Phoebe’s Smoke Detector of Florence

Somehow, poltergeists riding in on the gusts of Florence took up residence in my smoke detectors.

We lost electricity early last Friday evening:

As I am hustling to move refrigerated food to new configurations of storage and preparing candles and matches for nightfall, one of the smoke detector batteries decides it has had enough. If there is no electricity, then why should its battery continue to hold the line? No birds singing? The smoke detector will loudly chirp a never-ending intermittent chorus. So, I stop what I am doing, retrieve a new battery from the now-more-precious reserves, and replace it, trying to be amused at the timing of it all.

Eventually, the power comes back on, Florence blows herself back out to sea, and I begin putting life back to normal arrangements again. Until tonight.

Tonight, I go to bed at an unbelievably reasonable hour and miraculously fall right to sleep. I am awakened about an hour later by a text that was actually welcomed because it brought a good update for which I had been waiting. But, now, I am aware of a chirp. Not the chirp in intervals but a constant, incessant chirp. A chirp that is not in the house proper but coming up from underneath the floor. It is in the basement classroom, to which there is no interior access. I try to ignore it. I turn to lie on my good ear, hoping my less-good-ear will not hear the constant chirping. Alas . . .

I grab the flashlight (it still has working batteries, even after our tropical storm adventures together), and I head out into the night, around to the back of the house. The closer I get to the back yard, the louder the chirping rings out into the night, apparently amplified by the concrete walls and metal door. I am mortified. How is it that my neighbors have not called in a noise complaint or at least curiously texted me? I open the half-height metal door, reach in and twist off the smoke detector from its mount, attempt to muffle its shrieks against my body, and walk back around the house and back inside. Have you ever seen someone not able to turn off their car alarm who finally gets in their car and drives it away in embarrassment? Imagine that, only at a slower walking pace as I carry the offending device on a parade route around the house.

I bring it inside the house because it is a 10-year-battery alarm — the kind that you discard and replace the entire unit. Only, it is not that simple.

I can only assume that the small, low-ceilinged basement room temporarily flooding with several inches of water messed with the longevity of the smoke detector.

Remarkably calmly, I put on my reading glasses, read the instructions on the back, use scissors to “score along the dotted lines” so that I can remove the plastic magical piece. That, indeed stops the constant chirping. I set it down on the table and head off to bed again, only to hear it laugh a chirp behind my back. I stop dead in my tracks and wait. Perhaps it was just a dying gasp? No. It chirps again.

Again surreally calmly, I pick up a screwdriver and use both ends to methodically pulverize and pry that cursed creature apart and remove the “ten-year-battery” innards, bits of brittle plastic flying across the kitchen. It is silent.

Tomorrow, I will dispose of its parts in three different trash receptacles (perhaps in three different locations throughout the city) in order to keep it from reassembling itself in ways that my imagination only too readily conjures.

Please tell me you have seen the “Friends” episode in which Phoebe does mortal combat with a smoke detector. 

PSA: Smoke detectors save lives, when they are not possessed.
I hope you have functioning smoke detectors in your home. 


Outside Critique, Inside Identity

I spent over 40 years of my life as a devout Mormon. One thing that I learned (or thought I learned) from that experience is that no one should ever tell someone else what that other person believes. Because Mormons believe in a Trinity made up of three separate entities (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) rather than the three-in-one concept of the Godhead, many in the rest of the Christian world assert that Mormons are not Christian. Throughout my life, I have been told by others what I supposedly believed–that I supposedly did not believe in Christ, was not a real Christian, and that, therefore, I was going to hell. That is such a befuddling and frustrating experience for someone who has always prayed in the name of Christ and who has gone to an extra class before school every day of high school just to read the scriptures (including the Bible) with a focus on what they teach about Christ.

More recently, I have been studying with and attending services at the local synagogue (while simultaneously attending Quaker meetings for worship). One thing that has been mentioned several times is that Jewish people do not believe that the scriptures say what Christians think they say when Christians quote verses purportedly prophesying (and, thus, proving) that Jesus was the Messiah. The Rabbi said you cannot use your interpretation of scripture to prove that another religion is wrong about its scriptural interpretation.

The first time I heard the Rabbi say that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. All my life, I had dealt with people fervently trying to tell me what I, myself, believed in my heart of hearts. Yet, also, all my life, I had learned that Jews had simply not recognized prophecy fulfilled — and here were the scriptures to prove it.*

I guess this is an easy trap to fall into if we are not careful. The weekly Torah portion just last week included Deuteronomy 24:16: “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime.” [emphasis added by me, Jewish Publication Society translation] An individual quoted this verse as “proving” that a religion based on putting a person to death for others’ sins is clearly wrong, ostensibly referring to the death of Christ to atone for the sins of the world. To her credit, the Rabbi pointed out that this verse refers to what humans cannot do to or for each other (implying that Christians would not hold that it applied to Christ, they believing him to be a divine being), and, she reiterated that we cannot use our understanding of scripture to prove another’s theology wrong.

We all feel the injustice of this when it is done to us, but it is harder to see it when we do it to others — especially if we are taught that way by those in spiritual authority over us.

But, sometimes, an outside perspective can be enlightening, particularly with regards to practice rather than theology (although they easily influence each other).

This morning, I was reading in the Qu’ran as part of my study of sacred texts. Referring to the Hebrew Scriptures and some of the perceived shortcomings of its people, it said, “Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do ye reject the rest?” and then at the end of that section, “The people of Moses and the people of Jesus were given revelations but alas! they played false with their own lights. And, in their selfishness, made narrow God’s universal message.” [Qu’ran Sura 2.85 and C47, translation by Abdullah Yussuf Ali].

Does this apply to us, any of us, no matter what our faith tradition might be?

Do we make narrow God’s universal message?

Finally this morning, I read the following on a feminist Mormon blog, Exponent II:

“I can’t tell you how painful the change from rows to circle-sitting has been for a woman like me, who desperately needs private space for worship, study, and pondering.”

Quaker tradition is circle sitting, if at all possible. Also, most of the Quaker meetings I have attended have consciously struggled to be more welcoming to people of color and to people of all gender-identities. Some discussions in which I have participated have grappled with how to be peace advocating and simultaneously welcoming to veterans and members of the military community and their families. Yet, never have I heard a recognition that our beloved circle can be extremely anxiety producing in some individuals. This particular blog post, written from the perspective of another faith tradition, gave me insight into the practices where I worship, and the author gave some workable suggestions for easy accommodation. For far less significant reasons than hers, I always go to the back corner area of seating arrangements. In our tiny Quaker meeting, there is a single layer to our circle. In larger Quaker meetings that I visit, there are necessarily two or three rows constituting the circle–which allow me to find my space.

benches arranged in a circle at Carolina Friends School in Durham, NC
Carolina Friends School

We have so much we can learn from each other and from an outside perspective–as long as we can simultaneously respect and give legitimacy to how each individual and group conceives of themselves. After all, we are the only ones who truly know our own hearts.

And, in many cases, we shouldn’t have to verbalize or defend its basis.


*To be clear, I think Christians can still teach their followers the concept of prophecy fulfilled through Christ. I also think Christians should be careful not to be disparaging of Jews for not believing or “recognizing” that.


One Year Ago Today: I had been in Quaker House an entire week.