Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mentoring

I spent yesterday morning at a Courage & Renewal North Texas event. We had about 20 folks in a Circle of Trust and we looked at the poem "Shoulders" by Naomi Shihab Nye:


A man crosses the street in rain
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo
but he's not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE
HANDLE WITH CARE.


His ears fill up with breathing,
he hears the hum of a boy's dream
deep inside him.


We're not going to be able
to live in this world
if we're not willing to do what he's doing
with one another.


The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.
Excerpted from the Inner Work of the Leader Manual. Katherine Tyler Scott.

And then these questions to consider: "What does it mean to hold something in trust? It involves being responsible for something or someone that we don't possess, own, or have ultimate control over. It is knowing that when our responsibility is completed, we will have contributed to improving the capability and health of individuals and organizations and to enhancing conditions for those we may never know, for a time we may never see."

We spoke about holding someone or something in trust, about being held, and about the social implications of these actions. I remembered who held me for so many years -- my boss at ARCO, Helaine H. She was a true mentor, creating a safe environment for me to learn to trust my capacities as a manager, nudging, even pushing, me outside my comfort zone when I needed it, teaching me appropriate boundaries (that included a couple of painful experiences, as I vaguely recall, but she knew that pain sometimes had to come with true learning) -- and she did it all with a wicked sense of humor. It was a joy working for and with Helaine. She retired three or four years before I left, and I remembering missing her terribly. My new boss was fine, but he took no real interest in me as a person. Helaine was (and is; I hear from her occasionally) a quality human being.
This pic was taken at a party at my house in the early 1990s.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My 2nd Grade Reading Buddies

Tomorrow I see my Reading Buddies for the first time in about 3 weeks. I've been sick or out of town and haven't made my regular 8:30 Monday morning appointment with them.

My Reading Buddies are three 2nd graders at the elementary school next door to my church. They are Brianna, Nancy, and Cindy. All three are a little behind in their reading skills, so we go to the school library and they read to me, and then, at the request of this particular 2nd grade teacher, I read to them. These are children who don't get much reinforcement at home for reading.

They're amazingly lovely children. Kinda shy. All wanting so much to do a good job. Of course I heap the praise on them, even while not letting their little mistakes go unnoticed. I've bought them all some fun age-appropriate books at the Reading Fair at the school. Lately I've been taking all three at once, instead of one at a time for 30 minutes. Cindy is behind in her reading skills by far the most, and at times she'll just sort of zone out. "Cindy, are you OK?" No response. "Cindy?" "Honey, what's going on?" Eventually she'll tell me she's OK and then she tries to read again. I've asked her teacher about this, but haven't received much of a response. I've about decided that she might be telling herself she'll never be a good reader during these little episodes. Of course, I'm not sure. Her teacher tells me that she's very good at math.

Wish I understood how the brain works as we learn to read and understand.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I'm growing old and death awaits

Been thinking a lot about growing old. The other day I thought, I'll be 64 when Morgan (our granddaughter) is 13. And I've not let go of that thought; it's been haunting me.

My father was in his sixties when he died, and my mother was 75. If I die at 75, that means I only have 21 more years to live.

And as May Sarton (or is it Mary Oliver? can't remember) asked:

What will you do with this one wild and precious life?

In my youth I wanted to be famous, but that was compensation for being afraid to be seen. That particular wound is largely healed now, hence the fame-fantasizing thing is gone as well. Of course, now that I think of it, I got an email this week from a representative of some company that publishes academic materials, asking if they could publish my dissertation, and I found myself quite interested. Probably a scam, but I sent back a response, didn't ignore it, just in case.

And here I am blogging. Not a desire to be famous, but it certainly says something about wanting to be known/seen.

Maybe the wound isn't as healed as I like to think...Fame as Hedge Against Death.

I also continue to be troubled by this lingering sense of ... what now? This came upon me after I got married, got the Ph.D., and began actually living out my dream of ministry. What am I striving for now? What goals do I set for myself?

And I know that goals have also been a kind of Hedge Against Death. To stop and simply be, to really live into the phrase Just as I Am, to accept myself and know that God accepts me just as I am right now even if I never grew and matured one whit ever again -- Yikes! What a scary proposition. I know the healthy thing is to live inside the paradox of Growth/Goals/Doing vs. Being/Acceptance. The best thing would be to live inside that tension between opposites creatively, but the Being/Acceptance side of it is not easy for me. I equate it with "OK, I'm ready to die now. Come get me, Lord."

It's the problem of believing I must earn my (existential and otherwise) salvation. Denying the grace that is mine. I've identified this problem, this lie, for so many others and have helped them work through it. And God knows I've worked through this myself many many times. And yet....here it is. The wound yet wounding.

I guess the other thing, thinking about growing older, is this sadness at leaving the earth. Standing at my kitchen window looking at the green everywhere -- the grass, the trees and bushes, and the beautiful flowers all different colors this year--oh, it took my breath away! I walked with my friend Pam this morning and I noticed how lovely the path was...such a deep green (for Texas, anyway). I do love the beauty of the earth. Oh! I really do. And I don't want to leave it.

And then I started thinking about coming home tonight -- I'm doing a wedding at 6:00 -- and being able, such a lovely thing, to come home to my family, people I love. David, the girls and their friends, Morgan. That's what awaits me when I get home tonight. No longer do I come home to an empty house. Ah! How grateful I am. And how MUCH I want that to continue.

The more I write the more I realize that I'm saying "YES" to life! YES YES YES YES YES!!!!! I love life. I want life.

The key is learning to let it go, when the time comes for that. To let my life go with grace and gratitude.

In the meantime, perhaps learning to LOVE it like this, more and more, with greater and greater appreciation, is what I'm after as I grow older. Imagining myself at 75...am I old and crotchety, mean-spirited because I'm afraid and continuing to cling? Or am I old and lovely, extending grace to everyone I encounter because I have an abundance of grace within me and it just naturally overflows?

Ahhhh, the latter. Please God, the latter.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Courage and Authenticity

A little attempt at creative writing: Scenes of courage

His mother had never liked his wife. For that matter, his mother had never liked anyone he'd ever liked, or anywhere he's chosen to live, or any career to which he'd felt called. One day, for some odd reason, he decided he wouldn't take it anymore and he told his mother not to call again. "You owe me!" she screamed in response. The car she bought for him, the college loan. Nevertheless, "You've been paid in full," he said, and then, without fanfare, angst, or guilt, he simply hung up. Ah, the end of a relationship, but the beginning of life. He'd accessed the courage within him.

...

"I'm afraid to be alone," she confided. "If I leave him, I'll be alone. I might not make it." And if you don't leave him? Her eyes went blank as she turned deeply inward. Silence. Gentle tears. "If I don't leave, I'll be alone anyway." Turning point. The impulse of courage and the launching of Life.

...

"Perfectionism. Soul-murdering perfectionism. What will they think if I'm late with this deliverable? It's like riding a bike and getting absolutely nowhere, striving, struggling, working 80 hour weeks and then ... poof! The affirmation I need is given, received, and then it's over. On to the next striving, struggling, riding that bike as fast as I can, all in order to please....who? My boss? sure, and he won't remember longer than next week how I busted my butt. Myself? well, there's the rub. I won't remember longer than tomorrow. No matter how hard I work, how much effort I put into it, it's never enough. The bar is always higher the next time. Dear God, what am I doing? I'm wasting my life. I'm caring about things that just don't amount to a hill of beans. Please help me, God. Beneath all this false bravado, false niceness, false 'you can count on me!', false EVERYTHING...who am I? Please God, help me."

...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Visitor Named Barbara

I'm in such a wonderful church, both the denomination (United Church of Christ) and the local church I serve. We had a visitor today--her name was Barbara. She made a point of telling me that during the "Where Did You See God This Week?" portion of our contemporary service, she almost said out loud how much it had meant to her that our church has all these "Welcome" signs around the propoerty. She thought the service started at 9:30 (instead of 9:00), so she was late, and because she's a first-time visitor when she realized she was late she probably would've turned around and gone home except that all these signs made her "brave," she said. She ended up staying for our Adult Education hour, our traditional service as well as the coffee fellowship!

Anyway, it made me happy to hear her say that because those signs actually do speak to who we are. As you drive up to our church we have these Burma-shave-style signs that repeat one of the UCC's main slogans: No Matter Who You Are...Or Where You Are on Life's Journey...You are Welcome Here. And it's true! All people are welcome, as our Open & Affirming Statement makes clear:


We, the congregation of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Fort Worth, declare ourselves to be Open and Affirming. We strive to be a congregation that includes all persons, embracing differences of sexual orientation, gender and its expression, marital status, age, mental and physical health and ability, racial and cultural identity or background, and educational or socioeconomic status. We welcome all to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities, blessings and joys of our congregation’s life in Christ.
I just love that we really do strive to live by that statement. We're already a pretty diverse congregation, but another initative we're taking is a new push this year to devise new strategies so that people living with a mental illness will also come to know our church as a place of welcome and affirmation, a place where they can encounter God on a regular basis through worship and through our community. The local president of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is a member of our church, so she and I are making this a priority project this year.

I feel so strongly that this is what the Body of Christ should be about (among other things, of course), and I'm so grateful that I get to serve a church with these kinds of commitments and vision. Thank you, God!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

David and I went to the symphony last night. Beethoven's Ninth. With choirs from TCU, University Christian Church, and Southwestern Seminary--probably about 350 singers on stage behind the orchestra.


Oh! When they suddenly burst out with Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee (in German, but hey...) I thought I had died and gone to heaven. That amazing sound just filled Bass Hall. It was THRILLING!


[Peruvian-born Miguel Harth-Bedoya is credited with transforming the Fort Worth Symphony into a top-tier ensemble.] Boston.com

After the concert, as we're walking to our parking garage, we encountered the street preachers on the corner. They're there every Friday night, shouting their hate-filled version of the gospel to all passersby. This picture is from GoogleImages, but it represents pretty well the intensity you feel coming from these guys.


Usually I just want to get away from them, but strangely last night I felt myself getting very angry. After having come from this truly sublime experience of Beethoven's Ninth that filled me with joy, touched my soul, and took me to the mountaintop, to then come out into the night and hear this filth filling the air -- it was horrible.

If you've never heard a street preacher, believe me, they are vile. There they are, running up and down the street, SCREAMING that we are worms! SCREAMING that we're all going to HELL and we're DAMNED unless we REPENT OF OUR SINS. REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!

In Ft. Worth there are usually four or five of them on this one corner -- I guess they do a tag-team thing, taking turns with one screaming and others accosting people with flyers. They don't look like the older guy in that picture I posted here; they appear to be in their 20s or 30s. Maybe they've had a huge conversion experience and have traded their addiction to drugs or alcohold for a religious addiction; perhaps I shouldn't criticize too harshly. I guess it was the juxtaposition last night of going from the sublime mountaintop to all that anger and hate and worm theology. David said we should've gone up and starting singing to them: JOYFUL JOYFUL WE ADORE THEE.

1.Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
2. All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
stars and angels sing around thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to rejoice in thee.
3. Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our brother, all who live in love are thine;
teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
4. Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began;
love divine is reigning o'er us, binding all within its span.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Choir concert

We drove up to University City, about 45 minutes north, last night to attend a concert by the choir in which J, our daughter-in-law, is a member. J has a stunning alto voice. The concert was sublime; they sang about 9 songs, divided into Petition, Prayer, and Praise. Beautiful arrangements.

And of course that meant we also got to see our granddaughter M. Here's her picture from Easter:


Amazingly, she was pretty quiet through the concert. Squiggly, but no outbursts or loud giggles. I'd whisper, "Look, there's mommy!" and without fail she'd quickly look at the stage and smile. That kept her interest for a little while, then it was back to squiggles and playing with my jewelry. She'll be four in June, and in the last couple of months we've really noticed how she's grown--her conversation is much more conversational these days.

United Church of Christ

The Language of God from United Church of Christ on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Letting Go," theologically expressed

I keep finding these great quotes! Hat-tip now to Robin at Metanoia, with this thought-provoking quote from Stanley Hauerwas:

Discipleship is quite simply extended training in being dispossessed. To become followers of Jesus means that we must, like him, be dispossessed of all that we think gives us power over our own lives and the lives of others. Unless we learn to relinquish our presumption that we can ensure the significance of our lives, we are not capable of the peace of God's kingdom.

It's letting go, theologically expressed.

Transforming Church

With a hat-tip to Diane at Faith in Community, here are some thought-provoking quotes from a book she's reading called Transforming Congregational Culture by Anthony Robinson:

The church, once founded and established to make a difference in the lives of others and in society, has in time of change and confusion tended to adopt a diminished purpose and vision. Seeing or sensing that earlier roles and purposes--conscience of the community, instrument of aid, and center of the community--no longer quite worked, and yet unsure of other directions, too many churces have adopted as their implicit purpose the maintenance of a congenial community for their members. And the measure of a minister and church has become how well they keep the membership satisfied. [p. 31]

Too often worship in the mainline churches is an information event rather than a formational and transformational event. But if information were all that was needed to save us, we would have been redeemed long ago...Worship is the encounter with God--it is meeting, and being met by--the Holy One...In the Christendom era, and in many mainline churches today, worship is nice but is not absolutely necessary, not critical. In our new time, worship will be experienced as essential, not something you can miss.

Poetry: a way to truth

Here's a wonderful quote:

C.K. Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who teaches at Princeton University, in a new book called On Whitman, movingly invokes Whitman's redemptive power: "He reinforces and in some ways reinvents the elemental fact that poetry is a form of knowledge and a way to truth, that it is a unique genre of aesthetic experience, that it enlarges our conception and reception of beauty." http://chronicle.com/article/Dead-Poets-Society/64989/

Monday, April 12, 2010

Silence, the "space beyond thought"

Held a new Sacred Conversations, a Circle of Trust group at my church tonight. We already have two groups on Sunday mornings--one on the 2nd Sunday and another on the 4th Sunday. Monday night seems to be a good time; we had 10 people there.

I love being with people who are comfortable with silence. As we looked at a poem I just closed my eyes and tried to move deeply into what the words evoked for me in the present, and I did that without self-consciousness, knowing that most others there were doing the same thing.

As people shared I was reminded of that 'space beyond thought' where there is no judgment, no fear. That place is tremendously attractive for me (and a tiny bit terrifying). I'd love to know what it's like to get beyond the mind to a consciousness that is without language, in no need of words. I've had glimpses, moments. I wonder what would it be like to live there more often? Tonight I got in touch with my longing for that....

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tonight I am grateful...

Gracious God,

Tonight I am grateful for flowers...colorful zenias, begonias, marigolds...for patio decks built by my husband's loving hands...for the 75 year old American Elm tree that reaches to the sky forming a cathedral for me as I revel in a beautiful day outdoors.

Tonight I am grateful that David made such a powerful and deep connection with an old friend tonight, someone he played with as a little boy in Miami and hadn't seen for over 35 years. Their conversation was deeply meaningful -- I was so moved to hear David talk about it. Thank you. Keep him safe there in Florida on his pilgrimage through old haunts (shrines, I guess that would be, in keeping with the pilgrimage analogy) before attending his business meeting.

Tonight I am grateful for friends, especially those coming to my little "tea party" (the original, non-political type) in the backyard tomorrow. I know you will bless our gathering; help me stay aware of your connecting presence. I'm looking forward to preparing the tea and various little munchies for them. Thank you for the inspiration to issue a 'spontaneous invitation' the way I did yesterday.

Tonight I am grateful for family. For my niece, with whom I spoke on the phone this afternoon. Keep her healthy, O God. For my brother-in-law as he continues on hospice care. I pray for my sister -- may she continue to be energized and able to see the humor in life--one of her many gifts. I'm grateful for Deb and Katie who will both be here tomorrow and will join in the tea party with my friends--they'll keep us lively, for sure! How grateful I am that they are both coming to spend the weekend with me, and visit with each other, while David's away.

Finally, tonight, I am aware that your grace is indeed sufficient for all things.
Thank you.

Conference in St. Louis

The conference in St. Louis this week was helpful regarding setting the current context for the church --that was interestingly presented -- but not so great on ideas or practical suggestions about the church's future. That's understandable, of course, given the speakers'* thesis that we are 150 years into the next 500-year-cycle for the church.

Every 500 years the church holds a 'rummage sale,' so to speak, during which the accepted Authority is questioned and ultimately deposed. The Reformation 500 years ago set the Bible as our authority and now we're at the point where that's gone but the next Authority is not yet certain. Probably something around "spiritual experience."

Anyway, I'm glad I attended. It was interesting to see a stand-alone seminary. Wow. Eden has a wonderfully beautiful setting, like a small college campus. The total space for my seminary is just one over-crowded 3-story building on a university campus. Big difference.

Plus the three of us who attended had time to talk quite a lot about our church and come up with some good ideas regarding how to better open some space for people to experience God. Those conversations were fabulous and I'm grateful to Carol and Sue for their love for the church.

*The speakers were Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass. We also heard Geoffrey Black speak, but he kept his remarks focused on Eden and the $18 million it has recently received, and didn't say much at all about the United Church of Christ overall.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thanks, David

Have I mentioned lately how great my husband is?

I'm going to St. Louis today and have a million things to get done before I leave the house (like blogging, right? ha!). Anyway, yesterday he noticed that a tire on my car had a bubble on it, so this morning he takes the car in for me! Having been single for 48 years and always having to deal with this kind of singularly unpleasant task myself, this is SUPER GIFT!

Just wanted to say again, thanks, David. You're amazing.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter 2010

During our Maundy Thursday service my role was to help preside at communion. Because of the way the sanctuary was set up, with readers plus the choir, I was seated in a corner of the chancel. I couldn't see the readers; I only saw the light going dimmer after each reading. Finally, there was just the Christ candle, and then that, too, was taken out of the sanctuary and we were in darkness and in silence together.

We have a new choir director who graced us during that service with a solo. He sang "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" Not usually one of my favorites, but his voice conveys such rich emotion for me. I was struck with awe, and carried away...

I imagined the desolation Jesus must have felt. Betrayed. Abandoned. He was about to be given up to the authorities and no one could even stay awake to share his agony. What utter loneliness.
Sitting there on the chancel, hidden in the corner, I could feel something of the profound sadness of it. I don't feel that every year. It was heartwrenching this year.

My God, what we human beings do to each other.

And then this morning....about 14 of us gathered outside in a park near the church at sunrise. (It was overcast where I live, but we could see a tiny line of pink horizon in the east. Good enough.) Cool, with a slight breeze--just the way I like it. The ducks and geese were swimming about 50 feet from us. Lynn identified the various birds for us as they sang their way by. We spontaneously formed a circle. As the service progressed, I kept looking outside the circle to the park, noticing how very green it was. Beautiful green everywhere, as the grass has turned and the trees are budding. The familiar words of Scripture read. The liturgy of prayer, signifying our gratitude to God for the new life that is ours. The forgiveness that is ours. The joy that is ours. Yes, Christ is risen indeed.

And then in the 9 a.m. service, our contemporary "Jesus, Justice, and Joy" worship....Denise read the Scripture, Luke 24: 1-12, where Mary Magdelene encounters the two angels who say, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Denise read that question three times. Three times she emphasized -- no, with her lovely voice, she pounded those words into our ears! She gave us all time to hear the query, time enough for me to hear God ask me that question: Why do I look for the living among what is dead? Why do I expect to find real life when I continue to let fear be an obstacle? Why do I expect to find real life when I crowd out real life with busy-ness and concern for things that simply do not matter in the beauty of God's milieu?

Powerful experience.

And then the beauty of the children's excitement on Easter morning with our activities (Lisa organized a fun cooking project for them in our church kitchen and social hall) followed by our traditional Easter Egg Hunt ....the flowering cross at our 11 a.m. service...the baptism of little Lila, the melodic harmonies of the bell choir and the singing....thoughtful sermon....a joyful community. A community for which I am so very grateful.

Easter 2010.