Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Speaking faith to fear

After spending 8 hours with my mom, my representative sample of one from small town middle America, I'm firmly convinced that the most important thing we can do to bring change in our world for the better is to patiently and skillfully work to dismantle the firm grip that fear has around the bible-belted waist of this country.

My mom and I discussed the upcoming presidential election. She is worried. She thinks we're all going to hell if Hillary is elected. If she gets the Democratic nomination, my mom is voting for whichever Republican wins, regardless of who it is, and in spite of her conviction that none of them is worthy to be president. Obama would be okay, she thinks, but she's afraid to vote for someone with a Muslim background. When I pointed out that he isn't Muslim, she said, "I know, but he comes from that background." Um, okay? Nevermind the problem with thinking that someone with a Muslim background can't lead. Which do I address? The obvious misconception or the underlying ridiculous fear? If I had it to do over, I'd skip the misconception and jump right to the fear.

Fear, my friends, is evil! It steals common sense from otherwise educated and capable people. Are we going to let them remain in fear's grip without naming it for what it is and challenging them to be people of faith?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Polling the internets

I am looking for a refreshing book on the topic of leadership, particularly one written from a feminist or collaborative leadership perspective. Have you read anything recently on the subject of leadership that you found refreshing and helpful?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The ultimate miracle

When people began to arrive..., it seemed the ultimate miracle, to have good people love you, freaked-out, self-centered mess that you were.

The line above is from the novel Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott. It comes at the end of the book and is used to refer to how the main character, Mattie, felt as her friends gathered with her for her birthday. The book is the story of her growing acceptance of her own inconsistencies and quirks and the messiness of life.

I know how she feels.

A group of friends joined me at a restaurant tonight for dinner. There was decent food, and a lot of laughter, and I enjoyed it immensely. I feel truly blessed in this place. It all feels pretty overwhelming at times. It is, I think, the ultimate miracle.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saturday snapshots

I got up early to pick up some friends at the airport this morning, so naturally, I had to take a nap when I got home. It's a slow Saturday. I'm grateful for that. It's fun to just let my mind wander wherever it likes on a day like this.

My city has an outdoor store that I visited shortly after I moved here, looking for a hiking guide for the area. There apparently isn't such a guide, but the guy who waited on me at the store that day gave me some great tips about good places to go and then signed me up for their newsletter and sales ads and some program where they send you a postcard to get a free t-shirt on your birthday. Last year, I got the postcard and took it in for my t-shirt. I bought a pair of hiking socks because I felt guilty about getting a t-shirt from a store where I'd never purchased a thing. This year my postcard came. It was for a backpack, this backpack to be exact. I took the card in last week and got the pack. It's really nice...should be a good day hike pack, very light, fits nicely on my back. I've looked on the internet out of curiosity and can't find the sucker for less than $49. I wonder what guilt will talk me into buying now.

I spent the week in a house with a programmable coffeemaker. I don't know how I've lived without such a luxury. Do you have any idea the difference it makes for the coffee to be done when I get out of bed, instead of having to turn the coffeepot on first? In my house, I get the coffee ready to brew the night before and then stumble out of bed when the alarm goes off to go turn it on so that it's ready a few minutes later, usually after I brush my teeth and change into my running clothes. With the programmable coffeemaker, I had the coffee ready to brew the night before, then set the timer for it to start when I planned to get up. The beauty of this method is that the house smells of brewed coffee when I first wake up. The alarm goes off, I open my eyes and take a deep breath, and there it Heaven, I tell you. Pure heaven.

It's supposed to be in the sixties here tomorrow. I really need to go hiking. I might even skip church to do it.

Speaking of church, the story about nearly torching it really isn't as exciting as you've likely imagined. I went to a small group meeting on Thursday night. I used a match to light the chalice* at the beginning of the meeting. It was one of those wooden matches that you strike on the outside of the box. I hit the box , and the lighted match flew out of my hand and landed on my notes for the meeting. There's a lovely burn mark on the paper and for a moment we all expected the paper to catch fire, but fortunately I grabbed the match in time to keep that from happening. It was a fabulous way to start a meeting in which the topic of the evening was "evil."

I've already turned in my tax return for last year. That's the earliest I've ever done it, I believe. I'm getting a chunk back, which I plan to immediately plop in my savings account to have in case of emergency.

I've been listening to the music of Zero 7 for the past few weeks. My friend Leigh gave me some of their cds for Christmas. There's no way to describe my deep fondness for their latest cd, In the Garden, which features Jose Gonzalez. Very good!!! If you click on his website, you'll find several videos and songs from his latest solo album. He makes use of some great art in the videos. His music has a deeply spiritual quality to it.
*When I told some folks at the seminary about nearly torching the church when I lit the chalice, several people looked at me confused. They were picturing a chalice full of grape juice or wine and couldn't imagine why I'd be lighting it. I had to explain that the UU chalice holds a candle which we light when we meet together.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another day, another year, a little wiser

My alarm went off at 5:00 this morning. I had planned to run, but when I let the dogs out (I'm housesitting for friends), I saw that it was wet outside. A few minutes later, I heard tapping on the windows and looked out to see that we are getting sleet and freezing rain. I guess the time I had planned to spend running will now be spent driving slooowwwwly to work. It's too bad. I really wanted to run.

I turned 43 this morning. When I checked e-mail, I found an e-card from the Yankee with pictures she took herself, all of them with a button that says, "Today is my birthday." Fabulous! Yesterday's mail brought me a card from Katherine. I mention these because I find it remarkable that they both remembered. I'm not particularly good at that sort of thing, but I'm grateful for people who are.

A friend at work is taking me to lunch. Later in the day, I'm having coffee with another friend. The big celebration, though, will be Sunday night. I decided to plan my own celebration this year, a step which is intended to be a deliberate stance against self-consciousness. Some of my friends will meet me for dinner at a local restaurant. It'll be a great time!

And as always, feel free to party here today! Nothing like a good blog party to celebrate a birthday!
Updated (8:30 a.m.): When the celebrating is done, remind me to tell you about my observations on Unitarians trying to have a discussion about "evil." And some new thoughts on call.

Oh, and about how I nearly set the church on fire last night.

Friday, January 18, 2008


It all started one day in the drive-thru at a local frozen custard place. We'd had chicken wings for dinner, cajun, teriyaki, garlic-parmesan, lemon-pepper, and fries. I don't remember the exact occasion, but chicken wings are usually the order of the day when one or more of us is stressed or tired. I can't explain it.

Anyway, after salty chicken wings and fries, two of us wanted something sweet, so we stopped at the frozen custard place. I pulled up to the speaker and said, "We want one small chocolate cone and one small birthday cake in a cup."

The 12-year-old boy who was working there answered, "Okay. That'll be one small FOD in a cup and a small chocolate cone."

"Ummm....oh! Yes. That's right." It took me a minute to realize FOD was flavor of the day, which happened to be birthday cake on this day. And from there our dialogue was a five-mile long string of abbreviations that about half-way home descended into a discussion about rapper names.

J mentioned that she has a rapper name and told me what it is, but I don't remember all of it. It is abbreviated 3SC. She started signing her e-mail that way after our conversation. In response to one of her e-mail to me, I made some comment about needing a rapper name and suggested she pick one for me. She and T revealed it to me this morning as I took them to the airport to leave for their vacation. I told them I was going to blog it, but it suddenly occurs to me that my anonymity on the blog will make it hard for you to grasp how perfect this name is. Suffice to say, my last name is what makes this the perfect fit, so here it is: Model T.

I laughed when they told me, and so they proceeded to explain why it is perfect for a multitude of reasons. They said it fits because I'm old fashioned AND revolutionary, like the Model T. They went on to explain that sometimes I have to be cranked up to get me started. There was more, but by the time they got to it, I was laughing so hard I didn't catch it all, except for the most important reason it's a good name: It rhymes with 3SC, so if we start a band together it will all be good.

T wants to be FOD. Unfortunately, she had to remind us what FOD is. The trip to the frozen custard place was a distant memory.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Through the eyes of a friend

My mom and I are entering a new phase in our relationship. She is starting a slow transition into the years when her need for care overtakes her independence. My mom epitomizes the self-reliant, boot-straps American. The transition is by no means smooth.

I spent last weekend with her. My driving meditation for the two hours it took to get to her place was a prayer of surrender. I am learning to allow the things that are annoying and hurtful about her to just be, to surrender my need to change her. I accept that she is a triumphalist Christian and while my preference that she loosen the grip on her religious certainty remains strong, I no longer feel the need to change her, to point out the painfully obvious flaws in her theology, the arrogant and illogical fallacies born of privilege and fear. I felt more relaxed with her than I have in a long time.

Still, there remain the painful negotiations around those things which she finds herself growing more reliant on her kids to offer or supply. She is unable to drive out of town, and a steadily encroaching arthritis has taken over one of her knees, leaving her to walk with a cane much of the time and to struggle to get up and down all of the time. The time for a knee replacement has come. She knows it cannot be done without turning to her family for help. She can't drive herself to see an orthopedic surgeon, and since I am the closest in proximity to her, she shyly asked if I would be able to take her. I assured her that I would do it gladly.

My mom's anxiety around asking for help is so charged and electrifying it could raise the dead. My driving meditation on my return home was less about surrender and more about begging the universe for mercy. I pleaded for the surgeon's schedule to magically clear on a day when I had no commitments. I knew from previous experience that if I had to say no, that won't work, she would cower, and apologize profusely for imposing on my life, for being an embarrassment to her kids because she could no longer care for herself and would have to rely on them to help her get through the surgery. I fully expected her to say she didn't think she wanted to go through with having the knee replaced because it would just be too much trouble for everyone in the family. Every conversation in the months of October and November centered around that very plan. I didn't want to hear it again.

My pleas where not granted. Today she called with a date. They offered an appointment next week in the middle of the big conference on campus which I cannot miss. I told her I wouldn't be able to go that day, and gave her the days in the next two weeks when I could go. The conversation went something like this:

L: I can't do it on Wednesday next week. We are having a conference on campus, and I can't be away from here that day. What other days is he in the office?
M: He's there on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
L: Thursday would be okay.
M: So you can't do either Wednesday or Thursday of next week.
L: [pause while I take a deep breath to slow the conversation down] No. I can't do Wednesday. I CAN do Thursday.
M: Oh. Oh. You don't have to get grumpy with me.
L: I'm not grumpy. I'm trying to find a way to say this so I don't keep confusing you.
M: You're grumpy.
L: What about the next week? I could do either Wednesday or Thursday of the next week.
M: Okay. I'll try that. Do you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?
[I looked at my calendar and saw evening meetings on some of the days and knew if we had a morning appointment I would likely be able to keep my evening appointments]
L: I'd prefer morning, but either is okay.
M: Okay. I'll call to make the appointment, but I won't call you at work anymore. It makes you grumpy. I'll call you at home tonight.
L: Alright.

So I shook my head and laughed off all the comments about me being grumpy. Then, she called back this evening:

M: I have an appointment for Thursday the 31st at 9:15.
L: That's great. I'll put it down. [And in a rare moment of external processing, I said] I'll look to see if I have anything on Wednesday evening. If not, I'll come up on Wednesday night and spend the night.
M: Well, you'll need to come Wednesday night. The appointment's early in the morning. You can't come up on Thursday morning.
L: Well, I can if I need to. I'll have to wait and look at my calendar tomorrow. I left it at work.
M: You said a morning appointment was your preference.
L: It is my preference. 9:15 on Thursday the 31st is good for me.
M: I'd ask someone else to take me, but I just thought it would be good if someone from the family could be with me for this appointment.
L: I want to go with you. I can go with you. I just need to look and see when I will come up.
M: Why are you so grumpy?
L: I'm not grumpy.
M: Yes, you are. I'm sorry I asked you to take me to this appointment.
L: Thursday. The. 31st. Is. Fine.
M: See, you're grumpy. I'm going to hang up before you get grumpier.
L: That's a good idea. I'll call you later.

I'm not altogether sure where I went wrong in the first conversation. The second one could have ended well if only I'd made a mental note to check my calendar and not actually say it out loud. Still, the fact remains: these encounters will require me to daily practice letting go of my attachments. My attachment to the desire for her to change and be more open and accepting. My attachment to the desire for her to calm down and accept my help without being an anxious freak about it. My attachment to the desire for anything resembling a normal relationship with my mom.

In her novel Blue Shoe Anne Lamott writes about such surrender as she describes a scene in which the main character, Mattie, is grocery shopping with her mother who is growing more and more confused and unable to care for herself. Her mom, thrilled to be out and away from the care center where she lives, wants to shop using a wallet full of coupons even though Mattie is already late to pick up her kids from school. Mattie prays to see her mom as Jesus sees her. She quickly recognizes the futility of that plea, knowing that she isn't capable of that much graciousness, and pleads with herself to see her mom as one of her mom's friends might see her. That point of view shifts her experience, and she's able to let go.

I don't know why family relationships come with so many attachments and expectations. Though I know after living with her for nearly 43 years that the surest bet on her behavior is to expect her to be anxious, I remain eternally hopeful that the next encounter will be different. I need to work to see her as one of her friends might see her. I need to dare to see her as Jesus might see her.

Do you think Jesus ever prays to see her like her daughter sees her? Surely he must struggle with attachment too. Regardless, it looks like this will be the year of learning to let go of mine. Maybe I'll move to Australia.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I really didn't intend to go a whole week without posting. It just happened. I blame it on the busy week at work and church last week, and a weekend at my mom's. With all of that I'm guessing I had 23 minutes at home when I wasn't sleeping or getting ready to go somewhere. This week, fortunately, is much quieter. I'm glad for the relief.

Last semester the worship coordinator at the seminary caught me in my office and asked me to think about preaching in chapel some time during the year. In August I signed up to preach near the end of February. As luck would have it, I have to be out of town that day. Secretly, I was relieved. It's been years since I've preached, many more years since I did it regularly and well.

Late last week the worship coordinator showed up with her chapel schedule. As luck would have it, there were openings from which I could choose another time to preach. So, I looked at my travel schedule and narrowed it down to two possibilities. When I couldn't decide and she didn't have a preference, I cheated. I looked at the lectionary texts for those two days and took my pick.

One of the weeks, the gospel text is from John 14, where Jesus says, "I am the way," and he talks about how he is the father, etc. It's a beautiful passage. I've heard it all my life, but frankly, I couldn't imagine preaching the text and remaining true to my Unitarian identity without a lot of theological work, something I wasn't willing to do with theology and bible scholars looking over my shoulder, so I settled for the other.

The gospel text for the other week is John 4, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. My friends, if I may say so, I hit the lectionary jackpot. If there is a passage more deeply rooted in my soul, I couldn't tell you what it would be.

I've already started working on the sermon. Reading over the passage has been like letting a fine wine roll around on my tongue, allowing me to taste every bit of its flavor. I'm really looking forward to the process.

But, I must admit, I'm pretty darn nervous about it too.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I have been infinitely more interested in the presidential race this year than I've ever been. Some of that, I think, has to do with my strong desire to see a change, but that's been true in the past too.

But here's the major difference, I think: I don't watch TV anymore and am, thus, not bombarded with ads. I am in control of the information I take in and can study it in a more reasoned, measured way.

I will be voting in my first ever primary in a few weeks. Until I moved to my current state, I was registered as an independent voter. Since I lived in a state (and do now, too) where only registered party members could vote in primaries, I never had an opportunity to participate in that part of the process. When I moved, I registered as a Democrat so that I would have that option. As a result, I've gotten invested far earlier in the process, and find the whole thing completely fascinating.

Now, I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I am pretty much convinced that TV was killing my investment in previous elections. It's reasonable, I think, to point to the ads themselves and the sheer volume of them as a source of election-related apathy in this country.

Just me wondering out loud. Carry on.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Ambiguity (or How I decided to join the convent)

I'm reading a book entitled Just Good Friends right now. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. A friend brought it to me to read after reading my New Year's Day post about my goals for the year.

I find myself saying "we're just good friends" a lot these days. And the response is always that knowing smirk and cocked head of disbelief. But, it's true. L. spent the weekend here, just as I did at her place last weekend. People make assumptions about that, which aren't true, but I'm okay with that. Mostly.

It's all a lesson in greater tolerance of ambiguity for me. Expectations are clear. God knows we've talked it to death, but the future is ambiguous and that's both hopeful and painful.

I think I'll become a nun. Maybe if I could close off the possibility of one outcome, then I could be more open to the fuller experience of friendship that's being offered to me.

Yeah, that would make things less ambiguous. :)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Literary curiosity

Recently, a friend and I spent about two hours in fabulous large used bookstore. It was the night before the half-marathon. We'd eaten a meal that required two restaurants to accomplish and we were filled with the stamina and power the training and the food afforded, so we got there in plenty of time to stay for awhile.

I've been to this particular store many times, and in the past, I seldom ever left the religion and philosophy section. My academic library grew largely due to trips there when I used to live in smaller city in the same area and to one other in a town north of there. I lived in an area where several seminaries existed, so there were a lot of used seminary texts turned in for a little extra cash and I benefited greatly from the opportunity to get some good books at a much reduced price.

I made a vow when I went this time that I would not spend another dime on a religion text, so for the two hours that we there I wandered around the writing, fiction, travel narrative, and nature sections. Oh, okay. I'll admit it. I peaked at the religion books, looking for a couple of specific titles, but I swear I didn't last more than two minutes in that section. Okay, maybe ten.

It was fun reacquainting myself with some of my favorite fiction and travel narrative authors. A couple of them had new novels out in the last four or five years that I hadn't heard about, one of which I purchased. It's an Anne Lamott novel, based, like all of her fiction, in Marin County, CA. It's a good book, but it wouldn't matter if it wasn't. I swoon at the mention of the Wendy's in San Rafael, or barbecued oysters in Point Reyes, or the multitude of other familiar places and sights. Reading the landscape of her work is like taking a stolen glance at a lover. I'm swept away to another place, heart swelling with warmth and love, oblivious to anything else going around me.

I spent a great deal of my time carefully looking over the nature section. My interests in nature writing are growing, and I wanted to get a good feel for the varieties of work in that area. What struck me was the obvious dearth of titles written by women. With some obvious exceptions, like Annie Dillard, most of the titles I found in this particular bookstore were written by men.

Now, my survey, of course, was completely unscientific and it was a used bookstore, but I assume the selection is fairly representative of the genre. So, I'm putting some questions out there for those "in the know":
  • Is the field of nature writing overwhelmingly dominated by men and is there a scholarly explanation for that? (I made some assumptions about why and imagine I'm not far off with them, but am curious if there is anyone who's actually read anything that offers a more educated explanation than my assumptions.)
  • What women nature writers have you read and do you recommend?
  • Do anyone of you know of anyone who's actually noted major differences in the way men write about nature versus the way women do?
Just curious....

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A blue print for 2008

The holiday break has included a great deal of time to reflect. Not worrying about family and those dynamics really freed me up to think through the past year and begin anticipating the coming year. For the first time in a long time I don't have any anticipated major events or milestones in the coming year, so I found that my planning was much more wide open than I've experienced before. It's been a great experience to spend time every day for the past 10 days, and some time even before then, writing about and reflecting on what I want for the coming year.

I have a total of 11 goals for 2008. I'm not going to list them all here. Three of them are job-related and have been shared with my department. One of them is still rather unformed and will require some continued writing and reflection to get it concrete enough to help guide me in the coming year. The remaining seven are as follows:
  1. RELATIONSHIPS: To be more open to the depth of connection that friendship has to offer. This is a goal that took considerable time to form. I started out with a more specific goal in this area and after a long conversation with a friend this past weekend, I broadened it to better reflect what I want. Initially, I decided that my goal was going to be to make people angry regularly. I wasn't planning to be nasty and rude, but by stating it this way, my plan was to push to assert myself more in relationships, even at the risk of making people mad. The conversation I had this weekend opened my eyes to the tight boundaries I have drawn around myself that keep people from getting too close. Those boundaries are emotional and physical in nature. The feedback from this friend helped me see how black and white I've made the distinctions about what's appropriate in friendship versus a long-term relationship with a partner. Though I no longer have illusions that long-term relationships provide a greater sense of safety and security making vulnerability a greater possibility, I'm still living like I believe that to be true. The paradox in all of this for me is that detachment is an absolutely essential practice for greater attachment and intimacy in all of my relationships. If I want to be more deeply connected to the people I cherish the most, I must risk vulnerability without guarantee of an outcome. It's my hope that I'll live more into that new understanding in the coming year.

  2. FAMILY OF ORIGIN: To live with greater integrity in my relationships with my family of origin. The experience of coming out to my mom last year opened my eyes to the multitude of ways in which I hide from my family. Much of that stems from a fear of losing them or being rejected by them if they knew who I really am. So my plan is to work toward being more open with them about my life, talking about friendships and church (yes, even eventually coming out as a Unitarian) and hopes for my life in the future, knowing that doing so means risking their concern and disapproval.

  3. FINANCES: To determine a monthly spending allowance for things that aren't fixed or regular expenses and stay within it. I've learned in the past year how this struggle is in some ways tied to my first goal. I use money to keep me tied to people without really getting close to them. I want to break this habit and the first (and perhaps only) step to doing that is being aware of what I can spend and sticking to it, forcing me to say no more often. What saying no should do, though, is create space in which I can explore ways of offering more of myself instead of my money in those relationships.

  4. CREATIVITY: To write daily and to allow myself to talk more freely about my hopes and dreams for my writing. I am leaving this goal more open-ended because I want simply to see what writing every day opens up for me before I make any further commitments. But, I also want to experience what it's like to talk more freely about writing without judging my dreams or hopes.

  5. FITNESS: To continue growing healthier by exercising regularly. Related to this goal are my plans to a) run two half-marathons, b) add weight training, and c) add one or two low-impact cardio options to my routine (biking and Nordic Track training).

  6. PROFESSIONAL: To open up a conversation with my PhD school about the possibility of readmission and submitting a new dissertation proposal. I've spent time trying to rework my dissertation proposal and while I think there are possibilities for revising it, the project has lost its life for me. I've hesitated asking if I can do another proposal because I'm afraid it's asking too much, but I've finally reached the conclusion, after avoiding the proposal revisions this past week, that if I'm going to finish the PhD, it will require doing a new proposal. If they are unwilling and unable to offer that option, then I can accept not finishing. The past few months of trying have helped me grow more comfortable with not finishing. Now, I just need to open up the conversation and see where it leads. If the door closes, I'll have an answer about my future professionally.

  7. SPIRITUAL: To take quarterly silent retreats. This is a practice I used to observe. It helped keep me better focused and more intentional about spiritual growth and practice. It's a practice that I want to get back into to see what it opens up for me at this point in my life.

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all the best for 2008! I'm off to bed now...can't believe I made it 'til midnight!