Archive / October, 2013

Ever Been To Nando’s?

In the thirty minutes a day I exercise on my elliptical, I watch television to keep my mind somewhat occupied. The majority of programs I’ve chosen lately are British (The Thick of It, Line of Duty), Scottish (The Book Group), and Irish (Single-Handed). If not for closed-captioning, I’d have been lost; oh, they spoke “English” (mostly) but I admit I’ve fine-tuned my ears to understand their pronunciations.

A week ago, my post Jesus Is Awesome! touched briefly on a British television show currently offered by Hulu. Having now watched the first six episodes (a “season” in American television parlance, but the Brits dub it “Series 1”) of Rev., I’ll expand on my initial comments.10180

Rev., thankfully, requires less work, but I still like the closed-captions. Rev. Adam Smallbone, the central character, serves an inner-city East London church that suffers from financial worries including a dingy decaying building and dwindling attendance. The vicar’s wife Alex hardly fits the stereotypical role; she has a career as a solicitor and secrets from her past that complicate the marriage. With her sensible approach and non-hysterical manner, she is long-suffering but will go toe-to-toe with her man when there’s a clash. It’s clear she loves Adam.

The supporting cast supplies adequate challenges that are easily recognizable for almost anyone who has attended church. The people are imperfect creatures; they represent the gamut of chronically lonely, intrusive, conniving, outright liars, poseurs and self-important schemers. Adam, whose own shortcomings don’t get glossed over, deals with each situation and manages to cope. The show mixes humor, a decent story line, and honest characters and questions.

ASIDE:  For Downton Abbey fans, there’s a surprise appearance of Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in episode four. The actor plays rival vicar Roland Wise, whose media persona causes Adam to feel envious. But Adam learns all is not what it seems, and Lord Grantham’s normal stiff-upper-lip stolidity vanishes. Oh, the humanity!

The sixth episode should not have surprised me, but it did. For anyone who has suffered a crisis of faith, Rev. displayed the comedic side as well as the despair with equal effect. An anonymous poster on a Christian website has graded Adam’s most recent sermon with a minus-one on a ten-point scale, noting the sermon (that ran about 2 minutes) was at least 3 minutes too long. Everyone (except Adam of course) has viewed the scathing review and Adam only finds out about it when his supervisor delivers the news in person. (This troublesome, arrogant Archdeacon periodically comes around for the sole purpose to remind Adam of his deficiencies.)

We watch Adam descend into quiet despondency. Initially, he tries to shrug it off − it’s only one comment, he reminds himself. But the hurt is real … and God doesn’t seem to be listening or responding to the vicar’s lament. (I don’t want to spoil it for you. Suffice to warn, if you’re not comfortable seeing a drunken priest at his worst, don’t watch the episode. Also, doctrinal purists might want to steer clear.)

In the 22-minute episode, the vicar’s downward spiral escalates quickly. First, he bares his soul to a friend and the friend responds with predictable pap:  “Be real, be yourself.” Adam agrees, immediately informing his friend just what he thinks of him. Naturally, the friend is incensed and leaves with hurt feelings.

Soon thereafter, Adam leers at his wife’s attractive friend, inviting her to have lunch with him at Nando’s. He implies he hopes to turn lunch into an amorous encounter. When she demurs, he backs away, but later directly propositions her.

Adam lashes out, acts out, buries his feelings of inadequacy in a bottle. He curses his level-headed wife (whom he’s never taken to Nando’s).

despondentAll the while, we see (I see) the palpable tension weighing him down because he can’t shake the call of God on his life. He’d reject that calling, cast a middle finger towards Heaven, but he can’t.

I’ve been there. Maybe it was my personal experience empathizing, but Adam’s honest portrayal moved me, called up intense memories deep within my soul. I could not help but appreciate a genuine and unreserved truth-telling. Both writers and actors took a risk. This is a “comedy” after all.

Series 2 (with seven episodes) follows. A third series of six episodes will air in 2014. I’m looking forward to viewing the next episodes, hopeful the program will maintain a similar level of integrity to what I’ve watched so far.

And if ever I discover a restaurant named Nando’s, I’ll be sure to give it a try. (Wanna meet me there?)

The Secret of Happiness V

If this five-part series on The Secret of Happiness has taught me anything, it is that this topic is well nigh inexhaustible! So many and varied thoughts about what exactly The Secret of Happiness is. Resources available on the World Wide Web include writings from a multitude (both living and dead) and it would be difficult to digest them here.

Though much more could be explored, I’ve decided it’s time to wrap up this discussion. I’ll do so by contrasting the lives of two historical figures.

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If anyone had reason to be unhappy, surely it was Job. The Book of Job presents his story by posing a penetrating and age-old question:  if God is a God of love and mercy, why do righteous men suffer? (You’ll want to read the book yourself, but I’ll summarize here.)

The book begins with God’s praise for Job (1:1, NASB) − he’s “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Seven verses later, God adds there’s “no one like him on the earth.” High marks from the Creator, wouldn’t you agree?

But Satan scolds God:  Job wouldn’t be so righteous if he suffered loss; he’s only righteous because he’s comfortable, wealthy and enjoys every imaginable advantage. So God allows Satan to destroy Job’s comfort, wealth and advantages. Eventually, God permits Satan to inflict gross bodily pain − Job gets boils from head to toe.

Job’s friends commiserate with his distress and a dialogue ensues. The men opine about Job’s suffering; he responds. Notwithstanding God’s appraisal that Job is “blameless,” his friends insist Job’s suffering is due to sin in his life.

A fourth friend ultimately enlightens the trio of “friends,” maintaining God has permitted Job’s suffering as a means for purification, a stripping away of any vestige of self-righteousness, compelling Job to trust only God and God alone.

Through it all, Job remains steadfast, saying in 19:25 (NASB), “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He anticipates certain future vindication, even if it must come after his death. In 23:10b (NASB) Job declares, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Hearkening back to the Viktor Frankl model, Job found meaning in his suffering. Happiness was never the focus.

ge_nikolai_9_court_of_king_solomon_1854Compare Job’s experiences to the life of Solomon. Again, if anyone has ever lead a charmed (and presumably happy) life, wouldn’t it be Solomon? Son of a king, then king himself, Solomon had power, wealth and great wisdom. He also had the vast pleasures of the world at his disposal. Unlike Job, Solomon didn’t lose everything (or anything); he engaged a rich life of excess and increase.

In the book attributed to his authorship (Ecclesiastes), Solomon comments on the futility of human wisdom, pleasure and wealth, and materialism, concluding in 2:17 (NASB), “I hated life … because everything is futility and striving after wind.” He goes on in 3:22 (NASB) to assert, “… nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities …”

These seemingly contradictory statements come from a man, an ancient King of Israel, who realized life (in spite of its futility) is a gift from God that should be enjoyed to the fullest. He regards labor (work) as good and commends the pleasures of eating and drinking, but he also reminds us that life is fleeting. Read the book of Ecclesiastes to grasp both Solomon’s despair and his sagacity.

ASIDE  At the end of the book, 12:12 (RSV), I note Solomon warns his son:  “Of making many books there is not end, and much study is weariness of the flesh.” I guess I should take note of what the wise man says, huh?

Given Solomon’s wisdom, I think Ecclesiastes represents the best guide I’ve found for uncovering The Secret of Happiness. Here’s a distillation of Solomon’s wisdom-writing in Ecclesiastes:

    1. God is sovereign.
    2. Mankind is fallen.
    3. Death is certain and unavoidable … but, in the meantime,
    4. You’re alive and Life is a blessing to enjoy.

If there were a secret formula to ensure happiness, people would gladly pay to secure it. I wonder how many will take Solomon’s conclusions (free) to heart?

The Secret of Happiness IV

More about the secret of happiness, you ask? Transitioning this series of posts from SpongeBob Smiley’s magic formula for happiness … to happiness as something one must choose and cultivate … to Dr. Viktor Frankl’s view of happiness as a fanciful American phenomenon, one might imagine these three posts cover the spectrum reasonably well … but one might be wrong! Too much data has yet to be considered!

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to oldies but goodies night.

To start, here’s a musical number specifically addressed to the gents. Permit me to introduce Jimmy Soul whose 1963 Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping hit was titled If You Wanna Be Happy. Soul had a relatively short career, the next best thing to a one-hit-wonder − he was a two-hit wonder. Here are the lyrics in case you want to sing along.

For men who’ve already jumped the shark by marrying beautiful women … well, I suppose there might be other perks, but − if Jimmy Soul’s song is to be believed − don’t count on happiness being within reach.

Perhaps those guys may find solace in Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 Song of the Year / Record of the Year / number one pop hit, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Here are more lyrics for your sing-along pleasure.

McFerrin’s hit song became popular across the globe, clearly due to its catchy, carefree tune, but also because its positive message resonated.

Now, here’s a change of pace (from my oldies theme). This song from the IMPACT Repertory Theater delivers a delightfully upbeat tune as well as being performed by energetic young people who definitely enjoy their music and presentation.

Doesn’t this video make you want to get up and dance?!

Finally, let’s return once more to the oldies. What oldies musical retrospective would be complete without a nod at Del Shannon? This version of Happiness wasn’t a runaway hit (get it? Runaway?) for Shannon, but the song still made it as cut number three on the Little Town Flirt album.

There are numerous other oldies that might have been featured in this post. I passed on The BeatlesHappiness Is A Warm Gun, not so much because of the drug references but primarily because guns and happiness don’t represent an acceptable duo in today’s politically correct culture.

Happiness Loves Company (Red Hot Chili Peppers) is too new. Lee Ann Womack’s song Happiness − a good song, but again, not an oldie. My Happiness by Connie Francis qualifies as an oldie, but I’m not exactly a fan of her music. There were others:  Roberta Flack’s Happiness, the Happiness cut from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and many more. (Visit the iTunes store to gauge the abundance of tunes about happiness.)

Set to music, happiness frequently consorts with love. There’s sufficient justification, in my view, for that coupling. Consider the words of Jesus in John 15:11-13 (ERV):  I have told you these things so that you can have the true happiness that I have. I want you to be completely happy. This is what I command you: Love each other as I have loved you. The greatest love people can show is to die for their friends.”

Being willing to die for one’s friends? That kind of conscious, unconditional love − as Jesus taught in word and deed − is surely the path to true happiness.

The Secret of Happiness III

Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl once said:  “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” His memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, was chosen by a survey of readers in 1991 as one of the ten most influential books in America. (Many readers considered the book “life-changing.”) Dr. Frankl suggested the concept of happiness is an illusory construct unique to our American culture.

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Frankl survived the Holocaust. He endured extreme hardship and suffering, including time spent in a Nazi concentration camp (where most of his family perished). Frankl came to believe that even in the midst of suffering, there is purpose. The search for meaning and purpose drives us; happiness is simply a byproduct of choosing to cope and find meaning in our suffering. Frankl posited:  A man “who knows the why for his existence … will be able to bear almost any how.”

That quote might lead a person to think Dr. Frankl was a religious man. Wikipedia indicates he was Jewish, not just by birth but religious affiliation. An interesting 1995 article by Matthew Scully in the publication FirstThings offers additional details about Dr. Frankl’s religious views.

Reflecting on Frankl’s insights, I can’t help but recall James 1:2-3 (NASB) which says:  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” In the face of trials, a person has the choice to look at those trials and rejoice (considering or counting it as joy). Whatever the trial, the testing of our faith produces endurance!

Earlier, I mentioned that Frankl considered happiness to be an American construct. I suspect he’s correct. Today more than ever before, people abandon marriages and jobs because they’re “unhappy.” Mothers, bemoaning that their lives are somehow “unfulfilled,” leave their children to the care of strangers and seek fulfillment elsewhere. The axiom for our 21st century American culture seems to be:  If you’re not happy, change your circumstances. (Implied, don’t worry about changing yourself.)

In one of my earlier posts, I pointed out people are generally more capable of elucidating what happiness is not, rather than what it actually is. This has something to do, in my view, with acknowledging that happiness is a moving target, often just out of reach. The internal dialogue may go something like this:  when thus-and-such happens, I’ll be happy. If I can earn this much money … overcome this obstacle … achieve a particular pinnacle, happiness will finally be within my grasp. We focus our entire lives on similar temporal goals and in doing so, we “thwart happiness” (as Frankl says) and sow discontent instead!

Frankl’s theory of logotherapy posits we need to view “suffering not as an obstacle to happiness but often the necessary means to it.” Sounds like he might have been reading the book of James. (Smart guy!)

The Secret of Happiness II

Yesterday, I offered a tongue-in-cheek post about happiness. The post caused me some trepidation, because I am not a skilled humorist (though I love good satire). I was genuinely concerned the post would be misunderstood or my humor would fall flat. It wouldn’t be the first time. In general, I’ve never been able to deliver a joke without getting it all messed up − and what fun is that?happy4

But this 31-Day Blogging Challenge has me in its grip (OCD much?) so I was determined to post something − anything! − before midnight! It’s so close to the end of the month and I’ve posted everyday (so far). It wouldn’t just be a shame to mess up now; for me, it would be a disaster! (Honestly, that’s how obsessive I am.)

The problem was, I had houseguests this weekend (including three of my grandchildren). Blog … or play with the grandchildren? Kind of a no-brainer for me actually. Much as I love to write, these grands won’t be babies for long, and I simply don’t want to miss out on them because I’ve got my nose pressed to a computer screen!

Enter the Draft folder. Usually containing at least a couple items therein, and as I contemplated each one, a unifying theme developed, echoing ideas from other blogs I’d read earlier that morning. The first, a delightful “Thought For the Day” from The Healthful Life, featured a small plaque that declares:

Happiness often sneaks in a door you did not think was open.

I love that! The unexpected nature of happiness − sneaking in − underscores the whimsy that epitomizes happiness. We don’t hunt for happiness, but at the most unpredictable moments, happiness sneaks in to catch us unaware, off guard, and those remarkable moments (or realizations) can only be what C.S. Lewis called them − numinous.

The second happiness post I noticed was one by CaveCultureGirl in which she uses an image of a Scrabble tile rack with the word HAPPINESS spelled out. (Now admittedly, my OCD kicked in, causing me to react immediately:  Scrabble players get 7 tiles. Nine tiles isn’t legit. Picky, picky, I know.)

CaveCultureGirl‘s post notes her appreciation of now; her post is titled Happiness is … 10.26.13 and she makes a compelling case that happiness is a daily choice every person must make (or not). She appeals to common sense, the why-not challenge for embracing one’s circumstances and identifying the best five things in which to identify joy.

The third happiness post I read was titled Recipe for Happiness, written by FollowFoodie. The most prominent feature on this brief post is the beaming face and winsome smile of the author (presumably). I’m guessing it would be so much fun to sit in her kitchen as she works! But her words speak as well, offering a wisdom learned from 40 years preparing food and delighting guests with her cuisine. She speaks of “cultivating happiness,” again emphasizing the deliberate and conscious choice.

FollowFoodie astutely observes the integral link between food and happiness. The dishes she creates are (in a sense) suffused with enthusiasm and devotion. It isn’t only the food that provides sustenance, but also the hands that have prepared it.

Yesterday and today, I chose happiness by engaging and delighting in my family, three grandchildren, my daughter (mother of these little ones), my brothers-in-law and my beloved husband. Nothing spectacular happened. There were no impressive fireworks or extravagant demonstrations. We simply enjoyed each other’s company, shared stories and laughs, and entered into a communion too often crowded out by the busy-ness of everyday life.

In a nutshell, this was happiness … the numinous present.

The Secret of Happiness I

If you do a Google search for the word happiness, some 293 million supposedly relevant links result. Wikipedia − always the ultimate resource for helpful information − offers this summation:  Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

spongesmile

Wikipedia also includes a picture of a yellow smiley face stating in the caption:  The smiley face is a well-known symbol of happiness.

I’m kind of partial to SpongeBob Smiley’s face (at left). For another discussion of SpongeBob the granite monument, see my previous post.

Since Wikipedia uses the term contentment as part of its description for happiness, you might also refer to my previous post related to contentment.

When attempting to define a term (like happiness), people sometimes use other emotion-related words almost interchangeably. More often than not, this fails to illuminate but instead muddies the water. Furthermore, plenty of people are unable to explain what happiness is … they’re much more capable of explaining (usually in great detail) what it is not.

The Secret of Happiness − at least as I understand this actual, bonafide secret − shouldn’t be that hard to figure out! And I have great news for you. I have done sufficient study on the subject to discover the secret and I’m pleased to share it with you below. These are important instructions and must be followed to the letter. You want happiness? Here it is in five simple steps.

  1. Copy the SpongeBob Smiley image above; paste and print the image on a letter-size sheet of white bond paper.
  2. Three times each day, hold the paper in front of your face; stare deeply for five minutes into SpongeBob Smiley’s eyes.
  3. Immediately drink eight ounces of cold water; sit quietly in a comfortable chair and relax. Let your breathing slow.
  4. Lean your head back, close your eyes and visualize SpongeBob Smiley’s image as if it is pasted to the inside of your eyelids. Do this for five minutes at each sitting.
  5. At the end of one week, you’ll know and understand The Secret of Happiness

And please be sure to let me know how you did!

The Rare Gift of Contentment

Children can be exhausting, inconvenient, messy. Years ago as a mother of young children, I know I must have done more than my share of complaining. I’ll never forget my disgust (with myself) when I realized indulging my habitual selfishness and self-centeredness was no longer acceptable. It was time to grow up and take responsibility for the vulnerable and dependent babe in my arms! (Imagine what a brat I must’ve been! Waaah!)crying baby

The idea of allowing one’s life to be dictated by the needs of little munchkins doesn’t suit the narcissistic world in which we live. A second notion — that once little ones have shed the munchkin stage, they’ve also shed their need for Mom — is just that, a misguided notion.

So, it’s always heartening for me when I read blog posts written by women who adore their children and purposefully format their lives to ensure their children grow into mature, delightful adults. Allow me to introduce the writings of Desperately Doodling Debbie and Amanda Rose Adams.

Desperately Doodling Debbie is a long-time friend. Her children are flying the nest one by one and her inimitable writing style chronicles tales of their leaving mingled with other experiences and observations both profound and humorously mundane. Her turns of phrase are amusing and amazing. (Is my envy showing?)

Amanda Rose Adams hasn’t reached the empty nest stage … yet. Her October 23rd post speaks volumes about maternal contentment. Entitled When You Have Everything You Want, the piece reminded me of the wonder I experienced at that stage of my life. How many young mothers today take time to comprehend such delight and enjoyment until it’s slipped by too quickly?

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Poem: At The Doorway, Room 5

As a younger writer, I wrote free verse. My more recent poetry has tended almost exclusively to rhyming forms, but here’s a poem describing a maternal milestone from my life … a poem that echoes the experiences of my friends.

Jesus Is Awesome!

A new book out this month caught my eye. The title, Why Nobody Goes To Church Anymore, probably invites a thousand different responses, many of which could be thoughtful while a roughly equal number of others might be scornful and acid-tinged. I’m guessing few people seeing that title will be neutral about it.church2

It’s a book I could have written; not necessarily the way the authors (Thom and Joani Schultz) wrote it, but their title/question is definitely a query I’m able to answer. I’m unfamiliar with the Schultzes but the couple has several other books including Why Nobody Learns Much of Anything At Church.)

Though I didn’t find much biographical info about this couple, Amazon‘s introductory sample pages provide details of their association with Group Magazine and also, that they share a passion for seeing lives transformed through the power of Jesus Christ. An interview with the couple on the Group Magazine website reflects their heart for youth ministry.

Since I haven’t yet read the book, a critique would be unfair. However, the table of contents leads me to conclude I’d agree with much of what they say. I’m especially interested in the four acts of love they propose as transformative for the church:  loving with (1) radical hospitality, (2) fearless conversation, (3) genuine humility and (4) divine anticipation. I’d likely share their primary thesis, but books presently on my night table take precedence. I’ll reserve further comment until I’ve read the book.

022.TO5083My own experience with churches is lifelong. My dad’s family were organizers of the first German Baptist church (founded in 1849) in St. Louis. My mom’s family was similarly involved in founding at least one church in Pennsylvania. I don’t know whether those churches faced attendance problems, but I remember an attendance board like the one at left was almost always a prominent fixture of churches I knew.

As a teenager, I attended a Plymouth Brethren (PB) church. Having come from a Baptist church, we were outsiders. They were delighted to have us as members, but our unfamiliarity with PB traditions set us apart. I well remember thinking the core members tended to be older, and families with children (like mine) were the exception rather than the rule.

My long history with churches is peripheral. Let’s turn a corner. During my daily exercise (on an elliptical), I usually watch television. It distracts me from the seemingly endless (really, only 30 minutes) one-foot-in-front-of-the-other monotony. Often, I tune into a TCM movie (no commercials) or find something tolerable on Netflix or Hulu.

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This week, I decided to try a British series Hulu had advertised. Didn’t know if I’d like it but figured it had an agreeable premise. It’s called Rev. and features an Anglican vicar named Adam who serves an inner-city London parish. Adam struggles to build the dwindling church membership while ministering to a diverse flock. Having only watched the first two episodes, I’m still reserving judgment, but the show is appealing (though imperfect). It resonates with a refreshing authenticity.

The second episode struck a strong chord. A charismatic vicar named Darren meets with Adam to request permission to use Adam’s parish hall (for Sunday services) while Darren’s parish hall is being remodeled. Darren’s a photogenic man, head and shoulders taller than Adam. He wears civilian garb rather than the typical vicar collar and robe. His speech is generously sprinkled with words like “cool” and “awesome.” Of course, Darren enthusiastically proclaims, “Jesus is awesome!”

Adam consents to the temporary merging of congregations, but by Sunday, the stately worship hall has been jarringly transformed − pews pushed back, luxurious couches, flat-screen televisions and blaring sound system installed. The coffeepot once located on a back corner table has been replaced by a fruit smoothie bar. Darren’s congregants are mostly an under-30 crowd, hip and animated. Taking a cue from Jay Leno of The Tonight Show, Darren waltzes in from offstage to rousing cheers and applause.

The most memorable scene (for me) occurs when Darren introduces a rapper to perform special music. The rapper makes a sign of the Cross and then delivers a peppy number with this refrain:

Love me, take me, Jesus.
Make me feel brand new!
Love me, take me, Jesus,
Our resurrected Jew.

Of course, the show is meant to be provocative. Several commenters condemn Rev. as blasphemous and sacrilegious. In part, I agree (and there is salty language).

But I like Adam’s character. He prays (in voice-over). He loves his wife and she genuinely loves him. The tension Adam feels comparing his shrinking congregation to Darren’s youthful growing congregation resembles a bonafide tension many churches encounter.

The question Thom and Joani Schultz pose with their book must be asked:  Why would anyone go to church anymore, especially if it compares to Adam’s dying parish? But the opposite question also begs an answer:  What is it about Darren’s parish that draws the young folks? How many pastors have asked themselves those questions in the last year?

Once I’ve watched a few more episodes, I’ll have a better sense of Rev. For now, it seems as though they’re seeking to entertain, but as a side benefit, they’re asking good, incisive questions … and if they continue, that’s what will keep me watching.

Besides, Jesus is awesome!

On the Way to One Hundred

Several of my previous posts deal in some way with Beauty. In his superb book Restoring BeautyLouis Markos offers a striking paradox:  “… we are often more afraid of beauty than of ugliness.”

If beauty elicits fear, aging terrifies. As long ago as 1513, explorer and conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon searched for life-sustaining water, a legendary Fountain of Youth. An elixir to ward off aging is (to borrow a song lyric from Beauty and the Beast) a “tale as old as time.” Genesis 3:22-24 refers to a Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, certainly predating Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth.

Maybe it’s inborn, but most of us don’t like aging … granted, some people handle it better than others. Young people think they’re immortal; older people generally know they’re not, but that knowledge doesn’t set in with comfortability. Why else do people post selfies on Twitter with comments like:  Seventy is the new fifty? Focused as it is on youth, our culture rejects the reality of aging, believing a nip here and a tuck there will somehow nullify the effects of aging.

I like what Proverbs 20:29 says:  “Young people take pride in their strength, but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful.” (This quote comes from the Contemporary English Version.) Tying together the two concepts, aging (i.e. “gray hairs of wisdom”) with beauty, probably seems counterintuitive to many in today’s youth-oriented culture. But the verse says those “gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful” than a young person’s strength. Ponder that, if you will.

My poem below, Turning Fifty, speaks less about beauty than about aging, a sense one has that the sands in the hourglass of life are dwindling at an ever more rapid rate. Others who write may identify with the dilemma I present, but I think the poem is as well understood by non-writers, because the concept of aging is universal.

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Sonnet: Turning Fifty

Turning FIfty is a Shakespearean sonnet. As mentioned in another post, I’ve set a goal to write 100 sonnets − in hopes of gaining some mastery of the form. The Bard managed to write 154 sonnets; to date, I’ve got 56, and probably another 20 in process.

I’ve also got the gray hairs … I hope they’re indicative of wisdom, but that’s for others to assess. I often tell people I’m on my way to 100 (not just sonnets), but to celebrate a century of living. Think I’ll make it?

SpongeBob In Granite

With Halloween arriving next week, what better occasion to talk graveyards and headstones? Today’s news had a story about Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum announcing its decision to banish two recently installed gravestones. One gravestone marks the spot of deceased Army Sgt. Kimberly Walker while the other monument honors her twin sister Kara (still living and currently a Navy IT specialist).SpongeBobgrave

The problem with the gravestones? They depict SpongeBob Squarepants, Kimberly Walker’s favorite cartoon character. The two monuments stand more than six feet tall, weigh 7,000 pounds each and were purchased for $26,000 by the Walker family to honor their slain daughter. These massive granite structures show SpongeBob in military attire.

From the get-go, let’s agree cemeteries are unusual places. (Some would say odd.) According to Wikipedia, Spring Grove is the “second largest cemetery in the United States.” It’s a National Historic Landmark. Its 733 acres are the last resting place for numerous notable individuals. The gallery on Spring Grove’s website features impressive photography of their park-like setting and displays serene vistas that are positively alluring!

I think it’s a fair question to ask why the SpongeBob monuments would be deemed “inappropriate” by cemetery authorities. The headstones were created only after consultation with cemetery personnel; of course, the CEO blames an underling who failed to follow the cemetery guidelines. Right.

scrabble

Gravestones typically provide information about the person buried beneath it. Oftentimes, though, gravestones are useful as a final statement (whether bold or restrained) about the deceased individual. How about this one (at right):  a Scrabble board with its own unique message, presumably providing clues to the person’s unique character. I’d bet the cemetery where this gravestone is located gets its share of visitors wanting to see the unique burial monument.

According to information available on findagrave.com, Spring Grove has over 226,000 interments. Statistically speaking, odds are good there have to be at least a few other headstones on the grounds that could be described as “inappropriate.” Have any of them been removed?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConsider this curious headstone (left), which leads me to believe Sharol and Leon must have shared some really special times around the pool table (or at the neighborhood pool hall). I’ll bet their family and friends still smile thinking about the unusual monument, but it’s a shared moment to remind them of their departed friends.

My 3 year old grandson loves to watch SpongeBob videos and I’ve viewed the show with him, though I don’t consider myself a fan. Cartoon characters won’t be on my headstone but that’s just my personal preference. Is the Spring Grove cemetery fearful one or two SpongeBob monuments will ruin the classy tone of their establishment? Nonsense!

I haven’t seen the monument up close and personal, but the picture of Walker’s monument makes me smile. It’s happy, maybe even a little dopey, but as a window into this young soldier’s heart, the monument seems to intimate she was light-hearted, fun-loving and proud of her military service. That’s enough for me; I don’t know why anyone would consider it “inappropriate.”

In my genealogy research, I’ve stomped through many a cemetery in search of one relation or another. It can be a challenge to locate a specific gravestone in a sea of gravestones. I like the idea of a SpongeBob grave marker. Instead of searching out the tedious details of lane, section, lot and space numbers, a SpongeBob moument would be easily located and identifiable. The cemetery might even receive more visitors wanting to view Walker’s grave than would view their purportedly “famous” interments.

What do you think? Am I being too flippant? I invite your comments.

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