Monday, October 29, 2007

Courage to Lead

I'm off this morning to the last of our Courage to Lead retreats/workshops. It's been a series of five, although I missed our summer gathering. Courage and Renewal comes from the work of Parker Palmer. If you haven't read "The Courage to Teach" or "Let Your Life Speak," please do; they are wonderful. He's all about authenticity. In fact, the tagline for Courage to Lead is "Reconnecting What You Do with Who You Are."

I'm looking forward to this time away. I'm coming down now from a very hectic couple of weeks in which time has seemed so very compressed. I preached yesterday, and it was good, but after the handshaking at the door at the conclusion of the service, I went to my office and found myself suddenly crying. No reason. Just tension-relief, I guess. Anyway, this time away will be good. Not only are the retreats well done and the participants congenial and interesting, but the retreat center itself is first-class. I'll be able to relax, and hopefully, do some good reflection and learning.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday night

Friday night. A full day, and good. Up at 4:45 to get D to the airport for his business trip; he's chairing a conference on the east coast. The evening without him is strange. After only three-and-a-half years of marriage, you'd think I'd still be able to fall back into the feeling of it being normal to be alone on a Friday night, but no. Down to the marrow, I like sharing my life with him--that's definitely my new normal and I wish he were here.

Ah well, soon enough, and it does help to have Young Man with Integrity and Lovely Passionate Feminist here tonight. The three of us went to dinner at Cheddar's. The talk was of marching bands, Saturday Night Live, dorm life, which local high schools have good reputations (for teachers), the Dalai Lama, and the Supreme Court. My children-by-marriage never fail to interest and delight me.

Lunch was with my favorite two-year-old in the world, little Julia, and her sweet mother, my friend W. After we finished eating and were at the cashier's stand in the front, Julia proceeded to run off and make her way throughout the entire restaurant, showing all the folks at all the tables her new sunglasses, which she was wearing in the very latest fashion--upside down.

Before lunch I made a pastoral visit, and found my parishioner to be feeling much better than when we had spoken on the phone yesterday. I was so happy and relieved to see that.

Before my pastoral visit, I had my nails done by V, a lovely woman who never fails to make me laugh. Ended up having a meaningful pastoral conversation with her today. She remains in my prayers.

Before my nail appointment, I met my friend C for breakfast. We used to meet for breakfast every Friday, but that tradition has become maybe once a quarter now--a casualty of Life at Warp Speed, I'm afraid. Well, it does make our visits more special, so I'll choose to look at it that way.

Before meeting C for breakfast, I was kissing D goodbye at the airport and not looking forward to this moment--right now--without him.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Freshness of the future

I saw four clients today for pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. One after another this afternoon, and then an amazing conversation with a parishioner at dinner. What a day. What incredible gifts I received from each of them.

The parishioner at dinner tonight spoke of what being a Christian means to her--an aspect of it, that is. She was raised in the church, can quote Scripture with the best of 'em, was baptized and followed all the rules (well, most of them, anyway, she says). But one day she opened herself to a relationship with God, and suddenly everything was fresh. New and fresh. She said she comes out of a worship service and is so alive, so grateful for the amazing message and the deep meaning of the Lord's Supper, still singing the last hymn in her heart. (This made me laugh--She remarked that she comes out of this worship service and into the narthex and is always SO surprised when she hears someone else make some inane, negative, stupid remark, as she puts it. Where have they been the last hour? she wonders.)

It occurs to me that it takes courage to open yourself to a relationship with God such that life is experienced as new and fresh. The status quo is always safer, after all.

But the Spirit is the enemy of the status quo, I think. The Spirit is always nudging us toward--I love the way she put this: toward what is fresh and new. Fresh! And, importantly, when we are open to what is novel we are also putting our trust in God, for not everything fresh and new is good. We trust that whatever newness we encounter we can handle, with God's grace and love at our side.

These four clients, as well as my parishioner dinner companion, have all encountered some terrible pain and heartache as they journeyed forward. But they are all making a courageous decision to stay open to life, open to what is fresh and new, open to learning to trust that God wants them to flourish and will always be there to sustain them with the courage and grace they need.

What an amazing thing it is to be a minister.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Odds and Ends this October Evening

Just some odds and ends:
  • It's finally cool here in North Texas. I love it! And the rain this morning cleaned my car--it's nice and shiny for a change!
  • If you haven't checked out Linda's newest post called "A Turtle in the Sun" at Against a Brick Wall, please do. Give yourself the incredible GIFT of letting her words just wash over you. Oh, what a remarkable talent, and exceptionally courageous human being, she is.
  • I'm sorry to say that our local NPR station seems to be having an unusually difficult time meeting its goal for the pledge drive. Very sorry...I get so tired of the same-old endless pleas for money. I'd increase my monthly giving if I could, just to get "my" programs back on the air fulltime. I love Diane Rehm, Fresh Air, Morning Edition, and All Things Considered, and so many more! Why doesn't some fabulously wealthy and progressive person just fund whatever's left after, say, three-day-pledge drives twice a year, tops? That's my idea. Lemme give George Soros (sp?) a call and suggest that!
  • I realized this morning that I do NOT have two weeks before I leave for the Courage to Lead retreat. Yikes! it's next week! Got a lot done today, though, so maybe I'll make it.
  • I loved my conversation with Young Man With Integrity this evening when I came home. He's earning real money these days. What a great feeling that is! I actually remember the invigorating sense of freedom that comes with those first big paychecks. Wow. He's going to a Renaissance Fair this weekend and is going to treat himself to buying something "big" there, something he's always wanted. Go, man, go! Celebrate!
  • I can't wait for vacation! We're going to take a driving trip through Arkansas, see the beautiful Fall colors, stay in a B&B in Eureka Springs, rest and relax, just the two of us.
  • I encountered someone recently who seems to fit Hannah Arendt's definition of the "banality of evil" pretty well. Closed in on himself. If his actions didn't effect others, it wouldn't be so bad, but then, our actions always effect others, don't they? ~sigh~

Odds and ends. Fragments of a life lived.

God is good.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The lecture, the week

Well, the 200 minute lecture is history. Yippee!!!!

I took three days last week as vacation to finish writing it. Glad I did, too. I needed every bit of it. Overall, I think it went fine; I had good feedback, and I felt good in the moment. I was "me," which was pretty important since the topic was authenticity! :-) If they succeed in getting the audio posted on the website for the Series, I'll post a link.

RevDrKate had a beautiful post the day before the lecture, which, with her permission, I used as an example of growth toward 'the authentic self' and how self-reflection can be such a wonderful aid in that process. Thank you, Kate!

After the lecture ended at 1:00 yesterday, a friend took me to lunch--my friend is the mother of Julia, the precious 2-year-old we're all in love with here at my house. My friend brought Julia over that evening, so we got to babysit again. Thank goodness Beautiful Genuine Drummer Girl was here--she and D helped play with Julia for the two hours she was at our house. I was extremely tired. As I told my colleague in ministry this morning, I wish these kinds of things didn't wear me out, but they really do. I was pretty much a zombie this morning at church.

The week ahead of me promises to be especially busy. I don't normally see more than two or three counselees or spiritual directees per week, but I've been postponing some folks in order to work on the lecture. That means that this week I have six counseling appointments...I'm preaching next Sunday...It's the final week for the current Companions in Christ group I'm leading, plus we have a retreat on Saturday for that same group...I have a Courage to Lead retreat coming up in just two weeks, after which D and I leave on a much-needed vacation together (can't wait for that!)...Right before all that, though, my two BIG monthly events at the church take place (a concert series and an emerging-church style worship service), so I'll have to spend some time this week doing all the marketing for them. Whew!

I'm stressed and really tired. In the midst of finalizing the lecture, I've been working through a big decision (more on that in a future post), which I ended up actually having to make last week. The timing wasn't great; I wish I'd had some time to think it through without the pressure of the lecture on me, but ... Oh well. I trust that I've done the right thing. God is with me, always there and so eager to help me turn fear into courage, ennui into excitement, pain into joy. When I remember that, I am only grateful.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Freedom in Christ

An artist friend of mine gave me a present today—a relief sculpture. Mounted on a beautiful wood piece is an abstract sculpture of a dancing woman. Her right arm is thrown over her head and there's movement along the bottom of her long dress. You can tell she's dancing with joy. These words from Psalm 30 adorn the top of the piece: You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.

I used to believe that this kind of joy—the kind that compels us to jump up and dance!—was only known after some big event, some mountaintop experience of God. I've had a few of those amazing experiences in my life. When I decided to leave ARCO and go to seminary. When I preached at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. When I married D. When I sat on the beach, on the Jersey shore actually, looking out at the overwhelming infinity of the ocean and suddenly felt myself one with all creation. In each of those experiences pure joy pulsed out from the center of my heart. And yet, as I've reflected on it over the years, I've concluded that something even deeper was animating me.


And the kind of freedom I'm talking about isn't known only as part of some huge and unusual event. No, I think we're meant to live from within this kind of freedom all the time. I met with my spiritual director last week. As we spoke, the concern that had been weighing on me suddenly evaporated. She reminded me of the freedom that always awaits me when I let go, when I no longer cling to particular outcomes, when my only desire is to do what is mine to do, the best I can, and then trust that God is always working to bring about what is best. Being reminded of that truth, I was able to relax and smile again. Ah, what freedom!

My artist friend talks about freedom as an ever-increasing opening to life and all it brings. I love that. No doubt there will be pain—pain is part and parcel of what it means to be alive. But as we decide to let go and trust in God for everything, then the courage needed to open ourselves in freedom like that simply appears. In my experience, once the decision to trust is made, courage never fails. Oh! how I want to live my life always in such freedom, such joy.

I'd love for that freedom and joy to be constant, but of course, it isn't. Learning to live so freely is a process, a journey down a road full of potholes and circles and curves that seem to move me back, not forward! It often takes the perspective born of years to see that the journey is forever leading me toward God and slowly transforming me into the image of Christ.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Someone indicated to me that he thought the cartoon I posted recently was "male bashing." I didn't intend that. As I commented to him, I laughed out loud when I saw it, but my husband didn't. My husband didn't care for the cartoon, and obviously neither did this reader. I'm taking the cartoon down, with my apologies.

I did want to copy something I read by more cows than people. She really stated VERY well my views of what it means to be a feminist: "I'm a feminist. When we got into a discussion ... about what that means, I begin with the quote "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." And move to-- essentially a feminist is anyone who believes in (and I might add, is willing to work for) the full equality of men and women. I do not think that one needs to bash men in order to be a feminist."

Yes exactly.
Many thanks to the reader who honestly shared his feelings, and many thanks to blogger more cows.

Congrats to Al

Wow. Al Gore's mom would've been proud, huh? The guy now has:

The Nobel Prize for Peace,
An Oscar, and
The Popular Vote for President of the United States!

(as heard on NPR)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Leaving Church"

A couple of people asked me what I thought of Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church.

I bought the book after I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air on NPR. During that interview Terry Gross asked her about being a liberal in a very conservative congregation. Because I respect Taylor so much, her response really intrigued me. She said she tried to keep her liberal views to herself and be "neutral" because "I'm the shepherd of all." Words to that effect. If certain people in her "flock" knew how liberal she was then being their shepherd would be very difficult. She's right. It would be very difficult because some people can't see past their political/social views, and they would forever see her as "a liberal" and not feel they could trust her. I know because that's something that I have to consciously work on myself--always attempting to see the whole person.

That whole issue has always bothered me. It just feels so phony sometimes to be neutral. Especially when my views arise and form within me as my spirit grows and forms; they are part of me, an important part. Yet, stating them would, at times, just about automatically cause conflict of some sort. On the other hand, conflict can be good and healthy. Creativity is born from conflict and tension. What I've come to lately, if someone verbalizes some political or social view that is offensive to me, is to simply say that I disagree and then move on. No one, so far, has turned the conversation back to the disagreement, although I'm sure that will happen at some point. Neutral has started to feel so inauthentic that I can't be completely silent.

Anyway, that's why I bought the book (I don't think she addresses that question in the book, however). In general, I love reading anything she writes. I took the book from the shelf this morning; I read books with pencil in hand, and it turns out that I underlined only one part--what she said about the Bible. Her last chapter is "Keeping," and it's about what she will keep from her experience in the church--"In the twenty-first year of my priesthood, I empty the bag of my old convictions on the kitchen table to decide what I will keep" is how she starts the chapter. Here's what she said about the Bible:

"I will keep the Bible, which remains the Word of God for me, but always the Word as heard by generations of human beings as flawed as I. As beautifully as these witnesses write, their divine inspiration can never be separated from their ardent desires; their genuine wish to serve God cannot be divorced from their self-interest. That God should use such blemished creatures to communicate God's reality so well makes the Bible its own kind of miracle, but I hope never to put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve. I will keep the Bible as a field guide, which was never intended to be a substitute for the field. With the expert notes kept by those who have gone before me, I will keep hunting the Divine Presence in the world, helped as much by the notes they wrote in the margins while they were waiting for God to appear as by their astonished descriptions of what they saw when God did. I know that nine times out of ten, the truth scripture tells is the truth about the human search for God. Still, with the help of the guide, there is always the hope of glimpsing the bright dove that splits the sky, fluttering in full view before turning with a whirr and a cry to make its clean getaway."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The will to courage

I've never felt particularly called to prophetic ministry, but maybe we all are. I do so want to be a person willing to be courageous.

Thanks to Jan for the amazing image. (Double click to enlarge.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

What Kind of Nation Are We? NYT, Pres. Carter

When I was in college I was introduced to Amnesty International. Since then I have valued this organization and supported its work in many ways. In my early 30's I started and was a co-leader a local group in my neighborhood. I've always supported AI financially. Why? For many reasons, but perhaps most of all because torture is wrong. Sinful. Evil. It always wounds the body, of course, but it also always wounds the soul. --The soul of the one who tortures as well as the one tortured.

I was on the streets of City to the East in February and again in March of 2003, demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq. It was wrong, wrong, wrong and I knew this administration was making a huge mistake. I felt anger down to my bones. But I'm a child of Watergate and Vietnam, so administrations making huge mistakes wasn't new. I've never known an American administration that made torture a matter of policy, acknowledged or not. When the photophaphs from Abu Ghraib were published, I felt shame at being an American. Real, deep, tortuous shame.

Abu Ghraib, secret renditions, Guantanamo Bay.

The Bush Administration has announced to the world that we lack the courage of our best convictions. We've become bullies, preemptively invading weaker countries and torturing people held prisoner. At their core, bullies are always weak. And terribly, dreadfully frightened. Panelists on the Diane Rehm show today were talking about the NYT's article that revealed yet more secret memos justifying torture. A man called in who said something like "Look, the bottom line is we've got to do whatever it takes. Bush is right. If torturing some terrorist means we stay safe, then that's exactly what we should do." That's the attitude of a coward--a coward and a very small and horribly ignorant person. From reading the many fine publications from Amnesty International over the years, I know that torture degrades. One's humanity simply cannot be maintained. And I'm talking about the torturer, the one who tortures. We have become a nation that tortures human beings. As an American, it is in my name that this is happening. Oh, the shame, the shame.

Here's an editorial from the New York Times yesterday:

Torture and American Values
Published: October 7, 2007--Editorial, New York Times

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if anot their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After the attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret. Some of their methods — simulated drownings, extreme ranges of heat and cold, prolonged stress positions and isolation — had been classified as torture for decades by civilized nations. The administration clearly knew this; the C.I.A. modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.

The White House could never acknowledge that. So its lawyers concocted documents that redefined “torture” to neatly exclude the things American jailers were doing and hid the papers from Congress and the American people. Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush’s loyal enabler, the Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

That allowed the White House to claim that it did not condone torture, and to stampede Congress into passing laws that shielded the interrogators who abused prisoners, and the men who ordered them to do it, from any kind of legal accountability.

Mr. Bush and his aides were still clinging to their rationalizations at the end of last week. The president declared that Americans do not torture prisoners and that Congress had been fully briefed on his detention policies.

Neither statement was true — at least in what the White House once scorned as the “reality-based community” — and Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was right to be furious. He demanded all of the “opinions of the Justice Department analyzing the legality” of detention and interrogation policies. Lawmakers, who for too long have been bullied and intimidated by the White House, should rewrite the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act to conform with actual American laws and values.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose president declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

This is an easy choice.

And here is a report about former President Jimmy Carter's statement.

Pres. Carter: US tortures prisoners, 'I know it'
by David Edwards and Jason RhynePublished: Wednesday October 10, 2007

Former president Jimmy Carter isn't just suspicious that the US is using torture to extract intelligence from detainees -- he's absolutely convinced. Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer if, by Carter's definition of the word, the United States had used torture during the Bush administration, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was adamant: "I don't think it, I know it," he said. "Certainly."

Pressed by Blitzer on whether that meant that President Bush was lying, Carter was equally clear. "The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners," said Carter."Yes."

Earlier in the interview, Carter said Bush's denial this week that the US did not in fact torture detainees was "not an accurate statement if you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. But you can make your own definition of human rights and say we don't violate them," he added, "and you can make your own defintion of torture and say we don't violate them."

Carter was equally outspoken in a Wednesday interview with the BBC, calling Vice President Dick Cheney a "disaster," according to Reuters. "He's a militant who avoided any service of his own in the military," he said of Cheney, adding that the vice president "has been most forceful in the last 10 years or more in fulfilling some of his more ancient commitments that the United States has a right to inject its power through military means in other parts of the world."

"You know he's been a disaster for our country," Carter continued. "I think he's been overly persuasive on President George Bush and quite often he's prevailed."

His frankness is just so appealing, so refreshing.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Book Meme

Jan has tagged me for a great Book Meme!

Total number of books?
Whoa! Not sure. When I married D, he said that together we had about 4,000 books, most of which are his, but I'm sure that if not half, then 1,500 or more were mine.

Last book read?
Hmmm, well, I'm currently re-reading a biography of Heinz Kohut for my lecture this month, but maybe that doesn't really count. I'm carrying A Book of Hours, Thomas Merton, around in my backpack with me and am reading it in spurts. I devoured Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil recently. Also Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church.

Last book bought?
That would be the Thomas Merton book.

Five meaningful books?
Off the top of my head, The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck, which started me on the path of self-awareness. I am forever grateful to Mr. Peck!

Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. I was actually, truly transformed by reading this book. I loved myself more. Amazing.

Christ in a Pluralistic Age by John Cobb. As I wrote here previously, this book gave me a way to think about the divinity of Jesus, to believe with integrity.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I read this when I was 19 years old. I did not understand it, not really, but something in my soul fluttered, and shifted slightly, encountering the tragic fate of Edna Pontellier. Over the years I returned to it time and again and, in fact, used it in an article in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling regarding "Courage in the Development of Self in Women."

Ruben Habito's Healing Breath: Zen Spirituality for a Wounded Earth. This is the book--I felt that every word was written just for me--this is the book that eventually led me to jump off that proverbial cliff, leave my corporate job and enter seminary in the mid-1990's. I am forever grateful to Ruben.

How about favorite children's books?
I loved Jane Eyre--read it in 4th grade and have read it probably a dozen more times since then. Like Jan, I also loved Little Women.

Now I'll ask these friends to share about their books: PS @ Purpletologicallyspeaking, Linda @ Against a Brick Wall, Kate @ PrairieLight, and Diane @ Faith in Community.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Four Meme

Tagged by PS @ Purpletologically Speaking

Four jobs I've held:
Store clerk
Technical writer
Administrative supervisor

Four films I could watch over and over:
Dead Poets Society
Good Will Hunting
Sense and Sensibility

Four TV shows I watch:
The Office
Ugly Betty (every episode, I LOL at least once!)
News Hour
Hmm...can't think of another one!

Four places I've lived:
Fort Worth
San Antonio

Four favorite foods: (assuming there are no fat grams or calories...right?)
Grilled salmon
Chicken & dumplings
Mashed potatoes

Four websites I visit every day:
My favorite blogs
My email accounts
...that's it...

Four favorite colors:
Navy blue
Hot pink

Four places I would love to be right now: with D--
Some luxurious hotel in New York City
New England, touring the Fall leaves
Lake Louise, Banff
Pacific Northwest, in a B&B near the water

Four names I love but would/could not use for my children:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Free Burma

Free Burma!

Thanks to Jan for the headsup

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

Show your sympathy for the Free Burma! action and sign our list of participants, whether or not you're a blogger, website owner or someone who wants to point the way to democracy and freedom in Burma!

Free Burma! Petition Widget

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Free Burma!