Thursday, August 31, 2006

Confessions of a Video Fanatic

Originally published in The Valley Press June 2004

I confess: I love movies. My favorite evening activity is curling up on the couch with my family and a good movie. Now that summer vacation is here, I can make a healthy dent in my Netflix DVD rental queue––currently 200 titles!

Maybe my early conditioning––Brady Bunch, Partridge Family and Bewitched is responsible for my fanaticism. I tell myself I should read more novels, they seem nobler, but they take too long. I “read” most of my literature via books on tape while shuttling my kids––I’ve been slogging through the 17 tapes of the latest Harry Potter since May 21.

With a movie though, in a mere two hours I’ve digested a complete story and have something to contemplate while I brush my teeth and drift to sleep. Plus, I like to think movies serve a higher purpose––the modern day equivalent of myths, folktales, legends and sacred stories that hint at the nature of the human spirit and the essence of the divine.

Movies that take me to the pivotal time(s) in a person’s life stay with me, just like Bible stories. In the Old Testament, God used Moses, who ran and hid, and was a disaster at public speaking, to call for justice. I see God crying out for justice in the character of Norma Rae who jeopardizes her job and marriage to support a union in the factory where she works, and in Erin Brockovich who despite being unqualified and all wrong for the job, takes on PG&E because it’s the right thing to do.

There’s no denying our humanity––we’re flawed. But that hasn’t stopped God from working through us. I think of prominent Old Testament David, the shepherd who became king and rebuilt the Temple and was victorious in battle, and who also ordered Bathsheba to sleep with him and had her husband killed while he was at it. I rent Thirteen Days and Evita and am again reminded that God is at work in our flawed leaders.

Jonah ran from God when God said, “Go to Ninevah, which has gone you-know-where in a hand basket, and preach my wrath.” It took three days in the belly of whale before Jonah said okay, and even then he didn’t like the way God forgave the Ninevites and spared them so easily. I think of the three Stouffer boys’ death defying pranks that led to their PBS series chronicled in the movie Wild America; and of the inmates who find self-worth gardening in Greenfingers and I’m reminded that redemption is never beyond God’s reach.

In the New Testament, Jesus traveled with a band of ordinary people; four we know were fisherman, one a tax collector. Many people, with varying levels of understanding of “the cause,” joined him. Most of them remain anonymous to us. They weren’t scholars, they weren’t credentialed, they simply had a hunger for deeper meaning in their lives. Jesus called them to listen to the longings of their hearts and to try to understand the kingdom of God, even though they didn’t get it right most of the time.

I see this passion played out again and again on the screen. In Mr. Holland’s Opus, his great work is the impact he’s had as a teacher and not the masterpiece he set out to compose. Sally Field plays a struggling widow in Places in the Heart who opens her heart and home to strangers, forming relationships that last beyond death. The two uncles and nephew in Secondhand Lions, wary and suspicious from bitter experience, come to know unconditional love. And Billy Elliott absolutely must dance, no matter what the cost.

The website Hollywood Jesus explores the meeting of spirituality and popular culture––cinema, music, and TV––using reviews, clips and trailers. Check it out before you visit the video store. Then microwave some popcorn, settle into the recliner, grab the remote and have a video-fest. It’s good for the soul!

©2004 Cathy Warner

Are You Ready to Frog?

Back to school has a new meaning for me this year. My oldest daughter is off to college and living in a dorm in San Francisco. It was odd leaving her in a room on the fifth floor of a building, looking out on traffic and pedestrians below, when the view from our home in the Santa Cruz Mountains is a cow, a pasture, and a few houses.

She’s ready for the adventure, keeping herself as occupied as she can in the week before her roommate arrives and classes begin. I on the other hand, don’t know if I’m ready for adventure. I’m at home, washing and folding the laundry she left behind, half-expecting to see her in her room, or at least signs of her in dirty dishes on the counter, even though I call her every night there and know she’s not here.

It’s only been a week and I know it’s too early to tell how this adjustment is going to play itself out for her, for me, for the rest of the family at home––father and sister. But, I’m already experiencing a new form of prayer, a kind of prayer that seems most practical from a distance, a kind of prayer that is a shift for me, a very verbal person. It’s a prayer of touch. As I change her dirty sheets and put away the laundry she left behind, touching each item of hers becomes a prayer, a wordless lifting of her to God, like Mufasa, and later Simba in the Lion King lifting their young atop Pride Rock.

In the pride rock of Jennifer’s bedroom, I hold her pillowcase, her socks, the T-shirt she got from the orthodontist when her braces came off, before I put them in their drawers and am reminded of her baptism when Pastor Lorraine held her high overhead. I marveled at this gift from God, how amazing it was to have her in my life, and how daunting at times to raise her.

I hold her things, as if I’m holding her up for the world to see, and for God to claim again. As if God needs reminding that she’s one of the family; that God’s got some responsibilities to her. I’m the one who needs reminding. Jennifer was God’s all along, but mine too. I’ve spent years talking, advising and praying for and with her. I’ve listened to her, and to God too I hope, but now, without her in the house and with her beginning an independent life in the world, it’s time for wordless prayer, for a deep quiet. It’s time for a space to open up in my life in which I trust and entrust my daughter in and to the world. It’s time to trust and entrust my daughter in and to God.

In other words, it’s time––ready or not, to FROG––to Fully Rely On God.

©2006 Cathy Warner

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Psalm 84

For August 27, 2006
Lectionary Year B
12th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 84

The house of the Holy One is where I want to be.
I crave the quiet, the soul-at-rest-feeling
of this space set aside to focus our sights and spirits
on the maker of all things.
My bones leap and my heart beats
with a melody set in rhythm by the ancient drummer.

Twig by twig I would build a nest
and raise my young here
secure and happy in the creator’s palm.
Day and night, like a mockingbird
I would sing every song of joy
dance every step of praise
brimming with the wild happiness
of those who live in God’s home.

What joy is discovered by those
who chart their journeys with God
as their compass! Highways open
in their hearts and they travel straight
for the promised land.

For them, deserts are not dry and lifeless
but blooming valleys with hidden springs
and deep wells to quench their thirst.
They will never be far from nourishment
and all signs will point to God.

Hear me as I give praise Great One,
may your ears know my thanks.
If I could spend one day like a shadow
alongside you, I’d be happier than if I’d spent
a thousand years in any paradise on earth.
Oh, Ultimate host, I’d rather answer your door
and show in your guests without even catching
a glimpse of your sleeve than to own
the penthouse suite in a high rolling city.

The one beyond our understanding is brighter
than the sun, and provides a shield for our eyes
beckoning us closer.

God is generous with all that we need
keeping nothing from those who live in right

Gracious giver of abundant life, those who trust you
will always be satisfied.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Psalm 111

For August 20, 2006
Lectionary year B
11th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 111

Way to go, God!
Hey, everybody in the congregation,
I want to tell you, right here, right now
that God’s made a miracle of my life and
I’m eternally grateful. Don’t you know it, too?
Read the Bible and see just how long God’s been at it.

Isn’t the world beautiful? Isn’t creation amazing?
And what about the way God treats us?
Unlimited second chances. Wow, that’s mercy.
And food––the manna that dropped from heaven
when the people wandered in the desert
and the bread we get too, through prayer
and scripture and story.

Talk about promise keepers, God’s the original!
The Covenant King! Come into the fold, follow
a few rules and you’ll never be lost and alone again.

And our heritage, now that’s rich. You could study
the scriptures your entire life and never stop learning
something new about how faithful and trustworthy
God is. We can look forward, knowing
that as in the past, God is always with us
just waiting to welcome us home.

And when you stop to think about how huge
and all encompassing God’s reach can be
well that’s intimidating, scary even.
But that’s a good thing; humility is a great place
to start understanding wisdom.
We should practice that; it will expand our understanding.
The more we understand, the more we’ll shout out
“Wow, God, you’re truly amazing!”

©2006 Cathy Warner

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Guns and Ammo

We pull off the freeway for Taco Bell, fast food my entire family will eat.
“Look,” I say and point at a sign screaming Guns and Ammo next door to The Bell.

We stare at the black and white camouflaged store, standing out like an itchy trigger finger and muse about the businesses in that half-block of Camden Avenue.

First is the 76 Station, and you will need a full tank of gas for the high-speed getaway after you do what you might do with guns and ammo.

Next is the Assembly of God church, where you will need to pray, begging forgiveness for what you are about to do with guns and ammo.

Then there is Taco Bell, where you will drop food on the butterflies in your stomach fluttering about your decision to use guns and ammo.

From there it’s only a few steps to the gun store where you can purchase all the firepower you need to lodge a complaint against anyone anywhere.

We pile out of our minivan, order all we want and stuff our faces. While my family finishes, I wait for the cashier to unlock the restroom out back and notice a man in the dumpster pen, pawing through bags of trash wet with dripping soda.

As I empty my bladder, I wonder why he’s not brandishing a gun filled with ammo, shouting at the jittery cashier, “Give me one of everything, to go.”

It’s a wonder, really, that we’re not all rioting because I have enough and he is hungry.

I wash my hands and retrieve all the money from my purse, knowing more is just an ATM away. “Sir,” I will say, “would you like some money for dinner?”

Three dollars and I will sleep better imagining him eat a tortilla whole and hot filled with steaming beans.

When I open the bathroom door, the man is gone and my family is walking toward our car.
“Did you see him?” I ask. “The man looking for food?”

“No,” they answer.

We buckle up, cruise past the dumpster, and I think of him, the hungry man, with a few handfuls of lettuce and cold burrito briquettes.

We drive past the guns and ammo store, its neon flickering in the window. Closed.

I can’t decide whether to thank God for that or not.

©Cathy Warner 2004

Psalm 130

For August 13, 2006
Lectionary Year B
10th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 130

Everything’s a mess. God, do you hear me?
Do you see me here in the pits?
I’m crying all the time, and I’m crying to you.
My life isn’t working and there’s
no end in sight.

Help me, God, but please don’t inventory
all my mistakes and bad decisions.
I’m only human; don’t count that against me.
If you did, we’d all be sunk.

Thank God, thank you God, for forgiveness.
Without it, I’d never get out of the garbage heap.
And without forgiveness, it would be difficult
to think so highly of you.

I’m waiting for you God, not always patiently.
My soul is restless, it wants to be wrapped tight in yours
and like I said, my life is lousy.

All my hopes are pinned on you.
I’ve done everything in my power
and it’s not enough. So here I am
like an insomniac waiting for morning
so I can get on with it. But I’m waiting
with even more anticipation than that.
I won’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to do
until you get here.

Hey, everyone, I’ve bet everything I have
all that I am on God! God is where the hope is.
God’s the one with the power to melt hearts,
to change lives, to make enemies friends,
to right wrongs, to make something new
and beautiful from death and despair.
God’s the train. All aboard!

©Cathy Warner 2006