Showing posts with label Moore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moore. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Do you believe in hell?

"I read in the Times the other day that no one believes in hell anymore - the premise being that its existence is contingent on consensus. Now won't the devil be surprised."
Linda McCullough Moore, An Episode Of Grace, p.34

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is weeping a spiritual practice?

Linda McCullough Moore tells a poignant story in her book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon, entitled, "Freeing Spirits". This is a story about attending a rememberance ceremony at the college in the narrator's town where they are freeing the souls, after sixty years, of the people we killed at Hiroshima by making floating laterns which they launch out on the water.

Moore writes, "I'm thinking that if it's that simple, why didn't they do it sixty years ago?"

I'm thinking, why did America do this to begin with?

And I am reminded once again of our Unitarian Universalist second principle of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations and weep.

Weeping. My spiritual practice for today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'd rather be used than be alone.

In her ninth story in her book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon, Linda McCullough Moore tells the story of a woman dating a man she met on line whose wife has died and who takes her into his dead wife's bedroom to show her his dead wife's clothing.

The title of this story is "Something about darkness; something about light." The second paragraph reads as follows, "Any chance of some light?" I say. A half-burnt votive candle, a boy's flashlight, a bent match. Perhaps a drawn-out flash of lightening in the summer sky. I am not particular."

It is a poignant story about grief and sadness, loss and sorrow witnessed by a woman considering this man as a possible next partner.

The story ends this way:

"He slides the dresses on the hangers down a pole, takes one out, replaces it, and then another. He picks a third and holds it up critically, then turns and holds it out to me.
     'This one,' he says. 'Try this one first.'"

The end.

And you are left wondering can she be the replacement? Will she be the replacement? Should she be the replacement?

Life is like that, right, where we try to avoid the acceptance of loss by replacing the person or thing we were attached to. Don't worry about putting your 13 year old aged dog to sleep. We can go to the pound and get a new one next week. Or can we?

This might work if you will wear her old clothes. And for approval and acceptance we are willing to turn ourselves into something or someone we're not to get the other person to like us. As a young teen age client told me about her promiscuity, "I'd rather be used, than be alone."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

If your mother beats you stay away from her or they will put her in jail.

The eighth story in Linda McCullough Moore's book of short stories, "This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon" is entitled "Mother's Helper." The narrator, an eight year old little girl tells the story of visiting her mother's friend who has two teen age daughters one of whom tells the narrator that the narrator's mother is going to jail because she hits and beats her children. She is further told that she can keep her mother out of jail by not allowing her mother to hit her which she does by running from her when her mother is angry and likely to hit her. The narrator says:

"I told my brothers and sister that our mother could be put in prison for beating us and so to be on guard and always run away. I don't know if they did or not. You can't remember anybody else's childhood, sometimes not that much of your own." p.100 - 101

I loved this story because at age 68 I still remember well avoiding my father out of fear that he would lose his temper and hit me. I got very good at perceiving his moods and either being hypervigilant if he was in a bad mood or allowing myself to be a bit more relaxed when he was in a better mood.

My brother, one year younger, didn't seem to have the same perceptive skills I had developed and would walk into my father's furry and beat on a regular basis while I was able to side step it. I have felt guilty for this my whole life and angry at my brother that he never seemed to develop the same level of empathic skills to read other people's emotions and manage them for them so he could keep himself from getting hurt.

I remember he and I one time left the house and got the crossing guard on the corner to come to our house because we were afraid that my father was getting out of control and would beat my mother. I certainly became my mother's little helper, and when older her surrogate husband, and the protector of my younger siblings.

There are a lot of children who grow up being what we call "parentified children" because they play the role of a third parent when the parents are out of control or negligent.

In Unitarian Universalism and other religions domestic violence is often ignored or rationalized. God, after all, wanted His own son sacrified and crucified to appease God's anger at human sinfulness. So, I, and millions of others, have grown up with a perverse belief in submitting to and accepting abuse as a necessary atonement for our sins and a sacrificial martyrdom on the behalf of others.

Of course this myth is perverse, dysfunctional, and leads to much human suffering. As a 68 year old man, I no longer live in fear of my father's abuse, but I continue to be leary of sadistic, angry types who seem to get their jollies from taking their frustrations and insecurities out on other people. Those who would lead nations to war, torture "terrorists", and administer capital punishment under the guise of justice still scare me the most. I refuse to help them, and wonder what would happen if more of us also refused? What if our leaders called for war and no one showed up?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The paradox of a UU way of life

I have shared with you before how much I love Linda McCullough Moore's stories in her book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon, and I love the seventh story, "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" where she tells the story of entertaining a Cambodian immigrant couple for supper.

Moore describes the narrator's anxiety about hosting them and the narrator's awkwardness and self consciousness in trying to relate with a couple from a different culture as an American. Moore subtly catches the guilt of the American about our consumptive greed, sense of entitlement, sense of being exceptional in the face of foreign witnesses that make us unconsciously uncomfortable. There is a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and the desire for justice, equity, and compassion in our human relations, but also a shameful awareness that we continually fail to implement these values in our behavior and policies which we proudly pontificate. Here's one scene in the story that exemplifies this complex idea:

     "I felt guilty when I ran into Boren. I was buying soy milk that has sixty calories and nine grams of protein in a glass. No animals were killed in its procurement. A purchase devoid of any sin, or any that I knew of. But nonetheless, I felt greedily consumptive, with four liters in my basket. Foreigners always make me feel so American, a card carrying member of the U.S.
     And club membership is a tricky thing for me. I hardly ever fit.
     'You thrive on ostracism,' my sister told me on once. I beamed.
     'It's not a compliment,' she said.
     But I do try to not be part of any group I'm in. It's not that hard. People are usually pretty happy to exclude me."

One of the characteristics of a Unitarian Universalist way of life, taken seriously, is a desire to become a better person and to improve the world. This self consciousness is a necessary foundation for this growth, and yet how can we be in the now, be present, when we continually anxiously want to become our better selves? This is the paradox we UUs live. Moore hits it spot on in this story "My County 'Tis Of Thee."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Despair is arrogant and pompous and God might well think it is rude.

I hope you are enjoying This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon. The sixth story, "The Next Life" is about a waitress who takes in an abandoned 5 year old girl whose aging grandmother can no longer take care of her and leaves her in an emergency room.

Jesus told His disciples that the way to the kingdom is "to love as I have loved." Somebody asked Mother Teresa about this saying one time, "Who, Mother, should I love?" And Mother Teresa is said to have said, "Whomever life puts in your path."

Moore writes:

"...Nobody, not one of us, knows what's going to happen, and it is bright purple, patent arrogance to give up hope because you think you're so damn smart you know your life is sure to be a sinkhole from now on. Despair is arrogant and pompous and God might well think it's rude." p.82-83

If you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Are you trying everything?

One of the reasons I love Linda McCullough Moore's short stories so much is the slightly askance view she takes on life which makes me laugh with the absurdity of it all. In her fifth story in her book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon, entitled Ball Doll she tells a story about a woman, Margaret, who goes home to visit her elderly mother who has had a stroke and her Aunt Mary.

Moore opens her story with these lines,

"I feel like I'm dying, but I'm not exactly breaking new ground here. Someone in my family is always dying. My father, who did die a dozen years ago, used to say, 'People are dying who never died before.' Tonight, it's Aunt Mary, well technically, my sister Eileen's husband Tom's Aunt Mary, but close enough for our purposes."

I had to laugh at her opening paragraph. At age 68 I've seen many people die, my parents, two of my children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, acquaintances, it seems never ending. Somebody is always dying. And it puzzles me that dying, being a normal regular part, of life is treated as if it was tragically abnormal. In our contemporary society in the United States, it seems that people aren't supposed to die and when they do something has gone terribly wrong.

"Aunt Mary's legs are swollen up like two balloons," Eileen's voice is schoolmarm taut. "She couldn't catch her breath, and when we took her to the E.R., they gave her morphine right away, and six different kinds of medicine, and I said to the doctor, 'Does this mean you're trying everything?' and he said, 'Yes.'"
The Aunt Mary in question is 97.
She looks older.

There is a lot more to this story that I am not going to go into now and I recommend it to you.

Questions for consideration, journaling, and possible discussion.

  1.  What has been your experience with death over the course of  your life and more recently?
  2.  To what extent do you think that our society has inappropriate attitudes about death?
  3.  What are your thoughts about Eileen's attitude about Aunt Mary getting "everything" at the      end of her life at age 97?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is anyone all right?

In Linda McCullough Moore's fourth story, "Is Anyone All Right?" in her book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon, she describes a first date between two people who apparently have met on They have agreed to go to a movie. It is awkward and the guy keep asking the gal, "Are you all right?" thus the title of the story. Here's how Moore ends the story:

"Are you all right?" Bob says.
He's a nice man. He really is.
"Are you all right? he says.
"Of course not," I say.
I'm giving him the only hopeful answer that I know.
I mean, imagine: this my life, I all right.

And are any of us all right? As the title asks, "Is anyone all right?" And we are expected to be polite and say something like, "Yes, thank you. I'm fine." when we both know that is not exactly the truth.

My 91 year old mother was a day or two away from her death and she had been sleeping a lot. My 31 year old niece was sitting by her bedside when mom awoke and as I was walking by mom's bedroom door Magen was excited and said, "David, come in. Grandma's awake." I poked my head in the door and said, "Hi, mom, How are you feeling?" And very uncharacteristically my sweet, kind, submissive, usually tender mother snarled at me, "How do you think I'm feeling!"

Yeah, I thought to myself stupid question. "Like shit!" would have been the right answer. Two days later she died of only what I can describe as "old age" that is: just lost the will to live any longer. She apparently, was not all right.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Incidents and dreams may be God whispering to us

"Incidents and Dreams" is the third story in Linda McCullough Moore's book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon." The story is about Margaret McKensie who is getting her performance appraisal done by Mr. Peterson who doesn't think her creative production is what it should be and suggests that maybe she is better fitted for sales at which point she resigns.

In the meantime Margaret McKensie has agreed to help care for the ailing Episcopalian Bishop who is dying of bone cancer and who gets her into bed with him for unclear reasons other than perhaps wanting an innocent snuggle and is discovered by his teen age daughter.

As unlikely as both these scenarios previously seemed Margaret McKensie marvels at how simple incidents can so quickly and irrevocably change the course of one's life.

Moore writes:

"These things happen to us - Peterson, my surprise retirement, my afternoon spent with a dying bishop - they are incidents. It is not reasonable to expect that they will change my life, but neither is it wise, I think, to rule out the possibility entirely. At any moment, when I least expect to, I might stop treating my life like a Wednesday matinee I got free tickets for. I might even strike up an old acquaintanceship with tenderness, the kind the bishop had in mind, tenderness that's been away so long I had forgotten that it might just be off on some vacation, one that got stretched out way too long, one that was pure and perfect foolishness from the beginning." pp. 43-44

If we are open to the whispers of the call, we can sense that the Holy Spirit, God, Jesus, the Spirit of Life, the Universe is leading us along to our destiny, our fate. We can easily ignore it and think that we know best, what is in our own best interest, but my favorite joke is "If you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

This road will take you closer to the moon

I just love Linda McCullough Moore's writing and her book of short stories, "This Road Will Take You Closer To The Moon" is a gem. The title story describes a Thanksgiving back at home with her mother 20 years after her father has died with her three siblings and nieces and nephews. She describes the typical regression to sibling dynamics of their youth and the interaction with her nieces and nephews one of which, Molly, asks the narrator, Aunt Margaret, to turn a few times returning from the Thanksgiving buffet the whole family has attended which Aunt Margaret obligingly does as little Molly explains the reason for the request as "this road will take us closer to the moon."

The story is one of nostalgia and it is told with dark humor which I love. If there is a moral to the story it is that life, with its better and worse moments, is precious. You either laugh or cry. And I, the reader, does as I benefit from the story of Aunt Margaret's family visit at Thanksgiving.

Friday, September 5, 2014

What is the story of your life?

Linda McCullough Moore begins her story, Four Kinds Of People, in her book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon with these sentences: 
"I'm sitting in the late afternoon of my existence at Logan Airport reading the fine print on the backside of my boarding pass when my life walks in. Well, one of my lives, my former life. Carlton."

"The wife - I'll call her Mary Ann - asks him how long the layover in Charlotte is. He asks her how the hell would he know. Still the charmer."

"Are those your boys?" I say to Mary Ann.
No, we rented them for the trip. I make the only interesting reply.

"Are you married?" she asks me.
"Not at the moment, but I have high hopes for the thousand priests at Myrtle Beach."
"Oh," she says as though she has some clue what that might mean. I start to explain, but then think better of it. There are about four people in the world who are interested in the difference between Catholic and Episcopalian priests and their matrimonial proclivities.
"And you're not a nun, you say."
"Nope, still not a nun." I can see why she has a little trouble with the weather channel.
One might wonder how one should respond when stories of your past life encounter you unexpectedly and are filtered through the dark veil of ignorance begging for clarification which only the deeply initiated could possibly understand. In such instances the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hard to remember and, if remembered, hard to apply when people are clueless and naive. What does it take in moments like this to live the first principle? Patience, patience, and more patience.

Patience leads to forgiveness which leads to compassion which just might lead to gratitude. The narrator of the story is patient and has a good sense of humor, the kind that can laugh at the incongruity and absurdity of life. It is important to laugh with people and not at people, and experience the mysterious alchemy which transforms pain into peace, darkness into light, banal nonsense into grace.

The older we get the more former lives we have, the more stories that can haunt us, the more experiences we can cherish and enjoy in the sharing with others. We remember the children who were only with us a short time on the trip, the partner(s) we tried to love and hoped would love us, the goals we pursued some with triumph, some with defeat, some just abandoned for various reasons that we can't name or if we can, we don't tell others or want to talk about. Because we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person our faith inspires us to be grateful for tomorrow if it comes, because God only knows how the story will continue to be created and unfold, and we are filled with enthusiastic hope for the actualization of the divine potential that we and all our brothers and sisters possess.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Official life and real life - discrepancy - that's a fact

In Linda McCullough Moore's story "That's A Fact" in her collection of short stories, This Road Will Take You Closer To The Moon, the narrator of the story, a young girl of 10 or 11 in 1955 says:

"People in a family need to be so careful. My family are. Everything - our whole life up till now - has been possible because we're careful. We keep it all inside our house. Whenever we go outside in the street, we take our different selves, and leave real life at home. Until tonight." p. 5

The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is to covenant to affirm and promote the inherent dignity and worth of every person, and in reading this passage with which I can strongly identify I am reminded of what us psychotherapists call "boundary issues" and wonder who are the "persons" who have inherent worth and dignity? Is it the "different selves" that they take to the street, or the "real life" they leave at home?

The narrator's working class family is visiting a German immigrant middle class professional family at Christmas time and the narrator describes her frustrated, discouraged, severely financially stressed father who finally let's the cat out of the bag about how difficult things are within the family.

"But still I know this is no sudden thing: my father spilling his guts to these German strangers. He has dragged himself, inches at a time, over to the cliff's edge and, head heavy, tumbled over. That's how it's done. A person doesn't run a mile to reach the edge and hurl himself into the void that ends in jagged rock below, for the simple reason that by the time you've reached the edge, you're winded, and you stop just shy to catch your breath and reconsider. The ones who take the plunge make camp just crawling distance form the edge and every day inch closer, living in a place where tumbling over - be it suicide or saying all - is not a great departure from routine." pp.5-6

Dad breaks the boundary. He let's it rip. Has he had too much to drink or is the discrepancy between a working class guy without even a high school degree and a German immigrant engineer rocket scientist just too great to make the game of pretend and keep up with the Joneses overwhelmingly impossible? There are times when the facade crumbles. It is no longer worth keeping up the pretense. The counterfeit dignity isn't working any more. And such a moment is either an excursion to hell or a crack in the shell where the light can come in leading to transcendence. Which will it be?

The narrator tells us:

     "The husband reaches out and pulls the water bucket closer to the chair. The wife points to the cake. In accusation? Some desperate hostess offer of distraction?
     But no, oh no, we will not be diverted, not from our lives. We'll take them home with us and sleep with them tonight. We children will grow up and carry them away and keep them with us everywhere we go." p.6

Oh yes we are like turtles. We take the shells of our lives wherever we go. We not only tell ourselves these stories of our lives constantly, often unconsciously, but they become the lens, the filter through which we perceive the world. If we were told we were good as children and the world was a good place, we wake up in the morning and expect good things to happen to us. But if we were told we were bad as children, and the world is a bad and dangerous and hurtful place we wake up and expect bad things to happen to us. And depending on our stories about our lives we either live relatively happy or on the edge of the abyss.

Religion, of course, is itself a story, a meta -story within which we understand our lived experience and come to believe what to expect. In this story, the 10 year old girl's religion is the Weekly Reader which she gets in school which reports "the facts". It is the Weekly Reader, the secular version of the world to which she compares her personal life, her lived experience, and she, as only a 10 year old, has picked up on the irony, the incongruity, the absurdities of our lives, the idea that there is an official version of how life should be lived which often is quite discrepant from one's actual experience.

It's shame that the Weekly Reader has become the purveyor of the official story of what life is like in the American dream. Too often in our media dominated culture the religious stories of uplift, inspiration, guidance on the living of the Good Life have been drowned out. Mammon has taken the place of the holy, the sacred. And so the narrator's family lives a life of quiet desperation as compared to the immigrant German professional family. They live in the same neighborhood, apparently, otherwise they would not be sharing a Christmas party together because they have little else in common. The narrator, a child, does the comparison through the eyes of her father and comes up short handed maybe not because of a lack of real needs being met, but because in comparison, based on material values, the working class family comes up deficient.

What is screwed up here is not the discrepancy in class but the values which determine desirability. In the 50s in the United States the whole culture was overtaken by a materialistic ethic which was called "progress" which has taken us down a path of degradation of our planetary environment which is contributing to the death of many species and possibly in a century a drastic threat to our own. While the Weekly Reader was held up as the repository of the societal facts, the 10 year old narrator senses that there is something not quite right, not authentic, pernicious driving people to the brink of suicide or a crisis in meaning contributing to a "letting it all out."

Perhaps it is not the facts that are as important as the meanings we make from them. Keeping up with the Joneses in the American competitive spirit is not the way to the Good Life and our failure to recognize this has contributed to our despair. And that's not a fact, but an opinion which are two different things.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"That's a fact" - the two sides of life

I was first introduced to the writing of Linda McCullough Moore when her short story, “On My Own Way Now,” appeared in the April, 2014, issue of The Sun Magazine. I was so taken by it, and blessed by it, that I investigated her published writing further and besides being published in many magazines and journals learned that she has a book of short stories entitled, “This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon.” It is a book of 14 stories that, as with “On My Own Way Now,” I feel blessed by.

From some brief email correspondence I learned from Ms. Moore that she is deeply Christian which puts her work in the same frame for me as Flannery O'Connor and like Flannery O'Connor, Ms. Moore does not shy away from the dark side of life but entering this world of suffering is able to bring our attention to the absurdity and incongruity of the lives we have created, often hellish in tone, on the ego plane. Reading Moore’s stories I laugh and cry and realize once again, and then again that there has to be a better way. It is in this realization that there must be a better way that Moore’s stories prod us to a more spiritual awareness, a desire to be better people than we are.

In the first story, “That’s a fact” Moore tells the story through the eyes of probably a 10 or 11 year old girl in 1955 about the time her family goes to visit neighbors at Christmas time who are German immigrants having come to the United States after World War II. The German father teaches at a local college while the narrator’s father sells cars. The Germans extol the virtues and benefits of life in the United States while the narrator’s father finally shares what he really thinks and feels about his life. Here is a short excerpt of how Moore writes the scene:

“I am a scientist at university,” the husband says. “The world is open for us now.”

“Well, good for you, buddy.” My father’s voice could knock down soldiers. “I didn’t finish high school.” He addresses his remarks to the shoelace he pulls between two fingers. “And let me tell you, my friend, your life is pretty rotten when you got no education in this country, and a wife and three kids and a fourth on the way.”

I snap my head around and catch my mother’s eye, but she is looking at her lap. My sister grimaces, and shrugs don’t look at me, I didn’t do it.” pp. 4-5

Moore describes class in America and how it feels on the street. Even immigrants with a better education have it better than home grown Americans without an education, and this discrepancy is perceived and understood by a child watching her parents interact with this German family at Christmas time.

The title of Moore’s story “That’s a fact” refers to the juxtaposition of what the 10 year old narrator reads in her Weekly Reader at school and what she experiences in her real life. The title of the story, “That’s a fact,” is irony at its best. 

The narrator in Moore’s story tells us, “I read a story in the newspaper about a family in Germany who were so poor they ate candle wax. You won’t find that in the Weekly Reader. The paper said that the family died of poisoning. They boiled needles from a yew tree to make broth.”p.5

We get the sense through the narration of this young girl that there are two worlds: the official one, the supposedly official one, described in the Weekly Reader, and the real one where people struggle, suffer, and die.

Rev. Galen Guengerich has written that the ethical imperative of Unitarian Universalism could be gratitude, but it is hard for broken people, suffering people, struggling people to feel gratitude. That brokenness, struggle, and suffering has to be recognized, acknowledged, and addressed before people can move to gratitude. The young narrator of this story realizes, even at her young age of supposed innocence and naiveté, that the “facts” she is reading in her Weekly Reader and the pretense that her family tries to project outside of the house is not really real. There is a clear appreciation that people live in a dream of pretentious wishing while the deeper reality is uglier, more painful, and frightening. And Moore, in the title of her story, writes, That’s A Fact.

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