Posted by: ritagone | August 14, 2019

What You See Is Not Always What You Get!

I have followed the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” from its beginning seven seasons ago to its ending recently.  Although I can’t fully recommend this womens’ prison series that is supposedly a comedy, because it is filled with bad language and much sexual content, there are often such moments of tenderness and warmth that I actually weep with recognition of the human condition.  So there’s that.

One recurring character since the first season was Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren – no relation!! – played by Uzo Aduba, who does a remarkable job of portraying a woman who has mental health issues while being completely relatable and vulnerable in her honesty and humanity.  In fact, I found her to be one of the characters I liked watching the most during the entire stretch of the series.

But never in my wildest imaginings would I have thought that this actress was capable of singing both opera and Broadway show tunes with the best of them!  Not until I saw a very short piece on “The View,” where she was guest-starring, and her hosts cajoled her into singing a bit of “O Mio Bambino,” a very familiar opera piece, whereupon I had to lift my jaw up from my lap.  Then, it was YouTube time, where I found, to my continuing amazement, that Uzo Aduba had a score of videos where she was singing solos and duets of many wonderful show tunes (including one of my favorites, “Lily’s Eyes,” from The Secret Garden), looking stunningly gorgeous and belting the song effortlessly.

Cut back to OITNB, where Aduba has won two Emmys for her performance as Suzanne.  You would never in a million years say that these are the same person, the same performer, the same artist.

And yes, there’s a message, a point here: what you see is not always what is there.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  Proverbs and clichés to that effect.  In other words, if all you had to judge Uzo Aduba by was her performance on the Netflix series, how unbalanced would that slant be?  You would see her as a wild woman, ranting and raving, wide-eyed, hysterical, a sad prison inmate.  You would miss completely this self-contained, articulate, talented vocal phenomenon who hopefully will have a very long career both in acting and in the musical world now that OITNB is over.

Where else have you and I failed to see something or someone below the surface?  I shudder to think of the many times this must happen in my life, my normal day, but I can’t tell you about those occurrences because I don’t know about them; they’re gone, and I missed them forever.

So one of my prayers today – for you and for me – is that God would open up the eyes of our hearts to help us see below and beneath the surface of faces and events, to the reality that beats to or sings a different song.

And, because I don’t know how to capture videos for this blog, I’m hoping you’ll go to YouTube and put in Uzo Aduba singing to see her talents in this area as well as her acting chops on OITNB.  You will be blessed, I promise you, and you’ll see the reality of what I’m saying here.  You’ll “get it.”  Believe me, you’ll get it.

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Posted by: ritagone | August 7, 2019

While I Was Away…

 

 

Last week at this time I was in Vancouver, B.C. (see photo, nighttime shot of part of the city) with my husband and our dear friends Alan and Deb Hirsch.  We were auditing a class at Regent College called “Poetry and Theology” which was taught by Malcolm Guite, a British professor/poet/theologian/lecturer who teaches at Cambridge University in England and also speaks all over the Western world.  His area of expertise is classical and British literature – especially poetry – as it relates to Christian theology.

Now, if that sounds dry, banish that thought from your mind.  At one point, while Professor Guite was speaking, I thought to myself, “If I weren’t already a follower of Jesus, listening to this man would cause me to become one.”  That’s how powerful his words and expressions were.  Sitting in the Regent chapel, where the class was held, looking around at the 100 + other students, some elderly, some college-aged, but all intently listening to what he had to say, I was struck by another thought: “This is what it’s like when someone is using their gifting for God.”  In fact, the three days that we attended the class were filled with such epiphanies, mind-opening awakenings that made me sit up and take notice of something that hadn’t struck me before.  That’s good teaching!!!

We had signed up, unfortunately, for only three of the five days that the class was going on.  But the good news is that soon recordings of the entire class will be made available, so I can listen to the lectures we missed as well as listening again to those we already heard.  They bear repeating.  I took very good notes.  Still, my notes don’t come close to capturing the insights, the beauty of the recitations of the poetry (stanza upon stanza, for example, of “The Divine Comedy” quoted from his memory) that he linked to great theological truths.  I know my God better for having been in that class.  And that’s also good teaching.

The rest of the time we were in Vancouver, we explored that incredible city.  If you’re looking for a place to go for a visit that has something for everyone, try Vancouver, British Columbia.  You won’t be disappointed.

But what really stays with me, what really has transformed my inner being and my heart is the class taught by Guite.  He is the epitome of the saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  He looks like he just stepped out of Harry Potter’s Hogworts: long straight gray hair, beard, baggy pants, white T-shirt with a vest, very strong British accent.  Did he have a SAG card? Because he looked like someone had cast him as a professor in the latest Harry Potter movie for sure. But when he opened his mouth and began to teach, ah, the world was changed, enhanced, made more beautiful and meaningful by his words.

         And that’s great teaching!

Posted by: ritagone | July 24, 2019

A Few Thoughts

If you know me at all, you know that I love the writings of C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), both his works of fiction and his non-fiction.  In fact, when I

get to heaven, I’m going to greet Jesus first, of course, but after a few hundred years of conversation with Him, the next person I want to meet is Clive Staples Lewis, where I’m sure the line will be long waiting to talk to him.

I’ve been re-reading his fiction in the past month, all seven of the books that comprise what to me are the greatest work of story-telling around: The Chronicles of Narnia.  In fact, you know that game you play occasionally around the dining table, where your daughter asks, “If you could only take one book with you to a desert island, what would it be?”, my answer would always be the seven Narnia books (because they are, after all, a collection and so serve as one book).

I’ve also been re-reading some of his non-fiction prose.  Some of it is way over my head, filled with Latin references as befits a scholar and professor at both Cambridge and Oxford, much too erudite for this little girl with a Bachelor’s Degree from U.C.L.A. (class of 1966).  But one of the non-fiction works that I have relished re-reading is “The Weight of Glory,” a series of essays or sermons delivered by Lewis during World War II, a time of great conflict and disturbance in the British Isles to which Lewis brought his voice of sanity and reason and faith.

I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes in this book, just re-print it here and let you read it and mull over it yourselves, let it sink in and touch your heart and soul.

So here it is:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one

day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a m

ere mortal….Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” (pages 45-46)

As I said, this is a paragraph to be thought about, prayed over, and taken into consideration as to its implications for our lives.  Please do so at your leisure.

I will be gone next week, on a little excursion to Vancouver, B.C., with Michael and friends, so there will be a respite from Rita’s Ramblings, but my heart will be here with you, hoping and praying that God is touching your lives in many wondrous ways.

Until August 7, be well and follow Jesus closely.

Posted by: ritagone | July 17, 2019

Hibernating from the Egos

Sometimes in life it’s just right to hibernate.

Sometimes the negative banter between the President of the United States and the captain of the womens’ professional soccer team is just, well, just plain ludicrous.  On both sides.  She’s arrogant and obnoxious.  He is not behaving as befitting his office.  There’s shame enough to go around.

And I just want to be away from it.

Someone said there’s a movement to encourage Megan Rapinoe to run for President.  Really?  I’m turning off the TV, my computer, and burrowing deeply into a quiet pillow.  Call me when it’s over.

I don’t know about you, but egos of any gender are hard to deal with.  Self-serving personalities of any age don’t sit well.

So…sometimes in life it’s just right to hibernate, as I said.  I’m taking my Bible with me, because when you get fed up with the swelling egos swirling around us all, you need a good dose of Jesus to counterbalance what you keep hearing and seeing.  And thankfully, He meets us right where we need Him!!!

 

 

 

Posted by: ritagone | July 10, 2019

By Design

Important words from Christine Caine’s devotional book, which I read every morning. Savor them and make them significant for you and your own life.

 

By Design

 

“God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.’” – Genesis 1:14

 

 

Have you ever stopped to think, Why am I doing everything I’m doing? Is this really God’s will for my life, or is it just what I think I’m supposed to do?

Questions like these can wake us up.  They can shake us out of living by default instead of according to God’s design.  The symptoms of a life lived by default are mechanically going through our days, probably feeling unsatisfied and unmotivated, and doing what everyone else is doing.  God has planned so much more for us.

Time is sacred. Let’s throw off the default life and learn to spend it wisely and well.  Let’s prayerfully take an inventory of where our time goes and how that aligns with God’s plans.  We always have the one true God to guide us – the one who lovingly formed us and numbered our days (Psalm 139:15-16).

 

Lord, please help me to be a good steward of the days You bless me with. I want to live joyfully in the sacred time You’ve appointed for me.

Posted by: ritagone | July 3, 2019

I Like Food!!!

 

Since Sunday I have been doing a 5-day fast which I purchased at my doctor’s office after my yearly physical last week.  (You might be wondering what you have to purchase in order to do a fast? Well, it’s not a complete fast but one where you eat soups that are reconstituted with water, kale crackers, bars, special tea bags, and a strange liquid that makes water into various flavors.)  It’s not only for weight loss but to kick your cells into some kind of rejuvenation, and I thought to myself, “I need a little rejuvenation, so why not try it?”

The first hurdle was to find five days in a row where nothing was happening: no lunch or dinner dates, no social life at all.  Fortunately my family – minus my husband, that is – were all going up to Idaho for (another) family vacation, so I knew they wouldn’t be asking for breakfast or lunch or dinner dates.  It was also a time on the calendar when my friends seemed to all disappear, so I figured I’d better take advantage of it and make these five days the fasting ones.

I am a creature of habit, particularly when it comes to eating.  I get a food in my sights, and it becomes my best friend.  Sometimes that’s good (I lose weight) and sometimes it’s bad (yes, you guessed it).  Lately, for the last few months, food has not been my friend where the scales are concerned.  My mouth has loved what I’ve been eating; unfortunately my waist has not.  Hence, the fast.

Now, being someone who likes to eat the same yummy things day in and day out, changing to eating…well, sawdust (the bars) and mush (the soups) has not been a pleasant change.  I do like the green olives.  They are, indeed, green olives; all you have to do is put them in the fridge and eat them when green olives are on your schedule.  I actually can tolerate the tea too.  It’s pretty difficult to ruin a good cuppa.  But if you told me that this box of foodstuffs was going to be my diet for the rest of my life, I suppose I’d ask you to let me just die of starvation instead.  I don’t like it at all.

I haven’t heard a positive word from any of my cells. They are not seemingly any happier than when I was eating the foods that were causing my jeans to be tighter than they should be.  I do keep glancing at the calendar wondering how fast Friday can possibly come around.

Maybe it’s a delayed reaction.

Yes, that’s it!  Friday morning, when the “fast” is over, I’m going to feel terrific, I’m going to be a new person, lighter, sharper, more tuned in to the world around me, every cell alive and throbbing with vitality!!

If that’s the case, I could conceivably do this again in a month or so….

Posted by: ritagone | June 26, 2019

That Was Heather Headley!!!

 

 

Almost 20 years ago Michael and I were in New York City and went to see a musical called “Aida,” based on the opera by Verdi, the story of a Nubian princess who falls in love with the Egyptian captain who enslaves her people.  The music was by none other than Sir Elton John, and the lyrics were from Sir Tim Rice, who gave us “Evita,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and my personal favorite Broadway show, “Chess.”  The cast was composed of names I wasn’t too familiar with at the time, performers who have incidentally gone on to become Broadway regulars: Adam Pascal, Sherie Rene Scott, and, in the title role, a tall, thin, stately woman of color named Heather Headley.

We didn’t know any of the performers by sight back then, as I said, so when we read the wall box in the lobby that informed audiences as to who was “off” that performance before the show, we weren’t too upset to read that the part of Aida would be played by someone else, not Heather Headley.  Normally you go to a Broadway show lured by a performer or two whose names resonate with you:  Patti Lupone, Bette Midler, Kelli O’Hara, whoever you know and love from past performances.  But because, as I said, we didn’t know the cast of this show, we took it in stride that the female lead wasn’t performing in this show and went happily into the theater to find our seats.

It was a fabulous show, with brilliant music and a great story.  And the female lead was amazing!  At some point I whispered into Michael’s ear, “Heather Headley couldn’t be any better than this gal!”

When the show was over, some two hours later, we were happy and humming the tunes.  We wanted to know who the understudy for Heather Headley had been, because we had been blown away, so we walked up to one of the theater staff and asked, “Who played Aida in this performance?”

“Heather Headley,” she said, looking at us like we were from another planet.

We were a bit awe-struck, so we wandered back to the wall box on the lobby wall, and there we discovered that we weren’t being notified that Heather Headley was not in today’s performance; we were being told that Heather Headley would be on vacation for two weeks starting a week from the day of today’s performance.  So yes, we had sat through “Aida” and that was Heather Headley!

Incidentally, she went on to win the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical that year against four other incredibly talented performers. (And she even thanked God for the award.)

So what’s my point about all of this?  What was a lesson that I learned from this experience, because, like so many other events in one’s life, this one taught me something invaluable: YOU DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW.

Michael and I were so sure that we were hearing an understudy for Heather Headley, we didn’t really get the chance to appreciate Heather Headley herself in her Tony Award-winning performance.  We kept shaking our heads at this singer who was belting out these songs and acting up a storm playing Aida, wondering how Heather Headley could possibly do any better, when all the time we were seeing and hearing Heather Headley at her finest.

So what if you’re seeing something and it’s the genuine thing, not a replacement, not an understudy?

We need to appreciate everything around us for what it is, and when we find greatness, when we hear it and watch it and experience it, we need to stand up and applaud until our hands sting.

I’ve never seen Heather Headley in a live performance since then.

I’d love to do so, this time knowing for sure that it was the real thing – Heather Headley – that I was watching.

And I wish for you that you have the ability to recognize greatness while you’re in its presence, not later.

 

Posted by: ritagone | June 19, 2019

Family Vacation

Welcome to oxnard green road sign

Last year our family of nine (Michael, myself, Dana and Ed, their three kids, Matt and his daughter Hannah) went to Hawaii.  We try to do a family vacation early in the summer, when everyone is out of school and work schedules allow it, and before everyone settles down to work and summer school and whatever else occupies that time between school semesters or fall workloads.  (Or, for Michael and me, more retirement!)  We had a great time in Maui.

This year we decided to try to make the vacation a bit easier (not to mention cheaper) by picking a spot we could all drive to instead of having to fly.  So we – and by “we” I mean the committee of two, Michael and Matt – selected the city of Oxnard, which has beach locations and is literally about 45 minutes by car from our homes.

Okay, so June gloom is a real thing in Oxnard.  But other than that, we had a blast.  We spent a lot of time at The Collection, a shopping mall that is like a town unto itself: shops, restaurants, and movie theater complex.  We played miniature golf.  We used one of the three hotel rooms as a game room and played various board games, card games, or whatever we had on hand.  We played ping pong in the room at the hotel complex designed for people to hang out in.  Many of us swam.  We ate.  A lot.

And then we capped it all off with a short drive to Ojai, where we walked around on the main drag of town and then drove to the Ojai Valley Inn and had dinner at their restaurant Olivella, which turned out to be one of the best, most memorable meals of my life.  We had a room all to ourselves, the best wait-staff ever, and a menu that was delicious from one course to the next.  For Father’s Day, all three of the dads enjoyed a very tasty bottle of red wine.

All in all, it was a great vacation, a wonderful time with family, and a joy.

If you have family that you enjoy being with, I wish you a vacation, time away, where you can savor each person and get to laugh and talk and just be together without so many of the usual distractions that keep us from focusing on one another.  It’s worth every cent you spend to do this.

And if you aren’t fortunate enough to have a family like this, my prayer for you as I write this – and as you read it – is that God will bring people into your life who will count as surrogate family, family “instead,” people that you can get away, get out of town with and really enjoy for a few days once in a while.  They don’t have to be related by blood.  Just by desire and by the hearts that bind you.

I don’t know where we’re going next year for our family vacation, but I do know that I’m already looking forward to it.

Posted by: ritagone | June 5, 2019

Flying Past Grace

Last week my husband

and I saw a touring-company production of “Les Miserables,” the musical based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century classic novel of the same name.  Our daughter and son-in-law, both musical theater buffs also, were with us.  I had already heard some reviews by friends who had seen the show on previous nights, so I was anxious to compare notes, and to compare this production with those I have seen over the 30 years since the show originated on Broadway and in the West End of London.

This production had what I would call a very rushed first act, songs and scenes just flying by.  So much so, that the pivotal scene, the key issue of the entire story, both in the original book and in the play, I felt, got lost in the speed of delivery: the scene where Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who served 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, now out of prison and trying to decide his future, having stolen a bishop’s candlesticks and fleeing, is apprehended by Inspector Javert and brought back to “confess” his crime so that he can be returned to prison, where Javert firmly and completely believes he belongs.  Instead, the bishop, sensing the goodness of Valjean and wanting to be an instrument of God’s mercy (a great example, for a change, of the clergy being a good guy!), tells Javert that not only were the candlesticks given to Valjean, but he forgot other pieces of silver in his haste to depart.

Javert therefore has no claim on Valjean and must release him, and Jean Valjean, alone on the stage, recognizes that God, through the bishop, has given him a chance to redeem himself.  He vows then and there to make something of his life. He will make things right, he will do good to others, he will make his life count.

It is as close to a salvation/redemption scene in literature and theater as you will ever see…and it is quite moving when it is allowed by direction to play itself out a bit.

But alas, in the production we saw, apparently the director and cast wanted to get out of the theater as quickly as possible for their late dinner plans, because the scene and all its import flashed by a rather unsuspecting audience.  You really had to know it was coming, understand its significance to appreciate what was happening.  I wondered if most of the audience did so.

Too bad.

In a culture almost devoid of such metaphors and literary allusions to grace and mercy, I hate to see that when one does come along, it goes by so quickly that it isn’t appreciated for what it is.  If there were hints of grace all over the place, we could afford to let one or two slip by, but they’re in short supply, so we need to savor them, understand them, and learn from them when we can.

So my admonition to you, dear reader, is that you watch for displays of grace wherever you can, in movies, theater, TV programs.  Savor them, enjoy them, tell others about them.  The English poet Robert Browning said: “It is the glory and good of Art, that Art remains the one way possible of speaking truths…”  While I disagree that art is the “one way possible of speaking truths,” it is certainly a lovely way of doing so.  If it’s not done at mach speed, that is.

Posted by: ritagone | May 29, 2019

Heaven: The Ultimate Reality

Here’s an excerpt from my wonderful Nancy Guthrie devotional book for this year.  I’m loving how she speaks to me almost every day.

 

Heaven: The Ultimate Reality

 

All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God.  They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth. They were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. – Hebrews 11: 13,16

David (her husband) often said that Hope and Gabe (their two infant children who died early from a genetic disease) were not born for this life, but for the next.  They were unable to see or hear or function in this world, and they were ushered quickly to the next life, where they will one day receive resurrected and renewed bodies.  As we opened our eyes to the reality that this life is preparation for the next, our perspective about the “tragedy” of their short lives was transformed. We decided it was not really so sad that they spent only six months limited by a physical body that was hopelessly flawed. And I ask you, is it really less than the best if the person you love lives less than the eighty to ninety years we have come to define as a lifetime? Not if we see this earthly life as a rehearsal for the real thing.

While most great stories end with “and they lived happily ever after,” C.S. Lewis ended The Chronicles of Narnia’s The Last Battle much differently. As the heroic efforts of the Narnians fail, the storybook ending seems conspicuously absent. But immediately upon their deaths, the Narnians find themselves in a wonderful new land, where they are reunited with those they love and with Aslan himself. C.S. Lewis writes, “They were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Everything that had happened before was put into perspective as their real life and real story began.

So it will be for us when we embark on our real lives – our forever lives – in the presence of God. Then we’ll realize that what has gone before was just a shadow of — a prelude to – our real lives in heaven. This life is not all there is, and neither is it the best there is. There is something better, somewhere better. Someone better…than any thing, any place, any person who has captured our devotion in the here and now. It is real. And it is forever.

 

Heavenly Father, help me to see beyond what seems so real in this life into the joyful reality of the next. Give me eyes of faith to see into the distance and welcome the promises of God for a better place, a heavenly homeland.

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