Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008, A Year of Settling In

I'm in the recliner in my living room. Still coughing, still feeling lousy. But I've had a litte time to read some of my favorite blogs this afternoon, and that has lightened my mood. Wish I had time to read more, but Jan, Mompriest and Kate alone have really helped me. I've been in a bit of a funk, I guess, mostly just because of this persistent illness that leaves me so tired. I haven't wanted to reflect on anything, and that's never a good thing for me, a sure sign that I'm not myself.

Jan's on a wonderful trip with her husband, which makes me smile. Mompriest is able to feel truly happy in circumstances that would put anyone down. And Kate's reflections on her entire year are profound and deeply moving. I'm inspired!

The year began for me in a new place, a new job in a new church, new faces, new church culture to learn. Having left a dysfunctional church that allowed a few mean-spirited people to behave badly toward its clergy, I needed a while to regroup before I could begin to form new and meaningful relationships. Guess I needed a while before I could trust again.

The new place, though, I found, is full of trustworthy people. This is a church that truly practices what it preaches: No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here. I love that. Just hope we get enough pledges to keep me around for a while. My salary will likely be cut by 8% in 2009--this so they CAN keep me, but on top of the paycut I took to go there, it's not fun. And even though I understand the situation, as an employee it's not much of a motivator, to say the least.

Oh well. I left that oil company years ago as an 'employee.' I want to focus on my calling--that's the important thing. If I really cared about $$, I'd still be in business, and the truth is we're doing okay financially.

If you don't look at the retirement account.

But let's not go there.

Being part-time at this new church has opened up my world in terms of being a minister. I now have time for a small pastoral counseling practice that is doing well, and I love it. My spiritual direction practice is flowering, thanks to working part-time at HeartPaths, and I love that, too. And my work as a writer seems to be -- well, it's beginning, I'll put it that way. (I have an article being published in 2009 in a journal I've always loved.)

David and I are doing well. When a marriage begins at the age of 48 for both individuals, the first few years are interesting. Two full lives--lives already established and set, so to speak--don't come together without some negotiation, some real flexibility and willingness to change and give. We've both learned a LOT from each other. For my birthday last week, David took me to a wonderful little romantic restaurant, just the two of us, where we were able to have one of those amazing conversations that I love so much. We both feel that the marriage, while still working through some things, is now (at almost 5 years together) based on a truly solid ground of mutuality, trust, and love. I am grateful and happy.

We are thrilled with our children, as always. Young Man with Integrity is graduated from college and working, with a family of his own. Wow. Lovely Passionate Feminist is in her senior year and will begin student teaching soon--she will be a POWERFUL and AMAZING high school history teacher, changing the world one student at a time. Beautiful Genuine Musician is graduated from high school and attending junior college. A piano major, she is composing the music of her life in a rich, appealing key. All three kids are smart and welcoming, have plenty of friends, and are engaged in the world around them. I love them so much.

America elected Barack Obama. For me, it's America the Beautiful again, at long last. My heart is holding that exceptional human being in constant prayer. May he stay himself and not lose touch with his heart, may he stay healthy and well, and may he accomplish half of what we are hoping!! :-)

As for 2009, it's the Year of Improving My Health, Reading More Books, Continuing to Grow in Love and Authenticity. More about that later, I'm sure.

We've been invited to a New Years Eve Party. It's from 4:00 to 6:30 tonight--just our speed! (Kind of an unusual party. It's a light supper at the home of a friend in her new house, so I'm going to do a house blessing at the beginning of the gathering. Then, after supper, we're all suppose to attend a lovely Taize service. Very creative idea.) I'm going to go and enjoy myself, be home by 7:00 since I probably won't attend the Taize service, and just hope the movement helps me feel better!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A few photos

Just some photos from our Georgia trip. These are views from my inlaws house. Several mornings there was a beautiful fog on the river...

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Pain of Exclusion

We went to a Christmas Eve service at a Baptist church in Georgia. This church recently decided to abandon its downtown location and move to the suburbs where it has built a functional, and actually quite nice, new building.

I was fine with the service for the most part until it came time for communion. The minister asked the deacons to come forward.

More than 20 people rose and came forward.

All of them male.

Every blasted one of them. Male.

Of course I knew going into it that this church did not have women deacons. But seeing those twenty men up there at the front of this huge church, I knew it in a new way--viscerally, in my heart.

I was surprised by how painful it was for me. Tears stung my eyes.

We receive communion, the body and blood of Jesus who was the Christ, to say Yes to being with Christ as the disciples were with Christ. Two thousand years forward in time and that same Christ is present among us, too, and that same Christ continues to invite all to the table, to know this Holy Presence and Power in our lives. No one is excluded. Samaritans? yes. Tax collectors? yes. All are invited.

I found it repugnant that in an action signifying loving and gracious inclusion, radical welcome and holy hospitality, people who happen to be women were excluded from serving.

I declined to participate.

And I believe that Jesus stands with me, weeping the same tears of anger and pain.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This Christmas Eve

On this Christmas Eve I wish all my blogging friends a most joyous Christmas. May you all be struck by the true wonder of our lives, our world,our amazing God.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Will the Abusers Pay for their Crimes?

This from Newsweek:

The United States, like many countries, has a bad habit of committing wartime excesses and an even worse record of accounting for them afterward. But a remarkable string of recent events suggests that may finally be changing—and that top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse committed under their watch in the war on terror.

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration's extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo. Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld's behavior a "direct cause" of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing.

Here's a video by Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee for all that money, $700 billion, authorized by Congress to help us out of the financial crisis. I first heard her on Fresh Air and thought how amazingly understandable she was.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas a little early

I'm tired. Up till 2:00 a.m. last night wrapping presents and picking up the house. Gosh, I can't do that and feel like a human being the next day.

We had our "Christmas" this morning. All the chidren were here. We opened presents (for a very long time!) and then had a nice Christmas dinner, thanks to my husband's skill in the kitchen. Our little two-year-old granddaughter was a live-wire. She needed a nap big-time, but no one could entice her to it. Well, we enticed her time and time again, but she simply refused. And she got it in her head that I was her special friend today: "My KK. My KK," she kept repeating...."play with me, KK!" "come here, KK," "where my ball, KK?" Of course I loved it, but with low energy to start with, and six full hours of playing, I'm one whupped pup.

My husband and I leave for a visit with my inlaws soon. The kids will be here and in City to the South at various times, but couldn't come with us for this trip. I'll miss them.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Homage to Little M (and all God's children everywhere)

Resurrecting Footpaths has this quote from Chesterton that I had forgotten:

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening,“Do it again” to the moon. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, our Father is younger than we.

This quote is part of a great post. Took a look!

I often sit on a chair and put little M on my knees and play "Pony." Giddyup pony, go to town. Giddyup pony, don't slow down. Giddyup pony (pause)-- Don't fall down!" whereupon I pull my knees apart and she falls down. [Slightly. And always with my arms securely around her.]

She LOVES it. "Again, KK!" "Again, KK!" "Again, KK!"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Image," Images and Imagination

I recently subscribed to the journal Images: Art, Faith, Mystery, and my first copy arrived yesterday. I'm reading the article "Unapologetic Visibility," and it has this paragraph:

We cannot afford to jettison the imagination because it is the sensitive spot into which God's image stamps itself. It is a place that needs to be filled, like the blank walls of a Florentine chapel, a space that opens to God by being filled with images--frescoes with likenesses of the body, the means by which one person opens up to another .... The imagination, like the skin, is sensitive, and like the mind it cannot endure a vacuum. Whether you like it or not, billboards and screens are ready to pounce upon the imagination. Its sensibility requires us to cover it actively, even if we do it weakly and diffidently.

I wonder how the imagination has been effected by television and movies. Is the 21st century imagination the same as imaginaton in the 19th century?

How do I actively "cover" my imagination, protect it from the onslaughts of the mundane, the mediocre, the grotesque? Should I protect it at all, or perhaps use it to counter the mundane, etc.?

It is imagination that empowers hope and motivates good theology (and sermons). It's vital in all effective counseling and therapy. It is the mother of human creativity. Yet it is also the ground of fear. It is so basic to religion, to art, to life as a human being.

I love that part of the quote: the imagination is that sensitive spot within us where God's image is stamped. Yes.
Note to self: Don't forget~~Keep imagining. Keep imagining the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Personal Training

Well, I've completed my second week of working out with a personal trainer. I go Monday and Wednesday mornings. It's been good. Bill is in the same Ph.D. program I finished in 2005 and works part-time as a trainer to help supplement his income, so we have something interesting to talk about as we go from machine to machine and back again.

Surprisingly, I haven't been very sore. Some, but entirely manageable. Is that a good sign? I should ask him.

Even more surprisingly, I'm psychologically getting a real kick out of this. Just something about how I'm actually doing it is VERY satisfying to me. Obviously it helps to have an appointment with someone--there's a sense of accountability, an obligation, that gets me out of bed. So, it doesn't seem like I'll be using the trainer just to teach me how to learn each machine and then do it on my own. I think I'll always need another person there to encourage me and hold me accountable to show up.

It's expensive, but in January I'll have a friend there splitting the cost with me--she's also in this Ph.D. program, so she's friends with Bill. It was her idea to do this, but she's running a marathon on Sunday and didn't want to start the strength training program until after that. She'll be happy that I went ahead with it. She's been trying to help get me healthy in this way for a LONG time.

Thanks, M. And Bill, see you Monday!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Conduit of Love

The sermon today was on imagination--imagine a new world where no one is hungry or filled with despair. That kind of thing. It's the first Sunday of the month, so we celebrated Communion. Sort of. Toward the end of the service, he asked us to imagine, in solidarity with the poor and those who are suffering this day--to imagine that the loaf and cup are really there, that we are really taking Communion. He asked everyone to come forward and, although the plate was actually bare and the cup empty, to nevertheless hold out their hands as he and I gave them, not tangible bread or juice, but a blessing. Everyone was asked to open themselves to imagine receiving.

I thought the idea was innovative. But I never imagined (no pun intended) how powerful, how incredibly meaningful it would be for me to give each person who approached a real blessing..."This is the bread of life, Mary (or whoever). This is the cup of grace and blessing, given to remind you of how much you are loved. Go now in peace to serve the Lord." Most people made eye contact with me as I spoke these words. I love that. It's almost as if I can feel God loving them through me. And when their eyes remain open I can often see them receive that love. Honestly.

This morning I experienced the reality that is ever-present but hidden, the reality just behind that gossamer veil, the really Real.

What made the morning even more special was that David came to the service. (He's usually at his own church, the one we were married in and which has been through some tough conflict this year.) But this morning he came because he wanted to have communion. When his time came in the line, he surprised me with a "holy kiss" (so to speak) before I gave him the blessing.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Witnessing Awakenings

I love so much seeing God at work in someone's life. Really, it just thrills me. It's Friday night and I'm dead tired, yet there remains somewhere within me a sense of energy, excitement at what I have witnessed in my counseling and spiritual direction practice these last couple of weeks.

Of course I can't write about the specifics of what happened. Generally, it's people recognizing the lies they've been telling themselves about who they are--recognizing how those lies have covered up what is good and true and beautiful within them....It's people growing up, no longer stuck emotionally at the level of a 15 year old, but facing the mistakes they've made, facing the reality of how they have conformed to the expectations of others, facing an unknown but full-of-fabulous-possibilities future....It's people coming alive, seeing the beauty on the faces of those around them, seeing the truth that no one else has the power to make them unhappy, seeing God everywhere.

I love ministry. What an amazing privilege to witness these kinds of awakenings.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dreading the Holidays No Longer

It's 6:15 a.m. I'm the only one up, ostensibly to prepare for church this morning, but there's actually not much I can do here at home. I'm already showered and ready to go; I'll just leave a little early and have plenty of time to do what I need to do before services.

I love it when the house is quiet like this and I'm the only one awake. Especially when the house is full, like it is now. My inlaws are asleep in Lovely Passionate Feminist's room. LPF is upstairs in the loft, taking Beautiful Genuine Musician's bed (BGM had to work in City to the South most of this weekend), D is sound asleep in our room, and Hobbes, who awoke and meowed loudly when I went into the kitchen, has settled back down, thank goodness.

Yesterday afternoon, D brought the Christmas tree down from the attic, and my MIL began the tedious task of opening up all the squished branches. She did a great job. We have about 10 boxes of Christmas decorations, so I tackled those. As I opened each box, the memories flooded, of course. Ah, the three wise men, given to me as a gift from someone in my last church....Oh, my little mouse all dressed in Christmas red. He's been with me every Christmas for over 20 years. Tattered, he remembers, with me, the lonely years when I was single.

I dreaded the holidays when I was single. There were a few years in which I was so in love with God and able to feel God's loving presence that the holidays were wonderful, and I came through them with a heart light and free. But those years were the exception.
Most years, I just truly dreaded the holiday season.... Being alone.... Feeling left out and odd, not having a family like the rest of the WHOLE WORLD. :-) .... Accepting invitations from folks, my extended family of aunts and uncles, who felt sorry for me. Occasionally my single friends and I would plan something; being with them was good, but most years they felt obligated to their families, so I was left with few options. In the early years after my mother died I would fly out to visit my sister and her family. I knew they honestly wanted me there and loved me, which helped so very much, but all four of them smoke, which made my delight at being there also pretty miserable. After I left my cushy job and went to seminary, I had no money for airfare, so that stopped, and I ended up trudging over to the aunts and uncles and feeling like a third wheel. My fault, not theirs, of course.

After D and I married in 2004, I no longer dreaded the holidays, although it did take me a couple of years to feel completely comfortable with his children. Should I introduce my own way of doing things?--traditions of decorating the whole house--not just a tree, sausage balls, putting lots of time and effort into wrapping the presents, etc. They had their own traditions, of course, so it's taken some time to integrate and to create our own memories.

Now, though, things are different. I feel wholely comfortable. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to go ahead and decorate the house! And my MIL joined in and even suggested that we put on some Christmas music. She and Lovely Passionate Feminist went out to buy The Three Tenors singing Christmas songs. Oh, it was glorious! And FUN! I boiled some oranges, lemons, and LOTS of cinnamon on the stove, and the scent of Christmas filled the house.

Then Young Man with Integrity and his family came over for dinner. When a 2-year-old's around, it's automatically FUN! I brought out our two boxes of ornaments and she, LPF and J took to it! The tree looks fabulous! D grilled outside, and we feasted on hot dogs, hamburgers, and nearly finished the yummy chocolate cake, courtesty of my MIL who flew with it here from Georgia!
I sat at the piano and LPF sang some Christmas carols for us; she has a beautiful soprano voice. I love hearing her sing. Of course, little M was playing along with me, so it was LPF's voice that we all strove to hear, not the piano playing! Later on, little M and I danced and twirled and got dangerously dizzy!

After Young Man with Integrity and his family went home, things calmed down quite a bit. We sat in the living room, still with the music FIL went to bed, but D and his mother read their books, LPF worked some puzzles, and I colored my mandalas. Then D went to bed, and my MIL, Lovely Passionate Feminist and I lit the candles, turned out all the other lights except the Christmas tree, and just enjoyed the beauty of it all.

I love the holidays.

And I hold a special place in the my heart for those who are single, and who, like me all those awful lonely years, are wishing for a family. May you very soon find someone to love and who loves you in return, and in the meantime, may you feel God's loving presence holding you close.

I hear my inlaws stirring, getting ready for the day....guess it's time for church.

(cartoon from Google Images)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Holiday

It's been a great Thanksgiving Holiday. My inlaws are here so we spent the day at my husband's cousin's house with a big gathering of 18 people. The cousin's house is HUGE, so we also spent the day in luxurious surroundings. Oh my.

Yesterday I stayed home to work a bit while everyone else drove Beautiful Genuine Musician back to City to the South and then visited with my FIL's sister in a nearby county. I did join them for a late lunch, though, and then did a little shopping. I've decided to workout twice a week with a personal trainer, so I needed some clothes appropriate for that.
Today should be a nice, relaxing day. I hope to get the Christmas Tree up.

Here are some recent pics.

This is J and Young Man with Integrity from Thanksgiving Day.

And little M, also from Thanksgiving Day.

This is my friend LifeGiving One's little 3-year old, Julia, who had a "sleepover at KK's" so her mom and dad could have some alone time together.

And here is Lovely Passionate Feminist with both Julia and her little brother M. Great kiddo's, and LPF was a huge help!

D and his dad

Monday, November 24, 2008

Entering the Mind of Christ

I loved this paragraph from James Finley's Christian Meditation:

When Jesus sat around the fire at night with the disciples, talking about this and that, he no doubt at times simply listened to them talking among themselves. As he stirred the fire with a stick, he perhaps saw a single spark fleetingly fly upward into the night. Later, lying there, listening to their breathing as they slept, he heard in their breathing the love he knew himself to be. It is like that sometimes with us. In meditation, in daily life, we realize that we and everyone else in the world, and everything in it, are manifesting the love our very life embodies. In this realization, we enter the mind of Christ without going anywhere. We simply awaken to who we have always been from before the origins of the universe.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ouch. And Double Ouch.

I've not been comfortable with my posts recently--the ones about politics, the election, and the actions of our local Episcopal Diocese, I mean. I wrote and posted them out of true passion for justice--I feel so deeply about the importance of mutuality, the dignity of each human life, people on the margins of society, etc.

Of course I still feel that way. My posts are authentically me. But as I posted each of them, I did have a whisp of discomfort, a whisp that I conveniently and easily repressed. That discomfort grew until Thursday when I had lunch with The Author. We were talking about the election, and because I feel so safe with her, I actually said, "I don't understand it. I don't understand how spiritually mature people can be so conservative in their politics."

The Author is a very kind person. Each time I said something like that she remarked how she tries to see both sides of every position. I finally said, "I guess I'm being kind of arrogant about it," and she was very quick to agree!


"The problem is that people on each side are convinced they are right," she said.

So, I'm commiting the same sin that I accuse "them" of. Ugh.

Later that day my friend The Artist came by to give me my first watercolor lesson. She's a regular reader of this blog as well, so when I mentioned that I was rethinking my posts on the election, with some energy in her voice she said, "Oh really?" Yeah, I think I may have been kind of arrogant, I said. "Yeah," she replied.

Double Ouch. Two in the same day.

When I was growing up, I was the "smart one." It was how I learned to be loved, to be special--that is, to have the right answer. Indeed, to be right. As I moved into adolescence, though, I know I must've been a huge pain to my mother. We had terrible fights, and I know I was a horrible smart aleck. Well, I still have a need to be right. I see how my ATTITUDE regarding the election is the same old wound acting its way out.

The attitude in which I wrote those posts was one of absolute conviction that "I am right and "they" are wrong. Pure and simple." There's a kind of blind arrogance involved in it.

I need the conservative view to keep my liberalism from morphing into "change at any cost and the faster the better" (when in fact the costs might be too high and slower might be better!) I need tradition to balance my heavy reliance on experience. I tend to forget that. Plus, I'm sure that many conservatives and traditionalists also value mutuality, the dignity of each human life, people on the margins of society, etc.

More importantly, though, the spiritual reminder is that I must love those with whom I am in disagreement. To love them is, in part, to remember that they could be right. Certainty is a dangerous business.

I'll continue to act from within my liberal stances on issues, but I must remember to act out of conviction based in faith, not absolute certainty. That's the attitudinal difference I must cultivate.

I apologize to anyone who felt the arrogance and was offended by it. And my humble thanks to my dear friends The Author and The Artist.


OK. Here they are. I told my friend The Artist that I'd post these. They are my very first attempt at watercolor painting! The Artist graciously gave me a lesson a couple of days ago--I'd always wondered how watercolorists did it, and now I have at least a tiny idea....

And I had a great time...

Award for Blogging

Jan at Yearning for God graciously honored me with the Superior Scribbler Award. Thank you, Jan! Your blog is at the top of my list of favorites!

Here's how this thing works:

*Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

*Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

*Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this Post, which explains The Award.

*Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

*Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Like Jan, I choose ALL on my blog list on the left, but specifically honor these five:

Against a Brick Wall. This is Linda who first introduced me to blogging. Her writing is ALWAYS compelling. Often her posts just leave me breathless, and I go back and read them again and again. She's on a wonderful journey in life, and I always feel privileged to ride along with her for a while through her blog.

Beyond Assumptions. Steve's posts are important. He writes about church and why it is, and often is not, an inviting place. He writes about raising children with autism. He writes about current events/issues. I wish he posted more often because his voice is SO honest and authentic, as you can tell just from the title of his blog.

Seeking Authentic Voice. When my time is short I nevertheless always check out what Mompriest is blogging about. She recently has moved from pastoring a small church in the upper Midwest to a large church in the Southwest which is vibrant and good but, as often happens, not quite willing to change and move forward. Mompriest is on such a compelling journey in ministry. I learn so much from her. I respect her deeply.

Search the Sea. Gannet Girl is blogging about the unspeakable grief that comes from losing a child. She is using prose, but still able to convey the deepest of the human experience, poet-like. She is a poet, I think, in touch with the Mystery in all its beauty and all its pain. I pray for her daily and hope my prayers manage to honor, if only a little, such a deeply human human being. Her blog is Beauty.

Prairie Light. Kate teaches me with every post. In her work as a pastor and therapist in a small town she is always seeking integration and authenticity. She is one, I think, who has learned the wisdom of wholeness--body, mind, spirit. She tries so many things spiritually, blogging about "God Watch," in which she looks for God in her daily life. Or doing a gratitude journal online. These days she is waiting for "the shoe to drop," and we don't know what the "shoe" is, but something has happened, and we (all her readers, I'm sure) are praying for her, confident that all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

This was not easy. I'd honor Light and Free but I'm not sure she's open to the general public. My Heart Leaps hasn't posted since October--Kathy! let's hear from you! Also An Inherently Irrational Rationalist, but she's not a RevGal. Purple, Jennifer, Serena, Diane, Songbird---I read them all the time and LOVE them! These blogs are SO well written and wonderfully meaningful to me.

So many others.... The blogging world has been a real God-send to me.

Jan, thanks again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why We Meditate

I'm reading James Finley's Christian Meditation. Do you know it?

Wow. It's been a long time since I've underlined something on every page of a book. I even copied one paragraph and laminated it, and it's now nearby when I meditate in the morning:

**We sit in meditation so that the last traces of our tendency to identify with egocentric consciousness might finally dissolve as our habitual base of operations.
**We meditate that we might continue thinking, but no longer live by thought and all that thought can comprehend.
**We meditate that we might continue remembering, but no longer be limited to memory or all that can be remembered.
**We sit that we might continue willing, but no longer be limited to our own will or what our will is capable of attaining.
**We sit that we might continue feeling, but no longer be limited to our feelings or all that can be felt.
**We sit that we might continue being our bodily self as long as our life on this earth shall last, but no longer be limited to our bodily self and all the bodily self can be.
**We sit that we might live in God, and for God, and by God in all we do and say.
**We meditate that we might live in a habitual awareness of God living in us, for us, and by us in all that we simply are.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Moving beyond our hatred of people not like ourselves"

The Diocese of the Episcopal Church in my area had a big meeting this weekend. 80% of those attending voted to leave The Episcopal Church.

They apparently believe that because TEC has a woman Presiding Bishop (Katharine Jefferts Schori) and a gay Bishop (Gene Robinson), it no longer respects or honors scripture and tradition. In their minds, apparently, the Church has moved so far to the dark side that this Diocese can no longer be associated with it.

This both saddens and angers me.

Is it moving to the dark side to welcome others (other-than-heterosexual-males) to the full life of the church, including its leadership?

Is it moving to the dark side to think that God IS STILL SPEAKING?

I say, in fact, that this Diocese is not in a very light place when it remains blind to its own homophobia and sexism. Blind to the all-embracing love of God, a God who calls each person to flourish and become the person God intends---which just might include church leadership. (Really, the arrogance galls me. Does this Diocese actually believe that every single woman or GLBT person who has ever come before it, or before other judicatories, seeking ordination is deluded? that his/her profound sense of God's call to ministry is an exercise in self-deception?)

This local Diocese believes that PB Schori is behaving badly when she threatens a lawsuit. Why can't she just be more Christ-like and let us leave in peace? they wonder. Well, the answer is that you're trying to steal HER (as the PB of the Church) property! Why do you imagine that you can take what has never belonged to you?

Roberta Bondi has written that one of the fruits of prayer is when you experience yourself as more real and less living in fantasy or in principle.

I had not thought much about the falsity that can arise from living in principle, but I think she's right. Standing on principle when real life is happening all around you--when women, GLBT folks, people of color are coming into their own, and God is their head cheerleader!--strikes me as quite sad, really.

Not that respecting and honoring and giving authority to scripture and tradition isn't important. It is very important. But I believe that God IS still speaking, that human beings, even those who penned the words of scripture and doctrine, were .... well, human! As I have been blinded by my own fears and "isms," and as this Diocese is now blinded, the authors of scripture and traditions were people who loved God but were nevertheless less than perfect. I once read something by a local rabbi, Ralph Mecklenberger, that is quite germane here. He wrote:

Thank God the biblical ethic of love and justice has continued to advance, moving us beyond our hatred of people who are not like ourselves. Our biblical and post-biblical traditions demonstrate progression from exclusivity to inclusivity, as the Abrahamic promise advances from a narrow tribal understanding to God’s promise of light for all the nations in the Prophets and beyond. We believe that this movement of God’s Spirit did not end when the last words of Scripture were written, but continues to this day, tearing down barriers of injustice and small-mindedness that make it impossible for us to practice the Biblical ethic of love.

Close Guantanamo!

Amnesty International is challenging President-elect Obama (oh, it feels good to type that!) to CLOSE GUANTANAMO! And I agree. This is from the AI website:

Talk of change is good. Concrete action is better. Amnesty International is calling on President-elect Barack Obama to take concrete steps in his first 100 days in office to put human rights at the center of the new government.

The new president will have the opportunity to rectify some of the unlawful policies and practices carried out in the name of national security. We are calling on the new administration to:

* announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo

* issue an executive order to ban torture

* ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its "war on terror" is set up.

Taking these steps would send a clear message to the rest of the world that, once again, the U.S. will be a leader for human rights.

A New Addition to our Household

We have a new addition to our household -- a piano!

We paid to have Beautiful Genuine Musician's piano moved up here to our house from City to the South, so that she (and others!) can play it when she's up here visiting.

Yesterday Lovely Passionate Feminist was here. She and I went to Barnes and Noble, and she bought a songbook for the piano with some lovely songs in it: Danny Boy, Santa Lucia, Finlandia. It was so peaceful listening to her play yesterday. She has a very light touch. (And she's not even the music major!)

Young Man with Integrity's girlfriend J is also a musician. They were here for dinner last night, after which she played a piece that she learned years ago--very different with some beautiful but also dissonant chords throughout. We all loved it. And then of course there was little 2 y.o. M, who ALSO played...she played the music of 2 year olds everywhere.

And we loved that as well! (for the most part) :-)

And strangely enough, even I was able to play one song that I remembered from piano lessons in fourth grade. Well, I didn't remember, but my fingers did. Pure muscle memory. Interesting experience.

I think we were all thrilled to have a piano in the house. It kind of brought us all together in a new way.
(The pic is my husband and our granddaughter, little M.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Little Update

Thanks, Purple. Yes, I'm feeling better. Took until Thursday mid-day, but that Z-pac of antibiotics has done the trick! I worked all day yesterday (a wonderful experience!), and then D and I drove way north to visit some friends who have moved. The drive included a very interesting conversation (see post below). Took about an hour and 15 minutes, so we got there, had a wonderful Korean dinner, great conversation, D had another losing game of chess with one of their boys, and then we left. Our host arrives at his work at 5:00 a.m. everyday, including Saturday, so we didn't want to linger. Plus, D and I were both tired. But oh my goodness, it was good to see these friends. They are exceptional people, I think. Both are kind (the kindness that arises from the heart), deeply interesting (deep thinkers and feelers), generous, and, I think, well integrated. D and I always come away from a visit with them feeling good.

Anyway, that was my first day of feeling better, and it was long. This morning, though, I'm still not coughing, so I'm grateful.

Lovely Passionate Feminist is here, down from Small City to the North and her life at the university. She's still asleep at the moment, but D and I are eager for the day with her. She is simply a TOTAL DELIGHT!

What are YOU up to this wonderful Saturday?

The Meaning of Being an American

I grew up during Watergate and Nixon and Vietnam -- I became politcally aware during those years. Spent hours in front of the television watching the Watergate hearings, even ordering a copy of the proceedings. I was outraged at our President's behavior.

I didn't know anyone personally who went to Vietnam. But I have a memory of my senior year in high school, listening to a broadcast of the final pullout of American troops, and feeling such relief. I was outraged about our behavior in the world.

All that to say that I have never felt particularly patriotic. In fact, I've been wary of patriotism because it can slide into nationalism which I think is evil. I've prided myself on being a critical thinker when it comes to my country.

But last night, as D and I were driving to visit some friends (see post above), I found myself asking my husband what he thought it meant to be an Amerian. He said that being American is choosing to live in compact with others who believe in the ideals expressed in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Good answer.

I'm rethinking my stance.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common
defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-Checks and balances on government, with three branches
-Tension between state and federal government
-Freedom of religion, press, expression
-Right to a speedy trial and to confront your accusors
-Trial by jury
-Right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all ...are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among [Us], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Feeling Better Sooner!

I started this blog in the spring of 2007 when I was home sick with bronchitis, then pneumonia, then asthma, then bronchitis again. I had a terrible spring! But one good thing that came from that "sick" time was learning about blogging from my friend Linda. Through her example, I thought I'd give it a try and consequently something very good (new friends) emerged from a not-so-good time in my life.

I've been free from serious problems since then, more than a year, but I think I have bronchitis again today. Fortunately my doctor has an opening later this morning, so we'll see.

I don't know exactly why being sick upsets me the way it does. Maybe because my mother died of lung problems. Maybe because it interferes with my commitments. Maybe because I think sickness is a sign that I'm not where I should be spiritually--(I do think the mind/spirit-body link is powerful, but on the other hand, it's not the only thing that affects the body.) Maybe because it says I'm stressed out--(but I've been slowing down recently and saying 'no' to things, so I don't think that's it).

No way to know for sure. I just need to really believe that "what is IS" and then let it go. Let it go. Let it go. I'm sure that will help me feel better sooner!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh, what beauty, John O'Donohue

John O'Donohue speaks my truth once again--

"Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells. You want your God to be wild and to call you to where your destiny awaits."

You can find this quote here:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Barack Obama, the next President of the United States of America!
I say again, WOW.

a prayer for election day

Gracious God,

Thank you for this day, this important day. Thank you for your love and grace and freedom.

I am grateful, O God, that I live in a place on Earth where I may freely vote and express my opinion in that way.

I am grateful for journalists and bloggers and writers and great thinkers who may freely express their opinions. Freedom like this is precious, and I do not want to ever take it for granted.

Whatever the outcome, give us--give me--the spiritual maturity to remember that all our hope ultimately lies in you. When the outcome becomes clear later on today (or tomorrow), help me, O God, to thank you and to acknowledge that you are present, in the here and now, and that all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

I pray that our nation-state may know its place in this world ~ that we are one among many, and that whatever leadership role we may have carries within it an attitude of servanthood, for otherwise it is a kind of tyranny and not true leadership. In whatever the future holds, I pray that somehow we may find the courage to turn to you and not give in to fear.

May it be so.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The HORROR of George W.

We saw Oliver Stone's film "W" this weekend, his portrayal of George W. Bush. At the end of the last scene my husband spontaneously uttered "Wow," and I covered my face with my hands and couldn't speak. Lovely Passionate Feminist didn't say anything, but she and I talked about it on the way home, and she agreed.

It's a horror film, really.

The horror of seeing a soul (rich and therefore privileged though he is) unable to find himself. Searching, searching, searching his whole life for what would please his father. Mistakenly believing that to please his father would give his life meaning and purpose. He'd be a real man, and not "a disappointment," if he could win his father's approval. The horror of a lost soul. The horror of what we do to our children.

The horror of seeing religion used as an opiate. George W. traded one addiction, alcohol, for another--this time a much more dangerous one. Religion without the courage of self knowledge is open to abuse on all kinds of levels. Unless they do the difficult inner work necessary, sons who don't receive their father's approval feel powerless. "Conversion" provided the cover for George W's basest impulse for power to come to the fore. George W mistook his own inner lies for God telling him to run for the presidency. Combine that with the evil plotting of Karl Rove and you have political expediency placed above all morality. And that's what elected George W. Bush President of the United States. Twice. Horror of a nation gone mad.

The horror of the neoconservative agenda. I hate with a holy hatred the neoconservative agenda. (Read about it at The Project for a New American Century.) It's American POWER no matter the cost--which of course fit well with George W's immaturity, manifested in his psychological need for power. It's a machismo that would be utterly ridiculous if it hadn't actually surrounded the President of the United States. As it is, the neoconservatives are responsible for the deaths of 4,000 Americans and countless Iraqis. Neoconservatives are responsible for the hatred of America that is so prevalent on this planet today. They are dealers of death and fear under the guise of "freedom." Men with neoconservative agendas are the men that "W" chose for advisors. Men that seem as dangerously insecure, arrogant, and impotent as he. The horror of megalomania.

I could go on. The horror of the last eight years bubbled up within me as I watched this film. (Literally. I had a rare acid reflux attack.) The last scene is "W" in one of his baseball fantasies--he's running under the lights to catch a fly ball, but he's lost it, he can't see where it's coming from. His face is a study in helplessness and fear.

And then the movie ends. Just like that.

I know it's just a movie, someone's idea of George W. Bush. I know our President is not a monster--he's a human being with his good points as well. I know I have my own faults, and I know I could be wrong. But after 9-11 I began to think that our President had a dangerously weak sense of self. Apparently Oliver Stone thinks so, too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Amazing Creation

As I mentioned in my last post, we're creating a Prayer Garden with a labyrinth in the courtyard at the entrance to my church.

I don't have a good photograph of it yet. This one is old but it shows the nice floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the entrance from the church office. (My little office is adjacent to the church office and has one of these windows as well.) You can see in the background part of the beautiful oak tree which will at the center of the labyrinth--The Tree of Life! On this tree we are hanging a multitude of wind chimes. (Oh, the few already there are so arresting--I stop when I hear them, and I let their beautiful tones minister to me.) And all around this courtyard entrance will be flowers and plants, and a bench or two for meditation. The church is on almost 7 acres--it's a park, really, with about 40 oak and pecan trees. We'll be able to walk the labyrinth, sit on a bench at the Tree of Life, listen to the music of the chimes, look out on this lovely park, and know the goodness of God.

I can't wait!!

Today five TONS of stone were delivered, sandstone in rectangular blocks, to be exact. One of our members, MS, (bless his heart!) is doing most of the work on this, and he'll be the one to actually build the labyrinth with this stone. He went with me and our other minister yesterday to choose it. It's a really nice "striped sandstone" that matches the church building pretty well.

I'm so thrilled at this project--we all are! One day this summer the church administrator, CE, and I were bemoaning the ugliness of the entrance. What little grass that was there was all burned up and we had weeds everywhere. I put a little notice in the newsletter: "Calling all Gardeners," thinking perhaps we could get some retired folks interested in taking this courtyard as a project. No takers. It was over a month later when MS, who works fulltime, got interested all on his own--I don't think he read that article. Then CE mentioned something about the courtyard to our current moderator who just happened to respond with, "You know, I've always envisioned a labyrinth in that space." Well! That little comment reminded CE that years ago the church allocated $1,000 for a labyrinth, but it was never used! She jumped up and ran to tell me. I grabbed MS and we all went outside, and there we started to "see" it together.

$1,000 isn't much. We spent the bulk of it on the sandstone. We're hoping church members will catch the spirit and start to contribute. A few people have already brought plants for MS to put in the new flowerbeds he's already made.

Creation. It's quite amazing.

(wind chimes via Google Images)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Small Break to Catch My Breath

I received a gentle nudge from a friend today. She emailed me, Why aren't you blogging? Everything OK? Everything is fine, Kathy. This afternoon is the first time in two weeks that I've come up for air. Came home from church about 1:30, ate lunch with D and Beautiful Genuine Musician, then took a 3 hour nap. Of course, it all starts again tomorrow morning, and it will continue on through Saturday, October 25 when I attend a denominational meeting and then officiate a wedding. After that, I'll be able to stop between my "action-items" and take notice of my life again.

Actually, on second thought, that's not completely true. I have noticed some things:

  • The stunning beauty of the Guadalupe River in the Hill Country of Texas. I led our 3-day church retreat there last week. Our worship on Sunday morning was outside where the view was just breathtaking. My words were paltry in the face of that which spoke of God's love and majesty better than I ever could.
  • The love and generosity of the church I'm now serving. Today they celebrated "Pastor Appreciation" Day. We gather for a time of fellowship each Sunday after the 11 o'clock service. They had a cake made for us, and had bought each of us $75 in Barnes & Noble gift certificates. Wow. I wish I'd been able to hold it together, but yes, I did cry. I just felt overwhelmed by their grace and generosity.

  • The amazing thoughtfulness of Young Man with Integrity and his girlfriend J. Along with little 2-year-old M, they came over last week to watch the debate with me, knowing that my husband was out of town on business. Isn't she a doll? She calls me "KK" and my husband "Bubba." So cute.

  • The depth of connection experienced at my last breakfast with The Author. Our conversation was so deep and meaningful, it energized me all day.

  • Love expressed through flowers. My husband D brings me flowers each time he goes to the store. He's been doing that since we got married, and I admit that I've taken it for granted at times. But flower-buying is NOT something he ever did before we married; this is something he does that's above and beyond. Yesterday they were a beautiful deep red color, almost burgundy. Thank you, D.

  • The way people trust me. What an honor it is to be trusted. We had our monthly seminar at my second job yesterday--it's an all day thing. After lunch someone asked if she could talk to me and proceeded to share something quite painful. I couldn't take her pain away, of course, but I hope that speaking it out loud to someone who cares was, in its way, a bit healing for her.
  • The beauty of creation, and creating. My church is creating a prayer garden. My office is so tiny, but one wall is a floor-to-ceiling window that looks out near our entrance, and that's where we're putting the garden. It will have a labyrinth, lots of flowers, some benches, and in the center of the labyrinth is a beautiful oak tree on which we are hanging lots and lots of wind chimes. Oh! I'm so excited about this, and so grateful for everyone who is helping with it.

Thanks again for your gentle nudge, Kathy. Writing this has helped me feel less overwhelmed, more connected and very grateful for my life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Prayer of Gratitude

Good day spent in God's presence. I got into my "let's get it done" mode in the afternoon, but this morning I spent a lovely 90 minutes with my friend The Author. I always feel God's presence when I'm with her. Our conversations are deep and important and oh so nurturing.

This afternoon I decided to move our Evening Prayer service from the chapel to the main sanctuary, so that took the better part of two hours. But now that everything's moved, it'll be easier for me to set up and maintain. That was my "just get it done" mode, and I wasn't aware of God's presence, although when I started the service, it felt very centering to me.

My prayer tonight is simply one of gratitude. Thank you, God, for everything.

I'll be away from my computer for the next few days, leading a church retreat.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Favorite Poems

A Psalm of Life

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! ~
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us further than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great [ones] all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take hear again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

(by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1882)
haptip to Jennifer

With the drawing of the Love and the voice of this Calling

With the drawing of the Love
and the voice of this Calling,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
. . . .
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

[T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding]

Many times today I will cross over a threshold.
I hope to catch a few of those times.
I need to remember that my life is, in fact,
a continuous series of thresholds:
from one moment to the next,
from one thought to the next,
from one action to the next.
Help me appreciate how awesome this is.
How many are the chances to be really alive...
to be aware of the enormous dimension
we live within.
On the threshold the entire past and the endless
future rush to meet one another.
They take hold of each other and laugh.
They are so happy to discover themselves
in the awareness of a human creature.
On the threshold the present breaks all
It is a convergence,a fellowship
with all time and space.
We find You there.
And we are found by You there.
Help me cross into the present moment --
into wonder, into Your grace:
that “now-place,” where we all areunfolding
as Your life moment by moment.
Let me live on the threshold as threshold.
by Gunilla Norris

Now I Become Myself

Now I become myself. It’s taken
time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
worn other people’s faces,
run madly, as if Time were there,
terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before – “
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
is my hand, the shadow of a word
as thought shapes the shaper
falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
from wish to action, word to silence,
my work, my love, my time, my face
gathered into one intense
gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
fertile, detached, and always spent,
falls but does not exhaust the root,
so all the poem is, can give,
grows in me to become the song,
made so and rooted so by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
all of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly run,
stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

by May Sarton

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and take all
the bright coins from his purse to buy me,
and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage,
and something precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightening, or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

by Mary Oliver

The Holy Longing
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm waters of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you
when you see the silent candle burning.
Now, you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.

—by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I Want to Live in the World
I want to live in the world, not inside my head.
I want to live in the world.
I want to stand and be counted with the hopeful and the willing, with the open and the strong,
with the voices in the darkness fashioning daylight out of song,
and the millions of lovers alive in the world.
I want to live in the world not behind some wall.
I want to live in the world where I will hear if another voice should call to the prisoner inside me,
to the captive of my doubt, who among his fantasies harbors the dream of breaking out,
and taking his chances alive in the world
To open my eyes and wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes and finally arrive in the world with its beauty and its cruelty, with its heartbreak and its joy,
with its constantly giving birth to life and to forces that destroy,
and the infinite power of change alive in the world.
To open my eyes and wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes and finally arrive in the world
by Jackson Brown
You Are the Work of God
It is not you who shape God;
it is God who shapes you.
If then you are the work of God,
await the hand of the Artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer the Potter your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form in which
the Artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard and lose
the imprint of the Potter's fingers.

Irenaeus, 2nd century

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Key is the Present Moment

Lately my understanding of the importance of the present moment has grown.

I've seen my spiritual director and my therapist several times in the last couple of months, trying to understand why I've gained so much weight. Well, of course I know why--It was given a major boost by being on steroids for two months last year--I was ravenous! It's hormonal changes. I'm 52--it's time for my metabolism to slow down. It's the little fractured vertebrae in my back that kept me from any exercise.

But I've been vaguely aware of a deeper reason. All those little physiological jumpstarts were easily overcome, had I just worked at it.

I'm aware that thoughts of food have filled my mind. My therapist asked me, "So what are you trying to avoid?"

"I really can't think of a thing," I replied. "My marriage is good. My family life is good. My work is good."

"Doesn't have to be anything big," she responded.

That's when I realized that I do live my life rather stressed. Eckhart Tolle has a line that struck me a couple of weeks ago: "Stress is simply feeling you'd rather be somewhere else. You'd rather be finished with the task. You'd rather already be there. So the present moment becomes an enemy!"

It kind of hurts me to realize that I've lived most of my married life (all four years of it) with an underlying expectation that D would be the man of my dreams. My fantasy man. I had dreamed of marriage for so long, that I didn't realize how insidious my dreams and fantasies about it really were. So I have missed out on some fantastic things, I'm sure. The point here, though, is that these EXPECTATIONS = STRESS.

My work is my vocation. I'm meant to be a minister, pastoral counselor, spiritual director, preacher, etc. etc. etc. -- And that's the point---all those "etc's." I counsel people on how to say "no" all the time, but didn't realize that once again I need to take my own advice! My previous job was in an incredibly conflicted congregation where I witnessed the dark underbelly of the church, so when I came to this fabulous and healthy UCC congregation, (yes!) I just dove in head first. It's the tradition in my current church that we have no Christian Education during the summer. Zero. That seemed strange to me, but instead of resting a bit, I implemented three new projects! And then there is always that "demon of external validation" sitting on my left shoulder whispering lies to me:

You must do everything perfectly, Katherine.
You must please everyone, Katherine.
Of course, I've defeated that "demon of external validation" many times, but it's still there. Smaller and weaker, but still there. And when I get a new job, it very much tends to wake up. Some of my taking on too much is because I'm genuinely eager to do these projects--I love them! But some of my taking on too much, I admit, is out of a need to prove myself. ~sigh~
The point here is that TAKING ON TOO MUCH WORK = STRESS

And stress is an enemy of the present moment.

I began to reflect on all the times I've lived in the present. I had a couple of weeks in the summer of 1994 when I lived in present, aware and awake. It was truly amazing. I had been sitting in Zen meditation for over a year. I had found the courage within me to resign from ARCO, but I had not as yet left my job and entered seminary. My mother was going downhill that summer. (She died September 25, 1994. Today is the 14th anniversary of her death.) But for two weeks or so that summer, I was SO ALIVE. AMAZINGLY ALIVE. I remember feeling the touch of the steering wheel in my hands as I drove to work each morning. I remember feeling love for those I worked with. Oh, I loved them so! I remember walking into my house from the garage and the REALITY of my awareness hitting me. Everything just stopped as I felt my awareness. Those were glorious weeks.

The effect of those glorious weeks has stayed with me, of course. That kind of experience never leaves you. But immediacy faded. When I entered seminary I stopped going to the Zen center. And I think that my way of thinking about the present moment changed a bit.

It's actually not all that uncommon for me to let go and open up to what I've been calling THE DEEPER REALITY. I'm very kinesthetic. When I try to talk about this I make a double motion with my hands. "I let go," moving my hands outward from my heart, and "I open up," moving my hands toward my heart but also outward, like I'm parting the waters. I see now that I rarely do this in my marraige or when I'm rushing to accomplish some administrative task at the church. It's the in-between times when this happens:
  • When I'm in a counseling or spiritual direction session--it happens a lot then.
  • Or at the lectio divinia group I'm part of--it happens nearly every time there
  • During worship--the minister I work with is a very thoughtful person and his sermons often help me move into this DEEPER REALITY.
  • My work at HeartPaths--oh, I love that work because it's all about this movement to open up and let go.
But lately I'm seeing that God is calling me to be more intentional about living in the present moment.

In the present moment, I am stress free...I allow God's love to flow through me to the world....I experience NO FEAR....I seem to be more easily in touch with Wisdom...and I am above (or is it behind?) all those thoughts about food! :-)...I experience being distinct from my thoughts.

Ah yes, the Present Moment is key.

(All photos from flickr. I think. Or maybe Google Images:-)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

To protect its citizens, government should limit greed. Yes, I'm angry.

I was just about to write something on what's happening on Wall Street, but checked my email first and found this excellent article from Sojourners. It is an excellent read---I've copied it below.

I don't know about you, but I'd hear a story about all these financial failures, and I'd think, either: Oh, this is too complex to understand or Oh, everything will be alright. But then I listened to Terry Gross interview Michael Greenberger on Fresh Air yesterday, and the way he explained what was happening was so helpful.

And terrifying.

When I began to really understand what was happening, I thought: Oh, we need to take out all our money--take the tax hit--and hide what's left under the mattress! But then Greenberger ended the interview by saying that would be exactly the wrong thing to do. He said Congress will not let the FDIC fail. And he said there are people in government who understand all this and will do the right thing. Robert Rubin, for example, who is Obama's advisor on the economy, "gets it." Even though Reuben made some mistakes about all this in the Clinton administration in the 90's, he has seen the error of his ways, said Greenberger, and he'll do the right thing.

McCain, on the other hand, has always promoted deregulation. In fact, it was McCain's good buddy Phil Gramm who was the force behind the legislation to let all these complicated financial instruments (like the "credit-default swaps" in which AIG is awash) run amok with no regulation whatsoever. So now the government can't even really know the extent of this "shadow financial system" that is now wreaking havoc, although estimates are that it totals $62 trillion, more than the stock and bond markets combined.

Greenberger also explained clearly what "credit default swaps" are. They are underhanded legalese for "insurance." The legislation couldn't say "insurance," though, because insurance is regulated. So they called it "credit-default swaps" which allow all these financial institutions to provide "insurance" WITHOUT ANY CAPITALIZATION whatsoever! No funds to cover what they have promised they will insure! It boggles the mind. So, of course, when people who couldn't afford homes in the first place began to default on their loans, the house of cards begins to crumble, and eventually all these huge institutions are in danger of defaulting as well.

The Sojourners article calls on pastors everywhere to call people to account for the greed and hubris and sinful sense of entitlement and privilege at the root of this behavior.

It's part of the paradox at the heart of what it means to be human. We are generous and humble AND we are greedy and full of hubris. And we are amazingly susceptible to self-deception, somehow justifying in our minds that it's okay for us to make $12 million dollars on a single deal while most working-stiffs struggle to make ends meet. We need the governement to LIMIT HUMAN GREED. Sojourners makes that point, and it is a good one.

Oh, and that's another thing. David was saying how we "working stiffs" are on both ends and in the middle of this whole thing. It was our mortgages and our bank accounts that these Wall Street whiz-idiots wanted to get their hands on. And when the wall separating banks and investment banks was taken down (thank you, Congress -- and whichever President signed that piece of glorious legislation), we had no protection. And now that the government is bailing out these huge firms---which it must do now in order to protect my bank account, my brother's AIG annuity, my house---it is doing it on the backs of working stiffs like me and David who'll pay for it through increased taxes, and who wonder every now and then whether we'll have enough for retirement.

Yes, I'm angry.

In my deepest heart I know that no matter what happens, things will be okay. That knowledge comes from my profound trust in God and God's goodness. At the cellular level I believe that goodness prevails, and indeed outweighs that which is evil. The threat I feel, and therefore the anger, comes from the flagrant disregard for ordinary Americans--ordinary people the world over, actually---who could easily be very hurt by this evil behavior. I value treating people with respect. I value the idea that we are all in this together, a community. I'm angry because I CARE that these values have been trampled.

Wouldn't surprise me if God were angry, and shedding a tear or two, as well.

Here's the Sojourners article:

Everyone has heard the famous phrase, attributed to James Carville, which supposedly won the 1992 presidential election for Bill Clinton: "It’s the economy, stupid!" It’s still good advice, especially as the shocking collapse of the financial markets has turned the election campaign into a much more serious and somber discussion than lipstick on pigs.

But the issue is deeper than just the economy. I would now rephrase Carville and say, "It’s the morality, sinner!" And I would direct it to the people who have been making the decisions about the direction of this economy from Wall Street to Washington. Here is the morality play: Aggressive lending to potential home-buyers using subprime and adjustable rate mortgages ledto "mortgage-backed securities" being sold to investors at high returns. Ashousing prices dropped and interest rates rose, homeowners got caught, fellbehind on payments, and millions of foreclosures followed. That resulted in the mortgage-backed assets losing value with banks unable to sell the securities. So the subprime lenders began to fail. Asset declines then spread to investment banks. We have now seen the sale of Bear Stearns brokered by the government, and last week the government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as mortgage defaults threatened them. Then Lehman Brothers fell into bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch was sold. Now another bailout, this time of AIG, the largest insurance company in the country --whose potential demise threatened the whole financial system even further.

During the height of the lending frenzy, many people got very rich, as they did during the previous technology bubble. Now with the collapse, experts say the most likely result will be further tightening of credit and lending standards for consumers and businesses. Home, retail, and business loans will become more expensive and harder to secure. And the consequences of that will spread to most of America.

In the accounts and interpretation of these events, a word is slowly entering the discussion and analysis — greed. It’s an old concept, and one with deep moral roots. Even venerable establishment economists such as Robert Samuelson now say, "Greed and fear, which routinely govern financial markets, have seeded this global crisis ... short-term rewards blinded them to the long-term dangers."

The people on top of the American economy get rich whether they make good or bad decisions, while workers and consumers are the ones whosuffer from all their bad ones. Prudent investment has been replaced with reckless financial gambling in what some have called a "casino economy." And the benefits accruing to top CEOs and financial managers, especially as compared to the declining wages of average workers, has become one of the greatest moral travesties of our time.

In the search for blame, some say greed and some say deregulation. Both are right. The financial collapse of Wall Street is the fiscal consequence of the economic philosophy that now governs America — that markets are always good and government is always bad.

But it is also the moral consequence of greed, where private profit prevails over the concept of the common good. The American economy is often rooted in unbridled materialism, a culture that continues to extol greed, a false standard of values that puts short-term profits over societal health, and a distorted calculus that measures human worth by personal income instead of character, integrity, and generosity.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with government and business. The climate seems to shift between an "anything goes" mentality and stricter government regulation. The excesses of the 1920s, leading to the Great Depression, were followed by the reforms of Franklin Roosevelt. The entrepreneurial spirit and socialinnovation fostered by a market economy has benefited many and should not beoverly encumbered by unnecessary or stifling regulations. But left to its own devices and human weakness (let’s call it sin), the market too often disintegrates into greed and corruption, as the Wall Street financial collapse painfully reveals. Capitalism needs rules, or it easily becomes destructive. A healthy, balanced relationship between free enterprise on the one hand, and public accountability and regulation, on the other, ismorally and practically essential. Government should encourageinnovation, but it must also limit greed.

The behavior of too many on Wall Street is a violation of biblical ethics. The teachings of Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths condemn the greed, selfishness, and cheating that have been revealed in corporate behavior over decades now, and denounce their callous mistreatment of employees. Read your Bible.

The strongest critics of the Wall Street gamblers call it putting self-interest above the public interest; the Bible would call it a sin. I don’t know about the church- or synagogue-going habits of the nation’s top financial managers, but if they do attend services, I wonder if they ever hear a religious word about the practices of arranging huge personal bonuses and escape hatches while destroying the lives of people who work for them.

We now need wisdom from the economists, prudence from the business community, and renewal courses on the common good from the nation’s religious leaders. It’s time for the pulpit to speak — for the religious community to bring the Word of God to bear on the moral issues of the American economy. The Bible speaks of such things from beginning to end, so why not our pastors and preachers?