Comfortably Numb

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet with our interim rector. We had coffee at Prevail Union in downtown Montgomery. If you live in Montgomery, go there now. Best coffee house around!

I met with him to discuss Valiant Cross Academy, church, and also to plan. He shared with me some of his life. I shared my life with him. I told him how I moved from banking (where I comfortably sat for 15 years) to a development job at a non-profit school that serves young men, providing the necessary skills for them to become leaders through love and structure.

We talked about callings. We talked about being called away from one vocation and called to another vocation. Tom’s words spoke to me, because this happened recently in my life, and I think MOST people thought I was crazy or having a mid-life crisis. I know when I wake up and go to work every day I feel fulfilled and like I’m making a difference. I didn’t feel that way in the banking world (despite all the people I met, developed relationships with, and continue to love).

We also talked about social justice and racism.

Tom shared with me an article he wrote after he visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. If you haven’t been there, then go. It’s more important than coffee. In Tom’s article, he referenced the song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I hadn’t listened to that song in years. Here it is for those of you who haven’t heard it.

Reflecting on Tom’s words, I thought about how I had walked through life for years comfortably numb. I lived in my middle class world, surrounded by more middle class people, and I closed my eyes to the social injustices going on. About a year ago, I started reading about social injustice, about the education to prison pipeline, and about systemic racism which continues to plague the United States. And I believe reading about these issues was the catalyst for my job change.

We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place for ourselves and our children. And we need to stop being comfortably numb.

What’s your catalyst? How are you going to change the world?

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Doubt and Faith

When we first moved back to Montgomery, the question we heard the most was, “What church do you go to?” My husband was taken aback by this question, because he’s from the redneck state of the North: Rhode Island. I wasn’t surprised, having grown up in the Bible Belt, I knew living in the South is synonymous with church-going. God and college football are the two things most worshiped down here. (War Eagle!)

We weren’t godly in those days. We started going to my parents’ church because they were there. Plus, we needed an answer to the question so the Southern Baptists didn’t try to convert us or the Church of Christ goers. Or the many other churches that stand on every corner in Montgomery. (Our church stands directly across the street from another church–only in the South)

I grew up Episcopalian with a good dose of skepticism. My husband grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, and felt done with it all by the time we moved here. I went through a long period of non-belief. I questioned whether there is a God. I questioned whether Jesus was just a man. I have a questioning soul, what can I say? I’m a writer.

We moved a few years ago to a new church that we love despite a few setbacks and misunderstandings. Despite my questions, I wanted to raise my kids with the church, especially in the South where it is not only a religious experience but a social one too. I think it would be inherently easier to have faith than to question it all the time. I struggle with this part of my personality, because faith provides solace. People who have a love of God and Jesus can find solace in their faith when someone dies or something terrible happens in their life. I think that’s an amazing thing. I also think part of my reason for initially turning away from the church is because of the judgment I see in so-called Christians. I have read the Bible and studied it, in Catholic school, and on my own. I see a kind and loving God. I see a God who is accepting of all his people, not just a select holier-than-thou few. I want my children to have the power faith can bring to their life. I want them to believe more than they doubt.

I was asked this year to teach Sunday school. I’ve taught before to a handful of kids at Grace. I knew there would be more kids at the Ascension. I questioned my ability to lead children in the eyes of God when my heart and soul still question. But I thought maybe I had been led to this moment, to teach these children, and to find the love of God together.

I have not been quiet about my doubts to my children. I want them to have faith, but not blind faith.

When they were attending an Episcopal School, my middle son said, “Mom, isn’t God the best?”

And I said, “I’m not sure if I totally believe in God.”

And my son said, “Then I need a new Mommy.”

I told him, “No. You can still love me even if we have different beliefs. Not everyone believes in the same things, and that’s really okay.”

I needed to be honest to him in that moment. I like the faith he has. I love that he believes in God, but he needs to know it’s okay to love those who don’t believe in God too. He needs to know it’s okay to love those who are different from you and who have different beliefs.

I like to think about Doubting Thomas when I have my doubts about God. I think about how Jesus showed Thomas that he was alive. Aren’t there miracles in everyday life that prove the existence of something bigger than us? Is this God showing us his presence?

Doubting_Thomas001

Jesus made an important impact on the Israelites and continues to impact our culture and world today (obviously). His good works show us how to live as Christians. My times of doubt come more from the ability of some people to twist the Bible into some perversion to further their own agenda. Then I become angry with how organized religion can accentuate hate. It’s times like that I feel like I could turn away from the church again.

In Sunday School this past week, I helped out. We went over the Genesis 2:4-3:24 Chapter where Eve hands Adam the forbidden fruit. We talked about God’s love. We talked about how it would feel to be cast out of the Garden of Eden.

My nine year old son raised his hand and said, “Yeah, but what if God’s not real anyway?”

Maybe he is like me and has a little too much of Doubting Thomas inside of him but maybe that’s okay.

What do you think? Is doubting normal? Do you have faith? If so, how did you come to it or was it something you feel is inherent to you? Let me know in the comments below. 

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The Four Letter Word: Politics

I don’t always get political on this blog. I have from time to time. Someone left me a nasty comment when I said I was a Nasty Woman. I guess that’s what this snowflake, libtard, gets when she’s honest about who she is. Especially in the Deep South.

I’ve been deeply upset about the events in Charlottesville that happened last week. I waited to hear the president condemn the white supremacists for killing Heather Heyer.with a car.and injuring 19 hours. I listened as the president fumbled with words, as he so often does. I listened as he said, “there’s blame on both sides.” Then as he was criticized finally calling out the KKK, white supremacists, and other hate groups. But then yesterday, he did an about face and called out the alt-left.  Wait, is he talking about the peaceful protesters?

https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000005365876

*By the way, I’ve tried to embed this video a million times and WordPress won’t let me. It’s the News Conference where Trump states the Alt-Left is also to blame.

He cites at the end of this clip that the “Alt-Left” came at the other side with clubs. If you read accounts from that day, it seems, rather, that the Alt-Right came in ready for violence. They had guns and torches. They surrounded the peaceful protesters. Then one domestic terrorist ran over the protesters with his car at a high rate of speed. There are many accounts of this. However, I wasn’t there. And there are conflicting stories. So no one can be certain exactly what happened.

There is one thing I’m certain about, and that it’s NEVER OKAY to blame the victim which is exactly what Trump is trying to do in this video. Why? Because he knows that a huge base of his support are Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK members–basically domestic terrorists. He knows if he alienates them he loses support. And honestly, this man wouldn’t know a value or moral if it hit him in the face. He’s struggling. That’s why he always goes to Twitter and writes one-off comments. Heck, when I’m mad I write some of the most divisive things too. He hates having “low ratings,” and he sees his number in the polls as such.

There is, and has been for a long time, a problem with racism in the United States. Our president, our leader, could have condemned these horrible groups but decided instead to support his base. Over equality. Over taking a stand against hate. What does that say about him? The man has no moral convictions. He’s not someone I could ever support.

I pray for the victims of Charlottesville. I pray for our country, that we may become stronger and more united against the evils of racism. I pray that we stop being divided and realize that every person who is born deserves a chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I pray that we can say we’ve given that to them instead of just offering lip service.

And meanwhile in Alabama, I’m sitting back to watch a run-off between Roy Moore, the 10 Commandments guy, who has been removed from office twice and Luther Strange, the man who shut down Victory Land, basically killing a county during America’s Great Recession and supported our “resigned” Governor Bentley even after his ethics crisis. I will be crossing my fingers that Doug Jones can pull out a win for the Senate.

In the meantime, I’m raising my children to be loving and accepting people. I’m raising them to know that differences are what makes people unique and that in turn helps our community. I teach them that we all just want the same thing: a roof over our head, food in our belly, love, joy, and happiness. But that some groups have a harder time achieving that because of all the hate and divisiveness thrown their way. I’m hoping to raise intelligent accepting children who don’t judge people by the color of their skin.

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Southern Fried Chicken and Red Beans and Rice

I’m reading My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg right now. Well, actually, I’m listening to it on Audibles. Rick Bragg reads it himself, and he has this fine Southern voice and it’s like listening to a story teller rocking back and forth on his front porch talking all about Southern cookin’. Because two hours into the book and every single story has been about food.

Today, driving to work my mouth watered as I listened to Rick Bragg’s deliciously Southern accent discuss oysters and cole slaw, fried chicken and pork cracklins, then grouper sandwiches. The man has an obsession with food, and his book has succeeded in making me thoroughly and completely hungry. He’s also reminded me of the good cooking I grew up with. My poor children have not had the same experience, because butter, fat, and Crisco oil all clog arteries and organic is in these days–even in the deep South. Plus, I care about my waistline and I want to make sure I’m healthy so I can live a long life. Everything kills you these days, but I’d at least like to try to lengthen my life by eating healthy and exercising. And then there’s the time it takes to cook good, Southern, home cooked meals. In our fast paced world, I simply don’t have the time to cook. My husband does most of the cooking, and he grew up with an Italian grandmother so you can imagine what we eat: pasta and pizza.

I was raised in Montgomery, Alabama. Not born there. As a kid, I used to love to brag that I was born in San Francisco, California. It gave me credit as something other than a Southerner. I rarely told people I’d lived there for less than a year, then moved on to New Orleans and lived in Montgomery by the time I was two. Why expound when one could brag about their non-provincial roots? Touting that I came from California made me special or different, at least in my eyes, and I’d always prided myself on both.

Montgomery is not a small town, but it has a small town feel. There is plenty of gossip. There are plenty of ways for stories to get back to your mother and father. Everywhere I went, growing up, someone knew my parents. And in my house there was plenty of good Southern food. Plates of comfort served hot.

My mom learned most of her cooking in New Orleans it seems. Her specialties were cajun in nature: seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, barbecue shrimp (which is just shrimp drenched in butter with slices of lemon–or so it seems). When my mom made red beans and rice, she always set out the oil and vinegar for us to add plus scallions. I still like it that way, soaked with yellow olive oil and so vinegary it almost taste tart. I’d eat the red beans and rice, but my taste buds relished the sausage which were always tender from being soaked in the juices of the soup. To this day, this is my favorite recipe of my mother’s but she doesn’t make it anymore because she and my dad are now vegetarian.

Today after I listened to Rick Bragg drone on and on about Southern food I decided I just had to have some fried chicken. I went with a coworker to Martin’s. Martin’s Restaurant is a Montgomery staple and has been around forever. When I was a kid, Patrick Swayze (RIP) even stopped by one day to get some fried chicken. I was heartbroken we didn’t eat there that night, because I had a thing for Swayze after seeming him gyrate his hips in Dirty Dancing. Martin’s has the best fried chicken in town. Since I’m still not running (tomorrow, hopefully), I just had one breast accompanied by cornbread, collard greens, and of course, fried green tomatoes. You should stop by and have a meat and three one day. And don’t forget the sweet tea.

Lauren Chicken

TripAdvisor Reviews of Martin’s Restaurant

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Church Days

This weekend, I took my kids to a new church. Same domination: Episcopalian. I’m not very religious, but my kids like church and believe in God, and I decided to try out a church that might have kids. We went on sort of a crazy day, because the church was starting a discussion on gay marriage. But we sat down and had breakfast, I dropped the kids at Sunday school, and we listened as the reverend spoke about Acts and the Jerusalem Council. Then we went to the church service. We enjoyed ourselves, and I think we’ll go back.

I’m not here to get into a religious or political discussion or even to discuss my opinion on gay marriage I’ll put it out there though: I’m for it. Everyone deserves to be with someone they love. Attending this church this weekend made me nostalgic for my own childhood.

My mom dutifully took us to church as kids. A lot of times my sisters were acolytes. I stood in the front with the choir. I earned my gold cross. I wore white dresses and dress-hats that stuck into your head and made you itch, and stockings with white seemingly unbendable shoes. Everything seemed to be white! And I couldn’t wait to get home and strip out of those dress clothes, often in the hallway before I’d even made it upstairs to my room.

We often attended breakfast at church, the smell of bacon beckoning me. I’d eat and my friends would trickle in, and then we’d run in the halls, go see the babies in the nursery, and finally make it to the sanctuary where I usually scribbled on paper and held my mom’s hand. I hated the way the wine tasted, and me and some of my other childhood friends would run after communion to get a sip of water and rinse out our mouths.

I spent nights outside with EYC, getting into trouble. I did lock-ins and trips to the beach. I established friends and memories that will never fade, in the sinking Alabama sun, as I discovered myself, learned about the history of religion, and began to establish my own religious code of ethics.

These are the memories I want for my children. Memories of inclusion. Memories of fun and fellowship.

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The Cross Garden

I know I’ve told you all the inspiration for The Devil Within came from the Go to Church or the Devil Will You Get You sign. But growing up in the South I was surrounded by a lot of folklore and crazy roadside attractions.

One day when my sister was in college, she brought her then-boyfriend, now-husband down to visit. We told my parents we were going to go buy fro-yo, but instead Kelsey took us toward Prattville. She had heard about this man who lived out in the country who had covered is whole yard with crosses and signs. People flocked from all over to see these crosses.

We drove north from Montgomery for about thirty minutes until we found The Cross Garden. Not only did this man have crosses littering his yard, the hills across from his house, but he also had signs proclaiming things like Hell is Hot Hot Hot.

The story we had been told was that this man had a dream and Jesus came to him and told him to repent or something terrible would happen to his family. He laughed it off. A few weeks later, his wife and children were killed in a car wreck on the interstate. Amidst the handmade crosses in his yard was a wrecked car. Supposedly he had the wrecking company bring the car there so he could always be reminded of his mistake. He made his yard and surrounding land a tribute to Jesus and the hell that awaits sinners on judgement day.

I often thought about The Cross Garden and how horrible it would be to lose your family. It’s funny, because thanks to the power of Google I now know the car accident never really happened. The owner of the Cross Garden wanted people to see the power of God and to be saved before they burned for eternity in Hell. Don’t you just love the South?

Read more about the Cross Garden and the owner, the late W.C. Rice. 

Go To Church Or The Devil Will Get You

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If you live in Alabama, or have driven through Alabama to get to the beaches, then chances are you’ve seen the above sign. This sign was inspiration for my new book, “The Devil Within.” The real truth about this sign is that a contractor, named Billy Newell erected the sign because of his deep love of God. You can read more about the truth here: http://blog.al.com/live/2009/09/ws_newell_dies_contractor_erec.html

But this sign inspired to spin some fiction! Here’s a little blurb from the first part of “The Devil Within” (still in editing, but hopefully will be out in May), just to give you a little teaser!

Everyone has seen the sign.  It sits on the highway between Montgomery and Birmingham: Go to Church or the Devil Will Get You! A caricature of a devil holding a red pitchfork with eyes burning holes into every car that passes by.

My pop put up that sign.  It was the beginning of the end in my eyes.  He did it right after the accident.  He went down the street to Baker’s Seed and Feed and Hardware Shop, squeezing my hand too hard as he dragged me in—the only child left.  He bought red paint and some two-by-fours, and then we hopped back into the Ford truck and drove all the way down to the end of the property next to where the pond stands.  He handed me a Coca-Cola, and I lay under a tree thinking about how Momma had looked like an angel in her casket and wondering when I’d ever see her again.  The Coca-Cola almost burned going down my throat.

“What you think, boy?” he asked, spitting some tobacco out of the wad in his cheek.

I stood up and walked around, looking at the sign.  He had traced the devil from an old sign, colored him in, painted words in bright red, and then put it up.  It looked crude, but I guessed it would do.  I was more interested in finding some peanuts to add to my Coca-Cola, but I nodded enthusiastically like it was the best piece of artwork I’d ever seen.

Write What You Know

What’s the mantra you hear the most in the writing world? Write What You Know. The more I write, the more I find this is true. Writing what you know is absolutely necessary. Little snippets of conversation you listen to, the aura of where you live, all of these items need to be included in your books. We, as human beings, are shaped tremendously by our environment.

I’m reading Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange right now. As I’m reading this wonderfully woven short stories of Appalachia, I’m finding in myself more and more the knowledge that I need to write about the South. What an amazing backdrop to be raised in: tumultuous, redneck, Christian, genteel, country, city, beautiful, history being lived over and over again. There aren’t enough words to describe Alabama in all its glory. It’s a place constantly misunderstood and ostracized–all the people thought to be back woods. But they’re not. There are writers and artists, scientists and doctors, living in these backwoods. And there is pain and history and love and hope.

My stories have slowly started to take on a southern feeling. Not all of them, since I still can’t pick a genre, but a lot of them have. It’s even showing up in my Flash Fiction. The Southern characters, as different from each other as anyone who lives here.  I think that’s what makes Ron Rash’s short stories so beautiful. He’s a poet who can describe the people and the place where he lives as no one else can, because he’s been there and he’s seen it with his own two eyes. The South is part of me–it runs in my blood, and so it must run through my fingertips on to my computer screen as well.

It’s Spring Break here, and I took a whole week off (I haven’t been getting much editing done either, unfortunately). The family and I have been driving all over ‘Bama soaking up history. We saw this beautiful house in Tuskegee.  They are looking for donations for restoration.

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When I saw this house,  I knew it was it. This was the house I’d imagined William Hill living in. Who’s William Hill? He’s the character of “The Devil Within,” my book coming out in early May. He’s nine years old when he loses his mother and siblings in a car accident, and he’s left in the hands of his overly religious father who doesn’t know how to cope with the boy. Stay tuned for more teasers, including a photo of a southern landmark that will be included in the book.