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.