Unashamed: Part Deux

UnashamedCompared to the time I wet my pants in second grade, it was nothing. (Yeah, we’ll talk about that another time. Maybe.)

It was the first day of first grade, in my new parochial school, Saint John the Baptist. My class had the lay teacher, Ms. Ditton. (There was a mix by then of both lay teachers and sisters.) She was one of the nicest teachers on the planet. (I’ve been blessed in that regard. I can’t remember really having a bad teacher. Less effective? Yes. Bad? Nope.)

I guess I was probably as terrified as a dorky nerd-ette could be. Lots of children (most of whom I didn’t know), new building that had multiple floors, having to sit at a desk that was probably a little too big. All curiosity and wonderment, confusion and not a little bit of awe.

Time for lunch. In those days, our school didn’t have a cafeteria. We went down to the basement, which doubled as a church “hall” where church-related clubs like Rosary Sodality, Legion of Mary, and the Knights of Columbus met for their meetings. There was a kitchen where actual lunch “ladies” prepared home cooked food. (No white uniforms, no hairnets, just dresses and aprons. For real. They were probably grandmothers from the parish.) We walked up to the open “window” and picked up a tray filled with honestly delicious food. Sloppy Joe sandwich (we never had that at home), and corn and something else obviously less memorable. Dessert was, I kid Little Debbie Star Crunchyou not, a Little Debbie Star Crunch Snack Cake (which remains a favorite of mine to this day)! We were instructed to take our trays back upstairs to our classroom to eat. (So much for food fights.)

I made it to the first floor landing when it happened. I don’t know how. I must’ve tripped, or had a hard time balancing the tray, or something. (I distinctly do NOT remember being tripped or any other boy-oriented nonsense.) But the next thing I knew, the tray was all over the floor and I was crying and some kids were laughing and Miss Ditton was drying my eyes and shushing them and giving me a hug and taking me back down for another tray. I think I was almost as sad about having someone else clean up my mess as I was for making it in the first place.

I think that was the first time I felt ashamed. It wasn’t the last. (I still haven’t talked about wetting my pants, but believe me when I tell you, it won’t end there. Nope.)

You see, I didn’t understand then, about the difference between shame and guilt. Even at the tender young age of six, I had developed an idea that something I did had a direct relationship to who I was. That doing something bad (yes, I know, it was really an accident) meant that I was bad.

How ridiculous.

As if our value as human beings can ever be determined by or the equivalent of our actions. Doing bad things can never diminish our worth, our inherent human value. Likewise, all the good things we are capable of doing, all the Mother-Teresa-Wanna-Be actions we’re adding up on the goody-goody scorecard can’t increase the value we, as human beings created by God, have as our personal endowment.

I had nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do you. (Even wetting your pants in the second grade.)

Performance Anxiety

Always Do What You Are Afraid To Do EmersonI’m so excited about doing this. I can’t do this. I have to do this. I don’t want to do this. I guess I’ll do this. Excuse me while I throw up in my purse.

Stage fright is, ultimately, a kind of narcissism. (And if you’re thinking of navigating away from this post because you’re not a stage performer, you’d be wrong, because stage fright can affect everyone, even if the only stage you’re on is in a metaphorical one in your mind.) It says that my emotional state is more important than your satisfaction. It says that my nervousness as a performer deserves a bigger slice of pie than your getting what you came for as a viewer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer, dancer, baker, or mother of preschoolers.

As a pianist in a small-town church, I worked with any number of singers and musicians, from trained professionals to children whose parents alone believed they had some special skill. (Most parents think this, some more than others. Usually, there’s an inverse proportion involved.) Maybe I’m overestimating, but I find that the church environment, with its family-like sense of acceptance is a good one for everyone, really, but especially beginners. Personally, I find this amazing. After all, most people at least listen to the radio, where the marvels of studio technology can render all but the most incompetent into some degree of listen-ability. Television shows like “American Idol,” where even the truly talented can be discarded every week like so much post-party confetti, have turned many people whose own singing in the shower makes Rebecca Black look like virtuoso into armchair critics harsher than those of the New York Times. So hearing genuine applause for the wavering tones of a grandmother of seventeen who just finished three rather off-key verses of “How Great Thou Art” is really lovely, if a little surprising. I’m glad for that, because it’s that very level of acceptance that allowed me to support myself for several years as a professional musician; something I could never do here in Milwaukee.

But even I have limits. I once worked with a man, a grown-up man with children, who was a very nice singer. Not ready for Broadway, but quite nice. He loved to sing, and people really enjoyed hearing him. He came from a musical family where almost everyone sang nicely, so he got a lot of support. He’d come up to me after a service and tell me about how excited he was about this particular song, and how he’d like to sing it at an upcoming service. Sometimes he would mention how he felt like God wanted him to sing this number, and how wonderful it was to feel this way. He would practice on his own, and then we would usually have a practice session where he would come in with the other musicians and the pastor for our weekly run-through. He was fine. But almost inevitably, on Sunday, he would climb up the three steps to the podium, stare out at the fifty to one hundred people in the seats, gulp (almost audibly), step away from the podium, back down the steps, and rapidly walk out, usually all the way to his car, where he would either sit for the rest of the service, or just start and drive away.

The first time this happened, I was amazed. What on earth?! Scanning the crowd from my piano bench at the front of the church, I could see a number of people who shared my emotion, but maybe more who seemed to take it all in stride. Later, I found out why. Steven (not his real name) was so paralyzed with stage fright that if he actually made it through a song, it was practically miraculous. If he didn’t actually leave the service, he would come up (again) afterwards and stammeringly apologize to me and the other members of the worship team. Afterwards, he would say something about how it was so amazing to him that none of us ever got nervous, and how that clearly proved that God didn’t really want him to perform after all.

Which is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I told him that. He didn’t believe me.

I explained how even though I played every single week before the same accepting crowd, I still got nervous (though it did get better). He still didn’t believe me. (He’ll never believe me.) I also sang for bishops. Often in Spanish. I got really nervous. I also threw up once as a novice baker when trying to get a large batch of glazed doughnuts ready for a demanding customer. I was weirdly nervous. In no way does that mean that I got to leave. And neither do you.

First, if you give a rat’s ass about what you’re doing, you probably also want other people to care. And if you want them to care, you’re going to be nervous. Second, God has nothing to do with it. (Well, God does have something to do with it, but I’m not getting into that today.) I understand that even the fantastically talented Adele is routinely given to throwing up before her concerts because she’s just that nervous. But she doesn’t just walk off! And new parents (especially fathers) are often nearly paralyzed with fear that someone they’re going to hold their new baby wrong. But they don’t then leave the hospital, hoping some other kindly but obviously more accomplished person will come along to rescue their newborn. Of course not. They just muddle along bravely. And you know, they’re fine (well, at least until the therapy bills come rolling in, but that won’t be for years).

Ultimately, life is about showing up and performing. There is no dress rehearsal, and all the performance anxiety your mind can muster will not allow you to leave the stage early.

What’s Yours?

Calvin and Hobbs ResolutionsEverybody makes ‘em. Nobody keeps ‘em. Yeah. I’m talking about New Year’s resolutions.

You have to admit, they show good intention. People always mention that they want to lose weight, start exercising, manage their budget better, invest wisely, save more money, become a better parent, the lists go on. And on.

Why, honestly, do we bother? I have never yet met a person who made a New Year’s resolution that they managed to keep. Ever. Past February. (If you have, please comment, because I want to arrange a meeting with you and other world leaders.) Given that, I am starting an entirely new style of resolution, which is based on the principal of reverse psychology. It’s a well-known fact that, since the Garden of Eden, people can’t seem to avoid doing either the very thing someone tells them not to do, or just the opposite of what they are supposed to do.

So, my New Year’s Resolutions are as follows:

  • Utterly trash my home and become an unrepentant hoarder;
  • Become a recluse who shuns human contact, especially with my aging parents and any close friends;
  • Gain as much weight as is humanly possible by never cooking or eating anything healthy, let alone by attempting anything that even resembles exercise;
  • Never keep track of appointments or dates and never, ever return phone calls the same day;
  • Avoid anything that smacks of spirituality or any kind of organized religion;
  • Shamelessly prowl Facebook and Twitter All Day Long;
  • Relentlessly pursue anything that might depress me, most notably by staying in bed all day;
  • Spend my money on whimsical items that have no enduring value whatsoever; and
  • Write as little as possible.

I’ll NEVER tell you how that’s going.

More than meets the eye…

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the...

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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ~ Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene V.

More things is right! Of this I have no doubt, but I can’t prove it. Well, I can’t prove it to anyone else. I don’t need any proof on my end. I’ve seen enough strange things to have no more doubts about the presence of things beyond our immediate perception.

This puts me right in there with a lot of nuts, I know. And that’s too bad. Sometimes people think that if you’re smart, you don’t have much to do with religion, the supernatural, or other phenomena that are essentially unexplainable. But it seems to me that being an intelligent person and having beliefs that our world encompasses more than we can come to physical grips with don’t have to necessarily be mutually exclusive.

(Such wasn’t always the case, of course. In the past, often times the village priest or minister was the smartest person in town. That, however, is very seldom the situation anymore, even in this very small town where I live now. Oh, the ministers are among the most educated, but they rank along with the doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals. Unfortunately, they also sometimes rank among the dumbest people in town, regardless of their educational level. Let’s not go there.)

Now I don’t believe in just anything. You can keep your alien abduction theories and almost anything printed in the tabloids. There may be a fine line between belief in the unexplainable and credulous gullibility, but there is a line.

Maybe it’s because I am a sort of traditional Catholic that I believe deeply in angels and other spirits, the intercession of the Saints, Heaven, Hell, and a host of other things that veer far from the ordinary. Well, not far from my ordinary, but not things that one generally talks about at cocktail parties. (Not that there’s a lot of that action around here. If you’re drinking at a party around here, you’re not simultaneously engaging in philosophical discussions.)

My ordinary is peopled with all sorts of things—more than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

All Night Long…

Apparently, disaster preparedness is prophylactic in nature; designed, variously, to prevent pain, prevent sleep, or prevent pregnancy.

Hmmm...Or that’s what this display at a gas station I went to yesterday might have you believe.

Turning down this aisle from a previous one that included the usual blend of snack foods whose ingredients fall into one of two general categories (sugar or salt), I couldn’t help but laugh. I pulled out my camera so I wouldn’t forget what has to be the oddest combination of items ever displayed in close proximity.

Noticing the strange juxtaposition, I immediately began to formulate theories as to how these various items came to be grouped as they were.

Could it be construed as, “If only you’d used a condom, you wouldn’t find yourself up all night vainly trying to sooth your crying baby’s teething pain?”

Or was is more hopeful than that? “Hey! Up all night? Soothe that crying baby and get some action At The Same Time!”

The most intriguing possibility was that using topical “numbing agents” was a sort of poor man’s erectile enhancement, and when coupled with condoms and caffeine, made for an impressively active all-nighter!

I guess if you’re going to be up all night, you have to make the most of it.


Stuff Catholics Like: Best. Bible. Verse. Ever!

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse synago...

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“All fat is the LORD’s.” Leviticus 3:16b NASB

Yes! Endzone happy dance. I’m in, I’m in, I’m in!

Stuff Catholics Like: Sunday Mass


Cover of

Cover of Stuff Christians Like

Lately, I’ve been amused by a blog called Stuff Christians Like, (now a book, pictured at right) which is written by a guy, one Jonathan Acuff, who is just completely unashamed in his criticism of all things Christian, while still remaining a good Christian. I have to respect this guy. It’s easy to poke fun at things you don’t like. But it’s even easier, not to mention more fun, to poke fun at things you really love! So, believing imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, I present to you the first installment of Stuff Catholics Like! (Yes, yes, I know. If you look around, there’s actually a blog that’s already entitled that. But it’s not mine, and I’m not pretending it is. Maybe it will be someday. Maybe not. Maybe I can guest write for them…Who knows.


There are many reasons why it’s totally great to be a Catholic, but I’m not getting into apologetics here. This is not the venue for complex theology and discussions thereof. And lest you think I don’t know what I’m talking about when I make some these comparisons, I’ve done the Protestant thingy, so I know. I was a church musician for the Missionary Church for eight years, and have played and sung with various other denominations. (I’ve done a lot of things, religious and otherwise…so, believe me when I say, “I know.”)

Onward and upward!

Probably one of the greatest things that Catholics like is Sunday Mass. You go to Mass on Sunday for basically one hour, and you don’t have to do anything else. It’s a one shot deal. Period. There’s no Morning service, with an Evening service thrown in. (I went to a church once where you could tell the “holiness quotient” by whether the people at the Sunday evening service had already been there for the Sunday morning service. (All these places will remain nameless, for their own protection.)

Catholic Cathedral in Tbilisi during the visit...

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So you go once! Yay! In fact, even though you’re allowed to go to Communion more than once on Sunday, you have to go within the context of a Sunday Mass. Generally speaking, the priest who does more than one Sunday Mass repeats his sermon at each one, so it’s not like going more than once in a day is getting you additional “content.”  (I am a pianist for a Spanish Mass and often attend more than once on any given Sunday. One Mass in English and then the one I play for in Spanish. There are some cultural adaptations, but it’s basically the same homily.) So there’s none of this Sunday morning service, then the Sunday night service, and then if you’re good, the Wednesday night service! That’s a whole other kettle of fish, and not fish you’re going to have to eat on Friday, either. (That’s another blog entry there…it sure is.) Of course, you can go to Mass every day if you’re good and holy, and that’s a very good and admirable thing to do, but it’s not a requirement by any means. So there’s very little of this, “Well, he’s/she’s here every time the doors open,” mentality. Even if you were, hardly anyone else would notice, because they’re probably only there on Sundays!

Or maybe they showed up Saturday night. Let’s not forget Saturday night. ‘Cause that rocks! You can get in an early Saturday night Mass (which totally covers you for Sunday) let’s say around 5:00 p.m., and still hit all the clubs without the bother of having to go to church hung over on Sunday morning! Oh, yeah!

Sunday Mass–what’s not to love?!