Category Archives: faith/spirituality

Big Knockers, Fringe Festival, and Local Characters

When my friends Abby DeVuyst and Kerry Young first told me about their show “Big Knockers: Debunking The Fox Sisters”, which would be performed at the 2017 Rochester Fringe Festival, I did a little dance of joy.

The show is a spoof on the Fox Sisters, often credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement thanks to their claims that they could communicate with the spirit world via a system of rappings or knockings.

If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that for the last couple of years I’ve been researching and writing a book about…well, it started as a book about Mt. Hope Cemetery, but it’s now rabbit trailed all over the place as I’ve encountered fascinating stories about Rochester’s history and the unknown residents who lay buried, often in unmarked graves, not only in Mt. Hope but other local cemeteries.

I’ve got piles of research notes, chapter drafts, and half-written blog posts on everyone from Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody to American aviatrix Blanche Stuart Scott, from clairvoyant physician Mrs. Dr. Jennie C Dutton to murder victim Emma Moore.

So when I offered to provide Kerry and Abby with some research that might help them put the Fox sisters in context with local history, they told me to send along anything I wanted. I went through my files and then inundated them with stories about local inventors, mediums, and clairvoyant physicians. I sent newspaper clippings and wrote rambling paragraphs outlining crazy stories that have fascinated me for years. I spouted facts and dates. I sent links to stories I’d already written.

And then I apologized a hundred times for overloading them with information.

And then they thanked me, and told me that they used what I’d sent them to help form the characters and stories in the show.

By that time, I’d already auditioned for and gotten a part in “Big Knockers”, so I was over the moon that these people who have lived for years in my head and in file folders would have their stories heard. But even better? I got to bring one of my favorite women to life: I play a notorious local madam named Matilda Dean.

While the “Big Knockers” writers obviously had to take liberties with dates and story lines in order to make it all work for the show (and add the humor), the characters actually are based on real people, and much of details they share about themselves are true. [update: here’s the review in City Newspaper] So for those of you want to know more, here is the “Big Knockers” backstory. Keep in mind that these are just small snippets of information; much more lies in folders piled up on my desk, waiting to find a home in blog posts and book chapters. Or who knows? Maybe on another stage?

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The strangest dream: the incredible, growing house

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

One of the (few) things I like about Facebook is that it shows me things that I’ve posted on the same day over the years. It’s interesting to see old photos and status updates.

Today, though, what popped up was a link to a blog post I’d written in 2009, on an old blog, in which I chronicled a dream I’d had a few nights before. I keep a dream journal and often read through it to see if I can decipher messages I’m trying to send to myself. I’m a vivid dreamer and I’m convinced my subconscious talks to me when I sleep.

So when I read the post from seven years ago, I didn’t remember the dream at first. I apparently never wrote it in my journal. But as I read the post it came back . In detail. I could see the rooms, feel the furniture, and I remember the tone of voice people used when they talked to me.

It’s an interesting enough dream to share again. There’s a message in there somewhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it comes as the holiday season kicks off. A quick note: I’ve changed or eliminated the names of some people and edited out a few random comments I’d made at the time. But otherwise, here is the dream:

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For some reason, in this dream darling husband David and I had been given a huge, mansion-like house. It had a ground floor, three floors of bedrooms, and then an attic. Cassie, David and I set ourselves up on the third floor, with lovely, huge rooms, big windows, and lots of sunlight and beautiful antique furniture. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50 #29: T.H.I.N.K.

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Someone posed a question on Facebook recently, asking how you know when the story you’re about to tell someone is actually gossip.

Gossip. It’s a topic I’ve actually thought about quite a lot over the years.

I was at a women’s Bible study once, many moons ago. While I had been a Christian for a long time (at least in label if not necessarily in understanding), it was my first Bible study ever, my first women’s event ever, and I was really new at this church. The women broke off into small groups for prayer – another new thing for me – and started going around the table and sharing fairly lengthy stories about people they were requesting prayer for. Details that included at least first names as well as specifics about situations, illnesses, etc.

One women started talking about her baby sitter, requesting prayer for her while revealing where she lived and some specific details about her family. Turns out, I was pretty sure she was talking about a friend of my daughter, and when the story was finished I asked a question about the girl. The woman leading our group turned to me and said, “Joanne! We’re not here to gossip!”

I’m sure I turned 50 shades of red. I didn’t know any of these women, had never been to a Bible study before and was mortified that I’d been found out as an ignorant Christian. This was gossip?

The truth is, I had sat through some very detailed “prayer requests” that, if you really think about it, were just gossip. That they were shared in a Bible study didn’t change that fact. But in my zeal to learn how to be a Christian, I also learned how to share and receive prayer requests.

Yup, I learned how to be a better gossip in church. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #26 What is Christian music and why do you care?

I amassed quite the collection of CDs over my years covering Christian music, most of which just collects dust.

I amassed quite the collection of CDs over my years covering Christian music, most of which just collects dust

I was contacted recently by a new Christian music magazine about maybe doing some writing for them. I admit I was tempted enough to ask for more information. I miss my artist friends. I miss my publicist friends. I miss my fellow music writing friends. I need the money.

But then I saw this post today about TobyMac, and it reminded me of the reasons why I stopped writing about music and entertainment.

I don’t miss the bullshit.

Is TobyMac singing about the Illuminati? Who knows. Who cares. Do you like his music? Then listen. If not, then don’t. If listening to a song that may or may not be about the Illuminati is dangerous to your faith, then the problem isn’t TobyMac. The problem is that your beliefs are so shaky that they can be wavered by a guy wearing a t-shirt with an eyeball on it.

I wrote the following post back in 2009 for a website called Wrecked For The Ordinary. I share it as part of my 50 Thoughts On Turning 50 series because I learned a lot of lessons in my years covering Christian music. Mostly that there’s no such thing as Christian music, because music can’t be Christian. It’s music.

Or maybe I’m just an idiot. I certainly heard that often enough.

But what I learned, at least by the time I got to writing the essay that follows, is that my faith is not a commercial product, and when you strip away all of the extraneous bullshit, you get … well, God. Faith. The wonder of Creation. No Jesus fish stickers required.

In the end, I didn’t pursue the offer to write for this new magazine, in no small part because every time I asked what the assignment paid, they avoided the question. That’s because in the Christian genre, writers are often expected to write for free, because, you know, it’s about Jesus and all, and you should just do it for the Lord.

But that’s another story for another day.

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What Is Christian Music And Why Do You Care?
(This originally ran in 2009 on the website Wrecked For The Ordinary.)

I once wrote a post on my blog at Beliefnet.com in which I threw out this joke:

“You might be a Christian music fan if you didn’t let your kids listen to the Jonas Brothers until you found out they were Christians. But you did let your kids listen to David Archuleta until you found out he was Mormon.” Continue reading

It’s time to say “Thank You” to our police officers


(Video of the moving eulogy by Lt. Eric Paul at the funeral of Officer Daryl Pierson)

It’s been more than a week since Rochester Police Department’s Officer Daryl Pierson was gunned down by a repeated parole violator he was trying to apprehend, and just a few days since Pierson’s funeral and the community-wide gathering in his honor. While there was a memorial last night at the East Rochester High School football game (Pierson grew up here, attended school here, and lived here with his wife and two young children) the press has moved on to other, more pressing subjects.

But this morning, a young wife and her children awoke, just one of thousands of days ahead of them as they learn to live without their husband and father.

And this morning, hundreds of police officers across our community pinned on their badges, strapped on their guns, and went out to do the same job that killed Officer Pierson.

For you.

It’s been on my mind this week that while our community has rallied around the Pierson family, the Rochester Police Department and other area law enforcement, it’s only natural that our devotion will wane as we move farther and farther from the event that shook our city just 10 days ago.

That bothers me. I’m the daughter of a police officer; my dad is a retired Gates cop. I know firsthand the toll the job can take on a family, a marriage, a life.

I think the vast majority of people in Rochester understand that the police are the good guys. Are there bad apples here and there? Sure, but they’re a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the family of men and women who wear a badge.

That’s why you hear about the bad ones; it’s not a big news story when a cop goes to work and no one complains, when he serves a warrant and takes the criminal into custody without incident, when he stops a car and apprehends the suspect and no one is killed.

I know that you believe they’re the good guys, too. But even so, I think most people take for granted that when they dial 911, there’s an officer on duty – and what that means for him and his family. Continue reading

Sharing my essay “The Unsung Celebrity,” in honor of Officer Daryl Pierson

In honor of Officer Pierson, who was killed this week in the line of duty, and in support of law enforcement in your area, consider putting a blue light bulb in your porch light.

In honor of Officer Pierson, who was killed this week in the line of duty, and in support of law enforcement in your area, consider putting a blue light bulb in your porch light. You can learn more a http://www.GoHeroes.us or by clicking the image.

This week, a member of the Rochester Police Department lost one of its own when Officer Daryl Pierson was killed in the line of duty. By all accounts, the 32-year-old was a remarkable officer, recognized more than once for his character and exemplary work; he was also a member of the Army National Guard. He was a devoted husband and father, with a 3-month-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, who had just started kindergarten on the day Pierson was killed.

Included in my book, “What The Dog Said”, is a piece I wrote a few years ago about meeting a soldier in an Ohio airport. While this piece isn’t about a police officer, I think the message is fitting in the wake of Officer Pierson’s death, and I’d like to share it with you here. (Note: I recently learned that while serving in the Army, Daryl Pierson spent time in Korea defending the DMZ, which makes this piece even more fitting.)

At the end of the piece, you can find links to ways you can support Officer Pierson’s family as well as first responders in your area.

One last word: If you like the piece, feel free to share the link to this post, but please don’t copy the story and paste it other places. Thanks for being considerate of the copyright.

Joanne
East Rochester, NY

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The Unsung Celebrity
by Joanne Brokaw

He looked like just another fresh-faced, Midwestern college student heading back to classes after spring break. Tall and handsome, dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap, he was surrounded by what could only be his family, gathered together to send him back into the big world.

I was returning home to Rochester, NY after spending three days in Dayton, OH for the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer’s Conference, where we’d been encouraged to see the humor in the mundane, the laughter in our surroundings and the comedy in our pain.

Maybe that’s why I noticed the young man. A woman who I assumed was his mother was wrapped tightly around his waist, reluctant to say goodbye, a gesture I was all too familiar with whenever I used to send my daughter back to college, an entire hour from home.

I was with two other women from the conference, chatting and laughing, and the young man ended up behind us in the security line. I leaned across our group and tapped him on the arm. “Where are you going that your family is going to miss you so much?” I asked with a smile.

“The DMZ in South Korea,” he responded politely. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #21 Reading the Bible

Judges 19 and 20 - one of the stories in the Bible that still haunts me.

I used a daily devotional Bible and kept a journal of notes and questions. Judges 19 and 20 – one of the stories in the Bible that still haunts me.

Religion, faith and spirituality have played a large part in my life – both good and bad. So it only makes sense that I address the issues as I muse on 50 years.  There’s no way I can tackle them all in one post so I’ll break them up.

Today? The Bible. Or more specifically, reading the Bible.

A few years ago, author John Marks interviewed me for his book, “Reasons To Believe“.  He had introduced himself to me as a former evangelical and he was writing a book about religion and faith. I can’t remember a lot of the questions he asked, because years later I still dwell on the first one: “Do you believe everything in the Bible is true?”

Of course, I told him, but as the words came out of my mouth I felt this check in my gut. Wait, I said. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it like that.

Turns out that a lot of my answers to his questions were “I don’t know” or “I hadn’t really thought about it.” How he managed to actually find enough to use for the book is amazing.

I met John in 2005; over the next year or so we talked many times but his questions challenged me. So I set out to read the entire Bible, cover to cover, to find out if, in fact, I believed everything in it was true.

My answer to that question today: I still don’t know. But I can tell you this. After reading the whole Bible, I have a heck of a lot more questions than answers. Continue reading