Author Archives: cathsparks

About cathsparks

cathsparks is a 1970 model writer, disability advocate, spouse of 22 years, and adoptive parent of grown children. She's been creating stories since early childhood, when she wrote her earliest work, "The Dog Who Ate Spaghetti". (Spoiler alert: It's about a dog who---wait for it---eats spaghetti.) Cathy enjoys backroads travel, ethnic cuisine, reading dystopian and mystery fiction, watching classic and documentary film, and doing family history research. Professionally, she's been everything from a small-town waitress, to a youth minister, a hat and handbag saleslady, a licensed early childhood ed director, and even a case manager for kids with Severe Emotional Disturbance. Currently, she writes, consults, does research, and is a city-appointed poll official. Politically an odd duck, she has friends that run the gamut from Socialist to Constitution Party, and nearly everywhere in between. Likewise, Cath has many chums who share her Christian faith, to be sure, but also enjoys meaningful friendships with folks who embrace other paths, including agnostics and atheists. There is no singular Sparks litmus test for fellowship, other than an honest effort at mutual respect. She and her husband, Jason (who was her first kiss, 29 years ago), live with their oldest, a son---an accomplished artist and Special Olympian---and several ferocious house-cats. (Half of them "grand-kitties", and one 92+, in human years.) They also have a "grand-lizard" and a "grand-pup", both in other states.) This son has activities several days a week, lots of friends, and is active in community group, and men's bible study nights (though he skips the suds), retreats, church work days, and more. His sweet sometime girlfriend attends church with him, and they enjoy dining out and double/group outings to the movies. He's developing job skills through volunteer programs, and striving for appropriate independence in all these areas and more. He's excited to be in the dorms 3 nights for a preview at a college for people with intellectual disabilities. It lies farther North, even, than the homes of either of his siblings. All 3 of cathsparks' and hubsy's kids were raised to travel, and, like their parents, are happy wanderers. Their daughter---a college Senior in the Midwest---lives in a rented house and is a happy newlywed, while at college, she's double-majoring. (That's a lot of hyphenates!) She's active in ministry, plays drums for chapel, and lived for a semester in Siberian Russia. Her husband is an ordained minister. Between the 2 of them, post-honeymoon, they've been to 9 different countries. and a great many prominent American cities. Recently, they've opened their home to a young friend in need of temporary placement---the first (honorary) human grandson! Cath and Jason enjoy spending time with their grown-up kids, at their small 1940 Tudor revival, in East Nashville's Inglewood neighborhood, during their holidays and school breaks. Their youngest and his bride live in an adjoining Southern state, where he's taken classes, drives a forklift, and is building a steady career in middle management, at a company where he has the respect and appreciation of those who work with him. The twosome have a brilliant and beautiful 2 year old girl, who Grammy and Gramps adore, and recently added another sweet even-tempered baby girl to love in August 2017. The parental pair recently moved to a larger rented home, to give their girls more room to play in. That's good, as baby # 3, a boy, will arrive this September, a couple of weeks after their younger girl's 1st birthday. Both the two younger, married sibs are following a familiar family pattern, in terms of housing. Cath and Jase rented a small home, themselves, before buying the family home in 2000, after 4 years of marriage. Back in Nashville, Cath, Jason, and their oldest son attend Restoration, a diverse, loving body of believers who accept them, flaws and all. They are sin-prone, messy creatures, living in a temperamental 78 year old Tudor cottage with too many books, lots of iced tea, and their maximum number of felines.

Thoughts From A Believer, 2 Years Ago, About The Massacre @ Pulse

Standard

Love Orlando

[NOTE: This is a social media post I wrote in 2016, in the wake of the horrors of human slaughter at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It still represents where my thinking is, today.]

Most who know me are aware that I am moderate in most things, trying to strike a balance between being conciliatory and true to my conscience, at the same time. I do not wish to stir up trouble, or arouse discord among my friends of very diverse belief systems and circumstances. This is a struggle, tonight, because I feel prompted to share what’s in my heart. I will do my best to be faithful to what I truly feel, without trying to pander to any one group or person, but I want you to know that I say this with some trepidation. The world we live in—especially this online pseudo-world—is so antagonistically divisive, with people poking at and baiting hateful response. I do not want to be one more voice adding my vitriol and indignation to theirs.

This morning, an evil, disturbed man, stirred by bad theology, slaughtered 50 of his fellow human beings. Despite what some might say or think, I feel sure he is nothing like my kind, warm-hearted expectant mom friend, who wears a burka, and prays toward Mecca 5 times a day. I also cannot (and will not) try to reconcile him with families I regularly interact with, in Southeast Nashville. They are no more the same than my autistic husband, and the Newtown killer, or my Christian pastor and Jim Jones or David Koresh. To be sure, it is possible that there is a radical with hatred in his or her heart, among the people I’m in contact with, or even among people I know or have met, from various belief systems, whether the one I claim, a different faith, or friends who claim no religious faith at all. Still if hatred’s what motivated the killer of 50 children of my Creator, today, I can’t see how focusing my energies on hate make me anything other than a copycat, however writ small.

This morning, an elder at my church spoke of his compassion and love for the LGBT community, many of whom have been treated with scorn—like they are walking embodiment of sin, itself— untouchables, less worthy of grace and kindness than their heterosexual families and friends. The LGBT community, for me, includes a young man who was one of my teens, when I was a youth minister. It includes a boy who once asked me to go out— probably in part, at least, so the other h.s. boys would stop calling him “Judy”. It’s a friend who took my hoops-loving daughter to see college women’s games. And it is more than one beloved cousin, still treated by a handful of family members, like they are a shame and disgrace.

Now, these are “church hurt” people, sometimes, told to get themselves all “fixed” and acceptable, before they are welcome to even break bread or talk. Today 50 of these people— like others who the institutional church deemed “unclean”, but who Jesus would’ve likely shown compassion to, ceased to live. This should break our hearts, whatever we conscientiously believe our holy books teach about sexuality. People are hurting, and there is only one balm I know that helps heal, and that is love. It is the antidote to the hate rained down in bullets on our gay fellow men and women. For me, that looks like Christ’s love, and God’s unmerited grace. I am willing to admit that may come from a different place for you. Love, btw, doesn’t require you to put a rubber-stamped seal of approval on anyone else’s life—but it does work best, as my dad would’ve put it, “if you treat ’em like a human being”. That, I’ve found, when I manage it (I don’t, always), goes a long, long way. I’m entreating my friends, today, to try extra hard to show that care and basic acknowledgement of others’ humanity. Even a warm smile, in passing, whether to one of life’s “undesirables”, on the streets, or to the care-worn stranger you see in the supermarket, can make another person feel valued for a moment, in a world that increasingly just doesn’t care.

I don’t have all the answers. (It seems I rarely do. Sorry.) I am sad. Like most Americans, I’m mad, too. But I believe I’m called, first, to love. I am praying for healing, wisdom, comfort, and compassion for all those in pain, and those helping them. I am weary in waiting for peace, if I’m honest. The only thing I know to do to remedy that is to actively try to spread peace through my interactions with whomever I come in contact. For me, diving into study of how my primary example—as a Christ-follower, that’s Jesus—reached out to people “on the outside”, helps me remember how crucial that is to what I believe. If your beliefs are different, I’m sure you still have many honorable elders whose love for others, in “real life”, or historically, reminds you how rare this quality of actively loving people well is, and how important a thing it is, to which we should all aspire. The first draft of this said so many things so much better. But that version was lost forever to some dumb smartphone glitch. Essentially, I just want to tell all of you that I love you, and that there is hope for more peace than pain, if we will all reach across these seeming gulfs, toward one another, and surround those who are hurting with kindness and Light. Goodnight, friends. 

Advertisements

5 Dumb Things

Standard

Phantom28

This is a hard one for me. As I sit here, eating Golden Flake Sweet Heat™ chips, watching a Night Court episode featuring Dr. Joyce Brothers, and catching up on reading, I am convicted by a piece I just read.

You see, I’m weird. Probably clinically weird, if that’s a thing.

And that’s just for starters, guys. Srsly. It gets worse, as the article I share at the end of this post rolls on. You might relate, you might not. You can probably judge how true this read rings on both counts, y’know?

I’m not sure how weird I am, or even if weirdness can be quantified. (Click the link for my Weirdometer result. As you’ll see, I’m weirder than 66%, at least.) But I am a decidedly strange, eccentric human being, more so than most. I worry that I’m exceptionally bizarre, possibly to the point of being off-putting. That concerns me, because, if I am off-putting, then (I assume) my impact and outreach as a Christian suffers as a direct result. I wish the behaviors that blunt my impact stopped at weirdness, but newp.

Bone-headed, idiot behaviors—like being overtly political, being bad at handling conflict, playing at “selective ‘sin-ranking'” (as if it were an Olympic sport, you’d think), and wrongfully judging others—seem to clutter the path, every place I’ve trod. If we’re being honest, I’ve not exactly been a marketing boon for God.

Yuppers. I’ve sometimes been guilty of all of these “dumb” behaviors, as a human, and a follower of Christ. Every time my number of “Facebook friends” takes a dip, I’m convinced that it’s probably due to being too much of a “Holy Jo[an]” walking Chick tract–or, paradoxically, that it’s due to my having a heaping helping of heathen hagiography. That is what happens, isn’t it? (Please insert your own super-salient point about me over-thinking it, or a reminder that other folks’ worlds don’t exactly revolve around me.)

Hmmm. Maybe part of my “weirdness” involves insecurity. Anyway, I’m hoping my fellow believers will read this and examine themselves accordingly, because Church-y people can be pretty awkward, marginalizing, even cruel. I can tell you that if I had a nickel for every time I’ve done any of the 5 things listed, and pushed people away, then I could probably buy that 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I’ve had my heart set on since 6th grade. Or, alternately, I could snag that ’59 Caddy Hearse with the sick fins, that I’ve wanted since my late teens…and still want. (Yeah. Again, weird.)

I’d also like to apologise to my friends of other/no faith traditions, for all the times I’ve been this particular kind of dumb. Other kinds of dumb, too, now that I think about it. If I hurt, annoy, or otherwise disappoint you, please come to me. Let me know. Suggest an amends that would help things heal between us. Whatever you do, I hope you’ll “not go gently into that good night” without letting me know I’m part of the problem with religious life, rather than that “soft answer” I’m supposed to be that turns away wrath. Deal?

Without further adieu, here are 5 Dumb Things The Church Needs To Stop Doing.

MillerMeteorCropCaddyDotz

 

A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

Standard

This is a word I needed, today. It offers excellent rebuffs to several extrabiblical beliefs so many people of faith have. God wants us to forgive, over time. As with so many things, it is a process, not an event. Boundaries are important. And I need that reminder that God calls me to ultimately forgive, but forgetting, or pretending harm wasn’t done, is far from what Scripture says God requires. I can even love someone, forgive, and still not be called to active relationship with them, on earth. Whether others “get” that, or not.

 

Source: A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

Reblog of John Notgrass: Connecting with People Where They Are

Standard

Great thoughts and questions about connecting with others, in a way that blurs or erases distinctions between church and home life. John’s a family friend, a deep thinker, and a terrific example of what a warm, caring husband and dad brings to the table. His writing is well worth exploring.

http://johnnotgrass.com/blog/2015/11/8/connecting-with-people-where-they-are

Why Did God Make Me This Way?

Standard

Two quick thoughts…okay, no…3.
1) Thank God somebody else feels split down the middle on “supralapsarianism” and “infralapsarianism”, even if it is 6:45 in the morning! I mean, refreshing to read that someone who I believe thinks well about Christian doctrine* isn’t dogmatically anchored to either place, though I don’t think ill of those who are committed to one conclusion or the other.
2) Hooray! I’m right there with you that depression sucks, that there are no magic answers for Christians who live with a mental health dx, but that God is RIGHT THERE, hurting alongside us.
3) J.S. Park rocks!

*I don’t agree 100% w/ anyone on all doctrine…including myself 2 years ago. The blessing, &, occasional curse, of my mind, is that it is very changeable. That said, I like a lot of what Park has to say about things, &, not being a contrarian (well…today, anyway), don’t feel the pathological need to lay out any areas where we’re of different perspectives.

J.S. Park: Hospital Chaplain, Skeptical Christian

bluerbluebluesky asked a question:

Hey JS it’s been a while, hope you’re well and congrats on your marriage (and your new books). Please bear with me, it’s weird writing in being removed from Christianity, but you really do seem like a genuine and real guy and I had really appreciated your words before. How do you stay confident in a good God when He has “fearfully and wonderfully” made you with depression? I can’t understand why He’d watch His kids live with chronic unbalanced neurochemicals that make them suicidal. Thanks JS

Hey dear friend, I appreciate your very kind words and I’m thankful for your honest challenging question.

I think there are really two ways to look at this. One is that God created everything in history, including death and disease and disasters, as a big ball of yarn that will one day be un-done by His glory. The other…

View original post 615 more words

Blasphemy Of Blasphemies, All Is Blasphemy

Standard
~Late Night '82~

~Late Night ’82~

      In 6th grade study hall, of all places, I first committed the sin of blasphemy, without even fully knowing it. Here’s what happened.

     At 12, as a new middle schooler, I was poised to enjoy more “grown-up” everything, including more teeny-bopper tunes on 96 KISS, swapping girls-wear for missy styles, and watching more adult television. I especially took in more late-night programs, with more shocking content, like “Friday Night Videos” and “Saturday Night Live”. I’d been watching war movies, westerns, and gangster fare, as well as soaps, Bandstand, Solid Gold, & Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts for eons, so it wasn’t as big a stretch as one might imagine. I wasn’t, therefore, making a leap from “Little House on the Prairie” to “Playboy After Dark”—just a nudge in the direction of the tawdry. ‘Twas more like the move from Johnny Weismuller Tarzan flicks, or “Gilligan’s Island”, to Mr. Roarke’s “Fantasy Island”, for the most part.  I’d “graduated” from “G” to “PG”, but, truth be told, I also dabbled a bit in the more (soon-to-be-named) “PG-13” content of late night, too.

So, it was, then, that I was eager to soak up any late night humor I missed, due to overly observant parent intervention and the like. And, while it was difficult to act out Benny Hill sketches properly, out in the back yard, with friends, SNL, SCTV, and other late evening show skits were perfect for backyard repertory performance. Thus, a buddy passed on a little parody ditty, from one of the shows, and I quickly committed it to memory. Had I but shared it with my mother, who, herself, had sung me that dear old gem “Place In France” (with a warning not to sing it to schoolmates or pals, lest I offend), I feel sure that a reprimand for the blasphemous content, followed by a round of admonishment/explanation, would’ve surely ensued.

Instead, I kept it to myself, until a fateful day in a gym class study hall. Would that I had given deeper-than-mindless-preteen-level thought to the parody lyrics. Alas, I did not. As a student of good reputation, 4 years into a near-decade stint at a fundamentalist “skirt school”, it was, by far, the closest I came to being suspended. Here’s the lyric in question, as best I can recall. I think you’ll see how frankly sneering toward the Christianity I typified, at my best, it was.

(To the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”, which somehow makes it worse.)

“Jesus Loves Me, ‘Cause I’m Cool

I Pop Pills In Sunday School

Marijuana, LSD, Help Me Know

Jesus Loves Me”

Are you sitting in front of the computer, mouth agape, shaking your head in horror? I know I am. How could this get any worse? Don’t worry. It can. How? I shared this little ditty with my friend, Aimee—wait for it—in writing. I’m sure you can guess what came next. Yup. Mrs. Wall, my gym teacher, happened to look up, just as I passed this jolly little note. B-U-S-T-E-D. Cold busted.

What followed was my very kind, but firm, middle school principal, explaining to me as I heave-sobbed, that he really should be suspending me for my blasphemous missive. I didn’t (and still don’t) disagree. If I’d had any other infractions, I’m sure I’d have pulled the harsher sentence. What I settled for, instead, was a write-off, and a call to my mom at her office. This was no giggly “Place In France” level naughtiness. Far from it. Why? I hadn’t been mocking silly men, gaping through peepholes, while “inexplicably” (I was barely 12) dropping trou. I had, instead, poked fun at the deity I supposedly worshiped, while making light of druggy debauchery. I felt foolish. Ashamed. Confused.

So, what is blasphemy? Church teaching on the subject, obviously, hadn’t gotten through to me. In fact, I’m still unsure about what constitutes mocking or blaspheming God, in some respects. It’s sort of like the old saw about “indecency”— I know it when I see it. No sure-fire litmus test exists, for things teetering on the boundary line of blasphemous content & those simply in poor taste. This should be the kind of thing I’d be more clear about, 30 years later, but I’m not so sure I am.

“Monty Python’s Life of Brian“? Probably, although I’m having a hard time thinking up examples. John Lennon’s oft-quoted remark? Maybe. When I ponder how I define “blasphemy”, I think, generally, about speech or behavior that blatantly mocks the God-head, and in some cases, makes light of God’s standards.

That said, in some ways, I have become a bit less rigid. I think of the night at a Bible study, in the past decade, when someone remarked that one could sum up much of Biblical law with the following edict: “Don’t be a ____ (male appendage).” There was a time when the interjection of a profane body-part word, in a christian setting, would’ve stripped my gears. If there had been kids around, I might’ve felt differently. Instead, I didn’t mind so much, and it didn’t feel blasphemous in the least, given the context.

Does that mean I picture Jesus or His apostles with a “swear word jar”, filled to the brim with coin ? No. Does it mean I think profanity is okay, or that I encourage it, in any setting? Of course not. And I still, most definitely, don’t think the late-night tune I wrote out to giggle at with a friend was okay. I can’t explain, though, why some believers see blasphemy everywhere they turn, and see the world as a hatefully mocking, jeering throng, hell-bent on destroying Christendom and all that is holy.

I think God has a great sense of humor, and that He’s not damaged, to any great extent, by people who seek to try to unseat Him from His throne, by making Him the focus of derision & malicious wit. I worry that we followers of Christ sometimes come across as humorless hand-wringers, waiting to make mountains out of mole-hills, at every turn. I do wish to stand up & defend my faith, where that’s appropriate. I don’t want to be the christian equivalent of Debbie Downer. (Waaahh, waaah.)  I want to dig deeper to learn more about what the Bible says about blasphemy, and to note where it has fallen silent, as well as where man has created controversies, absent from scriptural teaching.

Oh, and an EPILOGUE, if you’ll indulge me: Many of my life-long friendships were acquired at the aforementioned “skirt school”, which gave me many wonderful adult role models, several of whom I now count friends, Before the school closed, it had transformed into a less legalistic atmosphere (girls in pants & capris, a school “rock band”, even!), and my children were blessed to play several sports there, during the academy’s final year. I continued my classical/college prep education, during my senior year of high school, at a wonderful international boarding school, founded in 1880, and still going strong. I added many great life-long friendships, there, too, as well as new role models who enriched my life further. I graduated a few days before my Nashville “skirt school” friends, packed up my dorm room, and got back in time to attend my old friends’ baccalaureate & commencement. Who did I sit with? My former middle school principal—the same fellow who’d shown me mercy, all those years before. He, too, had moved on from my former school, and had come back to watch graduation of the Class of ’89. Catching up, we discovered an in-common favorite that would’ve been verboten years before, due to its inclusion of numbers with a pseudo- “rock beat”— the Broadway hit I’d just viewed on Jr./Sr. Trip, with my new school— Phantom of the Opera! If you know anything about how I first attracted Mr. Sparks’ attention, you’d know why Phantom became such a big deal to me. That’s a story for another day.

~Phantom Original NYC Cast~

~Phantom Original NYC Cast~