jockey underpants. They might even have been bikini briefs—honestly, it wasn’t something I wanted to examine closely. We made our way around him. He had thrown piles of clothes on the floor, like some sort of stoner with Grateful Dead posters on the wall. Except, it wasn’t his bedroom, remember—it was the little girls’ department in a store.

My daughter-in-law asked if we should do something about the nearly naked man. Should we report him? I doubt there is any security in the thrift store. I imagined them making an announcement just like they always do when they announce special sales, first in English, then repeated in Spanish. But I have never heard them say, “Good afternoon. Thank you for shopping at Unique Thrift Store. Would the naked man in the children’s department please put on some pants? And have a nice day.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bless me, Father

I know, I know--some "writer" I am. Pure silence coming from me. So I decided I needed to do a blast draft of a short story. This is based on a true story--something that happened to a friend of my mother's in Costco just before Thanksgiving a few years ago:

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been about 50 years since my last confession.”

Edith felt a surge of self-consciousness and began to pick little bits of Styrofoam from the edge of her coffee cup. She stared at her half cup of bitter coffee as the priest across the table from her took an awkward bite out of a half smoke. Father Martin realized he had put way too much mustard on the half smoke and wondered if he could walk over to the condiment bar and get more napkins. But Edith had just said the first words of her confession and, thus the sacrament had begun. The excess mustard would have to wait.

It was two days before Thanksgiving. When Edith saw the long checkout lines at Costco she immediately regretted going there to do her grocery shopping. But she needed some wine and a gigantic pumpkin pie to bring to Melody and Gary’s house and she had promised to bring a veggie platter to the pre-Thanksgiving volunteers’ luncheon at the Veterans’ Home. She calculated how long it would take if she just ditched her cart, left Costco, and went to her little neighborhood market but decided just to stay in line and get it done. She began to chat with the middle-aged friendly man in line behind her, the man with the kind face whose cart was full of apple cider and frozen turkeys. They quickly bonded in their agreement that it was crazy to have expected a quick trip to Costco so close to the holiday that was centered on food. But maybe it was just part of getting in the holiday spirit.

"You must be having a lot of people for dinner,” Edith said, nodding in the direction of his cart.

“Oh, no,” he said. “These turkeys aren’t for me. I’m the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy and we give turkeys to all of our church staff members for Thanksgiving.”

Edith’s face turned red. “You’re a priest? Oh, I’m so sorry, Father. I didn’t know you were a priest.”

“No reason to be sorry,” laughed Father Martin, “I’m here in disguise, dressed as a real human being.”

The line barely moved. Among the bright lights and the clamor of carts and voices and electronic gadgets, Edith began to tell Father Martin her life story. She had been raised Catholic and she was a young German war bride in the wake of World War II. Her husband Al was in the U.S. Army, an officer with the final wave of liberation troops. She married Al and moved to America in 1946, leaving behind her German heritage and her Catholic faith. And now Al, his memory nearly completely gone and his body failing, would probably soon die. She feared being alone and she wondered what would become of her without her husband. She told Father Martin that she thought it ironic that she unknowingly struck up a conversation with a priest, when in the past few months she had felt a strange need to return to the church of her youth.

“Sometimes I drive by the church and feel like God is telling me to go to confession and come back to church. But I never do it. I just keep driving.” She got out her Costco membership card and began to unload her purchases on the conveyor belt.

“Don't think about it too hard. Why not do it?” asked Father Martin. “Let’s just do it here. I can hear your confession now. Find a table in the café and I’ll meet you there as soon as I’ve paid for my turkeys. Trust me, God is speaking to you and there’s no time like the present.”

Edith looked at him and nodded, wondering what she had just agreed to do.

So she got a cup of coffee and a pretzel and found a table under an umbrella, off to the side near the ladies room. Father Martin bought his half smoke and pulled up his cart beside hers. He sat next to her so her so he could hear her quiet voice with his good ear. And it seemed that Edith and Father Martin were the only two people in the Costco café on that busy day before Thanksgiving.