Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's Not The Coffee

It started during my first year at a large law firm in Chicago’s Sears Tower.  The Starbucks there, furnished with gleaming wood tables and chairs and a few armchairs to one side, occupies a corner of the Tower’s first floor.  I usually worked weekdays from about 7:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. with a half hour lunch at my desk, then another four to six hours on the weekends.  I don't drink coffee, but when I was especially busy, I stopped in Starbucks in the morning.  I drank Chai Lattes, loving the sweet, foamy taste, while I stole 15 minutes out of the day to read for fun rather than for work.  Sometimes that was the only time I relaxed the entire week.  The partners rarely wandered into Starbucks, and most associate attorneys, unlike me, preferred starting later and working later than I did.  Now when I pass through the Sears Tower (or the Willis Tower as it’s currently called), I peek into Starbucks, remembering how lovely those few moments felt.  And feeling relieved I rarely have that kind of schedule now.
Now I have my own law practice.  When I started it, I resolutely marched past each Starbucks in my path.  I’d set aside funds to keep me going until my practice got on its feet, but I felt too cautious to spend on unnecessary drinks.  When I got my first check from my first client, though, I deposited it in the bank across from my office, then walked to Starbucks on Monroe and LaSalle and ordered a Chai Latte for the first time in months.  So sweet and pumpkin-spicy.  That’s still my choice when I’ve finished a grueling project, had a particularly good month, or hit a sales goal for my novel, but it’s never quite matched how wonderful it tasted that day. 
Starbucks is also my expanded office.  I share a suite with 3 other attorneys, two of whom tend to shout across the hall to one another.  That isn’t so bad, but when they talk in the office next to mine, they seem unaware that they are only two feet from one another and speak at the same volume they use for across-the-hall conversations.  For the first time in my life, I understand the phrase “I can’t hear myself think.”  If both are in and are conversing, I’ll often print whatever brief I’m drafting or cases I’m reading and walk to a Starbucks to work.  And I have a choice of views – the one in the Chase Bank building looks out on the plaza with Chagall’s Four Seasons wall and offers a bubbling fountain in summer and sparks of holiday lights in winter.  The one on LaSalle doesn’t have the same type of view, but I love the outdoor seating in the summer and most of the spring and fall.  This is especially nice for me because when I worked in the Sears Tower I rarely actually went outside the Tower until I left for the night.
I use Starbucks as a second home office, too.  The one near my home has a long table with connections for laptops.  While I usually like writing in silence, now and then I just want to be around other people.  Even if I don’t talk with anyone, I hear their voices and don’t feel so much like I’m closeted away alone writing while everyone else is out in the world.  Sometimes, too, I concentrate better with activity around me.  Also, in my own study at home, I start thinking that maybe I ought to do something about the laundry overflowing onto the closet floor, or pay attention to my parakeet (who likes to run across the keyboard), or make those phone calls I’ve been neglecting.  At Starbucks, I can’t do any of those things.  It’s me and the laptop, and the words flow through my fingers onto the screen without pause.  My favorite times are when I’m so absorbed in the story and characters that when someone asks if they can use the chair next to me, I’m startled because I’ve forgotten I was in a coffee place rather than in whatever scene I’m focused on.
I’ve never worked at Starbucks.  And I don’t own stock in it, but sometimes I think I should.  Because the people who run it seem to have found a key to what makes a successful business.  It’s not so much the product offered that generates sales, it’s how it makes people feel.  So it makes sense to me that what I love to do most of all in Starbucks is read.  The books I love are the ones where I feel what the characters feel, love them or hate them, root for them or grip the book cover for fear their dangerous plans will succeed.  They’re books that, when I close them, I feel a sense of loss and wish I could start all over again without remembering what happened, so I can experience everything anew.  I buy the book for the experience, just as I go to Starbucks for the experience, not the coffee. 

That being said, a Chai Latte to go is pretty good, too.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening  ($2.99)
Will Tara Spencer give birth to the first female messiah?  Or trigger the Apocalypse?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Joss Whedon and The Power of Myth

I read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth years before the first Buffy episode aired on TV.  I’d just begun reading about the origins of religion and was struggling with learning that the gospels were not as historically accurate as I’d been taught.  Intellectually, I grasped Campbell’s message that just because the stories or myths we are told did not literally happen does not take away their value.  (I’m very roughly paraphrasing.  It’s been a long time since I read it.)  But my many disagreements with the Catholic Church, including over its treatment of women, left me less ready to find the underlying meaning in the stories.  And my only other association with what I considered myths were books of Greek and Roman myths I’d read in high school.  I enjoyed them, but didn’t see much to emulate there or much that would help me in life, other than the lesson that the gods will mess with you whenever they can out of sheer caprice or to forward their own interests.  Years later, a cousin gave me a book of myths geared toward women (Women Who Run With the Wolves).  But those stories did not speak to me.  I found them a little too abstract and purposefully deep.  Plus, very much an urban dweller, I found it difficult to relate to some of the tales, which seemed to have little connection to my day to day life.

Then came Buffy.  At first, the mythological aspects didn’t really hit me.  Obviously, I knew they were there – a chosen one, the only girl in the world to fight the demons and save the world.  But I’ve always liked stories with a great deal on the line, often with ordinary people in extraordinary and even supernatural experiences.  That’s what I enjoy reading and writing.  Still, the first couple years I watched Buffy I didn’t think much about that.  I was working full time and attending law school in the evenings.  All I knew was for 45 minutes once a week – when Chicago’s WGN didn’t pre-empt the show for a Cubs game – I escaped to another world.

I rewatched the series on DVD and listened to the commentaries, and I thought more about the themes, even as I still loved mix of humor and horror, quips and authentic emotion.  When my 11-year-old niece died of a brain tumor, for many weeks I woke during the dead of night.  Unable to sleep, I watched Buffy episodes until I fell asleep on the couch.   I did the same years later when my parents were killed by an intoxicated driver.  It brought me the comfort.  I liked the main characters.  I knew what would happen at the end of each episode.  And the series offered some meaning in a chaotic world.  Not the meaning that some type of God would make everything right when so clearly it wasn’t.  But the meaning that there are things worth living for and fighting for, no matter how much is out of our control, how much suffering there is in the world, or how senseless evil seems.

Buffy’s themes (and later Angel’s and Firefly’s) particularly struck a chord for me because I am not religious, yet I feel that doing good in the world and doing the right thing is important, even essential, to life.  Before Joss’s shows, I couldn’t quite articulate the source of what was right without religion. 

In the series, Buffy is told she’s the chosen one, but there’s no threat or promise of hell or heaven to induce her to act.  She can choose not to slay.  And in the end of Season 1, she does.  In the face of a prophecy that she will die if she goes underground to stop an evil vampire – the Master – from rising, she quits.   

After she decides this, her best girlfriend Willow walks into a schoolroom where vampires killed students she knew, smearing blood all over.  Willow says something like, “It felt like it was their world, not ours.”  Buffy tells her friend not to worry.  Buffy then goes to meet the Master.  He kills her, but her friends revive her, and she ultimately vanquishes him.  Nothing required Buffy to take up the mantle of protector again, but she didn’t want to live in the world that would otherwise belong to the vampires and monsters, didn’t want to abandon her friends when there was any chance, however slight, she could change things. 

The next season, Buffy fears her efforts are fruitless when her mother points out that no matter how many vampires Buffy slays, more always appear.  She doesn’t have a master plan, she can’t stop the evil.  Are they running out of vampires? Joyce asks.  Buffy’s partner in the fight, Angel, tells a depressed Buffy that they don’t fight because they’ll win.  They fight because there are things worth fighting for.

To me, this seems to be the only answer.  In our world, there will be fatal brain tumors, racism, drunk drivers killing themselves and others.  There will be lesser and yet still painful things to live with – loss of love, struggles with (or without) money, career obstacles.  We fight not because we know we’ll win, not because this world will ever be perfect, but because there are things worth fighting for.  People we love, causes that matter, small ways we can make the world a little bit better, or at least try to.  As Spike says in the Buffy musical – life isn’t bliss, life is just this, it’s living.  And, like Buffy, even if something or someone else tells us there’s no point, we can act in ways designed to create the world we want to live in.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening  ($2.99)
Will Tara Spencer’s mysterious pregnancy bring the world its first female messiah?  Or trigger the Apocalypse?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

See Jane Get Married

The past three years have been busy, maybe a little too busy.  I started my own law firm, published my “first” novel (first published -- I wrote several before this one), and stood up in two traditional weddings. 

After eight years as a lawyer, I decided to start my own practice and spent a year planning it.  Two friends who’d gone on their own right out of law school offered a huge amount of advice and encouragement.  Some people I’d only met once or twice did things like taking me to lunch during my first months when money was tight, inviting me to speak at events that could result in business or contacts for me, and suggesting me to clients when matters arose in my area. 

My friend Jane surprised me.  A lawyer herself, I’d thought she’d be interested in what was involved in opening the firm and/or would celebrate with me, and she worked only a couple miles away.  But it was a busy time for her, and plans to come by for a few hours as I moved into my new space turned instead into a date to hang artwork on my office walls, which got rescheduled indefinitely.  I hung the paintings a month or so later.  Eventually she stopped by once to see my office suite.  Jane’s been a wonderful friend over the years, and I chalked up the lack of any particular notice of this part of my life as reflecting that she had no plans to do anything similar.  Overall, the people most interested in what I was doing were those who dreamed of working for themselves, just as for years I’d peppered solo lawyers and businesspeople I knew with questions about how they’d started out.

Similarly, when my first novel came out this summer, some friends bought it immediately and called or emailed to tell me it had them up all night reading  – something every writer loves to hear.  Others wished me well, but never mentioned buying or reading the book.  Not everyone loves to read or is fascinated by the writing process, and I never expected all my friends to share my lifelong passion.

When my mom was alive, I used to joke that I could win the Nobel Prize and she’d still say, “don’t you think it’s time you got married?”  Until the two weddings I mentioned, though, one of which was Jane’s, I hadn’t had much experience with traditional weddings.  So I didn’t realize how popular culture carries out my mother’s viewpoint.      

While career achievements require no formal recognition under the etiquette rules, being in a wedding party generally demands substantial time and money, even during a recession.  (One website I read had no sympathy for those who’ve fallen on hard times, sternly advising that if you’re not sure you can afford the financial commitment, you must respectfully decline to be a bridesmaid at the outset.)  In addition to buying and wearing the requisite never-to-be-worn again dresses and shoes, bridesmaids attend and sometimes help plan and pay for multiple showers (organized by categories such as bride’s family vs. groom’s family vs. parents’ friends vs. bride-and-groom friends) and numerous other pre-wedding events, such as engagement parties, housewarmings (if the couple moves in together before the wedding), bachelorette outings, and shopping/spa days.  (I personally drew the line at running a 5K wearing matching T-shirts.) 

Happily, my writing and law practice have gone well, so I didn’t need to back out of my bridesmaid commitments.  As I scanned down bridal gift registries over the last couple years, though, I couldn’t help thinking how lovely it would be to register for a business shower.  Imagine instead of spending reserve funds or borrowing to launch a new firm, simply registering for a deluxe scanner here, a computer table there, and the latest release of QuickBooks.  Or, for a writer, requesting a graphic designer’s services for cover art, free website development, or gift cards toward creating a book trailer.  And what if instead of your business incurring the expense of hosting open houses and networking events to make contacts, friends and family got together and threw a year’s worth of parties for you so everyone would know about and support your new endeavor?  Or even if every friend or family member who sends a congratulations card for an engagement or attends a shower and wedding made a similar showing of support when a woman opened an art gallery?  Not only might there be more women pursuing satisfying careers, the whole economy might get a boost from all those new businesses.

Alas, when I mentioned these ideas to a male friend, he said, “What have you been smoking?  A business shower?  That’s crazy.”

Crazy maybe, but a girl can dream.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening

Tara Spencer’s mysterious pregnancy alters her life forever.  Will it also change the fate of the world?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How Buffy and Joss Whedon Helped Me Understand My Mother

When I turned 21, I got my ears pierced.  Most of my friends had pierced theirs in high school or even grade school.  When I came home, my mother – who was 42 years older than me and grew up in a different time – frowned and said, “Only cheap women pierce their ears.” 

For much of my life, I believed the difficulties my mother and I had relating to one another were due to the over forty-year age difference between us.  Most of my friends had grandparents who were my parents’ ages.  Now I feel like our disconnect was less that the world changed so much during the those forty-plus years, and more my difficulty seeing my mother as a anyone other than a mother, and my mother’s trouble seeing me as anyone other than her daughter.
Joss Whedon helped me with that, and I will always be grateful to him.  First, his shows revolve around the family we choose being as important and as nurturing, if not more so, than the family to whom we belong by birth.  Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, all choose to bond and be there for one another literally to the death.  Same for Angel’s friends and the crew of Serenity.  Giles is more of a father to Buffy than her father was, at least during the time period that we see her.
I found this reassuring.  Our culture still tends to equate family values with only one type of family – mom, dad, children.  Joss’s shows told me I am not the only one who sometimes feels out of place within my given family, who might rather be with my friends than at the relatives’ Thanksgiving Day.  (“That’s nice that you opened your own law firm, dear.  Did you hear Susie married a millionaire?  Maybe someday you’ll meet someone like him.”)  So instead of trying get my parents to be different types of people, and vice versa, why not seek out the support and friendship I hoped for through other friends and mentors? 
At the same time, Joss helped me appreciate the family I had.  I was in my late twenties when Buffy came on the air, probably closer to the age of Joyce – Buffy’s mother – than to Buffy.  Sometimes Joyce had no idea what was going on in Buffy’s life or heart.  And sometimes Joyce said exactly the wrong thing to Buffy (for instance, that Buffy’s thing, whatever it was, got her kicked out of school, or that she wanted a normal daughter and what she got was a slayer).  Yet, I felt certain Joyce loved Buffy with all her heart.

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Even Giles works against Buffy at times.  In Season 7, he keeps Buffy busy training while another of Buffy’s supposed allies is trying to kill her one-time lover and strongest ally Spike.  In another episode of the same season, Giles joins with Buffy’s other friends in undermining her role as leader and banishing her from her own home.  Buffy makes her own mistakes through the show, including taking Giles for granted and pushing him to the edges of her life, and ignoring his (good) advice.  Nonetheless, they love each other.
At the end of Season 2, Joyce tells Buffy if she walks out the door, not to come back.  Buffy leaves because she needs to save the world.  And Buffy takes Joyce at her word, boarding a bus out of town and not returning for many months.  On her return, to justify running away, Buffy says that Joyce told her not to come back.  And Joyce says, “Well, guess what, Mom’s not perfect.  I handled it badly.” 
That moment resonated with me.  My mother and I had a falling out when I was in my twenties, mainly over my religious views, or lack thereof, that lasted years.  I couldn’t understand how my mother’s religious views could be more important to her than me.  Perhaps she felt the same about me.
A decade later and about twelve years before my mother died, I watched Joyce and Buffy and it hit me that my mother, like Joyce and like me, was a person, not just a mother.  A women with her own fears, doubts, issues and flaws.  Someone who might say or do something out of anger or fear or self-doubt and regret it later.
I explore these themes in my own writing.  How parents and children react to one other when their convictions and their missions in life conflict.  What happens when we just can’t accept what someone we love says or the path that person takes, no matter how much we want to support that person.
Joss Whedon didn’t give me the answers to how to handle these types of conflicts, or provide the perfect recipe for family relationships.  But he did give me characters I admire who meant to act for the best and sometimes didn’t, who didn’t want to hurt one another and sometimes did, and who loved one another and were good people for all of that.
So, Joss, if I knew you, I would say thank you.  Thank you for helping me feel that choosing my circle of family meant just as much as anyone else’s traditional family.  And for helping see my mom, before her death, as a whole person, not solely my mother.  And, finally, for helping me realize that just because someone who loves me is not perfect or cannot always meet me half way – and just because I disappoint someone by who I am or what I do – does not mean the love is any less.

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases and read reviews on M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller), click here to join her emaillist.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mary: The Unachievable "Ideal Woman"

“Well, that’s serious Catholics for you.  All women should be both virgins and mothers if at all possible.”  In this line of dialogue, fictional character Nate Spencer echoes something that confused me from the time I was old enough (about 11) to understand what being a virgin meant and put that together with the gospels.

In mass and in hymns, Mary was often referred to as “ever virgin.”  My parents and religion teachers told me Jesus had no brothers and sisters because Mary stayed a virgin her whole life.  I couldn’t find anything in the New Testament that supported these claims.  To the contrary, the gospels of Mark and Luke refer to Jesus’ brothers.  Mark 3:31-35; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19-21.  The gospels of Mark and John don’t state at all that Mary was a virgin.  And the Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph married Mary, despite her being pregnant, because he was told by an angel that her child was begotten of the Holy Spirit, and that Joseph “did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son.”  Matthew 1:25.  This suggested to me that Mary did have sex with Joseph after Jesus’ birth.  This interpretation made sense to me, as I thought the point of Mary being a virgin was to show Joseph was not Jesus’ father, but rather was conceived in a divine way.  If that were true, it didn’t matter if Mary had sex later or not.  (Apparently, I was already preparing for a career as an appellate lawyer where I would parse out words and argue various meanings.)
The Catholic Church insisting Mary remained a virgin forever strikes me as having many potential ill effects for women.  For one, “virgin” is often paired with “pure,” suggesting sex is impure.  Also, Mary is held up as the ideal woman and, as Nate Spencer notes, she is both a virgin and a mother.  A nearly impossible ideal for a real human woman to achieve, even if she wanted to.  So women begin the Christian Bible by literally leading men into sin (Eve) and end with the unachievable “ideal” woman (Mary).  Not only are women bad to begin with, there is no hope of redemption.

And why should a human woman want to be both a virgin and a mother?  To venerate this version of Mary is to deny women’s sexuality, as well as to deny the deep emotional connection with another  human being that can accompany a sexual relationship.  Plus, this vision underscores that a woman’s value and purpose can be only one thing – to be a mother.  For those who either cannot or choose not to fulfill this role, there is nothing left.  And for Mary, if in fact she lived and was both virgin and mother, what was her life like?  The New Testament tells us little, other than that Joseph stood by her after an angel spoke to him.  At least one passage suggests Jesus himself regarded her role as his mother as not that important.  When a woman praises to Jesus “the womb that bore thee,” he says, “ ‘Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.’ ”.   Luke 11:27-28.  Only one gospel even mentions Mary being there when Jesus was crucified.  According to Catholic dogma, Mary was assumed bodily into heaven for her troubles, rather than dying, but that appears nowhere in the Bible.

And so I wonder, what might happen if a real young woman today found herself in Mary’s situation, a pregnant virgin.  Who would believe her?  How would she react, especially if no angel from on high showed up to explain it all?  And would people who were traditionally religious be more or less apt to believe her?

Lisa M. Lilly

Author of The Awakening

How will Tara Spencer deal with her sudden, mysterious pregnancy?  And what will that mean for the world?

Friday, June 24, 2011

What I Learned About Religion From The Prince Of Darkness (Spirituality, Religion, and Philosophy, Entry 10)

I recently read Prince of Darkness by columnist Robert Novak.  In part of the book, Novak talks about converting to Catholicism.  In passing, he mentions how people “hostile” to Catholicism sometimes say “I was raised Catholic” when asked if they are Catholic. 
It never occurred to me saying this would be viewed as hostile.  Saying “I’m a recovering Catholic” strikes me as a little hostile given that alcoholics use that terminology.  But saying I was raised Catholic to me only says my parents were Catholic and I was raised in that tradition, but now am not Catholic.  I’ve said this often because it seems accurate to me.  Often when people ask “Are you Catholic?” it’s because they are leading into a story or point that might need some lead in for someone who is not Catholic.  For instance, something about going to confession as a child, or a comment about the Cardinal, or a viewpoint on the Church’s stand on birth control.  So when I answer that way, I am letting the person know that I understand the background about the Church, even though I’m not now Catholic.
Now that I read Novak’s comment, though, I can see where it could seem hostile because it goes out of the way to emphasize that though raised in the Catholic tradition, I am no longer Catholic or, in stronger words, I rejected Catholicism.  Also, I don’t say “I used to be Catholic” but that my parents raised me that way, suggesting I never really wanted to be or never really was Catholic in the first place.  Which probably does reflect some of my feeling about how I was taught religion and particularly about the confirmation process (which I’ll write about some other time).
I don’t see anything wrong with expressing negative feelings about a religion, but I generally try to refrain from commenting on others’ beliefs unless they’ve invited the discussion.  Also, saying I’m not Catholic is not only more neutral but more accurate.  At this point, I’ve been not Catholic for a longer time than I was Catholic.  So I’ve decided that from now on, if asked if I’m Catholic, I’ll simply say that I’m not Catholic.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yoga, Life and Stretching (Spirituality, Religion, and Philosophy, Entry 9)

I find routines comforting.  If I’m behind on my bookkeeping, or a client is unhappy with me, or I’m working 11 hours a day – or if all the above are happening at once – it helps me to eat the same kind of oatmeal each morning with a glass of the same kind of orange juice while I read the same newspaper (Wall Street Journal) for 10 minutes.  Then I walk the same way to work and make the same type of tea (Earl Grey) when I get there before I sit down to start the stress/work wheel all over again.
When things are going well, routine feels good too.  I savor my orange juice, add a little extra cinnamon to my oatmeal, inhale the steamy, lemony scent of my tea before I drink it, and take an extra few minutes out of my day to enjoy the morning. 
Like a lot of people, I sit in front of a computer much of my day, and no matter how often I remind myself to sit straight and shift my position now and then, at the end of the day my neck and shoulders ache from reaching forward and sometimes hunching (really, I try not to), and my knees and back feel a little stiff and sore from sitting.  So part of my morning routine is yoga.  The poses that feel wonderful are those where I pull my shoulders back, where I arch my back, or where I straighten my legs completely.  Basically, where I move my body just the opposite way that I usually do.
This morning as I moved through poses that opened my chest and shoulders, and straightened my knees, I thought about how I might like to do more things that are different from what I usually do.  Try to stretch my mental and emotional life the way I do my body.  I didn’t decide to go to the extreme – try skydiving, for instance, when I find driving risky enough.  But I signed up for a seminar in the U of C continuing education series on religion and the brain, even though none of my friends were interested in taking it with me.  And I said Yes to an evite to an event hosted by someone I’ve only know for a few months, even though I don’t know any of the other women who RSVP’d.  Maybe I will learn about a topic I’ve never thought about before, get an idea for a short story or a poem, make a new friend.  And even if none of those things happen, maybe it will feel good, the same way stretching my arms and legs does.  But I’m sure I’ll still have my orange juice and oatmeal – and Earl Grey tea – the next morning.
Lisa M. Lilly

Author of The Awakening

Will Tara Spencer give birth to the first female messiah?  Or trigger the Apocalypse?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Queen of Heaven (Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy, Entry No. 8)

When I was in second or third grade, my parents attended church every Tuesday night for a novena.  The service focused on prayers to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  I remember this going on indefinitely, but a search of the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia tells me novenas usually involve prayers for nine days in a row.  We didn’t go every day, so maybe it was every week for nine weeks and only seemed endless because when you’re seven or eight years old that's how time passes. 
At the service, I loved inhaling the scent of incense and listening to the almost mystical chants.  The priest intoned many titles for Mary.  The congregation repeated “pray for us” after each.  One title was Queen of Heaven.  I heard Mary called that often as I grew up, and the cemetery where my relatives on my mother’s side – and also my niece and my parents – are buried is Queen of Heaven.
I was surprised as an adult when I bought a book of goddess illustrations and saw one for Queen of Heaven.  I was even more surprised when I read in a book on women and religion (I wish I could remember which one) that the Queen of Heaven is mentioned in the Old Testament.  Not as a precursor to or foreshadowing of Mary, but as a goddess who should not be worshipped.  Jeremia 7:18 says the children are gathering wood, their fathers are lighting the fire, and the women are kneading dough “to make cakes for the queen of heaven while libations are poured out to strange gods in order to hurt me.”  The version I have of the Bible contains a note that the Queen of Heaven is the Assyro-Babylonian Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, and that cakes like stars were offered in her honor. 
It fascinates me that the Catholic religion comes closer to worshipping a goddess than the other Christian religions I know of, despite the transformation of the goddess to Mary, and the strict doctrines that saints, including Mary, are not divine and are not to be worshipped.  Mary is supposed to have been conceived without sin (see more on this in the previous post) and also to have been assumed bodily into heaven without dying.  Seems very close to a deity.  My limited understanding is the Church was trying to bring in people who worshipped goddesses.  But despite all this, at the same time, the Catholic Church offers less of a role for women than many other Christian churches, including not allowing women to serve as priests, or, obviously, in any of the roles priests can aspire to, such as bishop, cardinal or pope.  That was my first major disagreement with the Church -- I couldn't see donating to any organization that would never allow me a role in governing it solely because I am a woman.
The people who inspired me most in the Church, and who seemed to have the closest connection with the community, were nuns.  I wonder how many amazing people’s skills, talents, and connections the Catholic Church loses day after day by insisting its leaders must be men.

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and author of Kindle occult bestseller THE AWAKENING, short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles.  

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does God Get Angry (Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy Entry No. 7)

When I was in junior high, a priest asked me during confirmation preparation why people shouldn't sin.  I said it made God angry.  The priest corrected me, saying God did not get angry -- that God is in heaven and is always at peace and does not feel human emotions like anger.

This struck me as strange, given the Old Testament, with example after example of God getting angry.  I thought first of the story of Noah and the flood.  Now that I look at the verses, nothing literally says God is angry.  But Genesis says God saw that man's every thought was evil, and God "was grieved to the heart" and regretted he made man.  Genesis 6:5-8.  This is why God decided to destroy humanity with a flood.  Genesis 8:13.  After the flood, God promised Noah, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man...."  Genesis 8:21.  Then there is God pouring down "sulphur and fire" on Sodom and Gomorra.  Genesis 19:24.

The priest's statement that God didn't feel anger reflects, to me, the conflict in many Christian churches between the old and new testaments.  While Jesus does get angry (like when he throws the money changers out of the temple), it's hard to picture him sending fire or flood to destroy a city or all human beings.  Also, it's unlikely he'd have a lot of sympathy for a God that does things like killing all the first born sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:13).  Yet, the Christian religions don't toss out the Old Testament and only focus on the New, at least the Christian churches I've been to read from both books.  Many politically conservative Christians don't hesitate to hearken back to the Old Testament to support views on topics such as war and the death penalty.  When I was growing up in the Catholic Church, on the other hand, I got the impression that the Old Testament was viewed as more allegorical.  While it contained some historical events, was not meant to be taken literally.  In contrast, I thought the New Testament was historically accurate and was written by the disciples who followed Jesus. 

The difficulty reconciling or even understanding varying parts of the Bible is what makes religion both so frustrating and so interesting.  How two different people view even the same translation of the same text fascinates me.  Despite being a non-believer, if I ever went back to school just for the fun of it, theology would be high on my list.

Lisa M. Lilly
Author of The Awakening