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Archive for April, 2013

Art: What Would Jesus Do?

Today’s Daily Prompt poses a challenging question:  Do you need to agree with an artist’s lifestyle or politics to appreciate their art? To spend money on it?

Whoo boy.

You noticed, of course, that I’m a Christian writer.  As a Christian, I often choose to listen to music by Christian artists.  I often choose to read books that help me develop in my faith.  I frequent blogs with Christian content.  All this I do on purpose, because having faith means more than having once been sprinkled with holy water.

And yes, I’ve had my doubts about secular artists.  For a time I particularly enjoyed a performer who made frequent drug references in his music.  They made me squirm.  As I watched the scene of a lovely spring day in Poland become a horrific nightmare, I admired Roman Polanski’s artistry while despising his behavior.  I sometimes find humor in the work of Alec Baldwin, yet I hope to never meet him.

These doubts sometimes make me wonder if I should allow my entertainment dollars to go to people with views that don’t match mine.  I don’t want to support anyone who leaves long and abusive phone messages for a daughter.  I think Roman Polanski should feel our outrage and disdain.  And I like the idea of giving my money to Christian artists.

But it’s just not right.

I live in the real world.

I interact with people in the real world.

If I limit myself to the ideas and the art of only those who agree with me, I’ll never learn anything.  I’ll become stagnant, hidebound.  But when I examine art that challenges my world view, I have the opportunity to grow.

I felt the same way as my children grew up about content that might be “too adult” for them.  On a few occasions I chose to shield them from content I felt would frighten them or confuse them.  But on far more occasions, my husband and I chose to watch the television show or movie with them, and then talk about what they saw and what we saw.  I’m glad we did this.  Often, we learned that our children viewed the world much the same way we did.  We learned that they had interesting, thoughtful questions.  They, in turn, appreciated that we valued their opinions.  (I confess, both kids learned exactly what to say whenever I grabbed the remote to hit the pause button.  “I know, Mom,” they would say.  And then they’d mimic my views on the subject at hand.)

It’s also how Jesus lived his life.  As a man with new ideas to share, he couldn’t spend his time with the like-minded because at that time, there were no like-minded souls.  Instead he reached out to speak with the sick and dying.  He challenged the religious leaders of his day.  He brought women into his inner circle.  He spoke with people his society considered unclean and unworthy.

So I’ll continue to view art that makes me squeamish.  I’ll read books that challenge my conservative, Christian views.  I’ll watch movies that make me wonder if anyone in Hollywood has ever met anyone outside of Hollywood.

Because it’s the right thing to do.

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According to an article in The Week magazine, researchers are about to conduct human trials of a technique that has eradicated HIV in skin cells.

Eradicated.

Such a lovely word.

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He’s an athlete.  He was raised to love Jesus.  And he’s gay.

Today I read an article in Sports Illustrated in which Jason Collins explains why he’s chosen now to come out.  He writes with complete clarity about why he waited until now, and why he doesn’t want to wait any longer.

I admire his courage.  What about you?

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Celebrating Earth Day

I doubt my mother and father ever heard of Earth Day, which is celebrated each year on April 22.  But that didn’t stop them from celebrating it.

It’s not that they had any particular concern for the environment, although my mother did enjoy cultivating flowers and a few herbs in the earth of her well-tended yard.  It would be more accurate to say they were two of the last people on earth who weren’t actively destroying their environment.

The slogan ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ leaves off my parents’ most important virtue:  refuse to buy in the first place.  As a child I was fascinated with the kitchen utensil drawers at the homes of my friends, with their whisks and their slotted spoons and their carving knives.  My mother had a paring knife, a long slicing knife, some wooden spoons, a Rubbermaid spatula, and a pancake flipper.  Their impressive collections of Tupperware resided in drawers devoted to their protection.  My mother favored plates covered with foil.  The other moms had electric skillets and woks and Dutch ovens and saucepans.  My mother had one cast-iron skillet, an old Le Crueset pot, and a few pieces of Revere Ware.  Whenever I suggested the purchase of something useful, such as tongs for turning bacon or a ladle for serving soup, my mother scoffed.  “You don’t need all dat,” she’d say.

One of my chores as a child was the refilling of the cat’s litter box, which was kept in the garage.  I’d dump its contents in an empty flower bed outside and refill it with clean dirt.  I suspect this violates any number of sanitation regulations, but it saved my mother on the cost of kitty litter and the cost of horse manure for her flowers.

Besides, one thing you absolutely could not say of my mother is that she was unclean.  Oh, no.  She was–is, she’s still at it–the queen of clean, and her favorite household product was elbow grease, which she possessed in unlimited quantities.  She dried her china with the remnants of all-cotton sheets, polished my shoes with the legs of my brother’s flannel pajamas, and scrubbed her floors with bits of used bath towels.  Although we had a dog, I can’t recall ever seeing a nose print on any window, either in the house or in the car.  She carefully polished the bathroom mirror with an old towel after every shower, thereby saving on both window cleaner and paper towels.

Long before we had recycling bins, my mom had a home-based recycling business.  Somewhere in town she could get a few pennies per pound of aluminum so she saved aluminum soda cans and practiced the art of crushing them.  My dad, a machinist, pitched in by designing and building a can-crusher from scrap steel, which he clamped to the end of the picnic table.  (We also had a Christmas tree stand made of steel.  To this day, I can’t lift it.  And now that I think of it, the cat’s litter box was also hand-crafted by my father.)

I’ve merely scratched the surface.  My brother and I had sweaters made from the wool of older sweaters and clothes sewn from the fabric of older and larger clothing.  My mother removed the buttons from old clothes to be re-used on future clothes.  She kept the bits of thread remaining on the needle after she finished hemming a dress.  My dad’s heavy sweaters had suede patches on the elbows not as a fashion statement, but because he’d worn holes in them.  In 2013, my mother still prefers her basement clothesline to her electric dryer.  She would vastly prefer her outside clothesline but it was knocked down by a blue spruce during a terrible windstorm, and the hardware stores no longer carry all the supplies needed to build a new one.

When two boys in my grade toilet-papered the house, my mother dragged the ladder to the front yard and didn’t just clean up the mess…she collected the rolls that hadn’t unfurled.  For weeks we had a stack of partially used toilet paper rolls stacked in the bathroom.  She would not throw them away.

My father tore paper towels in half from the start.  The roll of paper towels frequently had a half-sheet lying across it, ready for use.  Upon his return from work each day he’d carefully wipe off any foil he’d used for wrapping his lunch.  He’d fold it and return it to the drawer to be used again.  He’d wash his small Pyrex containers and leave them in the rack for the next day.

We ate our food.  As children, my brother and I ate what was on our plates.  My mother used what was in her cupboards.  As the weekly groceries ran out, the refrigerator emptied visibly, signaling to one and all that another trip to the store must take place.  If it had cost money, we finished it.  If we didn’t finish it on the first try, we got a second or even a third opportunity.  Cookies came out of the oven, not a package, and French fries were deep fried in a pot, not brought home in a container.

Garbage, what little we generated, was thrown into used grocery sacks, which lined the plastic bin under the sink.  Paper went into the fireplace; food waste went into the garden.  It could take as long as a week to fill up the paper grocery sack.  In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of what we threw in there.  Dental floss and used tissues went into the fireplace.  The occasional uneaten leftovers went into the dog’s dish.

I do remember one item my mom threw into her garbage.  Two of her aunts were visiting from Germany, giving me a clear picture where she got some of her ideas.  My mom threw away a banana from the fruit bowl, one so black and soft even she wouldn’t eat it.  Her aunt spied it in there.  “Oooh,” she exclaimed.  “Ve can’t throw dis away!  We can have it for our dessert!”

 

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In honor of the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Day of Silence on April 14, I’m uploading the middle chapters of my book Steadfast, which cover Chris’s return to Spokane and his ordeal with AIDS.

I was originally inspired to write this when I learned that while AIDS is no longer a death sentence, it is still an unpleasant disease.  And the fastest-growing segment of new patients are young gay men.  These young men missed the whole AIDS awareness campaign (remember the red ribbons?) and don’t perceive the disease as dangerous.  They haven’t heard–as we oldsters did–the call for safe sex.  (Or they learned about it in Health class, where teachers share all sorts of ideas about smoking, nutrition, adequate sleep, avoiding drugs, and other things kids tend to tune out.)

I was somewhat frightened about writing this.  My knowledge of gay men is limited to the sweet boyfriends who broke up with me for no apparent reason.  That’s why the story is told in first-person from the perspective of the girl who loves him.

So I’m concerned I’ve gotten any number of details wrong.  Details about young gay men, details about the Catholic Church, details about death and dying.  My research included reading And the Band Played On, one reporter’s chronology of the crisis, the memoir Borrowed Time, and endless amounts of Googling.  Obviously, that’s not scholarly research.   I know that many of you will give me feedback about how to fix my errors.

To end this on a positive note, I was astonished and pleased a few weeks ago by a remark our pastor made in church.  In the years since we’ve attended this church, he’s made very few remarks about homosexuality, and the few he made were anti-gay.  But on this night, he said–quite energetically–that we Christians were wrong in the Eighties.  We were wrong for not immediately stepping in to care for AIDS patients.  I think he’s right about that.

You can learn more about the Day of Silence at http://www.dayofsilence.org/

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