Thursday, May 31, 2007

Birdsong and abundance

I was at a meeting at church tonight where we talked about abundance. The meeting started with a time of centering, during which we quieted ourselves and listened for our own heartbeat and focused on sounds outside the room. I could hear birds chirping just outside the window behind me. I imagined a nest with two or three babies. The chirps were high-pitched and a bit anxious, or maybe excited.

As I listened to a reading about abundance, with the sounds of the birds in the background, and my own heartbeat pounding a rhythm for my thoughts, my mind captured a memory of what abundance feels like to me. It was the memory of my first morning after leaving AM. Just 24 hours earlier, I had to leave the house in haste, taking with me only my briefcase and the clothes on my back. Later that evening a friend helped me retrieve some personal things, a few work clothes and papers and books, but not really even enough to fill the back seat of my car.

That night I fell asleep in the bed of my friends' son. In spite of the upheavel in my life, I slept peacefully for the first night in many months. When I awoke, I could hear the birds outside, the volume of their song increasing as the morning light cast out the darkness of the night. I got up, poured myself a cup of coffee, and went out to the front porch to listen to the birds and watch the sun rise. With a deep sense of peace and calm that I had not known for years, I sat on the porch, tears streaming down my face, and knew abundance, a richness to life that had escaped me all the time I tuned out what my heart was telling me was important so I could chase down what AM thought was important. With a deep awareness of my freedom, the chance to hear my own heart again, to truly listen to it and follow it, I knew in that moment I had everything I needed. I remember thinking, "I don't ever want to forget what this moment feels like." I paid careful attention to everything around me and in me, memorizing the feelings, the sights, the sounds, the smells.

My life is very full now. I've felt some fear creep in over the past few weeks, concern and worry that the richness of friendship and spiritual connection to the place and people here will vanish, that I could mess up and lose it all. I've found myself looking for something that would help me know I'm losing my grasp on the groundedness that nurtures the sense of abundance. I thought if I could just know what will be a sign that I'm out of balance, then I can know to move back toward those things that will help me regain my balance.

As I sat listening to the others in the group, while holding the memory of that morning on the front porch of my friends' house and feeling it again with the same intensity I felt that day, I knew in my heart what speaks to me of the abundance of my life. It's the sound of birdsong filling my house, waking me each morning, and breaking through during the day, sometimes even in the dark of night. As long as I can hear them, I'll know I have everything I need.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Go. Read. Now.

I was really shy about letting people I know in real life find out about my blog when I first started it a couple of years ago. Eventually, I told a couple of friends and they started reading. One of those friends already had a blog; the other just started hers.

Katherine and I started the PhD program nine years ago (shhhh! We don't talk about how long ago that was!). She wrote her dissertation about the authentic self in the postmodern world. I remember her consistent voice throughout the program critiquing the fragmentation that is often characteristic of postmodernity. It's a voice I didn't always get when I was in coursework with her, a fact which makes a great deal more sense to me now, knowing how terribly fragmented I was in those days. I'm a believer in authenticity now, and that is in no small part to the consistency of her argument throughout our work together.

She's a pastor, a spiritual director and pastoral counselor, and now.... She has a blog! Go. Read. Now: Meaning and Authenticity. She's feeling rather adventurous about the blogging thing, so welcome her to the blogosphere and add her to your blog roll. You'll appreciate her great writing, deep thought, and thoughtful ideas.

Monday, May 28, 2007

New look

Well... I haven't done any cleaning yet. I'm about to get started on that. But I have done some redecorating of the blog. I still need to do a blogroll, but that will have to wait for another day.

So much for the plan to stay away from the computer today!

Off to get some laundry done....

Quiet weekend

It's been a quiet holiday weekend for me. I'm not complaining. Work has been quite busy lately, and with travel this week and several day trips for work in June and a nine-day trip in July, I'm happy to have the quiet.

I spent most of Saturday with friends. Yesterday, I helped M. pack to move and read for a good long while. Today I will clean house and pay bills. If the weather holds out, I might go for a long walk.

I hadn't planned on it, but I stayed away from the computer for most of the weekend, except for a little research I did last night. I'll probably maintain that plan for much of today.

Hope you all are having a great weekend.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Something I learned today

I've learned a lot on my new job. The culture here is different than anywhere I've ever worked before. Take for example today's lesson: When the Dean has a lunchtime cookout at his house to celebrate the end of the year and they serve wine with lunch, that's a clue that you aren't expected to go back to work for the rest of the day.

Who knew?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My middle American family, Part 112

I received an e-mail from my sister yesterday, a forwarded e-mail sent to her by her sister-in-law. It was one of those "This is a true story written by someone who has a ministry; pass it on to everyone on your e-mail contact list" type, stopping just short of saying something bad will happen to you if you don't. The content of the e-mail was the story of a man who works with a prison ministry who went through volunteer training for a prison in my home state. Part of the training included education on different religious views, including Islam. The e-mail says the part on Islam was presented by an imam, and the prison ministry guy asked him a question that led to an exchange in which the prison ministry guy supposedly got the imam to admit that most Muslim clerics have called for jihad and agreed that it is incumbent on those of the Islamic faith to "kill the infidels. " The story continued with the prison ministry guy victoriously arguing with the imam to the point of making him cower.

It took no time to look the story up on Snopes and discover that the details of the story are widely disputed. There was a volunteer training exercise that included religious diversity education at the prison, but the person who spoke about Islam was an inmate without adequate training to respond to the questions posed to him. Even the supposed author of the story back pedals some when asked about the story's truthfulness. It's pretty clear he wrote it, but embellished for effect. It's sickening, really. It made my skin crawl reading it.

So, I e-mailed my sister and asked her a question: What did you think and feel when you read this? Her reply contained some form of the word fear in three of the five sentences she wrote in response, and as I suspected, she accepted the claim of authority at the end of the e-mail as true. She thinks that all the bad things that have happened in the world can be traced back to Muslims, and because she believes that and it makes her afraid, she has no reason to question the content of this story.

I replied to her this morning, pointing her to the Snopes article about the story and spoke from my experience of working with Muslims on interfaith projects over the past few years. I made some comparisons between the Bible and the Q'uran, showing that the Bible, in the hands of the wrong people, has been and could still be used to justify killing in the name of God.

This is not the first time someone in my family has said or forwarded something like this, but it is the first time I've responded. I'm nervous about how she will respond to me. But, I'm tired of living with their fear. I know how to respond to the intellectual issues, to show how the beliefs are not true. I just don't know how we begin to address the rampant fear that so many people cling to. It breaks my heart.
Updated 2:00 p.m.: Holy cow! The approach I took worked with her. She's already done some research on her own and learned a lot more about some of the ideas she's had that were wrong! She even made the connection that we need to be just as concerned about Christian extremists. She asked a ton of questions and even wants to know what religion it is that I practice now and how it's different than the baptists. Oy. Guess I'm going to have to come out as a Unitarian.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

On being irrelevant

I don't blog about politics, primarily because there are others who write about these things far more intelligently and eloquently than I could ever hope to. But, this is a bit of news I can't resist commenting on.

Apparently Jimmy Carter recently made some remarks in an interview for an Arkansas newspaper in which he calls Bush the worst president in history. Of course, I can't agree more myself, but it does seem unusually bold for Carter. I'm not complaining, mind you.

But what just slays me is the White House response. Apparently the best they could come up with was to say Carter is "increasingly irrelevant."

Increasingly irrelevant? What the hell kind of slam is that? Totally made me laugh.

Read about it here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thoughts on Sacred Activism

I've been home sick for the last day and a half. It's nothing major, just an allergy-related cold. Something is in the air that's dealing me a fit. I have not had time to get to the doctor to deal with the allergies in a responsible way, so it got the better of me. I will admit, however, that it's brought back sweet memories of last year's bout of bronchitis and the subsequent journey to urgent care where I met Angela the PA. Anyone remember her? She certainly had a way of boosting my spirits!

Well, I digress....

As reported, I spent a day and a half last week attending the Sacred Activism conference. It spurred a lot of thought for me, not the least of which is some new ideas to shape my ongoing desire to find a place to work on issues of importance to me, to work toward change in the world. I think the most important thing I took away from the conference is some new ideas for practices that will help me further identify that, as well as new motivation to make that effort.

Sacred activism is a term introduced by Andrew Harvey. At the risk of over-simplifying, the basic idea behind the term is a fusing of the mystic's love for god with the activist's passion for justice. The result of bringing the two together in individuals is a guarding against the potential for spiritual practice that is so self-centered that it becomes narcissistic and activism that is not adequately grounded in the strength of spiritual practice.

The conference brought together people from a number of faith groups and was sponsored heavily by Wisdom University. Much of my criticism of the conference centers on the way in which it was organized. There was a heavy paternalism that permeated much of the structure. The primary architects of the movement and the terms which shaped the conference's agenda come from white men associated with Wisdom University. The plenary sessions that I attended employed a lot of either/or thinking that felt manipulative at times. I acknowledge a significant sensitivity to that way of presenting, the appeal to the presenter's own authority based on experience or expertise and level of passion about the topic to motivate others to change. There was some fear employed too, and while I tend to agree with the scenarios depicted that inspired some fear, I have to work extra hard not to throw away what's being said solely because it feels manipulative to me. It's a lot of baggage I carry from years in the evangelical churches of my youth. I own that, but I do think there is an extent to which this style of presentation shuts down dialogue.

Now, having said all of that, here are some things that are sticking with me...
  • One of the presenters I heard referred to a group in our population that he calls the cultural creatives (the link is actually for a questionaire that will help you determine whether or not you are one). There was a lot of hype to what he had to say about this group, not all of which I believe, but a conversation I had with a new friend Friday afternoon helped solidify for me the importance of naming this phenomenon in our culture. This friend is the daughter of my former admin assistant. She's gay, grew up in a church that was remarkably supportive, though not entirely and her memories of church are relatively positive, but she feels a great deal of disillusionment with church in general because it feels to her like it's become irrelevant, concerned about its own identity to the point of losing touch with the real problems in the world, most of which she identified in terms that would clearly mark her a cultural creative. I threw out the term sacred activism to her and she found it very appealing. She longs for a spirituality that leads her to find her place in the world, to make a difference, and she wants to connect with others who share that passion. Her friends don't necessarily share her concerns, so she feels isolated. In our part of the country, I suspect that isolation is far more common tha nwe have any way of knowing. So, in that regard, conferences that bring people like that together seem very important, but only if they are accompanied by follow up that enables participants to remain connected and come out of their isolation. Sacred activism that is radically individualistic and which carries no sense of accountability with it will be passionate, to be certain, but I fear it will remain largely unfocused, potentially narcissistic and self-serving, even dangerous, and has a much higher potential of flaming out in a hurry. Besides, I think it misses the deep longing of people like my friend, to be in conversation with people who are like her, to know that she is not alone, and that her deep concerns are shared by others who have concerns of their own. For many, myself included, there is great potential for meaningful relationships to form around these issues and interests. That in and of itself is meeting a deep need in this world, one that needs to be met in order for the nurturing care of the world to be maintained.
  • I was struck, yet again, with how the conference drew a largely white, middle to upper middle class audience. I have a growing concern for and interest in asking the question, "How do we change this?" This is troubling to me. It is a problem with us white, middle class people, for sure. But, I don't know how we get at solving it. It's something with which I find myself constantly wrestling. Any solutions we find to the issues which are before us should be ones that call into question the dominant culture's dominance, not ones that solidify it, however benevolent and good they may be. There I said it. Now, just pray I find a way to contribute something toward changing this dynamic and not just pointing out the fault.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day at Small Town Middle-America Baptist Church

So I went to church with my mom today. It was Mother's Day. I didn't get to my mom's until 5:00 last night. If I was going to spend any time with her this weekend, I had to. I'm really glad I did though, because I learned a lot.

Take, for example, the fact that God has blessed us all with extended family to help us raise our children. Excuse me, but unless I get to choose my extended family members (i.e., no one actually related to me), I don't want my extended family doing that. The 4 hours I spent with my brother yesterday solidified that for me, not that I plan to be raising children any time soon.

Oh, and then there was the tidbit about how America is the greatest nation (frankly, I didn't know there was a nation called America, but whatever) in the world because it was founded on the absolute truth of the bible. Aside from the fact that I failed to figure out how nationalism got into a Mother's Day sermon, I find it interesting that the pastor actually accused all the godless people of the United States of re-writing history. Hmmm.... I wonder who's really done the revision?

And as for Mother's Day and nationalism, I guess the pastor did realize that was a bit of a stretch, so he made explicit what the connection is. Apparently the point of motherhood, well parenthood in general, is to raise up children who read and know the bible so that they'll make the right choices so America doesn't end up like Sodom and Gomorrah. Yeah, you know where this is headed, because clearly it's those homosexuals who were at the heart of S and G's downfall. And, you know all those people who don't think the truth is obviously derived from a literal interpretation of the bible are the ones paving the way to our demise as a nation. All of the natural disasters we've experienced recently are an indication. Heck, even the leak at the front of the church today, the one that created a nice big puddle right where the pastor stands when he receives people at the altar call, is an indication that God's wrath is imminent.

Who knew?

Friday, May 11, 2007


This is a crazy week at the seminary....lots going on trying to empty out the place to make room for all the new students we're bringing in next year! (Just kidding.)

On top of all of that I've spent a good bit of yesterday and today at a conference that's given me a lot to think about. You'll be hearing about it, I'm sure. Just need some time to figure out how to articulate what it's stirring in me.

Tonight is the seminary's centennial kick-off celebration. Tomorrow is graduation for the seminary, and afterwards I'm going to my mom's until Sunday early afternoon. Things are likely to be pretty quiet around here.

Life is good. Very good actually. I'll fill you in next week.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mother's Day card from my cat

I got a Mother's Day card in my box at work today. Looks like PPBob coerced a colleague into doing a favor for her. The card reads...

From the Cat

Thanks for understanding me,
Even when I'm finicky,
Even when I need to be alone.

Thanks for never getting cross
Just because you can't be boss.
[on the inside]
There's no human I'd rather own!
Happy Mother's Day!


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What are you most afraid of?

A friend forwarded an e-mail with a handout on it that describes some things related to resistance. It was quite helpful, one statement in particular: "The more afraid you are, the more likely it is this is what you're supposed to do."

I opened the e-mail just before I sat down for my morning meditation. Not surprising, the question, "What are you most afraid of?" came immediately to mind. I found it useful to reflect on it. It's been my experience that the initial gut response to such a question is often the most helpful, the response you have before your brain kicks in and starts questioning it. My gut responded with two things: falling in love and finishing the PhD.

I realize that falling in love is not something we can necessarily set out to do. There's an awful lot left to chance, but I do think there are things we do to open ourselves to love and though it scares the hell out of me to think of doing it, the very fact that I'm scared of it points to what I believe is a sincere desire for love in my life. Rather than allowing the resistance to push me back from that desire, it may be time to surrender to it and trust that the awareness I have of being open to it will help me be attentive to the problems relationships might pose, the things about falling in love that scare me.

The other issue, finishing the PhD, is one which has clearer, more concrete steps I can take. I took a small one today, in fact. I voiced my interest in a safe way to someone who could help scout out whether or not the door would be open with my PhD school for me to apply to be re-instated. The news is good, and I now have much to think about. It will be hard and I feel like I have to be fully committed to doing all of the hard work it will take to meet the requirements that will be placed on me, but for weeks now, something has been stirring inside me to give this serious thought. It will be a matter of prayer and discernment over the next few weeks.

It's an interesting question. Give it a try. What are you most afraid of?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Losing patience

For the past year, I've done a pretty good job of celebrating the changes and progress toward health, but there are days when it just isn't enough and I get discouraged and frustrated. Today has been one of those days. I'll spare you the litany of patience lost. It's mostly the same stuff...finances, not making much progress on improving my fitness level, not having the guts to take some risks socially, not having much to show for my efforts at work, being too self-centered...blah, blah, blah. Nothing new.

All of this leaves me open to let jealousy creep in and I hate it when I start feeling jealous of others. I have no reason to do that. I know no good comes of it, but it's all just part of the magical thinking that I slip into when I'm frustrated with where I am and feel stuck.

Which I guess is really the whole point...I feel stuck. I wish I knew how to let myself off the hook and be okay with the progress I'm making and just patiently keep looking for the next step, not overwhelming myself with unrealistic expectations.

I suppose most of the time I can do that pretty well, but tonight I'm struggling, but it's time to stop and just figure out what I can do to get unstuck.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A good kind of tired

I wish someone could have followed us with a video camera today. We started out at 8:45, a gay male couple who borrowed a van that belongs to one of their parents, a newly out gay woman, her two kids (girls, seven and almost four) and her new girlfriend, a straight couple and their two kids (girl, almost four, and a boy who is one), and me. We go to the same church and were all in a class on the basics of our church's faith together earlier in the year.

We drove to a state park one state over, the same state park that I like for camping and hiking. It's a great place for kids. We picked one trail, only 1.5 miles long, but it has three caves, and a waterfall. It was the perfect hike for our group. We arrived in the park, had lunch, and then hiked the trail for about two hours. Everyone, without exception, had a fantastic time. Not once did anyone (myself included) cry. I've never seen kids who were so ready to enjoy nature. They really had a great time and the three older ones, covered in mud and wet from walking through the waterfall, were disappointed when it was time to leave.

It was an absolutely perfect day, and now I'm tired and ready to fall asleep.

All's well

I went one state over to hear a good friend and colleague do a series of lectures on Christic Heart for chaplains and other pastoral care givers. It's the first pastoral care thing I've done since I left the hospital last August. It was fun to be around chaplains again. And my friend has an amazing way of convincing me not to let go of all of the heavy theological language and images from scripture. I wasn't sure he could convince me this time, but he did. The lectures were very good!

One of the chaplains told me about a park that he recommends for running, so I got up early enough yesterday to go out there. It was beautiful. Everything was so lush and green. I saw a lot of birds I don't see in town when I run...yellow finches and bluebirds and I don't know what all. I saw a bunch of rabbits too. It was a lovely way to start the day.

Today I'm going back to the state next to us to hike with a group of people from the new member's class at church. It promises to be an adventurous day. They've been giving me a hard time about my extreme organizational skills. I had to apologize because I realized I was planning the trip just like I did an excursion for college students back in the day when I did campus ministry. I wonder what they'll do when I make them go to the bathroom before we leave. The guy driving the van in which I'm riding has promised to lead us in the singing of showtunes during our ride to and from the park. I don't think he's kidding either.

I went to a fabulous service at church last night, full of music and drama and a great message, reminding me of a truth that became evident to me when I lived in Korea and which opened up the possibility for me to question the faith with which I grew up.

Life is good. Hope it is your part of the world too.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On being privileged

I made a comment when I interviewed for the new position a few weeks ago that has caused some conversation among folks at the seminary. I suggested that the presence of minority students at our school did not make us a diverse institution. I believe we need to dig deeper and examine the ways in which we protect white privilege and undermine our efforts at hospitality in the way we run the school, and be willing to surrender that privilege in order to truly welcome all. Okay, it was an interview and I was responding off the top of my head. My answer wasn't exactly that well-stated, but that's the gist of what I said.

The irony, as some see it, is that the person who got the job is from a minority group. I don't really think it's ironic. I think the best person got the job, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I'm a competitive person and don't give in easily, but even I know when I lose fairly. I lost out in a very fair process and the right decision was made. That does not mean, however, that there aren't those who are assuming the other person got the job largely because we need to diversify. Hearing such comments makes me angry, very angry.

But all of this has heightened my awareness of how deeply rooted white privilege is in our institutions, and what a threat it poses to very good, very well-intentioned people who fear the outcome of allowing things to change when we welcome new ways of doing things. The students in my reflection group found their way to a similar question tonight as they talked about some issues related to race. I left wondering what I mean when I say we have to be willing to surrender our privilege.

As I think about it, I don't think it means giving up on our values and what we think is important to let another group take over, but I think it means letting go of our need to say what we value and say is important is the right way or the best way, to welcome others to the table to discuss what is right and best for the institution, and to trust that we together can make decisions that will lead us to change.

My attendance at a luncheon earlier in the day I think heightened my attention to this issue. I had that deep sense of being out of place that often accompanies me when I go to events that include people who are wealthy and by many standards, very successful. It's not that I'm unsuccessful. I get that. It's not that I'm uneducated and incapable of intelligent conversation. I know that too. I guess I'm seeing that the sense of not belonging has as much to do with the fact that no matter how well I do, how much education I have, what my job title becomes, there will always be a sense of dis-ease in those situations, because, and this may sound entirely cynical and unfair, it seems like it's just a bunch of well-to-do white people patting themselves on the back for all the good things they do. Don't get me wrong. They do some amazingly good things. But to what extent does this way of doing things serve only to protect white, upper middle-class privilege?

I'm wide open for people to tell me how I'm looking at this in the wrong way, but maybe I'm not meant to feel okay in those situations. Maybe that sense of discomfort has a message for me entirely different than the old messages I usually hear, the ones about not being good enough or accomplished enough or not having good enough social skills to be accepted in such groups. Maybe the message comes from what I know about being on the margins and not really fitting in. I can't make my blue-collar upbringing go away. I can't discard my experience of being a gay woman in a largely heterosexual male dominated world. Perhaps the discomfort is telling me to pay attention to those issues of dominance that shouldn't just be taken for granted.

And the scary part...maybe that message is there because I'm meant to do something to work for change.


Gah! I hate being shy!!!!! I hate the way it just takes over in certain situations and no amount of preparing for it helps! Gah!