Friday, May 30, 2008

I've got a bad feeling about this . . .

Last weekend, we heard it for the first time as we were waking up on Saturday morning. At first, I thought it was the hum of faraway yard equipment. Then it sounded like some kind of quacking, but again, far away. Today, we got serious about trying to find the source of the noise and eventually we did--it's a muffled buzzing sound and it's inside the exterior wall of our bedroom. The exterminators come on Wednesday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This is so not fair

They come to us from the factory completely defective. They can barely open their eyes and all they know how to do is flail around and cry. Even once they learn to hold their oversized heads up, they are still pretty useless when you think about it. It takes forever for them to learn how to do anything for themselves and in the meantime you sacrifice everything--sleep, sex, personal hygiene, brain cells--just so you can wake up again the next day and do it all over again.
But then this miracle happens. Eventually, they stop spitting up on you every time they eat, they finally get potty trained (something kittens learn in a matter of weeks btw), they learn how to talk and provide hours of entertainment. They even learn to chew with their mouths closed. But just when you've got the new-and-improved model--just when they become interesting conversationalists--just the kind of person you love to be around--and friendship looks possible, you have to send them away! It is so not fair.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Themes of "Doubt"

For Mother's Day, Mowgli and Boo gave me a ticket to the Tony-award-winning play "Doubt," (C was out of luck and had to buy his own ticket). Wasn't that just a perfect gift on so many levels? We went Thursday night and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The play begins with Father Flynn's admissions of spiritual and existential doubt, met with the deep disapproval of Sister Aloysius whose certainty about life is formidable. However, when Sister Aloysius' certainty extends to her unsubstantiated belief that Father Flynn is abusing a boy in the rectory, we are unsure of her motivations and are uncomfortable with her lack of evidence. However, Father Flynn's protestations are weak and unconvincing and we are never sure of what to believe. When Sister Aloysius finally lies to force Father Flynn's confession (or was it a confession? We're never quite sure), she must face her own doubt--in a system that doesn't seem to want to know the truth and in the purity of her own heart.
After the play was over, the playwright-in-residence and a local Catholic priest led a discussion of the play's themes with the audience. What intrigued me most was that the original playwright wrote in his introduction to the play that he was writing not only about the scandal in the Catholic Church but also about the prelude to the Iraq War. (The play was written in 2003).
As you know, the themes of doubt, faith, and certainty are torturous and tricky for me so I could go on forever about what the play stirred up in me. I'll spare you that, though, and go straight to a corollary experience I had recently on the grand jury. I was listening to the interview of a suspect by a police detective and finding the suspect's story plausible and believable . . . right up until the moment that the detective asked one seemingly innocuous question and the entire story fell apart right before our eyes, revealing the truth. I am, it seems, both doubtful and gullible all at the same time!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The saddest place I've ever been

They only started the tour after we put all our personal belongings in an old metal locker with an even older padlock on the outside. The signs were clear: no metal, no cell phones, no handbags, no sleeveless tops, no anything that is personal to you. They buzzed us through the first 3-inch thick metal door where we stood in a tiny vestibule until they buzzed us through the next metal door. We were now "inside."

First, they took us to Central Booking where about 20 men and 2 women were waiting for their names to be called, after which they would be photographed, fingerprinted, and thoroughly searched. Then their clothing and belongings would be taken and put in a paper bag awaiting their release, which could happen in hours or years, depending--Mostly depending on things completely outside their control. They were white, black, Hispanic, mostly young, mostly poor, mostly thuggish. They all looked scared.

Then we went up several floors to the roof where there is a fenced-in recreation area. Four men were playing basketball badly on a dilapidated court and several older men were walking laps around the court. There were several black men and a nerdy-looking white man. The deputies told us that all of them were classified at the highest level of security, either for their own protection or the protection of others and were only allowed to socialize (if you can call it that) with each other. He pointed out that the white man was suspected of committing the yogurt shop murders in the early 90s and is just now awaiting trial.

Next, they took us to another floor, through several large metal doors and into a tiny cell, maybe 6x6--a metal bunk, a concrete bunk, a metal toilet and a tiny desk with a stool bolted to the wall and to the concrete floor, all under a humming fluorescent light. The plastic mattresses are too short for an adult man and the bunks are too, probably. Inmates spend almost all their time in jail in rooms like this. It felt like a coffin when they closed the door. One of the other grand jurors said, "A person could go crazy in a place like this" and the deputy said, "Oh, yeah."

I asked if most of the inmates were cooperative and he said that they were, a huge change from just a few years ago when there was constant fighting. He didn't know what made the difference. I thought it would be pretty important to find out. He didn't seem very curious.

We went to the medical floor, where obviously ill inmates stay in their cells 24/7 and sleep, shaking and obviously miserable. We went to the cafeteria where the deputy who was cooking supper (to be served at 3:30 p.m.) proudly showed us the chicken and broccoli pasta and the menu that showed three meals a day with at least as much nutrition, variety, and taste as the typical school menu. Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by only green cinderblock walls, green metal doors, concrete floors. Nothing else.

All the deputies we met seemed professional and sharp. They said they often get to know inmates, even seeing them later in supermarkets and car washes, where they come up to them and smile and shake their hands saying, "Hey bossman! I remember you!" One deputy who has been there for 20 years said that he sees grandfathers, fathers and sons all come through at one time or another.

I can't for the life of me understand why anyone who has been in hell once would ever come back here, yet most of the cases we see in grand jury are repeat offenders. I wonder if it says something about their inability to make good choices on their own behalf. Or maybe it says something about the life they have on the outside. Who knows?

Of course, no one here has been convicted of anything--many have not yet even been indicted. Most will go pretty quickly to a state jail or state penetentiary and some will be released and go home. Some will wait months before they even get a visit from their court-appointed attorney and a few will wait years for their cases to come to trial (some people have been waiting 4-5 years, we were told). I want there to be a place like this, I really do--there are some really dangerous people in the world. But I have to say, it was the saddest place I've ever seen.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Visitor

Last weekend, after the women's retreat, I drove to The Woodlands to pick Mowgli up from a concert. While he was at the concert, I decided to kill some time at a movie and went to see "The Visitor." Did I like it? Well, let me put it like this: I hadn't eaten supper yet so I bought a bag of candy to put in my purse then completely forgot to eat it.
This film is slow and deliberate and at the same time is suspenseful and emotionally engaging. The actors express deep emotion in subdued and subtle ways, mostly through the eyes and through the sparse but meaningful dialogue. I was left feeling haunted by the story but nourished by the characters. It was a wonderful way to kill some time.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The past two weekends have been really terrific, in very different ways. Weekend before last, my sister and my mom and I had a "girls' weekend" in Brenham (IMHO, the prettiest part of Texas). We spent two nights at a wonderful B&B (, did a little shopping, a lot of eating (including Blue Bell, of course), a lot of talking, and some celebrating (Mom's birthday and Sister's pregnancy)--even petted some horses and were entertained by some chickens. We're pretty different from each other but enjoy each other so much.

Last weekend, I was at Live Oak Ranch near Canyon Lake ( with the women's group from our congregation. I have to say, it was the best church ladies' retreat I've ever been on--including (maybe especially including) the ones I've planned. I had a great opportunity to get to know some other women a little better in a relaxed, beautiful setting. I highly recommend this place, by the way, if you're someone who plans events for medium sized groups. I don't think there is any "best friend" potential just yet, but these are really warm, friendly women who love the Lord and love the church and I enjoy being around them.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Upcoming challenge

I'll be preaching Sunday at MBC and I have two fairly minor but real concerns. One, this will be MBC's first experience with a woman in the pulpit, which is always a little scary. On the one hand, I just learned that the previous pastor didn't even allow women to be greeters, so that gives you a little history on this congregation. On the other hand, there was applause on Sunday when C announced that I would be filling the pulpit next week, so that was beyond encouraging. We've come a long way since the days that men would stand and turn their backs in protest--something that many women who blazed this trail have experienced. My other minor concern is that I haven't preached in a little over a year. I have done a lot of speaking, teaching, workshop leadership, etc. but preaching is a little different and comes from a different place. So, please pray for me this week as I prepare (I'm using the life of Mary, mother of Jesus as my launching pad) and on Sunday, too, please.