Author Archive: TJ

La Dia de Los Muertos

“So what’s your creepy fascination with skeletons?” This is the question that I get asked again and again.  So I guess it is time for an explanation.  My first exposure to Catrinas was on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico almost 10 years ago.  Initially, I was fascinated with the colors and the dapper outfits.  Being a person who lives in her head, captivated by an unusual and quirky imagination, I saw skeletons everywhere in my everyday life.  “That waiter, he has a great face for a skeleton.”  “How funny would it be to see skeletons playing in a jazz combo?”

When I looked up the meaning of the Day of the Dead, a celebration honoring the lives of friends and family that have gone before, I thought of all the lessons we could learn if we did take time to consider the contributions of our ancestors.  Unfortunately, i think in our fast, technology-driven world, we rarely engage in listening to the stories of our heritage.  As a result, I believe that we are losing our sense of heritage.  Our ancestors are not just names in our genealogy.  They are people with hopes, dreams, hardships, and failures that made our lives possible.  Celebrating La Dia de Lose Muertons, All Saints Day, or other similar memorial on a regular basis in our culture would help to foster those conversations to bring mindfulness to the people from whom we have come.

trumpetThe other captivating thing about the Catrinas is that once we are stripped of our “skin”, we recognize there is really not that much difference among us.  When I paint a Catrina playing a trumpet, you have no idea if that person was white, black, asian, or hispanic.  You have no idea their weight or even their age.  You can recognize their skill and their passion first, before you have formed any opinion based on a preconceived notion.  I think of how much nicer our world would be if we could make our first impressions about people in that way.

I read somewhere once that in La Dia de los Muertos tradition, the skulls are symbols not only of death, but of rebirth.  I paint the skulls, or “las calaveras”, to represent people living their dreams.  There was a time when I was afraid to try many things out of fear that I would be criticized or rejected.  If I couldn’t be the best, why bother trying.  I was hesitant to be vulnerable, to put my feelings on public display.  I isolated myself from potential relationships in the same way, out of fear of disapproval.  But as I get older, I think I have experienced a rebirth of sorts.  I realize now that I have something to offer that even if not beneficial to all, might make the difference to one.   So alas, I paint, I blog, I write, I live.

What Not to Wear (Yeah, it is mostly a chick post today, fellas)

My daughter is 17 with a runner’s body and beautiful.  When we go shopping together, she can put anything on and it looks fabulous!  Not a bulge or a pucker anywhere.  She loves to shop while I absolutely HATE it!!!  I have to wonder if I would like it more if the worst thing I had to worry about was price … and whether they had a size small enough for me.  Geez!  Even if it is a little too big, skinny chicks can throw on a belt!

Dressing my body comes with a variety of problems.  First, I have a weird shape and it is super hard to fit.  I weigh more than I would like to.  I dream of being able to fit into all of those cute clothes and I have a hard time spending money on something that fits my current size when “I’m gonna lose this weight, soon.”   I end up buying shoes or scarves because they always fit!  And then there is the problem that I am “fashion ignorant” and have no idea how to put together an outfit that looks current or trendy. Haley will often steer me right out of a store for looking at clothing she insists is “hideous, Mother!”

It isn’t that I don’t have any clothes at home.  But I will put on something in the morning and leave the house thinking I look all like this:

whoworeit

And then I will walk by a mirror or a storefront window on my way to lunch downtown and catch a glimpse of myself looking more like this:

who wore it best

 (Photo courtesy of Joan Anthony from her personal “people of Walmart” collection.)

So the other day, Haley asked me, “Mom, would you be mad if I nominated you for “What Not to Wear”?”  I didn’t even have to think about it!  How could I be mad if I got to go to New York, get $5k for all new clothes, get to hang out with Clinton and Stacy for 2 days, have my hair done by Ted, and get makeup tips from Carmindy?  Are you kidding?  But then, I thought about that 360* mirror.  I think my brain might implode.   I know they would also make me throw away all my comfy shoes like my Converse and my Tom’s in exchange for shoes that make my legs look good but make my feet cry for mercy.   And then Haley reminded me that they would make me throw away all of my Batman shirts.  Eek gads!  That is harsh!  I told her I could always go buy new ones. Or maybe with my $5k, I could buy these babies:

English: Converse high fashion, Paris, Decembe...

English: Converse high fashion, Paris, December, 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Old Camelknees talked about that 360* mirror in  James 1:22-24.  No really, he did.  He said that if you go into that 360, get made over into a put-together fashion diva, and then turn around and pull the nerdy superhero shirts and throwback Converse out of the trash bin, you are selling yourself short … doing a disservice to Stacy, Clinton, Ted, and Carmindy who invested the time and effort into your transformation.  Actually, what he said was that if we are only hearers of God’s Word and we don’t put it into action, we are just like the person who goes into the 360 and then refuses to shop by the rules or let Ted cut that hair!  There is no change and no evidence we were ever on the show.

I am not a fan of people who come across as “holier-than-thou” just because they go to church.  That “goody-2-shoes” demeanor is not evidence of what a good Christian you are. What is wrong with being vulnerable, with admitting that even though you follow Christ that you don’t have it all together,with acknowledging that you screw up sometimes (all the time), with letting others see your faults?  After all, that is what the Great Teacher came to share with us…humility.  Jesus didn’t come to Earth wearing a crown and demanding that people bow down to him because he was perfect … royalty.  Nope.  He humbled himself.  He hung out with the unpopular people.  He put everyone before himself … everyone.  He was an unselfish servant.  No one he helped had anything to offer him.  They had no power, no material wealth, nothing of value to contribute except to pass on the compassion they received from him.

Philippians-2-3

Just like it is easier to put on a tshirt, jeans, and flip-flops, it is easier to be nice to people who have something to offer us.  It is easier to do good when there is a chance you might get some credit for it.  When I look in that mirror at the reveal, I want to see this passage above reflected in that mirror.  I would hope that Jesus would trim off a few inches of that selfish ambition and “work a little magic” in my attitude toward people who have nothing material to offer to me.  And I want to hear somebody say, “Shut the front door!” when they see the transformation.

For the record, it would not hurt my feelings one bit if my friends and family set me up to look like an idiot on “What Not to Wear”.  Just be gentle with that hidden camera crap!

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

I have been pondering more “Freebird” (Psalm 23) in the wake of the Boston Marathon, the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Dark Knight Rises shooting, the Ft. Hood bloodbath, and the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing last week.

Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.

Is this true?  Do I fear no evil?  Does it seem like God is with us?  Actually, these days, it seems like God is far, far from us.  I remember growing up there was that great commercial, “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony”.  You know the words, so sing along … “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,  to keep it company.”  (That’s the real thing).  Even though we talk a great deal these days about “tolerance”, it doesn’t seem like it is making anyone more harmonious.  And with tragedy after tragedy, we are left wondering, “Where is God in all this?”

On Friday as we waited for law enforcement to flush out the “suspect in the white hat”, I heard an interview with the uncle of both bombing suspects.  As they harassed this man on his doorstep after his world had been rocked by the horrible news that his nephew was dead and that his own flesh and blood might be responsible for unspeakable callousness and mayhem, the reporters wanted to know one thing.  Were the brothers Muslim?

In implementing my “Root Beer Rule”, I have been thinking about waiting a lot.  I mused over the words of the troubadour, Jack Johnson:

Now I was sitting waiting wishingJack-Johnson-In-Between-Dreams-317106
That you believed in superstitions
Then maybe you’d see the signs
But Lord knows that this world is cruel
And I ain’t the Lord, no I’m just a fool
Learning loving somebody don’t make them love you

Now ain’t that the truth … in so many ways.  But even though we talk the good talk about tolerance and acceptance, you know that you were wondering the same thing.  Were these terrorists Muslim?  We have been conditioned to make the assumption.  Sad but true.

Although I am not a fan of Islam, I am called to love the Muslim.  The same God that loves me loved and created Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Regardless of whether you view followers of Mohammed with suspicion or disdain, notice where King David prepared the table for you in Psalm 23:5:  In the presence of your enemy.  Whether that enemy is Muslim, gay, a co-worker, a former spouse, the co-parent of your child, a competitor, a nasty neighbor, someone who has perpetrated harm on you.  That enemy is present.  But you can co-exist and still experience wholeness, and even blessing.  Like old Jack says in his tune, loving them isn’t necessarily going to change them.  But learning to love can change you.

I spotted this tweet below on Facebook this weekend and found it to be incredibly insightful.  As you consider these images, do you need to change the way you think about your “enemy”?  Here is some of the rest of the prophet Jack Johnson’s words:

Well if I was in your position
I’d put down all my ammunition
I’d wondered why’d it taken me so long
But Lord knows that I’m not you
And If I was I wouldn’t be so cruel
Cause waiting on love ain’t so easy to do.

islam

westboro beheadislaminsult

The World According to Odd (sort of)

Last night, Ben Collins, the fearless leader of our misfit faith community known as Collective, was discussing the “Freebird” of the Bible, Psalm 23. Even if you’ve never been to church, you have heard it at a funeral or in some poignant movie moment, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”  What? Follow God and you will miraculously have all your wishes granted by the Genie God?  RIGHT … Follow God and you will suddenly be rid of all materialistic desires?  Hardly.  Follow God and no evil will ever come to your door?  Obviously not.

So what does that mean, “I shall not want”?

In today’s world, we want, neigh, DEMAND, instant gratification.  If you have cable, you can have “On Demand” movies.  You want information?  Type a search on your smartphone.  You want food?  Hit a drive through.  Having a tough day?  Take a pill.  Want to find a spouse?  Sign up for a dating site.  Want a house?  Apply for a 0% down loan. We don’t have to search, save,work, or waste time preparing for anything.  As a result, I think the world is more broken than ever before.  Having a tough time paying your mortgage?  Don’t get a second job … just quit paying the payments, after all, it will be 2 years before the bank can push a foreclosure through the courts. Relationship getting tough?  Trade them in for an upgrade.  Because of instant gratification, everything has become quick and easy.  Disposable.  We live in a world where it seems that everything is expendable, including human life.

Stormy Llewellyn had a good theory.  “Delayed gratification makes everything sweeter.”  Who is Stormy Llewellyn, you ask?  She is the soulmate and fiance of Odd Thomas, a character created by thriller-writer, Dean Koontz.  Odd is possessed with the unique ability to communicate with the dead and solve or prevent horrific crimes.  His girl, Stormy waited for EVERYTHING!  As a manager of the Burke and Bailey’s Ice Cream Parlor, weeks go by before she will try a new flavor, fearing the lack of anticipation will ruin the ultimate meaningfulness of the experience.

In one scene, Odd questions Stormy about why, if she wants a root beer float on Monday, does she wait until Wednesday.  Why doesn’t she have a root beer float on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday?   She insists that waiting will make the float taste better … and will help avoid becoming the 800 pound person who has to be hoisted out of the house with a crane.

So as I ponder Psalm 23:1, I can’t help but think that it is a call to contentment, a call to a simpler life, a call for serious introspection about our choices.  A call to wait, to think, and to ponder.

Think about the things you prize most in life.  Were they things that were handed to you or things you had to earn or wait for?  Yesterday, I talked about the “4 Hour Rule”  and how implementing that simple rule has already spared me from having to eat my words.  Perhaps a similar rule about our “wants” would also spare us heartache, save us money, and teach us the value of “things”.  Instead of jumping at every impulse, I am going to wait a week to see if the urge passes.  If at the end of the week the want/need/desire is still there, I will have increased the “sweet factor”, just like Stormy’s root beer float.  And if not, I saved some calories.  rootbeer

4 Hour Rule

I was born with a “hair trigger”.

hair′ trig`ger n.hairtrigger

a trigger that allows the firing mechanism of a firearm to be operated by very slight pressure.
[1815–25]

hair′-trig`ger adj.

1. easily activated or set off; put into operation by the slightest impulse.
2. reacting immediately to the slightest provocation: a hair-trigger temper.

My mother even tagged me in one of those Facebook shares this week that said, “Don’t get me started.  I don’t come with brakes.”  Sad, but true.  I get myself into more stupid shit just because I can’t mind my own business.  I have broken up domestic disputes between strangers in Walmart, physically confronted a red-neck threatening some middle school boys in a bowling alley, and put a guy back in his car who was being confrontational with an older woman during a 5k race because he was pissed off that the traffic pattern alteration inconvenienced him.  That one really pissed me off because I missed my PR as a result.

If I thought for half a second before I went off half-cocked, I might realize that one of these days, I’m going to jump into a situation where the other party is ACTUALLY armed.   But like the Fall Out Boy song goes, “We’re going down, down in an earlier round.  Sugar we’re going down swinging.”

Those that know me well tease me because after ripping a witness to shreds, making someone cry, or proving someone wrong, I will slink back within hours to apologize.  Even if I am completely justified in my former actions.  I can’t walk away without trying to “fix it”.

So this week, I learned an important lesson from a colleague.  As we were waiting for cases to be called in court, I was checking emails and got one from a client that torqued me off.  So, I started speed typing away on my smart phone, giving immediate feedback to the question.  The other attorney, a bit more “seasoned” than me, asked what I was doing.  When I told him, he said, “You are breaking a cardinal rule.”  What rule is that?  “You’re supposed to wait 4 hours before responding to any client email, idiot.”   Of course, I asked why.  “By the time they get the response, they may have had time to figure it out on their own … and you will be calmer when you respond.”

A reactionary in every aspect of life, I have sought to apply the “4 hour rule” in my daily life.  That text that pissed me off … just wait 4 hours.  That expletive-ridden telephone call from the attorney suggesting that I needed to perform sexual self-gratification … just wait 4 hours.  That hurtful remark that made me want to lash out … just wait 4 hours.

James, “Old Camel Knees” from the Bible said this:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

Yipes!  What I have learned is that during those 4 hours, I have time to put myself in the shoes of that other person, to consider what circumstances that person might be dealing with, and time to frame a more appropriate response that doesn’t require an apology later.      In most cases, that other person isn’t going to “learn a lesson” from my intervention, anyway.  But maybe, just maybe, by giving them 4 hours of space, they will have had time to think about the situation and learn something about their self, too.

Anablephobia?

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I have never been fearful of much.

 I am the kind of person who runs headlong into any new situation or new adventure, typically without thinking much.  But big cities scare me.  Not because of the traffic, the higher likelihood of being mugged or raped, or the possibility of getting lost … but rather the stomach-lurching sensation I get when I look up at tall buildings.  My insides turn to mush and I get weak-kneed.  It isn’t a fear of heights.  I love roller coasters, rappelling, mountains, and flying.  So why is it that standing on terra firma, at the base of a building and tilting my head up to observe from a perfectly safe place freaks me out?

I did a little googling (actually, I bing’ed since the whole Cesar Chavez thing) and found out I am not the only freak out there with this strange phobia.  It even has a name:  Anablephobia.

One website had this to offer:

         

  A person with this fear may be responding to the vastness of what is above them. The feelings of such immense space makes them feel small and perhaps even insignificant. If they can refuse to acknowledge the vastness of space they may feel it is possible to avoid the fear.

Well isn’t that ironic?  A fear of insignificance?   I have battled my whole life for the approval of others, attempting to live up to someone else’s expectation or desire, never wanting to disappoint.  I look up to superheros and even hope to be one.  But what if I am cut out to be nothing more than a sidekick in that movie?  What if I am not even that, but just an expendable extra?   (My good buddy, Mike over at Pop Apocrypha got me thinking about this … read and then subscribe http://apocryphantastic.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/protagonism/).  I really don’t want to be just an orc, thanks.  Who will remember me when the movie is over?  Will I even make it into the credits?

Scientist estimate that there are 70 sextillion stars in the visible universe.  How many is that?  Only 70 million million.  Or a 7 with 22 zeroes behind it.  And despite that, Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set into place, who is man that you are mindful of him?”  Seriously!  And yet, Isaiah 49:16 says he has written our name in the palm of his hand.

My son, Ben, and I went to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse on his recent leave from the US Navy.  My stomach did the little flip-floppy thing just trying to take photographs of the 17 story red brick tower.  But remember, I am afraid of nothing … and I am with my kid.  No fear. so then, I go inside to make the climb to the top and see this:

19715_10151292447612129_241341626_n

Ugghhh.  If you haven’t tried it, climbing 17 stories of winding staircase with flip flops and unevenly shaped stairs is not only aerobic exercise … but terrifying for a person who hates looking up. Once we made it, we enjoyed the view of the Atlantic Ocean, the inlet, the Halifax River … and yes, the ground below.

I will be going there again one week from today at sunset to ascend to the top for a rare evening event to enjoy the full moon.  And when I stand at the top of the tower 175 feet above the grass below, and I look out at the moon and some of those 70 sextillion stars,  I will try to remember to think of ways to affirm my significance in this crazy world … and not to look up.

What affirms your feelings of significance?  Or do you struggle like me?

You deleted me because I share pictures of cats?

catMy first blog post and what do I talk about?  Facebook, of course.  And cats.  The two seem to go hand in hand.  In fact, I found a Facebook page tonight devoted to cat photos entitled “You deleted me because I share pictures of cats?”  To my knowledge, I have never been unfriended because of my cat photos.  My friends know that my daughter and I enjoy dressing my little Luna up in all manner of cat costumes.  There was the hula girl for Halloween, the turkey for Thanksgiving, Wonder Woman of course … I even crocheted her an orange and blue gator sweater for her to wear during the Sugar Bowl.  Well … it was cold!!

She always looks so adorable, I have to share!  If you don’t like it, hide my posts.  It is not necessary to completely unfriend me.  A sensitive soul, it does hurt my feelings when I learn that I have been deleted as a friend.  It is like being shunned in the Amish community except there is really no chance for redemption.  To my knowledge, I have been unfriended because I had a photo of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz as my profile picture (true story), because I was perceived to be preachy about my vegetarianism (I like vegetables), and because I complained about the lack of decent radio stations in South Carolina (they suck).  Two of these examples involved family members.  Blood relatives.  Seriously.  Have I unfriended people for cause?  You betcha!  You can’t post photos of people in different sexual positions on a daily basis and stay on my newsfeed.  Sorry.  I am not a prude by any stretch, but Facebook is not the Kama Sutra.  I will also admit that I have unfriended people who cannot tolerate differing political opinions.  I don’t care as much about what you believe as I do your opinion of those who have different views from you.  But I will stand up for your right to post as many cat pictures as your heart desires.

Recently, Facebook was saturated with posts from people on both sides of the equality of marriage debate.  I saw people who claim to be Christ followers throwing opinions around like malotov cocktails on both sides of the issue.  I found it difficult to maintain silence or neutrality in the midst of the storm.  But by and large, I remained mute about the topic.  And I admit, I felt kind of horrible about it.  You see, I have many, many friends that have chosen same sex companions.  Some of those couples are more committed than many of my “straight” friends.  Why should those couples not have the opportunity to define their level of commitment the same as anyone else? And why was I fearful to take a stand for them?  I read the posts of so many Christian friends arguing that marriage is a religious institution that the government has no right to regulate.  Ummm … I don’t get that logic.  If that is the case, then who decides if a Muslim or Buddhist marriage has the same validity as a Christian or Hindi one?  The government? And cultural, contractual marriage definitely predates Christianity.

So I don’t get it.  But what I do get is this, Christ-followers are called to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:1-3.  If you disagree with my opinion about equality of marriage, and the answer isn’t clearly laid out in the scriptures, I think we should be able to agreeably disagree … without fear of criticism or ostracism.  Without accusations of heresy.  Without being unfriended for loving and supporting people who have made a different lifestyle choice.  “Bear with me”, sayeth me and Apostle Paul.

I don’t expect to change minds of those who disagree.  Based on Ephesians 4:1-3, I don’t think I have to.  I have to love you, respect your opinion, and attempt to maintain peace by not being adversarial.  But it doesn’t mean that I have to be silent about my opinion.  So to my gay friends, I am apologize for the silence.  I think you know I love you even if my profile picture is not an equality sign.

I am imperfect.  I don’t like the lame radio stations in South Carolina.  But I love my friends and family that live there.  I love Charleston and will continue to travel there … with my iPod plugged in for those times when I can no longer tolerate classic country or easy listening.  And I will continue to post pictures of my cats on Facebook… and lovingly defend your right to do so. Just don’t delete me because I disagree … or because I share pictures of cats.  Peace.catmuscle