Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Phenomenon of Blogging Friends

I am grieving today for a woman I never met. A friend I never saw. We linked each others' blogs and encouraged each other. I sensed her inner beauty and saw her amazing talents on my computer screen. She had a keen eye for the quirky and an ability to mix beauty and humor. Sometimes I'd click on her name just to see the title photo at the top of her blog which I thought was the coolest photo ever. But she is gone now.
While browsing through my favorite blogs yesterday I read about her but didn't even know her real name - just Liquid Illuzion. (click to see yourself) At Writing in Faith I discovered that on Christmas Eve a blogger shot herself. Sandy wrote an eloquent post about suicide. I clicked on the link and it was Liquid Illuzion. I clicked off - there must be a mistake - I clicked on it again. She had posted a humorous photo on Christmas Eve and then shot herself? Then I found other bloggers who had dedicated their posts to Suzanne Horne since last week. I cried. I wondered why. I didn't even know her, but this blogging phenomenon makes us friends. I know more about some of you out there than some of the people I see every day. You know more about me than many people who see me everyday too, I'm sure. But if we are to take the joy of our blogging community then we must endure the sorrow also.
Good-bye Liquid Illuzion - good-bye Suzanne. I can truly say I will miss you and the beauty you brought to the world. I wish you would have seen the beauty yourself.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vandals

No one would choose to be gay
I heard him say, I'm surprised I lived through
my adolescence.

An abandoned child remains in neglect
in lieu of two moms or two dads that love.

Why would someone escape their own beautiful island
into the sinking boat of a cloistered world

of vandalism and horse blinders, of rosy
perceptions and boomerang standards,

while the poverty of minds and imaginations
that sacked Rome in AD 455 still lives on?

Who can be a mouthpiece for the ages?
In the bathtub don't we all sit in our own dirt?

Paper can spiral ashes from the fire,
but words can live on in their infamy.

You can try to sew up the wound with
catgut thread, but you still killed the cat.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Coexist XIV- Social Situations

You can probably tell by the name of this blog that I am not confortable with conflict or confrontation. Coexisting appeals to me, in part, because I lived through a few horrific years of conflict and rage. In those years I became quite adept at expressing my anger, then I learned, I grew and I had to depend on God's healing to go on living a productive life. I intend to never go there again. I had to be done with anger.

Judgment is often a precursor to conflict. It is difficult to be at peace when your mind is focused on the weakness, opposing opinions or wrongdoings of other. This year I found it difficult to deal with those that had vehement political beliefs that I did not share. I was completely okay with their beliefs, but they weren't okay with mine. I did not voice my opinions in order to avoid the conflict or hurt feelings it may have caused.

I'm not sure that was a good solution. How do you deal with social situations when people are critical or judgmental of you, what you believe, or what you choose to do with your life? When you are constantly hearing pejorative remarks about yourself and your interests - how do you react? I am always blindsided by comments like you must have too much time on your hands or you need to get a life or something else that infers that my interests in writing, blogging or any other creative endeavor I choose to pursue is a waste of time. I feel foolish when I have no comeback for these comments even though it happens at every get-together. I don't anticipate being put-down because I do not concern myself with what others choose to do with their life.

At work I often encounter teachers that compare how much work others have or how hard (or not) they are working. I never think about what another teacher is doing - I have enough to worry about with my own job, let alone someone elses! I assume everyone is doing their best.
In these social situations (that I hope to enjoy) I suppose I can continue to take the negative comments that feel like a slap in the face and turn the other cheek for the next slap. But I have a relentless and annoying need to understand why. Am I offensive in some way? Are they trying to boost themselves up by putting me down? Is it a joke and I don't get the punch line? Do they truly think so little of me? Any advice out there in the blogosphere?

Coexisting includes allowing others to have differing opinions and not be enraged by them. Coexisting allows others to make their own life choices without judging them. I certainly have not always lived up to these standards, but the older I get the easier it seems to let others be as they are. It is not my concern. Jesus accepted, befriended and loved the sinners in His path with no conditions. I am not even close to that ideal, but I am working on it. I find that allowing others to have their own opinions and live the way they see fit is freeing. I no longer carry the burden of judgment. That is God's job, not mine. And His world would be a boring place if we all did and thought alike.

During the Presidential campaign, the reporters could not wait to get Obama's comments on the newly revealed pregnancy of Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter - I loved and admired his comment, which I think is the essence of coexisting, even in competition when he could have slammed the Palin family.

He simply said - "My mother had me when she was eighteen years old."
That's coexisting peacefully.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Prophecy of Isaiah


During the Christmas season my church choir did two selections from Handel's Messiah. As a first soprano and classical choral music lover singing this is a always a real joy and thrill for me, and always has been. Not only could I sing Messiah selections all year long and be a happy camper but I am continually amazed at the text. Of course Handel did not write the text - it is all from the book of Isaiah. Messiah tells the life of Jesus, taken from Isaiah, which was written about 700 years before the birth of Christ. Really. Read it again and be amazed.

He grew up like a tender root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering...
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep have gone astray
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth,
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"A Christmas Story" House!


If you watch any of the 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" on TBS tonight or tomorrow you will see this house located on the near west side of Cleveland. We finally got over there to see it yesterday, but we picked the day it was closed! I really just wanted to see the outside anyway. You can see the leg lamp in the window of course. Across the street there is a museum and gift shop as well. For more info check my December 19 post. You can click on the photos for a better look. Merry Christmas and if you get a BB gun don't shoot your eye out!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Disruption

Conceived in a scandal, born in a barn,
Jesus disrupts and disturbs fallow lives.

He offended his people by breaking their rules,
bringing not peace but a sword

to vanquish the old ways, to unshackle the laws.
He was a dissident, an insurgent, a dent in the world.

Some who'd awaited God's final word
were disappointed, insulted, outraged.

There was no throne, just a stumbling stone
no peace before or after that day.

Your waiting is ended this Christmas morn,
a soul choice is His unending gift.

He is here. All is changed.
Now in silence He waits for you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Robert Shaw Chorale

It is not Christmas morning if I do not hear a certain hymn. "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light" from "The Many Moods of Christmas" by the Robert Shaw Chorale.

Break forth O beauteous heavenly light
and usher in the morning;
Ye shepherds shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel's warning.
This child now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be.
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

I thought the piece was written by J.S.Bach, but on closer inspection I see that he wrote the harmonies - which are gorgeous. Johann Schop wrote the melody. The song just sounds like Christmas to me, but beyond that I am reminded of singing with the great Robert Shaw in 1990. Robert Shaw is considered to be the most influential choral conductor in American history. I had heard about him all my life from my mother who sang with the Mendelssohn Chorus in Pittsburgh under Shaw's direction. Growing up I heard the music of his chorale and stories about the amazing and charismatic man he was.
In 1990 I was singing in the summer version of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus - The Blosson Festival Chorus. I actually lost count of how many years I sang with them in the summers. (14-15 I think!) It was a great thrill to sit behind the Cleveland Orchestra, long thought to be one of the greatest in the world, and to sing with many guest conductors. Not only did I meet Mr. Shaw (and get his autograph) that summer we did my favorite choral work with him - Brahm's German Requiem. It was an experience I will never forget. My mother was thrilled that I had the experience as well, of course.
The Many Moods of Christmas is the quintessential Christmas album. It was originally recorded in 1963, but you can still buy it today. Click on both of his names above to learn more.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cleveland Christmas Memories



In the first half of the twentieth century Cleveland was a well established major city, endowed with the cultural arts thanks to people with names like Rockefeller. Christmas was a magical time. I grew up in a village in the eastern suburbs about 20 miles from the city, but it seemed like another world. In the city I saw people with different skin color than mine for the first time. The gaseous fumes from buses was foreign to me. My mother and I would venture downtown on the "rapid transit" and visit my great-aunt Irene who worked at The May Company, which later became Kaufman's and now Macy's. Sadly, all the downtown department stores are now gone. Back then the store windows would display elaborate Christmas scenes with moving figures. At The May Company I remember being relegated to a children's playroom so my mom could shop.

Higbee's was another department store. Established in 1929, it became Dillard's in 1992. Higbee's was a store with wooden escalators and revolving doors. It had a well-loved restaurant called The Silver Grille. It was THE place to see Santa. At Twigbee's, children could do their own shopping. But the best thing was to see Mr. Jingaling! Mr. Jingaling was a Cleveland Christmas institution for 25 years. His real name was Earl Keyes, which is ironic because Mr. Jingaling was the keeper of Santa's keys. Not only could you visit him on Halle's seventh floor (the other big store), but you could receive a coveted cardboard key. I still have one stashed in a trunk somewhere. Mr. Jingaling would come on the local TV station every evening during the season, so he was a celebrity.

I still remember his song -
Mr. Jingaling, how you tingaling
Keeper of the keys
On Halle's seventh floor
We'll be looking for
You to turn the key.

We still saw him occasionally until his death in 2000. Once I saw him in a store and practically had a conniption. My children were with me, but were completely unimpressed by the weird looking dude.
If you watch "The Christmas Story" this season you will see Higbee's prominently featured in the movie. Part of the movie was filmed on Public Square in Cleveland and you can go to see "The Christmas Story" house which is now a public attraction in an area called Tremont. (I was hoping to report first-hand, but I haven't made it there yet.) There was a "Christmas Story"convention in town a few weeks ago and 4000 people traipsed through the house to see the leg lamp.

From 1909 to 1968 there was another large store called Sterling Lindner. Every year it would put up a Christmas tree that was purported to be the largest in the nation. Another must-see. Other attractions from childhood included the lighting display on Public Square and at Nela Park (the GE plant). My dad made sure we had an annual trek in the station wagon to see all the lights.

These are a big part of my Christmas memories and I know they are to others my age as well. The magic existed because there weren't a lot of special things the rest of the year. My childhood was somewhat prosaic and normal, so an animated store window was something special. Making an effort to go all the way downtown to see the one and only Santa was so believable. Meeting Santa's helper in person - priceless!

I don't want to sound like an old fart, but I wonder what is special to children now? They don't have to wait in anticipation all year to see Rudolph or Frosty - they own them on DVD. Animations and special effects are a part of their everyday lives. Maybe - I hope - there are magical experiences to replace the ones we had. I know nothing stays the same - but sometimes I wish it would.




Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For the Love of Winter


My abundance is in winter.
I dwell in the peace
of the silent snow,
sitting by the yellow
light of a lamp
with a blanket and a book,
or comfortably close
to him on the love seat.
I find joy in the lack of humidity and
the offensive noise of lawn mowers.
I feel happy covering my homely limbs
with sweaters and jeans instead
of sticky sunscreen and sweat,
and I am justified drinking another hot tea.
There is beauty in the stark outline
of trees and squirrels against whiteness,
or watching my little dog sniff deer tracks
and race inside with a snowy nose.
To come out of the quiet cold
into the warmth of a home,
to hear the furnace kick on,
to snuggle up to a warmer body
under chilly bedsheets
is the abundance of winter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Angels I Have Seen on Google - and Karen Carpenter


I painted these angels as gifts for my friends, but they're so cute I want to keep them! Here's something weird: the photo to the right - the one of the angel with a trumpet? I painted that. It's sitting, as we speak, on my shelf just as I photographed it last year and put it on my blog last year. Recently I was looking up Christmas pictures on Google Images and there was my angel! In my house! And I didn't put it there! How did it get there? Weird.
Here's a random Christmas memory. When I was very young - fourteen to be exact - I had a boyfriend and we were deeply in love. :) God knew I was getting in too deep and had the boy's parents move him to Albuquerque, New Mexico that autumn. That Christmas, my singing idol, Karen Carpenter had a popular song - Merry Christmas, Darling come out. If you have lived in America for more than a year I'm sure you're familiar. It's a beautiful song sung by an amazing talent. Well, every time I hear it, even all these years later, I think of that sweet boyfriend, Doug. I remember spending a lot of time that Christmas season in my bedroom sitting by my little electric heater crying my eyes out and singing " I've just one wish on this Christmas Eve, I wish I were with you - I wish I were with you...." I can still remember how that felt. How unfair to have him taken from me - how unfair to have that song come out that same Christmas! If, for some reason, you've never heard it click HERE.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Chapel Bridge Souvenir

Five years ago I was fortunate enough to go with my church choir on a singing tour through parts of Europe. We visited and sang our way through Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and a bit of Liechtenstein and France. It was a dream come true for me. I had yearned to see Austria ever since I was ten years old after seeing The Sound of Music for the first time. Salzburg was more beautiful than you can imagine. Throughout the trip I had my heart set on finding one special souvenir - specifically something for Christmas. I thought there would be numerous Christmas stores in every city. You know how you always see the German wooden ornaments and candle holders? Well, either they were not there or I missed every one of them. About half way through the trip I began to panic. I had not seen one single Christmas ornament! (It was July, but it was Europe. We want our souvenirs) We spent a free day in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was a rainy day. My daughter was with me on the trip and we really wanted to shop. We crossed the Chapel Bridge (see above) and there was a tiny little Christmas shop on the bridge. We continued through the city and then, after an exhausting and sopping wet search I decided at the last minute to run back through the rain and get the Christmas candle/nativity set you see here. I'm glad I did and I love it. I had expected to find a terrific deal but it wasn't any cheaper than those I'd seen at a specialty store here in Cleveland. But the biggest disappointment was to find out that my special decoration from far away Europe came from a shop called Joe's Souvenir's!



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Erasing Names


This past week it was time to do the Christmas cards. I remember a time when I actually looked forward to sitting down and writing little notes to everyone and now somehow it seems more like a chore. Maybe because with email and cell phones we are able to communicate with those we don't see often so much easier than 10-15 years ago. I went through my address book to check and see if there was anyone new to add to the list. There was not. But sadly there were five names to eliminate. Two friends and three relatives, gone from this earth, but not from my heart. What is sadder than erasing someone's name? The loss of two friends this year is still difficult for me to fathom. They were both in their fifties, so close to my age. Jeanne left two teenage children that she will never see grow up. But both friends were women of deep faith and I know they are held in God's heavenly arms now. The poem I posted last week called "To Have Love" was in part, about my thoughts for their husbands left behind and alone now. The photo is a shelf in my writing room. Three dear friends gone. Two from cancer and one from muscular dystrophy - rest in peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Religion vs. Faith

"Religions are not revealed, they are evolved. If a religion were revealed by God, that religion would be perfect in whole and in part and would be as perfect at the first moment of its revelation as after ten thousand years of practice. There has never been a religion that fulfills those conditions."
Robert Blatchford (1851-1943)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And for today's inspiration. . . .

Click HERE and find an article about a mailman named Don Szczepanski.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jesus of Nazareth

In my humble opinion the most outstanding production ever made for television was "Jesus of Nazareth." It is a six hour mini-series first shown at Easter in 1977. If you would like to remind yourself why we're celebrating Christmas you will not be disappointed in watching this beautiful depiction of the life of Jesus. Sometimes I just watch the Christmas or the Easter portions. Above is the scene when Mary visits Elizabeth to tell her that she is with child also. Luke 1: 41 says, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby (John the Baptist) leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." It is said that John recognized the divinity of Jesus in the womb with his spirit-filled leap. Cool.
This series has an all-star cast - Lawrence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, James Earl Jones, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, Olivia Hussey - among others. To me, Olivia Hussey portrayed Mary with the utmost innocence and humility. Robert Powell is so amazing as Jesus that I remember spending months afterwards picturing him while praying! Even now I do not find the production or the acting outdated in any way. I know it is just a movie, but it always brings home the reality of Christ's life to me in a wondrous way. If you need a pick-me-up this holiday season I would recommend this movie. Happy, happy holidays.






Sunday, December 7, 2008

Scandalon

This morning in the choir room our director was trying to figure out where we would all sit in the choir loft. He commented on the fact that some of us have our favorite seats and we had dented the cushion to suit ourselves. We all chuckled. Then Pastor Chip came in to pray with us. His prayer included the phrase, "God you dented the world with Christmas." I love the notion that God puts a dent in our comfortable places and makes us just a little uneasy. During Advent we often hear the words of the prophet Isaiah. Handel used Isaiah's words to bring his glorious "Messiah" to life.
Isaiah 8:14 says - He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.
I am not a theologian, but I think Isaiah is predicting how Jesus will be a scandal when he comes. He will challenge us to a better way of living. He will get people out of their easy chairs and face a new life in Him. Recently I have forced myself to read some of the Old Testament through a daily devotional. Boy, those folks were messed up. How they needed a new way of life and a new attitude.
I have always thought that even if you are not a Christian you can see that Jesus's way is THE way to live: Love, forgive, turn the other cheek, be at peace. Many other religions revere Jesus as a man that showed us how to live on this earth together. That's what Advent is about. We await the newness and the better way that we all need so desperately. As Christians we believe Jesus is the way.
Michael Card is a Christian composer and recording artist that almost exclusively uses scripture for his songs. He has a song called "Scandalon" that I have always loved the words to:
He will be the truth that will defend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall
Many will be broken so that he can make them whole
Many will be crushed and lose their own soul.
It seems today the scandalon offends no one at all
The image we present could be stepped over
Could it be that we are like the others long ago?
Will we ever learn that all who come must stumble?
This Advent let Jesus put a dent in your world. Stumble into Christmas. Believe.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Have Love

In the midst of your hands on me
peace arrives

the music stops and a nothingness
fills the void, a quietude

your whisperings
my clutching

where am I?
when did you come

to bring all thesse
senses to life

and all this gratitude
coagulates in my brain

for what we have in this moment
and then a sudden sadness

for someone who does not have
what we have

does not know
what we know

has never been loved
as we have loved.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another Child's Poem

Winter is so fun and cold
While I watch the ground
sparkle, it is so pretty
While I watch the snow
fall from the sky.

By Kayla Rosell
fifth grade student

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Child's Poem

I am an Intervention Specialist for fifth and sixth graders. I used to be called a special education teacher, but that's not PC -so now I have a title that basically means I help the special education students in the general classroom as well as bring them to my room for small group instruction. Anyway - the belief is that if students are "exposed" to the general curriculum and are with typical same-age peers that they will learn better. That is not always the case, but sometimes I see the benefits of "Inclusion". The other day the fifth grade teacher was teaching the students about free verse poetry after previously attempting rhymed verse. The classroom that I work in is the only one in the building to have a SmartBoard, which is an interactive whiteboard hooked up to a computer that can display the Internet or be used as a chalkboard with memory. I brought up this blog (which usually is blocked in the public schools, but somehow works with the SmartBoard) to show the students some of my free verse. They didn't seem all that impressed, but one of my students, Courtney Gipson-Payton wrote this lovely poem. I think he understood the lesson:
As I fill the life
As I fill the air
As the season goes by the month
I still am a part of life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Haiku for a Wednesday

Brought to each new day
fellowship in mere living
survival of love

In my creation
a solitary journey
to heights unknown

The sun of my soul
fell into total eclipse
the day I left God

Monday, December 1, 2008

What Fades Away

Today I'm pondering something seemingly unimportant, but I write about it to ask the bigger question - how does our culture slowly change? Most of us can identify each decade in the twentieth century by clothing, music, government, and national or world events. (I'm not sure about this decade and I'm not even sure what we're calling it yet.) Here's a question to my female readers: Did you play "dress-up" as a child? Did you have a box full of cast-offs from older sisters, cousins and your mom? High heels to toddle around the house in? Then as a teenager - what was the most exciting part of dances and proms? The dress, right? (Hopefully it wasn't the paramount focus of your wedding though.)
In my young adulthood I attended many employee Christmas parties, some class reunions, weddings, anniversary parties and my annual union banquet. At all of these events everyone dressed formally - suits and ties, dresses (sometimes long) and your best jewelry. In the last ten years I have watched it all disappear. Company Christmas parties have either been discontinued or relegated to appetizers in someone's family room. My neighborhood Christmas party lessened in its formality until it was in a bar in January and this year ended altogether. Class reunions that used to be dinner-dances are now picnics or golf outings. (My daughter just attended a class reunion. She wore a flirty Betsey Johnson dress and said all the other girls had jeans on. )
I used to buy something special every year for my union banquet, but over the past ten years people have come in increasingly casual outfits. I think it's kind of sad. I'm witnessing a cultural tradition disappear in my lifetime. It's not that pricy clothes are so important - it's feeling that the event is special, that it's something to look forward to, that it's not just another occassion to wear jeans.
When I started teaching I dressed like a, well, a teacher! Skirts and blouses, nice shoes. I remember wearing suits when I would be meeting parents for any reason. Now teachers wear jeans, tennis shoes, sweat suits, shorts, anything goes. Another example is from the times I have attended Broadway plays in New York City. I thought the theater was a place to get all gussied up. But tourists are at the shows in their shorts and tee-shirts after schlepping around the city all day.
I don't think I'll try to rebel against this trend very much. I like to wear something besides jeans on holidays or when I'm entertaining, but I don't care what anyone else wears. I wonder who sent out the memo telling us that we don't dress-up for anything anymore? When did that happen? And if I do dress up am I just going to look like an old person from another era because of it? Kind of like my grandma who wore dresses and nylons to clean house?And most importantly where will little girls get the their dress-up clothes from now?