Category Archives: Writing

The Greatest Showman

The film, The Greatest Showman (2017) entertained me immensely last night. It was clean. It had dancing, singing, and a story-line that doesn’t match history.

The protagonist is Phineas Taylor Barnum, most familiar to me as the guy who operated P. T. Barnum’s Grand traveling museum and circus in the 19th century.

I remind myself, most movies aren’t real and writers and actors are paid to entertain. It’s curious to me however that fiction can generate real feelings and emotions when I’m watching productions. And The Greatest Showman brought out feelings of good-will, dignity, spirit, and faithfulness.

In the movie, Barnum comes out as a man who celebrated the diversity of humanity. Maybe so in real life, but I don’t know. History has it that Barnum started his gigs after buying the right to rent an aged black slave. He told his audiences she was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington.

I have no idea how many people believed the tale, but human mind is pretty good at believing what it wants.

Thankfully, we have divine mind and a spiritual consciousness to decipher reality.

Quoting, from science & religion to God:

“The ideas of Mind are real and tangible to spiritual consciousness. Mind’s ideas have the advantage of being real and good, whereas objects and thoughts of physical sense are contradictory and not absolute.

“There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth, matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal, matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and person is God’s image and likeness. Therefore, person is not material, but spiritual.”

 

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Writing conference, part three

At the Writing for Your Life conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, I attended a workshop led by Jeff Chu, author of  ”Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America” It was top notch. An excellent speaker, Chu was honest and humble and helpful. He strove to take away fears that come with writing and to instill hope.

By this time, we attendees started opening up and getting acquainted with one another during “free time.” I discovered that although most of the attendees were pastors or preachers, they did not carry dogmatic attitudes. It was supremely refreshing. They left behind ministries and churches focused only on the opinions of leaders and outdated concepts and practices. They were willing to face their fears to learn how to write and join the conversations today meant to embrace diversity and unite and heal, rather than convert and make a homogenous society of believers, who ultimately portray an us versus them.

There was no us versus them at this conference, that I noticed. We didn’t use our differences as a means for demanding better treatment. The diversity was appreciated and combined to show a big bright picture of an infinite good God.

I barely could get to sleep that night. I was exhausted and riveted at the same time. Sleep finally came about 9 p.m. I woke at 12:45.

A.M.

12:45 a.m., awake and compliant to get out of bed and start driving home.

Nighttime traffic was much easier than daytime traffic.

Five hours later, I was driving out of Washington D.C. and could see on the other side of the highway lane incoming traffic. I’d just missed morning rush hour.

I made it home just before noon. Dog-tired but delighted to see and hug my cats. Worn but calmed to see my chickens. Drained but filled with the desire to keep living that which has no end, creativity and the sense of belonging to an expanding and generous mind.

Writing Conference, second part

First part.

Second part:

Arriving early in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the Writing for Your Life conference, I drove to St. Mark’s Methodist Church, host to the Writing for Your Life conference. The hotel where I was staying let me check in early.

The conference started with an amenable worship service. There were about 140 of us attendees. Then Barbara Brown Taylor spoke, giving us tips on writing based on Imagination, using the imagination to say what the reader wants to say, using body language to transcend the body.

Barbara brwon taylor 2018Now, I never heard of Barbara Brown Taylor, but other people had. The woman sitting next to me shed tears after she got to meet Taylor personally. I asked the woman if she wanted me to take a picture of her with Taylor. Yes, she did. I took the photo with her phone and then thanked Taylor for her advice on writing. She really was a good speaker and teacher.

Workshops were attended during the day. I learned what I’ve been doing wrong. Ha, lots.

But, that night, I lay awake figuring out how to fix my mistake, or oversight is a better word.

Apparently, the title, subtitle, and back page are SUPER important. Well, on my memoir I don’t have a subtitle at all. Easy fix. I’d do it as soon as I got home. I slept a few hours.

The next morning Taylor spoke again but on provocation. The importance of provoking yourself as a writer to venture into new ideas. Take risks with creativity, work hard, and respect the “incubation” period. Sit on an idea and let it grow, before the illumination and translation processes.

More in a few days.

Trilogy on a writing conference

If you want to attend a writers’ conference, I recommend “Writing for your life.” It is Christian based, but the leaders aren’t preachy. In fact, they tell attendees, “don’t be preachy in your writing.”

I just returned from the Writing for Your Life conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Before leaving for the conference, I mapped my route from home to Raleigh and figured it would take me about 11 hours to drive. The big decision was whether to drive it in one day, or two days.

I chose the two-day plan, to decrease the chances of me showing up at the conference feeling dazed and wiped out.

The first day, I made it to Fredericksburg, Virginia and stopped at a Tourist Center.

“Hi, can you tell me about the Monopony Indian Reservation?” I asked the staff.

Silence on his part, embarrassment on my part. I was weary and only could remember the term Monopony. I’d looked it up before leaving because I knew I’d have extra time and I wanted to visit an Indian Museum or reservation instead of visit a Civil War Battlefield or Colonial Museum.

When studying religion, I realized the world lacks written material on the spiritual practices of Native-Americans, a population traced back 15,000 years. So far.

I dare to say that Indian spirituality transcends my Bible backed spirituality, despite my conviction of not pinning the Bible stories to a timeline. I don’t believe Adam and Eve were the first human beings on the planet Earth about 6,000 years ago, or whenever.

Mattaponi river sunriseAnyway, the gentleman on staff at the Tourist Center was kind enough to understand what I was referring to and gently asked, “Do you mean the Mattaponi Indian Museum?”

“Mattaponi,” I repeated twice. Mattapo-nee. “Yes,” I answered.

“Their museum isn’t open but three days a week,” he said.

“Could you give me directions?” I asked.

He did and when I looked out at the traffic on Interstate 95, I knew I would not make it before dark. I found a motel. It wasn’t fancy, believe me.

Awake early, I drove to the Mattaponi Indian Reservation. As the road got less and less dense with traffic, it was easy to find, following sparse signage.

I watched the sun rise over the Mattaponi River from a dock in the Mattaponi Indian Reservation. It was solemn, silent, sacred and inevitably nurtured my appreciation for the thousands of Native-Americans who did, somewhat similarly, the same thing for thousands of years.

More in a few days.

 

New book now available

My new book, Zen Dogs and other Woofs, is now available at www.Amazon.com

Here is one essay from my book, Zen Dogs:Venus grassbrightercropped

A Christian Learns from a Jewish Community

Printed in the Daily Star, Oneonta, New York, 2014

The human proclivity to classify coffee as rich, dark, light, bitter, smooth, also classifies religion: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the list goes on. Moreover, within each of those denominations we find factions: orthodox, modern, non-denominational, even inter-denominational.

Aside from the dirty laundry of religion that gets aired frequently—as it should—we can look into the face of faith and discover many layers, giving it a depth that shows no end.

With faith, not agenda, at the helm, the future of religion shows adaptability. At the time of this writing, First Baptist Church in Oneonta is continuing its mission locally and throughout the world in a new church building.

Established in 1834, First Baptist Church served faith from the corner of Chestnut and Academy streets for eighty years. “We moved 30 yards away, to a smaller place at 73 Chestnut Street,” said Philip, a church deacon at First Baptist Church. “Our tradition of focusing on a spiritual mission, along with making the building available to the community will continue with the time and resources we have today.”

The larger original edifice is currently in the process of being sold to Chabad of Oneonta, a Jewish organization. Once the legal process is complete, the building will again be a vibrant part of faith. As for symbols of sacredness, Philip said, “First Baptist members selected items and brought them to the new edifice.”

More interested in sharing spirituality than symbols, he added, “First Baptist Church welcomes people of all faith. Church services are at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, with a concurrent Sunday School.”

The art of embracing people of many faiths is also seen in the Chabad organization, which welcome interested minds no matter what their background.

As for the Chabad, it’s managed by husband and wife team, Rabbi Meir and Fraidy, who both depict an orthodox appearance, along with respect for a diverse range of how Jewish laws are observed. “We don’t cater to any group. We are all God created, to be loved and cared for,” said Rabbi Meir. “The Chabad Center has a unique founding principle that all persons offer something good and that all can be leaders.”

Accommodating the Jewish Student population, Chabad Oneonta adjusts to the college schedule. It began nearly three years ago when the couple and their children moved to Oneonta from Brooklyn, New York. College students have found family away from family at the Chabad Center.

“We have three young children and have fully invested ourselves in the center,” said Rabbi Meir. “The number of visitors to the center has grown so dramatically, it was natural to find and work with First Baptist Church members to purchase the historic building.”

Rabbi Meir, 28-years old, came with a background in Yeshiva education, “It was discussion style learning,” he said. “As I got older, studies became intense and focused on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study.”

Meir grew up in the Midwest and attended rabbinical schooling in Canada and New Jersey. He brought to Oneonta a compelling, upfront, alive, attitude. “The students know I’ll open the door if they knock at 2 in the morning,” said Meir.

The students also know they can contact the Rabbi and his wife through Facebook. “We use technology for good. We are not separate from the world but make the distinction between heaven and earth with the goal to infuse spirituality into earthliness,” said Meir.

Resounding in the Chabad newsletter is a quote from Maimonides (Jewish philosopher, 1135 – 1204): “One good thought, one kind word, one good deed, can change the world.”

The term Chabad covers a wide definition today, from a philosophy to an organization. In mid-20th century, Menachem M. Schneerson, the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe turned Chabad into a dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish life. “We don’t need to lessen our religious convictions in the modern world,” said Meir. “We encourage participation in good deeds and observance of God’s commandments.”

When non-Jews think of Jewish traditions, Hanukkah comes to mind. But, “Hanukkah is a minor festivity,” said Fraidy, raised in a home grounded in the Chabad philosophy. “Hanukkah is misunderstood because it falls near Christmas, which is an important holiday for Christians.”

The major holy days on the Jewish Calendar are: the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Passover, Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks) and Sukkot (The Festival of Booths).

 

New book

My new book is available at www.Amazon.com or click image below.

second book cover memoirfront cover image small

Olive: another chapter from new book

My new book, Religion is Numbered, is nearing completion. Here is a chapter from it:

Olive

Olive turned to look at me and started giggling. The sunshine fell on her white hair and pink-lipsticked smile as I wheeled an office chair outside to her hatchback car. On the chair was perched a sizeable box.

“I knew you’d know how to get that heavy box to my car,” Olive said. “It’s full of books.”

An octogenarian, Olive radiated appreciation. When she told me she wanted to get rid of some stuff in her house, I offered to help.

We’d only known one another about three years. She started coming to the Kennewick Church after her husband died, and though polar opposite to me in demeanor, we hit it off from the start. Olive was prim and proper. She wore expensive, tailored dresses and sat upright with her legs together and feet perched in modest high heels.

I was still a tomboy. I wore the cleanest clothes I could find in the morning, aiming mainly for the clothing not decorated with children snot or ketchup. I sat in a constant state of readiness to turn into either instant monkey bars or a cradle for any child.

It took me a few months to realize Olive was of the brand that didn’t age while maturing, like Bill. She didn’t treat me as if she felt obligated to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Our personalities blended to bring out the best in one another. The girls, school-aged now, and I would invite her to the house for lunch, using it as an opportunity to practice cooking and eating with manners. We’d set the table formally and just before Olive arrived, we exchanged our work clothes for the nicest outfits we had. Olive, true to form, came dressed to the nines.

The luncheon conversation lacked gushy pretense. Without talking down to Leah, Olive asked, “What subject are you studying in school now?”

“The ocean,” Leah said through her shyness.

“I’ve seen parts of the ocean before. It’s very big. One time, Everett and I took a trip to Fiji, an Island in the South Pacific Ocean and we saw a turtle that was 70-years-old,” said Olive. “Have you seen a turtle before?”

“Yes, once at Aunt Denise’s. We have chickens,” said Leah.

“Oh my, do your chickens lay eggs?”

“Yes,” said Leah, more secure with her own input.

“Do you cook and eat the eggs?” asked Olive.

“Mom cooks mostly, we eat the eggs. See that,” Leah said as she pointed to a bowl full of egg salad on the table. “I mashed the boiled eggs for that. I used a fork.”

As if she was dining on a culinary delight, Olive exclaimed, “I just ate some of the egg salad. It’s delicious.” Eyeing Carly, she continued, “I can see you both help your mother.”

Olive’s sight zoomed in for a close-up of Carly and she asked, “So, Carly what book are you reading now?”

Beauty and the Beast,” Carly joined in.

Beauty and the Beast. Let’s see, does that have a scary beast in it?” said Olive.

“It’s scary at first, but it turns nice when Belle isn’t a-scared of it,” explained Carly.

“I sure like the blue dress you are wearing,” said Olive.

Silence.

“This is a good time to say thank you,” I said quietly to Carly.

Carly’s eyes stirred with comprehension. She looked at Olive and said, “Thank you.”

A little more silence allowed Carly to gain pluck. She pointed and said, “I put the pickles in that bowl.”

“Well, could you please pass me the pickles? I think I shall like to try one,” said Olive as the conversation ambled from pickles, to building forts, to feeding Shep the dog. I watched time wrinkle until I could no longer see a senior citizen and two children, but a room full of wholesomeness, newness, and wisdom—intermixing as one.

Only when I was alone with Olive did she speak about herself. Olive told me she learned how to weld metals, work in a factory, and build ships during World War II, when all the men had gone to Europe to fight.

After the war, Olive married Everett, who introduced her to religion #212. The two of them had one daughter, Jacqueline. Olive told me, “After Jacqueline grew up and was living on her own, Everett stopped attending church. He couldn’t tolerate the pettiness that distorted the religion.”

She was raised in church #5,444 and explained, “The model of a punishing God was instilled in me. It was a menacing way to live. When I learned about a loving, healing God through #212, the liberation was unforgettable. It made it easier for me to overlook the pettiness in church.”

On the day when we cleaned stuff out of her house, we finished the job and sat down at the kitchen table to rest and talk.

“What do you think about this ‘spiritual but not religious’ trend?” I asked her.

Olive smiled before confirming what I’d been concluding, “The trend is not very original. The people who identify themselves as spiritual, but not religious, will soon be forming communities and battling the same turmoil that plagues religious organizations today. We are social creatures. And, sadly we are human beings susceptible to repeating our mistakes.”

She offered me a sugar cookie and cup of coffee.

“No thanks,” I said.

While she got up to get a cookie and cup of hot coffee for herself, Olive said, “Cheryl, you are too young to know, but many of the churches were once lively. It’s what we did. People attended church. It’s what we knew. Circumstances have altered that experience.”

“What do you mean?” I asked as she sat down at the table.

“During my era it was the availability of the automobile. Once we started moving our physical bodies in cars, it affected how our minds moved. When stores began opening on Sundays, we questioned our beliefs and superstitions and discovered God wasn’t going to strike us down for shopping on Sunday. We realized we could find God anywhere, not just in church.”

“But, you kept going to church,” I quizzed.

“Yes, and you will too for the same reason. Church can be a positive structure in our week, but there is more we need to do, otherwise we become ambivalent and church dies,” Olive said.

I made a mental note to look up the word “ambivalent” in the dictionary when I got home. “Keep talking,” I said.

“When I switched religions, I left behind some beliefs, but I also carried with me other beliefs that I didn’t know I had,” said Olive as she smoothed her short white hair around the back of her right ear with her fingers. “Church #212 today is a virtual ghost town, surrounded by residues of a once flourishing community, now abandoned because the natural resources of spiritual creativity and intellect are neglected.”

Silence. Her knowledge was a blur in my mind, but I caught a few details.

“It’s like people who migrate from one country to another. They want to flee poverty, conflict, or injustice, but they still have to deal with those components in some form or another because they really exist in the human mind,” said Olive.

“How do we get rid of the negative components and get the spiritual creativity back?” I asked.

“You aren’t the only one wondering that,” said Olive. “Even many medical professionals want inspired thinking. They know people are more than bodies of chemicals. Everett’s doctor was one.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“One weekend, I ran out of pain pills for Everett,” explained Olive. “He hadn’t needed the pills regularly so I lost track of how many were in the bottle. It was evening and Everett asked for a pill. Because he wasn’t his normal self near the end of his life and anything out of the ordinary would easily upset him, I told him I had more pills in the kitchen. I went to the kitchen where he lost sight of me and got a slice of white bread. I ripped a piece out the middle and rolled it up real tight, into the size of a pill and gave it to him with a glass of water. He swallowed the ball of bread and felt better within ten minutes.”

I smiled, having nothing to say.

“I told Everett’s doctor the next day, and the doctor agreed I did the best thing under the circumstances. He admitted that placebos have power at times. He wished he knew how the human mind and its beliefs worked so he could give people bread rather than some of the drugs that are basically poison,” said Olive. “But I think it was love from divine Mind, not my human mind, that gave relief to Everett.”

“I kinda see what you mean,” I said, and turned the subject to “How’s Jacqueline?”

“She’s doing well. Cheryl, I think I need to sell this house and move to California to live closer to her,” Olive said. “That’s why I’m cleaning.”

“I bet Jacqueline would like that,” I said, knowing I’d miss Olive terribly if she moved.

“Moving sounds arduous; however I know it can be done,” said Olive.  “There’s nothing new about moving.”

Olive did move within the year. She taught me that timeless ideas exist forever.  Olive reaffirmed that new ideas aren’t really new.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” —Ecclesiastes 1:9

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