Tuesday, November 19, 2019

iPods and VCRs and Walkmen, Oh My!

The ever-elegant Bose!

A few years ago, I had some old VHS tapes converted to DVDs. Today, I pulled one out as I prepare for tomorrow night’s Wonderful Wednesday program at church. To my dismay, the converted disc has distracting lines running through it, and static too—not the best quality for my purposes. So I turned to the internet, only to find that there is no DVD version of Thomas Moore’s “Discovering Everyday Spirituality” series—the only thing available for purchase is used VHS tapes. And I’m especially irked because it is a wonderful program, exactly what I need for tomorrow. I recall the long ago day we junked our VCR (and the church junked its too). Why oh why didn’t we hang on to the old technology?? Because we didn’t think we’d ever need it again, that’s why!

It takes me quite a while to transition from one high-tech format to the next. I still keep my little sky-blue iPod shuffle in a drawer, even though I know my iPhone 8 is a vastly superior source of musical choices. I never pitched a couple of Sony Walkmen, which I’d loaded with songs and narrations, and given to our Advent labyrinth walkers 12 years ago—again, today’s walker chooses much more up-to-date listening options.

I have in my possession a clutch of cassette tapes, which I stubbornly refuse to throw away. These include story tapes my kids used to listen to as they fell asleep, and a couple of tapes recorded for them by my mom, their Nana. I currently have no way to play these gems, but darned if I will get rid of them!

Evan has discovered the joys of the LP. He owns a turntable, and bought several records now being released by favorite bands. I understand the sound quality is superior, yet I also remember their rapid scratchability—within minutes of purchase, my copy of Bobby Sherman Live! would start to skip. Ev is much more careful (with his vinyl, of course, and also with his selection of artists).

When Sher entered Curtis, we bought him a state-of-the-art Bose CD player/radio. He amassed an impressive collection of classical, jazz and rock CDs, and enjoyed hearing them on this amazing system. Eventually, it gave up the ghost, but recently Sheridan bought himself a new Bose! And now the sounds of Ravel and Beethoven waft through the house once more.

These resurrections of old technology remind me that I, that we, should not be so quick to ditch the past for the Next Shiny New Thing. Not that I regret jettisoning our Leading Edge computer (circa 1986), or our 19” black and white TV. But there are certain gems that can only be enjoyed on old machines, and it’d be a shame to lose them forever.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to the classic LP, recorded in my grandma’s living room eons ago, “Happy 80th Birthday Uncle Don.” Maybe this time, I’ll remember who Uncle Don was.

The songs were SUPPOSED to shuffle, but the same Gnarls Barkley song kept playing!

Monday, November 18, 2019

A True Almost-Crime Story

Very pregnant me with Mom, just a week before The Incident

“I’m gonna kill you, and your pregnant wife, and that Jesus you keep praying to!”

So screamed our neighbor Ed late one evening, down in our apartment courtyard.  How did we know he was referring to us? Well, I was nine months along, and we had been praying the rosary aloud every evening. You could say it was a lucky guess.

When I was expecting Sheridan 36 years ago, Steve and I said the rosary frequently. It felt like a form of holy insurance, our repeated prayers reminding (even nagging) the Almighty to protect us and the baby. At the time, we were living in an apartment building in the city.  The wall between units was thin, and as a result we could hear much of what went on with our next door neighbor, Ed (and, naturally, he could hear us).

Ed was a strange one. He was home by day, and at night he had a constant stream of visitors, who only stayed a few minutes each. We thought he might be a drug dealer. We would nod to one another in passing, but that was the extent of our relationship.

One night late in pregnancy, I couldn’t sleep. That was the night Ed picked to host a wild party. By 3 AM we couldn’t stand the noise anymore. Steve went out in the hall, knocked on Ed’s door, then came back inside. That seemed to work: it got quiet almost immediately.

The next night came the threat from the courtyard. We dialed 911; two officers arrived, just as Ed was running up the stairs, armed with a baseball bat. When the police confronted him, he said he’d been at softball practice (at 10 PM. Right). After some prompting, Ed mumbled to us, “I’m sorry.” I was hoping that he’d be arrested. But he was just told to leave us alone.

One officer explained, “We can’t arrest him, because he didn’t actually attack you. He was angry because your husband didn’t wait for him to apologize for the loud party. That guy seems really unstable. You probably should move out.” On that happy note, they left.

I went into labor two days later. All we could think of was a crying newborn baby—if that wouldn’t set Ed off, nothing would. So while I was in the hospital, Steve found a new apartment; we moved that same week. We never saw Ed again.

I think about Ed sometimes. I’ll open the newspaper, half-expecting to read that he had committed a crime (maybe with that baseball bat.) But I never find anything—not even when I Google him. Maybe his explosion at us was a once-and-done event. Maybe Ed wasn’t even his real name. We’ll probably never know.

I still say the rosary when I’m feeling stressed. Only now, I whisper my Hail Marys. Because you never know: somehow, some way, Ed might be listening—Ed, who had showed us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the power of prayer.

I still pray them. Quietly.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

All in the Family (Table)

Kevin Reilly inspired us all!

This program year at church, to my delight, we have gone all-in on the Cross+Generational concept we’ve used once a month since 2016. Our Sunday School program was not totally dead, as is the case with a large number of churches, but our numbers had definitely been declining in recent years. We had a core group of fabulous, dedicated teachers, who often--after they had prepped a super lesson--had only one or two kiddos show up. Morale was pretty low, and it seemed time to make a major move. Still, over the summer I wavered, hesitant to let go of the tried and true.

But at last we took the plunge, and as of September, at 9:00 every Sunday morning, children ages 2 through fifth grade and their parents gather in our Parish Hall for an hour of crafts, games, songs, Bible stories, snacks, videos, skits, and service projects that we are calling Family Table. The Confirmands (6-9th graders) meet for their own lively program upstairs. I am joined by a planning team of 20 folks (!) who take turns leading the mornings in small groups. I have been asked if this new way of doing Spiritual Formation is a lot of extra work for me. My answer? Not at all! I have a huge group of enthusiastic helpers. And the significantly larger turnout is tremendously encouraging.

Meeting a new friend!
Leaders take turns selecting a story, then build the other activities around it. Every week’s focus is different (which is part of the fun). When we talked about Saint Francis of Assisi, the adults performed a silly skit featuring arguing birds, a hungry wolf, and kind but clueless Saint Frank. On Good Samaritan day, my friend Julie Cullen (a nurse) brought a puppet in a wheelchair to show us just how much a person with a disability can do. David and Goliath is the classic Bible story of facing great obstacles, so team leader Erin Stein invited her dad, former Philadelphia Eagles player Kevin Reilly, to join us. Kevin’s career ended when cancer necessitated the amputation of an arm; now he travels all over as an inspirational motivational speaker (kids and grownups loved him). Today we heard Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (about using your God-given gifts), and made care packages of goodies for our college students. We receive Communion together around tables each week too, share prayers and bless each other.

Not everything we’ve attempted at church has been a hit, of course (I’ve spearheaded several clunkers myself over the years) but I’m very glad this venture has been a success so far. It is a really tough time to be a kid in the world right now, and young parents face challenges I never had to deal with.

Around the Family Tables
But on any given Sunday morning, Christ’s Lutheran’s parents and their children can be together for an enjoyable, meaningful hour, a Sabbath pause to refresh the heart and soul.

And, honestly? On these special Sunday mornings, there’s no place I’d rather be.