The official blog of Susan Landis-Steward, writer of whatever she likes, and co-founder of Puddletown Publishing Group

I promise it won’t happen again. It’s just that we (meaning my business partner and I) decided I needed a hosted WordPress.org account to test some things. Go here www.puddletowngroup.com/susanlandissteward/

My first post at the new blog is a book review I don’t want you to miss. Great book. Farsighted by Emlyn Chand. Check it out. Normal hilarity and insanity will ensue beginning next week.

By NASA/ GSFC/ NOAA/ USGS

Delivered at Atkinson Memorial Church (Unitarian Universalist) July 17, 2011

Readings

The 19th century former slave Sojourner Truth criticized the escapism and self-centeredness in the Rapture rhetoric among Christians of her day. In response to claims that Christians are taken up into some parlor in heaven to escape destruction, she underscored that God stays with us on earth and walks with us through every trial: [she said] You seem to be expecting to go to some parlor away up somewhere and when the wicked have been burnt, you are coming back to walk in triumph over their ashes—this is to be your New Jerusalem! Now I can’t see anything so very nice in that, coming back to such a muss as that will be, a world covered with the ashes of the wicked. Besides, if the Lord comes and burns—as you say he will—I am not going away. I am going to stay here and stand the fire, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! And Jesus will walk with me through the fire and keep me from harm.

 

A reading by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed.

Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;        

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;        

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

Sermon

Warning: The story you are about to hear involves theology, hormones, and drugs. Do not try this at home.

Twenty-two years ago, I was pregnant with my third and final child when I came across an article in the Oregonian. A man named Edgar Whisenant, a bona fide Ph.D. NASA rocket scientist, had figured out that the world would end on September 1, 1989. He used math, and science, and he even used statistics, reasoning that there was a 96 percent chance of this event happening. In the event that he was wrong, the likelihood went up one percent in each subsequent year, making it a certainty that the Rapture would come in 1993.

At the time, my Episcopal Bible study was studying the Book of the Revelation, so I cut the article out and took it in for show and tell. I tucked it in my Bible afterwards, and forgot about it. It’s still there.

Fast forward a few weeks. I’ve forgotten all about the Rapture, I’m still pregnant, and I have a dentist appointment which is where the drugs enter into it. My dentist at the time was in Lake Oswego, my home was up near Battle Ground, Washington, so I had a long drive on I-205 ahead of me before I got home.

I’m cruising along, listening to the radio, when the traffic comes to a halt. Being still semi-rational—I had yet to give birth to the creature that removed any hope of sanity from my life—I glanced up at the big reader board over the freeway. Nothing. I tuned the radio to an AM station known for up-to-the-minute traffic news. Nothing. But I-205 was clearly not going anywhere.

That’s where the hormones and drugs, along with the memory of a bumper sticker—In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned—came together. I remembered Whisenant’s prediction, noted that the date was indeed September 1, and thought, “OMG, I’ve been left behind.”

Then the scales fell from my eyes, I looked around, and realized everybody had been left behind. I was not alone. We were all still here. Slowly, my mind shifted gears, all the while amazed that even I, a highly-educated Episcopalian raised without any hint of Rapture theology, a person who laughed in the face of such folderol, had fallen victim to the powerfully symbolic image of the end of the world and the Second Coming.

Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the Rapture and eschatological theology. That’s a big word for End Times. I even read Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth just to find out what all the buzz was about in certain evangelical circles.

So what is this Rapture deal anyway?

First, I want to point out that Christianity, and most religions, I’d hazard a guess, has a centuries-long tradition of prophetic literature. But prophetic does not mean fortune telling or predicting. The prophetic tradition relies on telling it the way you see it. The Biblical prophets carried warnings, not of the end of the world, but of the need for repentance, justice, peaceful behavior, caring for the poor and helpless. They told stories of sinful behavior that needed to be rectified, not to prevent God from destroying the world—that was addressed in the story of Noah where God sent the rainbow as a sign of a Covenant that God would never try that stunt again. No, the prophets warned that sin was getting out of control and people needed to pull it back to show that they loved God. The prophets were a constant reminder of our duty to the planet and everything on it.

Still, there are always those among us who want to know the future. Hell, most of us have probably used oujia boards, or those Magic 8 balls, or even had our palms read at some point in our lives. In college, a oujia board told me I was going to marry a man named Ormond. Unless Jenny’s planning something I don’t know about, like a complete overhaul, it ain’t gonna happen.

So, ever since the book of Daniel was written, some 23 or so centuries ago, there have been those who have looked for signs that would tell them exactly when the end of the world would come.

The Rapture, as we now know it, got its start with a man named Edward Irving, a Scottish Presbyterian of the early 19th century. Irving was one of the forerunners of the modern charismatic and Pentacostal movements. He also taught about a Secret Rapture.

One of his parishioners, a 15-year-old girl named Margaret Macdonald, was a dabbler in the occult and had a special interest in Irving’s claims to be able to heal and prophecy in tongues. I’ve read some accounts that claim she was also mentally challenged. She related some visions she had about the Secret Rapture, and they were picked up by a Church of Ireland minister named John Nelson Darby who ran with them.

The Secret Rapture was an event in which true believers would be lifted up out of the world to meet with Jesus before the coming of the Anti-Christ who was believed to usher in the tribulations and trials that would herald the end times.  For the past two centuries, this idea has captured the minds of many who have sought, like Whisenant, and most recently Harold Camping, to calculate the exact day and time when this event will happen. So far, none of them have been right.

All of this theology is based on a misunderstanding of what biblical prophecy is all about, some random scriptures from the Old Testament, a few lines in the New Testament, and the Book of the Revelation.

As I said before, Biblical prophecy is not about predicting the future. Think of it more as a call to action, a reminder that things aren’t going well and that we are called to fix it. The truly prophetic voices are those calling us to stop the wars, clean up the environment, start taking care of the poor, and get our house in order so that we can all live a heavenly life right here on earth.

I’m not going into all the scriptures, since you probably don’t want to be here all day, but I do want to look at the Book of the Revelation.

First, I want to point out that the Revelation almost didn’t make the cut into the Christian canon. It was added in the 4th century, after much debate by the early church fathers, and some Christian traditions do not include it even to this day.

It was not considered important because, first off, it was a letter to a particular group of Christians, at a particular time (the late 1st century), written in symbolic code that they would understand, about the oppression of the church by the Romans. It was not considered a prophetic book; it was an apocalyptic book. And apocalypse doesn’t mean what many would have us believe either. Apocalypse does not mean end of the world or great disaster or war in the Middle East; it means, simply, revelation, the disclosure of things that are not seen. In this sense, John of Patmos, who was most likely not St. John the Evangelist based on textual criticism, was writing a letter to comfort the persecuted churches in what is now Western Turkey and encourage them to keep the faith. Now, the early church did believe that the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent, but they did not view this in the way modern pre-millenialists do.

The Book of the Revelation, at its deepest center, echoes Sojourner Truth. It is a letter telling beleaguered Christians that, in spite of Roman oppression, in spite of the wars and slavery and atrocities of the Roman Empire, the Lamb of God, Jesus, would someday establish a kingdom of peace and justice and love. There is nothing in the Book of the Revelation about the Rapture, or the tribulation, or any of the other events you might have read about in the Left Behind series. Even the Anti-Christ, purported by pre-millenials to be Obama or Oprah, and by liberals to be George W. Bush, is actually a reference to the Roman Emperor Nero according to such distinguished Biblical historians as John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg.

Think about it. You’re writing a letter to people you trust, but you know that the letter could fall into the wrong hands and cause them untold grief. Wouldn’t you write in code?

All those so-called signs are not scriptural, and they are only supported by the long tradition of proof-texting, or finding Scripture to support your personal agenda, rather than engaging Scripture in an open and honest way.

So, if it’s not Scriptural, what is it all about?

Years ago, when my oldest started school and my second child was still too young, my daycare provider decided to go back to college. I found a new provider, just down the road, and was thrilled. But, being cautious, I took Caitlin just for an hour while I went grocery shopping. On my return, the daycare provider pointed to the cross around my neck and said, “You’re a believer.” Well, yes. I was. But what she said next floored me. Conspiratorially, and in a low voice so the kids wouldn’t hear her, she said, “I can’t wait until the Rapture so I can watch the sinners roast in hell.” Clearly, she thought Heaven was a grandstand seat to a human barbecue lasting for all eternity, and that I was looking forward to it with as much gusto as she was. I scooped up my child and never went back.  But ever since, I’ve thought about that comment. And I have a few ideas.

For this woman, I suspect the motive behind her comment was a feeling of powerlessness and a fear of death. If you can’t tolerate ambiguity, and if you are afraid of living in a complex and complicated world where very little is under your control, the idea that God has it all figured out and is going to not only save you from it, but reward you mightily, a doctrine like the Rapture might appeal. Especially if you’re convinced that you’re one of the ones who will be saved. And even better if someone can tell you exactly when it’s going to happen. It makes life on this odd little planet of ours much easier if you have that level of certainty.

Look at it from the evangelical and right-wing perspective: We live in a world where Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States, Hispanic people will outnumber Europeans soon, Spanish is increasingly becoming a necessary language in many fields, the middle class is disappearing, unemployment is at an all-time high, an African American is now the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, homosexuals are getting married and raising kids, the US is in so many wars I’m starting to lose count, and the economy and the environment are in shambles. It’s a far cry from those bucolic days we falsely remember as the 50s. For those who can’t handle all this confusion, ambiguity, change, and dare I say, diversity, they look for certainty where they can find it. Some hole up in Idaho with guns and ten years worth of food. Others find solace in the promises of false prophecy.

And pre-millenialism promises that they will win. Even if all us sinners are in charge here on earth, the true believers will have the ringside seats in heaven, watching us roast for eternity. And, they won’t have to die to do it.

If you followed the recent Rapture non-event, you’re aware that the belief is that true believers will be taken up into heaven right from daily life. No death, no pain, no fuss, no muss. And they are so certain of this that the only real debate becomes whether they will be taken up clothed or naked, whether their pets will go with them, and whether Jesus’ feet will touch down on earth before the Rapture or after.

But the problem is that Rapture theology, and it’s own misunderstanding of eschatology, is the very thing that can bring about the end of the world. Not through an act of God, but through our own acts. And instead of serving as a prophetic warning that we need to get our act together and start practicing peace and justice, clean up the planet, and start living as if Jesus is actually coming, Rapture theology has become the anti-Christ of prophecy.

Rapture theology believes that the only way Jesus can come again is to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem—in a spot currently occupied by the Mosque of the Dome; restore Israel to its first millennia boundaries—thereby pushing the Palestinians, many of whom are fellow Christians, out of their homeland; and usher in a great war with blood rising to the bridles of the horses. Although only a minority of Christians believe any of this, those who do have taken over segments of our political system. I’m not saying that those segments are all pre-millenialists; I am saying that there are opportunists willing to take advantage of this mistaken theology to accomplish their own agendas.

The scary thing, of course, is that if you believe the world has to end in violence for your salvation, you might do all in your power to hasten that end. And if the world is going to end soon—latest date according to Camping is sometime in October—then the current state of the environment, the economy, and the poor is irrelevant. The good guys will get their just reward, the rest of us can burn in hell. How do you fight that?

The Rapture is a theology rooted in the heresy of Manicheism, the idea that the world is evil and our goal is to escape from it. But the early church believed that the world was, as Hopkins so elegantly said, “charged with the grandeur of God.”

The Rapture is also a theology of hopelessness, a theology that says it’s too late, and it doesn’t matter anyway. But the Book of the Revelation is, above all, a message of hope in the love of God and in the goodness of all creation.

Rebecca Ann Parker believes that we are already living in a post-apocalyptic world, and I would have to agree.  She writes, “We are living in a post-slavery, post-Holocaust, post-Viet Nam, post-Hiroshima world. We are living in the aftermath of collective violence that has been severe, massive, and traumatic. The scars from slavery, genocide, and meaningless war mark our bodies. We are living in the midst of rain-forest burning, the rapid death of species, the growing pollution of our air and water, and new mutations of racism and violence.”

Our world has already gone through Hell. Now we’re ready to head into that thousand years of peace the pre-millenilists promise us.

The prophetic voices among us know that we have to do something soon, and it’s going to have to be something drastic.  And a lot of that burden is going to fall on Americans, who, incidentally, are the primary believers in the Rapture. Coincidence? I would say not. We’ve led the world on a path that is not life-giving, and we’ve got a lot of work to do to fix that. It would be so much easier to just be raptured away and not worry about what we’ve left behind.

For decades we’ve lived the good life—rampant consumerism, out-of-control spending, bigger and faster cars, a desire for cheaper and cheaper goods, houses big enough for ten families. We’ve frittered away most of the world’s resources and started unnecessary wars to prolong our inflated standard of living.

Yes, some of us have made changes, and some of us are trying to move forward in sustainable ways. But even if all Americans did this, right now, it might not be enough.

Why? Because the rest of the world is catching up. For many generations, they’ve looked on American consumerism and our standard of living with envy. Now, countries like China and India and others not only have American jobs, they have the means to want what we have. So even if we try to change our ways, they want their turn. Our challenge is no longer just to curb our own behavior; we now have to convince the rest of the world that it’s not in the best interest of the world for them to want what we already have.

So what went wrong? We lost sight of the real meaning of life, of the prophetic words of people like Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and many others. Instead of working for peace and justice, as we were called to do in the Bible and other Holy Scriptures, we’ve worked for domination and to have the newest HD TV. We’ve left our planet in ruins, and now we have to do something about it, if it’s not too late.

Or do we? We could just believe in the Rapture and hope that Jesus comes before it gets too bad here. Of course, we’d also have to believe that we are among the saved. And, if you’ve read the Book of the Revelation literally, you know that only 144,000 out of almost 7 billion of us get those ringside seats.  Now that’s cognitive dissonance.

Better that we live in a post-apocalyptic world, working to make it livable again for all of us. Better that we recognize that despite the generations that, to paraphrase Hopkins, have trod, have trod, have trod, searing all with trade and toil, there still lives the dearest freshness deep down things. And that is worth living for.

Blessed be and amen.

Benediction

Martin Luther King once said, “If I knew that the world were going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” Let us live in the hope of a better world for all of us.

 

 

 

 

I’m not even sure how to describe this book. From the moment I started reading, it had me. But I couldn’t explain why. Maybe because, as Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

In Leah’s Wake is a moving tale of a family’s struggles when a golden child gives up her dreams and takes a path that leads to destruction. As the story plays out, the reader learns that it is not just Leah’s decisions that have brought the family to the point of near-dissolution. Other family members have made decisions, some in the long ago past, leading to this moment as well.

I’m not a reader of much non-genre literature, being primarily a mystery buff and author, and normally I would not have picked this book up. But, as I said, it grabbed me and held my attention right to the end.

As I watched Leah deteriorate, I was also captivated by her younger sister, Justine. Still in middle school, Justine idolizes her big sister, yet I still had a feeling that Justine felt somewhat overshadowed by the attention her sister got, first as a soccer star, and then as the targeted “problem child.” Justine’s own not insignificant talents, and her later acting out, are continually overshadowed by her sister’s behavior, for good or bad. And, yet, Justine loves her sister, and never gives up on her, and that love is returned.

I really enjoyed that the relationship between the sisters was developed and rich, and that it played a significant role in the eventual outcome. In too many books, the relationship between siblings of different ages is ignored or one sibling becomes a secondary character. But Leah and Justine shine as the stars of this book. If I had to say what the book was about in just a few words, I think I would say it was about the redemptive power of sisterhood. Watching Leah’s plunge into darkness, and her return to some semblance of her past was fascinating. The fact that so often it was a much younger sister that drew her back and helped her stay sane was a joy. Sibling love was at the center of this book.

Although Leah and her parents also have significant relationships, the parents have wrought their own destruction, both in their marriage and in their children. Her father’s ambitions for Leah and his vicarious living through her accomplishments, coupled with his apparent neglect of his marriage, made him a prime candidate for villain. But even he has his own redemptive moments. And the mother, Zoe, is not without blame, although I found her much more sympathetic than her husband, Will. Still, it is a dysfunctional marriage lived out through the behavior of the children.

All that said, this is a memorable tale of an unhappy family. But they are not cliches. There is no sexual abuse, no serious neglect or abuse at all. The tale is not maudlin or overdone. It is just a family, obviously caring for each other and doing the best they can. And falling short, just as we all fall short in our most significant relationships. The characters are complex, multifaceted, with strengths and weaknesses: in other words, they are real. On the surface, the family has it all. But dive beneath the surface, and they are, in their own way, unhappy.

I actually tried to explain this book to my partner. I kept saying, “I loved it. I don’t know why. I can’t describe it. I just loved it.” Perhaps, in the end, I found it redemptive, not just for Leah, but for Justine and for the parents. It was not the happiest of endings, but it was the right ending. And that is, after all, all you can ask for.

Another reason In Leah’s Wake sucked me in from the start is the writing. Terri Giuliano Long writes masterfully. I’m such a grammar Nazi, and the spelling cop in me is appalled at the numerous problems in so many self-published novels. I think I spotted two tiny errors in the entire book, fewer—and much less glaring—than I typically find in books published by traditional publishers. This book felt complete, well-edited, with a well-developed story arc, believable characters, careful prose, and immaculate attention to detail.

Oh My Stars! 5 of 5!

Tour Notes:

Please vote for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll for this tour. The blogger with the most votes wins a free promotional twitterview and a special winner’s badge. I want that to be me! You can vote in the poll by visiting the official In Leah’s Wake blog tour page and scrolling all the way to the bottom.

The next word for the book give-away is PUBLICITY’S. Learn more about the give-away and enter to win 1 of 3 copies on the official In Leah’s Wake blog tour page. The other 2 copies are being given-away courtesy of the GoodReads author program, go here to enter. And don’t forget to stop by the Q&A with Terri Giuliano Long Group to discuss In Leah’s Wake (including questions from the official book club guide), the author, her writing process, and advice.

Book Trailer for In Leah’s Wake:

Harold Egbert Camping (Yes, that is his middle name)

According to 89-year-old Harold Camping, the Rapture actually happened, but in a “spiritual” way. Since I’m not feeling spiritually rapturous, that must mean I’m Left Behind. That actually makes me pretty happy. In a spiritual sort of way.

Yep, as a very left-leaning-liberal-lotus-sitting Christian, I’m pretty glad to be here with all the rest of you non-Raptured folks. The Rapture, the belief that Jesus is coming and will float all the “good” people up to heaven naked so the End Times can occur, has no appeal to me whatsoever. First, I’m not going to be naked in front of strangers for any reason. Second, my experience of some folks who believe in the Rapture is that they have an ulterior motive.

And that motive is not to convert folks to belief in Jesus.

My first Rapture-ready acquaintance was a woman who did day care a short distance down the road from me. Since she was close, and I was in need of a new provider for my 4-year-old daughter, I did a test drive. Attention parents: Never leave your kid with a stranger for hours on end the first time. Try it for just a couple of hours. AFTER you check references.

Anyway, I left my daughter with this woman while I went to the grocery store and ran a few errands. I was gone two hours. When I came back, the kids were playing horsey, with a rope, around a child’s neck. I put an end to that and went into the house (yes, the kids were outside without supervision) to pay the woman. There I found her “disciplining” a little girl by making her stand with her nose in a corner for an HOUR! A four-year-old.  So, I guess you know my kid was never going back.

This was during the time when, as a Lenten discipline, I challenged myself to wear a cross, visibly, every day for the whole of Lent. Talk about a challenge for a closeted Christian closeted lesbian out journalist.  Anyway, the woman sees my cross, and sensing a kindred spirit, proceeds to tell me about the Rapture and the End Times and how she can’t wait. Why, I naively (and somewhat snarkily) ask.

She says, “I just can’t wait to sit in Heaven and watch the sinners roast in hell.” Oh. My. God.

Some people just need people to be “beneath” them, and this women had this trait to the extreme. She thought heaven was a ringside seat to Hell. Hell-o?!?!

I suspect that at least some of Camping’s followers suffer from that same insecurity. If they don’t feel good enough about themselves, then they need a God to validate them. As long as that God doesn’t validate those they believe are not good enough, or beneath them.

I fit that category in so many ways. Right off the bat, I’m lesbian. Then I’m a liberal Christian and a Unitarian to boot. I vote Democrat most of the time. I actually support new taxes. I’m appalled at how backward the US is compared to the rest of the first world in so many ways (including the ridiculously low taxes we pay. There, I said it.) I think kids SHOULD attend public school and be exposed to all sorts of things. I even took my children on field trips so they could be exposed to things and people they didn’t get to meet in their home village. I don’t believe in the Rapture. Although I always thought the bumper sticker was pretty funny. You know the one. “In Case of Rapture, This Vehicle Will be Unmanned.” I put that bumper sticker in the category with the one that said, “If the Car’s A’Rocking, Don’t Come A’Knocking.” Don’t know why. Just did.

Does this guy look like a rocket scientist to you?

Oh, there was that one time. Back in August of 1989, some guy named Edgar Whisenant predicted the world would end on September 1st, 1989. Mind you, he’d already predicted (and written a book about it) that the world would end September 1st, 1988. But he claimed, you guessed it, a math error. And this guy was a rocket scientist. Well, a retired rocket scientist. As in used to work for NASA. A REAL rocket scientist (hmmm….now I’m wondering if he was responsible for the misplaced comma that caused all that trouble?!?).

Anyway, he predicted that there was a 96 percent chance the world would end in 1989. Then, just in case he was wrong again, he raised that to 97 percent for 1990, 98 percent for 1991, and so on until he hit 100 percent in 1993. FOUR MORE CHANCES TO BE WRONG!

How do I know all this? Well, I cut the article out of the Oregonian, if you must know. This was just too weird to let

Formerly available at Amazon; Currently unavailable. Must be a collector's item.

pass and I have kept it, in my WELL-READ Bible, all these years. Yes, I have actually read the Bible. Several times. Took notes, underlined, my RSV Bible needs duct tape to hang together.

So, there I was, on Friday, September 1st, having forgotten all about it. Driving home from the dentist. I’m in a bit of a rush, because I set off a bug bomb that morning because of a major flea infestation (we also had plagues of tree frogs and slugs in our house. Don’t ask. Just more proof that I’m among the damned.) The kids were at school, but I had to be home in time to keep them from going into the house. Oh, and I was pregnant. Very pregnant. That probably played into what followed.

So, I’m on the freeway. And the freeway stops. Not grinds to a stop. STOPS. I’m thinking there’s a wreck so I turned on the radio. Nothing. I checked the overpass sign. Nada. Not a wreck. Then it hits me! It’s the Rapture. All the cars are suddenly unmanned except mine. I’ve been Left Behind. In spite of the cross, in spite of all that Bible reading. (Did I mention I was VERY pregnant at the time?)

When I started to think rationally, I noticed that other drivers were also left behind. In fact, all of them were left behind. Relief. Of course, now I had to figure out how to get off the stopped freeway, get to a phone, and call someone to go keep my kids from being poisoned by the bug bomb.  Remember, it’s 1989. No cell phones. To make a long story short, I pissed some people off by forcing my way across two lanes of traffic, then backing up on the shoulder to get to the off ramp. They probably wanted to watch ME burn in hell. But, the kids were rescued. I’m still here.

And I am still here. And so are you. Until October 21, 2001. Because Harold Camping made a mistake. And not his first. Back in the early 21st century it was a math error that undid him. Oddly enough, he is also an engineer. Went to Berkeley. What is it with rocket scientists and the end of the world, anyway?

Today, I am a Thief!

That thing to your left, assuming you are facing the monitor and not doing something odd or impossible, is a synringa vulgaris. And it is mocking me.

I am married to a woman who thinks driving around exploring the countryside by tooling down rutted mud-filled roads in my car is fun. On one of her excursions, she found this lilac. The important thing about this lilac is the color. This picture, which is from wikimedia commons, does not do it justice.

The lilac she has been jonesing after for years is a deep dark cousin of this one. She’s tried to find it in nurseries, but it’s always disappointed her by being not-quite this color. They’ve all turned out to be, horrors, lavender.

So, she found this lilac, or one like it only darker, in one of her many excursions, and today, in the interest of distending my bladder just a bit further before taking me home, she had to go by and “visit” it.

The property it sits on is a) vacant and b) for sale. For $800,000. So I suggested she take cuttings. Aiding and abetting a crime is nowhere near as bad as committing it. So she pulled  MY car up so that MY window was right next to the damn thing and proceeded to coerce me into stealing branches off the lilac of her dreams. (Warning to all the lesbians out there: Never marry a butch wannabee.)

The evidence is now in a jar on top of the dishwasher waiting for us to go get rooting hormone. Mocking me, I say.

On the flip side, while searching for lilacs on wikimedia, I came across an entry for lilac-crowned Amazon. Thinking I’d find a Dianic goddess wearing nothing but a drooping crown of synringa vulgaris and a breastplate, I had to click. Instead, I found this.

That, my friends, is an Amazona finschi. Which has nothing to do with lilacs or Sapphic beauties. It’s just a parrot with a red forehead. And that’s what I learned today.

If you want to know more about lesbians and butch wannabees, you could read my book. Blind Leading the Blind, only $3.99 at Amazon and Barnes&Noble. Lesbians, mysteries, a blind woman, motorcycles, kids, horses, sex, belly dancers, what more could you want? (I didn’t say that. The parrot did.)

Buy the book! Squawk! Buy the book already! Written by a real-live thief! Squawk!

I live in Oregon. For those of you who know Oregon, that probably says it all. Oregon is beautiful, lush, green.

And there is a reason for that.

It is not good karma. Like most states, Oregon is abusing its state workers to balance its budget, “weed” is the number one unregulated cash crop (jeez, can’t we just tax the shit out of the shit so the state workers can get paid?), and the weeds here are big and strong and totally indifferent to my wishes. Because of freaking rain!

Three days ago, I left my sick house (bronchitis being the primary object being passed around inside) to venture out into the sun. Yes. Oregon does get sun. In August.

Oh, the gods tempt us with moments of beauty, but they are fickle bastards, and we have to wait until they leave the state for their annual retreat on Olympus or wherever they go to to escape the heat before we can enjoy a moment of peace and sun.

No. Here in western Oregon, rain can be mind-numbing depression fodder. So, with great joy, I stepped out into the sun a few days ago. And was greeted by grass as high as my head.  Well, maybe it wasn’t QUITE that tall, but it was pretty damn close.

But the sun was shining, the warmth inspiring, and I said “PREPARE TO MEET THY DOOM” to my lawn. I planned a date with a weed whacker. Just as soon as I got back from my mammogram, an eye appointment, and some much-needed grocery shopping, not to mention the humiliation of having to send my car payment by Moneygram because my number problems finally caught up with me.

I looked at my car payment online, in early May, because I can never remember a) how much it is and b) what day it is due. It said 4/28. Great, I thought, I still have several weeks. You see the flaw, I suppose. Some people can actually see the problem here. Not me. Even when the guy from Wells Fargo called me and told me my payment was way past due. I blithely said, “No, it’s not due until 4/28.” He said, “Right. And that’s the problem.” I sweetly said, “But that’s still two weeks away.” Yep, it was. In the wrong direction.

Now, remember, from the post you probably haven’t read yet, that I had bronchitis a few weeks ago. I took heavy duty drugs because I have a tendency to break ribs if I cough too much, and I lost a week or so. I also lost control of all cognitive functioning and especially lost control of the part of my brain that is numerically challenged. He was right. I’d missed a whole month in terms of that dang car payment. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know. No, I don’t have early-onset Alzheimers. I’m just easily distracted by other things. Flash some bling or an aluminum can and I’m gone…

Anyway, the humiliation. Being poor in America must be a royal bitch. We’re solidly middle class, some might even argue that we’re borderline upper middle class by US standards, filthy rich by global standards. Sort of fits with being upper middle aged, I guess. I had never before had to make a payment by Moneygram. In fact, I had to go several places before someone at a bank pointed out that the Western Union form I’d completely filled out had NOTHING to do with Moneygram. But it gave me some new awareness.

First, the payment was late. So there were late fees and penalties and stuff. Because it was late, they wouldn’t let me pay on the website as I normally do. So, it cost me an additional $9.99 to send a freaking Moneygram, and I had to do it in Albertsons which was ridiculously noisy for a grocery store, and I had to do it over a phone with a guy in India that I couldn’t I understand and who refused to speak loud enough for me to hear him. So I kept saying, “What?” and practically yelling to make myself heard. All the while wondering what it must be like to have this be a regular occurrence. My calendrical error cost me over $50 more than the payment by the time I was done.

Obviously, there are so many things wrong with the last paragraph. Albertsons, alone, I could write a book on. Outsourcing of American jobs. My aging ears. Extortion. Banks. Extortion by Banks. Fees on the backs of the poor. The way we treat the poor.

I could wax poetic on being poor in America (read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, if you haven’t. Should be required reading for all middle class folks) (also read the Bible, if you think this country is based on Biblical principles. It ain’t. Especially read the parts on how to treat the poor, usury, gleaning, Sabbath practice, and Jubilee years) (And don’t give me that “It’s OT” crap because JESUS, the main man according to Christians, has a lot to say about how we treat the poor as well. And NOTHING to say about homosexuals. Just saying.) (Then, if you want a real education, you might want to notice that the Qur’an teaches, and Muslims practice, giving money to care for the poor. Not just a box of $.39 Mac and Cheese on food bank Sundays).

This Great Depression Recession is being felt by a lot of us, even those of us who thought we were invincible due to education, training, jobs, unions, seniority, and all that. Here at the farmette, we’re feeling it from the cuts state workers have had to take in wages and benefits, and in the decreasing amount publishers are willing to pay for indexing. And we’re the lucky ones. We still have jobs. We still have options.  We still have health insurance to pay for the mammogram, eye glasses, and that stupid codeine that allows my ribs to stay in one piece.

Okay, so I’m ranting. But the way we treat people, especially vulnerable people, in this country is racking up some serious bad karma for this country.

I’m pretty sure it’s not the cause of the bad weather karma, though. Oregon just has a lot of rain. We don’t have big floods, tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, raging wildfires. Well, we do, but they tend to be finite and well-contained and infrequent.

So, by the time my boobs had been mashed flat in a machine that repeatedly poked at my most recently broken rib until I was in tears, and my new eyeglasses were making me see the world just slightly “off,” and I’d been humiliated by some guy in India who probably has YOUR job if you’re now unemployed, I was in no mood to deal with the weeds in the front yard.

Besides, it was raining and has been ever since. The weeds now ARE as tall as I am. That would be 5’3-3/4″ tall. Unfortunately, we have several unemployed young people in our family. Guess it’s time to put some of them to work for a day or two whacking away at all the problems in the yard. Wish I could whack away at theirs.

I live the dream. I’m self-employed, work in an office out of my home, have a lot of control over the work I do, make decent money, and, sometimes, it sucks. Yes. It sucks.

Some of you may have noticed a lack of blog posts from me. Blogging is a priority because, in addition to my “day” job, I’m also an author and publisher. But it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote. There is a reason.

Bronchitis.

No, this is not a post to elicit sympathy for my tortured lungs. It’s about what happens to those of us who live the dream when our body parts are overtaken by demons that force us to stay in bed and take drugs that not only prevent coughing fits, but also prevent moments of consciousness.

The bronchitis was about three weeks ago, and I’m just now catching up again. When I used to work in one of many cube farms, I had this amazing thing called sick leave. Accompanied by payment for being sick. Now, THAT is the true dream.

But, as a person who works freelance, I no longer have that lovely thing. So if I get sick for a week, I get two weeks or more behind. If I have a daily quota to earn, and I don’t earn it for a week, then I have several weeks of trying to make a quota and a half or more each week until I catch up. And that’s what I’ve been doing.

Now three weeks later, I’m still coughing a bit, but my ribs are no longer feeling the strain. The mind altering chemical solution is now back on the shelf where it belongs.  The cats are no longer afraid to come near me for fear I might explode in paroxysms of noise and fury.

I’m almost caught up on the day job which means the bills are starting to get paid again. I’m still behind on the publishing work, but it’s not overwhelming to think about. But I still have miles to go before the effects of a relatively minor illness are behind me.

Anyway, here I am. I’ll be more faithful until the next disaster hits.

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