Monday, December 31, 2012

Seeing the Lights at Christmas

Took Eddie and Morgan to see the Christmas Lights at Interlocken this year -- I've always wanted to see this neighborhood myself.  We had a good time, and going after Christmas meant there were hardly any cars!

Thoughts at the End of the Year

Thanks to Jan @ Yearning for God, here are some thoughtful questions.  I'm at home alone tonight (David and Katie drove to Georgia today, but I don't have the time off from work to join them.)

1. What took place in your home relations? Your work relations? Your church relations? What events in the larger community of city, country and world most captured your attention?
  • David and I have had a very good year together.  He has become the acknowledged minister for The Agape Meal on Thursday nights at his church which means that he gets to plan and lead worship, plus pastoral care.  He feels like the pastor he is, and that's been so meaningful for him.  (The Agape Meal is for people who are homeless.)...When I was hospitalized he was a true angel, helping me heal more quickly by making sure I felt loved and cared for....Deborah married Kevin -- a huge event for all of us.  They missed Christmas with the family, though, by planning their honeymoon cruise over the Christmas holiday.  We missed them, but they had a GREAT time....Katie has come through the most demanding semester EVER with flying colors.  David and I are both so happy to see her mature and grow like she has.  There's something just appealing about Katie -- her personality engages people -- and during this semester that was so trying, people in all aspects of her life stepped forward to share how much they love and respect her.  It was beautiful to behold!!...My sister Susan taught me the meaning of family.  I'm forever grateful to her.
  • Work-wise, I ended my pastorate at First Congregational and began a new job as Assoc Pastor for Spiritual Life at Cathedral of Hope, a largely LGBT church.  One of the fastest growing demographics at CoH is straight families that want their children to be raised in a diverse church with progressive theology.  It's been amazingly meaningful to me to serve there.  So grateful.  
  • Larger Community -- of course, the re-election of Barack Obama.  Thank God for that.  And the heart-wrenching shooting in Connecticut -- that continues to be painful for me.  

2. What books and art instructed your mind and heart?
  • I was struck with "The End of the Affair" by Graham Greene...what a complicated story about two people's love/hate relationship with God, how they both fought believing in God, but were ultimately convinced (at least she was) by love itself--its mystery and its power.
  • We saw "Les Miserable" on Christmas Day -- I cried all the way through it...that story just touches on every aspect of life that is important.  Love, Justice, Family, Courage, Faith, the list is endless.  It was so intense for me, though, that I doubt whether I'll see it again any time soon.

3. Did you make any new discoveries about yourself? 
 I did.  I guess part of the effect of years of therapy was that I've thought of myself as  "good person" for many years now.   This year it was brought home to me that I'm a mixture of good and not--so-good.  I can be horribly self-centered.  And I've hurt those closest to me, terribly.  Forgiveness has been their gift to me.
4. What was your greatest joy in this year gone? What was your greatest sorrow? 

  • My greatest joy has been truly recognizing the depth of David's love for  me.  Not just because he was so attentive during my hospitalization, but in a number of other areas as well.  My TRUST has increased several-fold.  When I think about my husband, JOY is there.  

5. How do you want to create the new year? 

  • I want to lose weight.  I received test results from my doctor indicating that I'm just over the normal range for diabetes.  Of course, I know Prednisone raises blood sugar levels, but I also know that I don't exercise enough, so I need to take this seriously.   
  • I want to read more and STOP playing "word ace" on my phone.  I can follow David's example here...he read over 80 books this year.
  • I'm over-committed until the end of May--two huge responsibilities tacked on to my regular job.  Those commitments are made, but beginning in June, I want to make sure I have some real Sabbath time each week.

6. Who are the people with whom you would like to deepen your relationships in the year to come? 
      I'd like to continue renewing my friendship with Anne.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Places, memories

Like Roy, I began on Birchman Street.
No memories, just Birchman and old photographs
.....Toddler Susan, peeing on the sidewalk
.....Toddler Susan and the myth of eating dirt
.....Mom frantically giving the old Birchman address to the police on the night
                someone broke into our house, the house on Odom.
Yes, Odom, down steep Burton Hill Road
.....Denny, of the beautiful camera, after waking from a nap
.....swing sets and chalk on the driveways
.....Bernice and Shannon and oh, she drowned in the family pool
Beaumont and Nederland...Ginia Busby and Charla Pruitt and Cindy Holiday
.....Dances in the garage
.....Scary father late at night.  Protective sleep three in twin beds.
.....Ditches, crawdads, "Oh! a tornado!"
.....Mrs. Risinger and David, the boy who knew the beauty of red and brown
.....Chinese jump-rope, silver tooth, "no, you don't want to see..."
.....An itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini
.....The smell of sulphur, fried shrimp, and DDT
.....'Girls, this is Joe, my drinkin' buddy'
San Antonio....Sherry Lawrence and Donna Sager, Ms. Ridell and Ms. Neilsen
....."Gregory likes Susan"
.....Murder in the dark--how did she stand us?
.....Chinaberry trees, four-square, piano lessons and recitals
.....Tippy, oh Tippy, lonely tears, bitter solitude
.....Bronchial pneumonia...but it's not real
.....Running through the sheets hanging out to dry, climbing out the window after dark
.....Peter and the Wolf puppet show extraordinare -- or was our Talent Show the best ticket in town?
.....World's Fair, and Aunt Zelma.  Mom is so unhappy.
.....Krueger Junior High's education in loneliness
Dallas....Farmer's Branch, the alamo-looking Junior High
.....A teacher who was kind
Fort Worth...Stripling Junior High--diagramming sentences in 'pink shoes'
.....surviving the nightmare normal
Euless....Sotogrande and Trinity, Donna Hall and Jimmie Wilson
.....Wanda, the suicide, she of curly red hair
.....Mom and dad, the separated.  Airport dream of freedom.  Airport shame and TRAPPED!
.....Pam,sexually abused, but let no one take that in
.....VOE essay winner, while Pam Green and Janet and, oh yes, her husband Joe
.....Dr. Golden and clinical depression, but let no one take that in
.....Love: the willingness to extend oneself for the sake of another?  Why is that so hard?


From "The Artist's Way"

Basic Principles

1.   Creativity is the natural order of life.  Life is energy: pure creative energy.
2.   There is an underlying, indwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.
3.   When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the Creator’s creativity within us and our lives.
4.   We are, ourselves, creations.  And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.
5.   Creativity is God’s gift to us.  Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
6.   The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.
7.   When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.
8.   As we open our creative channel to the Creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.
9.   It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.
10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source.  As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.

Creative tension between plurality, tradition and resisting domination

From Chapter 1Remembering Esperanza: A Cultural-Political Theology for North American Praxis,
                                 by Mark Kline Taylor, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1990

We need a creative tension between tradition, plurality, and resisting domination.

Singular attention to TRADITION alone =
·       provinciality unaware of other traditions, shallow understanding of the plurality of forms within one's own tradition may reinforce domination by failing to attend to oppression and the needs for thoroughgoing critical resistance

Singular attention to PLURALITY =
·       celebrates flux and play of relative forms, but may fail to marshal resistance to dis-membering nihilism
·       lacking a sense of one's tradition often blinds us to a knowledge of how traditions have also nurtured and might yet help to create a sense of play and appreciation of difference 

Singular attention to DOMINATION
·       without the other two postmodern emphases, easily fails to actualize its own vision and strategies for achieving justice and freedom from oppression
·       w/o plurality, it can founder on the divisiveness that springs up  with different visions of 'the just'
·       w/o tradition (some traditions of myth and ritual, at least -- not necessarily the established Tradition), the struggle for freedom is impoverished, lacking the resources of communal memory and symbolic heritage (often providing minimal dialogical consensus for marshaling critique and action)

Correlations of only TRADITION and PLURALITY, leaving out resisting domination:
·       can easily become a Christian liberalism centering on tolerance, one which is repressive through its lack of a specific critique of oppression.
·       this repressive tolerance finds it difficult to stop the "grand conversation" among many voices in order to point out sin/wrong/evil, in order to envision a just future, in order to take a stand.

Correlations of only TRADITION and RESISTANCE TO DOMINATION, w/o pluralism
·       undermines the Christian struggle for justice by ignoring the need to orchestrate differences among the communities working for justice (and defining it)

Correlations of PLURALITY and RESISTANCE TO DOMINATION, w/o tradition:
·       forges a link between the greatly valued virtue of tolerance and the need for freedom as the priceless conditions for a full humanity -- BUT tolerance and freedom can be sustained on their own terms with their own rhetoric only for a short, unstable time.  The forging of tolerance and the struggle for freedom (no easy link to make) often require the resources of myth, ritual, memory -- in short, tradition.
·       w/o tradition, the rhetoric of tolerance/freedom may inspire and appeal, but the power to nurture the common good is likely to be short-lived. 

From Chapter 1
Remembering Esperanza: A Cultural-Political Theology for North American Praxis,
 by Mark Kline Taylor, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1990

Saturday, December 1, 2012

" sickness and in health..."

I'll never forget the look on David's face as he entered the hospital last night and saw me walking toward him in the foyer.  He kissed me and hugged me, said something tender (which I wish I remembered) and then got the car to take me home.

Home after 3 days hospitalized for asthma.

When we got here, he put my wedding ring back on my finger (too valuable to have kept at the hospital) and repeated our sickness and in health...till death parts us...

Never forget.  Thank you, God, for this treasure, my husband.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Falling through Empty Space

I really don't know why, exactly, I like to ruminate about falling down.  Perhaps it's the huge relief that I didn't die, or something to that effect, that makes me want to prolong the experience by writing about it.  

Anyway, it was about 2 a.m.  Last night.  I woke up with an intense pain in my shoulder (I need another cortisone shot; seeing the doc for that on Monday).  So I get up, thinking I'll take some pain medicine which is in my bathroom, literally one or two steps away from the bed.  I felt kinda dizzy, as I do sometimes.  So I stand there a moment, and, with my eyes trying to see in the dark, I think I see the white wall by the dresser.  It's really close to the bed, so I decide to steady myself by leaning toward it, hand outstretched.

But....NO WALL!!  

It wasn't the wall at all!   My eyes had deceived me.  It was the empty space right by the dresser, i.e., the DOORWAY into the bathroom, 


My feet didn't move.  I just fell head first (torso first, I guess, really)and landed with half of my body in the bathroom and half by the bed where I'd been standing one or two steps away.  KABOOM!!!  

Amazing how fast one hits the ground, especially in the dark.  

I screamed.  Or, I think I screamed.  Perhaps it was just the air leaving my lungs or something.  Katie said she heard something -- and her room is far away.  David was there, with me, so fast that I don't know how he did it!  "Are you OK? Don't try to move.  Are you OK?"

I immediately moved my legs and arms -- I knew nothing was broken.  

I cried a little.  And I think I did my little crazy laughter, like I do after a fall.  Totally nervous release.  "Honey, let me help you," David said, and he wanted to help me up, but that space is so small that I needed to do that myself.  

"What happened?" he said.

"I needed some pain pills for my shoulder.  That's all.  I'm OK.  You go back to bed."   I'm always embarrassed when I fall.  Better to face the fallout feelings (pun intended) by myself.

"You sure?"  "Yes, yes, I'm OK, thanks" I say.  So he goes back to bed.  I try to breathe, manage to take the medicine, turn off the light, and get back into bed, where David holds my hand for a while.  I didn't ask him whether he remembered that I had dreamed of falling just a few hours before this happened.  I had awakened myself with some kind of exclamation, which woke him up.  That dream had come just as we were both falling asleep.  One of those times when I woke up from the dream and thought "Wait.  No, I wasn't even asleep yet."  Weird. Weird. SO Weird.

Anyway, when he turns on his side, not facing me, the breakdown comes, as it always does.  

I cry quietly.  My hands and head start to shake.

That HORRIFYING sense of being totally out of control.  With part of my consciousness knowing I could be really hurt.  Another part wondering when the KABOOM! will get there.  And yet another part TERRIFIED at the knowledge that there's nothing, nothing, nothing I can do.  Pain is coming.  It's unavoidable.

Actually, this time, the pain didn't come until around 4 a.m.  The meds for the shoulder pain apparently hadn't made a dent in this new pain in my upper ribs area.  Oh great, I think.  So I get up and start on the hydrocodone, which at least helps me get to sleep until 6:00 when David gets up.  With his advise, I decide to go ahead to my 8:30 appointment for the Gammuglobulin infusion.  Got that out of the way; spent the rest of the day splayed out in the recliner.  Katie came home around 2:00, which was nice.  David around 6:00.  Nice evening. While we watched the Texas Rangers play, I got quite a bit of work done on my laptop, actually, so that was good.  Sometimes not wanting to make a move has its advantages, I guess.

So, tonight, when I get up in the middle of the night, as I always do, perhaps I'll use the flashlight that I keep on the nightstand.  

Ya think?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Revelations from a birthday card

I had the carpets cleaned this morning.  As they were drying I put back all the little items that I'd stacked on top of desks and tables, including the Memory Box where 18 years ago I stored several items that remind me of my mother.  For some reason this time, I opened the box and looked through it.  Scarves, some of her jewelry, and the bottle of Cover Girl makeup that smells like Noxema (sp?) -- a smell that never fails to bring my mother close to me again.

But today especially it was the two birthday cards she'd sent me that caught my attention.  One was from the year before she died, when I was 38.  Inside the card these words are printed: "Have always felt so proud of you /  Have always loved you dearly / Have always wished you happiness--daily, monthly, yearly / Have always held such hopes for you / And it's so good to see / The very special person / That you've grown up to be. /  Happy Birthday."

And in her handwriting above these words, she had written: "This is true!"

Tears fell.

I cried because I have a new sense of the wasted years in our relationship.  Well, maybe not wasted, but years that were full of conflict when the truth is all I wanted was her love, and all she wanted was to love me.  We couldn't get past the expectations, the different temperments, the harsh words spoken --too late to take them back.

When my sister visited here in July was the first time I really had an inkling of these things.  Susan somehow, brilliantly really, got through to me.  I saw so clearly for the first time in my life  how very much of mom's energy was always directed at me.  I was the one for whom college was paid.  I was the one who got piano lessons, I was the one she kept on and on and on trying to have a relationship with.  So much time and energy she spent on me, and all the time and energy I spent trying to keep her at bay.  God, I couldn't see it.  So utterly blind.

I have some compassion for myself, don't get me wrong.  Psychologically I still think I needed to make the break, cut the apron strings, etc., but oh how I wish I could've done that with a modicum of grace.  Part of it was my involvement with Charlie, who most definitely encouraged me to break with her.  I couldn't see his ulterior motive, his manipulation.   Ugh, it's all so complicated.  I remember my brother making a comment right after Mom died. He said that he and Susan never needed to make the same kind of psychological break with Mom that I did.  At the time, arrogantly, I thought that ALL children need to do that with ALL parents, as if humans are psychological cookie-cutters.

He was right.

Susan's temperment matched Mom's.  They got along so well.  Laughed together all the time.  And Susan was never competitive with did she manage that? ... she never felt jealous of all this energy mom spent on me, or at least it wasn't the kind of jealousy that stayed with her.  Perhaps in all of her struggling with me, Mom taught Susan to love me.

And to forgive me.

I know that in my sister remains the lovely portion of my relationship with my mother.  She lives on in Susan.  All these years -- 18 years since Mom died --- all these years and Susan has continued the struggle, continued reaching out despite our numerous fights, despite my taking her for granted (an ugly kind of violence, really), despite my not listening to her.  She's kept at it, not giving up on me as we shouted our hurt and anger at each other.  But she loved me through it all.  Just like Mom.

This human tendency toward self-deception, blindness.  It's taken me 56 years to see this truth.  I pray that this revelation will keep me from repeating the mistake in my marriage.  I know that I still have unfair expectations of David, expectations arising from the wounds I carry still.  Come to think of it, I still have unfair expectations of myself.  Perhaps that's a clue to this restlessness/ennui I've felt this year.

More to ponder.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

What do you wish seminary had taught you about pastoral care?

Tomorrow is a real day off.  Oh, I'm looking forward to it.  Even though I'll be working on my syllabus for teaching at the seminary in the Spring, it's OK.  I'll enjoy doing that.

Life is at warp-speed again...just want to do too much, I guess.  New classes (lots of them), Taize prayer services, a new theater ministry, social justice movie's endless!

Health seems to be improving finally.  I've had two gammuglobulin infusions, neither of which seemed to do much, but this next time I'll finally be WELL when I get all those new antibodies, so hopefully they'll actually have a chance to keep me well.  That's the gameplan.

I'm teaching the intro the pastoral care class at Brite, January - May, on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8 a.m.  Last time I taught this I used what Andy Lester taught us, but this time I think I'll add more of my own stuff...Wondering how to teach people to care.  Any thoughts out there?  Emphasis on self-knowledge...I definitely want to include a class day on that.  Self-care and some spiritual disciplines for pastors.   Will probably show the film "Ordinary People" again as a way for them to analyze and think through the care they offer.  Ideas? What do you wish seminary taught you about pastoral care?  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

New York Times Analysis re Paul Ryan


Ryan and His Budget Are a Gamble for Romney

WASHINGTON — To date, Mitt Romney has been criticized for the lack of detail behind his promise to reduce the nation’s rising debt through sweeping spending cuts and tax changes, but also politically insulated by it.

Now, his gamble in tapping as his running mate Representative Paul D. Ryan, the author of the audacious House Republican budget plan, changes all of that.
The budgets that Mr. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has pushed through the Republican-controlled House this year and last have defined nothing short of a conservative reordering of the nation’s tax and spending priorities for the 21st century. His blueprint would greatly shrink the government, largely undoing the social safety net by shifting more costs onto individuals and essentially converting Medicare into a capped voucher program. It also would adjust the progressive income-tax system, which, like the safety net, was built through the 20th century under Republican as well as Democratic presidents.
The Ryan budgets were predictably blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama. Yet should Mr. Romney win election, it is far from clear how a Romney-Ryan budget would fare even in a friendlier Congress, given the politically and fiscally fraught particulars that Mr. Ryan and his House Republican colleagues have proposed.
The Ryan plan, which Mr. Romney endorsed during the hard-fought race for the Republican nomination, would cut about $6 trillion from projected spending in the first 10 years. But the plan also would cut revenues by $4 trillion, and more over time, by slashing individual and corporate income taxes. The government would not run a surplus for three decades, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — an outcome that would have been heresy to pro-tax-cut but anti-deficit Republicans of the past.
The trajectory of Mr. Ryan’s budgets and his rise in the party parallel the shift in Republican fiscal thinking on Capitol Hill and in statehouses. Though colleagues saw Mr. Ryan as an intellectual force in the party, his push to rein in federal spending was viewed with caution by party elders like Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio. Mr. Boehner, now the speaker of the House, appreciated Mr. Ryan’s enthusiasm but was wary of the political implications of his plans to reshape Medicare and Social Security.
When Mr. Ryan rolled out a retooled version of his fiscal “Roadmap for America’s Future” in 2010 amid the Republicans’ battle for control of the House, Mr. Boehner lauded it but stopped short of embracing it as party policy. Yet many conservative running that year saw in Mr. Ryan’s plans just what they sought — a blueprint for slashing the size and scope of the federal government and unleashing business to spur the economy.
With their victories, the tide of Tea Party newcomers propelled Mr. Ryan, of Wisconsin, and his fellow “Young Guns” Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California into the House leadership. Ideas deemed extreme just a few years ago were front and center. With the allegiance and admiration of many freshman lawmakers, Mr. Ryan essentially became the House majority’s ideological leader.
Still, many colleagues were unnerved early in 2011 when, after an unpopular spending showdown with Democrats nearly caused a government shutdown, Mr. Ryan pushed ahead with his budget remaking Medicare for future retirees. Newt Gingrich called it “right-wing social engineering” before backtracking, but Mr. Ryan countered that voters would reward Republicans for their willingness to make hard decisions.
When House Republicans passed the plan with few defections, Democrats were astonished — and giddy at what they saw as a political windfall. Republicans approved a similar budget this past spring, and now, with Mr. Ryan’s selection, it becomes a centerpiece of the presidential race and American political debate.
Nonpartisan analyses of Mr. Ryan’s proposed income-tax cuts reached conclusions much like that in recent weeks about Mr. Romney’s tax proposals: “The tax cuts in Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget plan would result in huge benefits for high-income people and very modest — or no — benefits for low-income working households,” Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a policy-research organization, wrote in summarizing the findings of the Tax Policy Center.
The center, a joint effort of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution that includes economists and tax experts with experience in both Republican and Democratic administrations, concluded that a tax-code overhaul meeting Mr. Romney’s goal — a 20 percent cut in all rates without adding to annual budget deficits — would leave wealthy taxpayers with a large tax cut but 95 percent of Americans with a net tax increase once tax breaks for items like mortgage interest are curtailed to keep deficits in check.
Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan would extend the Bush-era tax cuts, which are due to expire at year’s end, until a rewrite of the tax code could become law.
As for spending, Mr. Ryan would not only reduce but also remake the entitlement programs, Medicare and Medicaid, whose projected growth drives the forecasts of unsustainable federal debt as medical costs keep rising and the population ages.
Medicare would become a voucher program, with beneficiaries getting a fixed sum to buy private insurance; critics point out that the amount would rise at a rate that most likely would not keep pace with health care costs. And Medicaid, which covers medical care for low-income people and, increasingly, nursing home care for formerly middle-class Americans, would become a block grant to states. The federal contribution would be sharply limited.
“Washington has not been telling you the truth,” Mr. Ryan said in a short video last spring announcing his latest plan. “If we don’t reform spending on government health and retirement programs, we have zero hope of getting our spending — and as a result out debt crisis — under control.”
He did make concessions to the political risks of tackling the popular entitlement programs: His proposed Medicare changes would not apply to current beneficiaries or to those within 10 years of eligibility. And unlike in 2011, when Mr. Ryan supported the eventual privatization of Social Security, he left the program untouched this year. Like Mr. Obama, he said any changes to fix its long-term finances would have to result from bipartisan compromise, protecting both parties from voter reprisals.
Analyzing the 2011 proposal for Medicare, the Congressional Budget Office said that “most elderly people would pay more for their health care” -- $6,400 on average by 2022 – requiring older Americans to “reduce their use of health care services, spend less on other goods and services, or save more in advance of retirement.” Since then, Mr. Ryan has said beneficiaries could keep existing Medicare benefits, though that concession could significantly reduce the savings he seeks.
While most of his savings would come from the costly entitlement programs, which are about 40 percent of the federal budget, spending reductions under his plan would be felt most, and sooner, in the in the so-called discretionary domestic programs — agriculture, education, transportation, science and much more — that account for roughly 15 percent of the budget. Mr. Ryan would not cut military spending, which is roughly 20 percent of the budget.
Mr. Romney boasts that his own tax-cut plan is similar to the 2010 debt-reduction recommendations of a majority on the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, which Mr. Obama appointed, though the two have little in common, as panel members have said. Mr. Ryan was on that commission and opposed the majority’s report, objecting that it would raise taxes and not cut enough from health programs.
Alice M. Rivlin, a former director of the White House and Congressional budget offices who was in the commission majority, said: “Paul Ryan is a likable, attractive, smart, thoughtful conservative. He deeply believes in smaller, less intrusive government and greater personal responsibility.”
But she added, “His budget proposals imply cuts in basic public services that few Americans would accept.”
Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, also was in the Bowles-Simpson majority. While he differed with Mr. Ryan on that panel, Mr. Coburn said in a statement that Mr. Romney had “made an outstanding selection.”
“When most elected officials have offered only rhetoric,” he said, “Ryan has had the audacity to offer specifics and a plan that has transformed the landscape of American politics.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"We're all going to be dead a long time," so live!

Ira Byock
I listened to the most beautiful interview yesterday -- a podcast of On Being with Krista Tippett interviewing Dr. Ira Byock who specializes in hospice and palliative care medicine.  He's talking about death as a developmental stage, and "dying well" meaning something like "dying whole, with relationships restored and at peace with your life..."   Here are some highlights:

Tippett:  You've identified four sentences, 11 words.

Byock:  Yes.  "Please forgive me." "I forgive you." "Thank you." "I love you."

Tippett:  No relationship is perfect and many are troubled, especially with our families, and these words, in a lot of families there will be real work in being able to say those things and mean them.  As I really thought about them, I wondered if there's something about being in that extreme moment of life -- as you say, normal, but ultimate -- that creates an opening for some people to do that work, when it hasn't been possible in other points of their lifespan.

Byock:  Exactly.  Exactly.  [Death, end of life, terminal illness, an serious accident] shakes us free of the veneers, the layers of personality, of who we think we are, of protecting ourselves.  Life threatening illness or injury, in a sense, makes Buddhists of us all.  Wakes us from this illusion of immortality.  It really shows us how much we care for one another; our connections with each other are the things that matter most.

Tippett:  I love this quote you have from Paul Tillich. You know, we carry superficial understandings of forgiveness,--forgive and forget-- but he gets at the complexity of this, when he says: 
"Forgiving presupposes remembering, and it creates a forgetting not in the natural way we forget yesterday's weather but in the way of the great In Spite Of that says I forget although I remember.  Without this kind of forgetting, no human relationship can endure healthy."
Byock:  Isn't that incredible?  You know, Lilly Tomlin, another great philosopher of our time, says that forgiving means giving up all hope of a better past.  She's nailed it. It involves accepting that the past cannot be changed, while seeing that it need not control our future....The choices is between protecting ourselves, which is out of fear, or keeping our hearts open.  Fear of being hurt, of being used up, fear of dying--all of those rational fears--is embedded within us, but we still can choose to keep our hearts open.  And often in so doing, what we do is so much richer and effective and growth-promoting for all of us.

Tippett: ...You're saying that we need to seize Death as a part of Life, as an opportunity for some of this incredible work to happen...Why is that so hard, why do we resist this?

Byock.  It's complex. We live in unprecedented times.  In the past, it was different; people died at home, women died in childbirth, of appendicitis, serious infections...these days those aren't that big a deal. We fix these things and people go on to live.  That's a remarkable, wonderful thing, life is precious, and we're all going to be dead a long time, there's no need to rush it!  ... We have these wonderful scientific tools; and we need to use and celebrate all of that.  But we also need to hold in our consciousness that we've yet to make even one person immortal.  We have to balance these two.  Celebrate life, but also think about what it really means to Die Well.

Tippett:  ...This term "dying well" doesn't sit easily in 21st c. vocabularies or imaginations.  Can you tell me a story to give me a picture of someone who has died well.  What are the contours of that?

Byock:  Alice, a pseudonym, comes to mind.  She was a 47 year old woman with an advance cancer who was admitted to the hospital. She knew she [was terminal] but she expected that she had several more months to live.  She was admitted to the hospital when her right leg became blue and cold and painful and she had a procedure to have a clot taken out of her leg.  I visited her on a Sunday, making rounds, alone, for my team, and as I came into the room, (I knew her from before), and we talked about her physiological stuff, and then I noticed this book of Rumi poems by her bed, and we read a couple together. And then on a whim, I shared a poem from memory for her:
You do not need to leave your room...Remain sitting at your table and listen. . . . Do not even listen. . . . Simply wait. . . . Do not even wait. . . . Be quiet, still and solitary. . . . The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. . . . It has no choice. . . . . It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
That's a poem by Franz Kafka, this great existentialist who portrays the world as cold and sterile, and yet here's this remarkably spiritual poem. And Alice and I ended up talking about fractals and chaos theory and randomness and she told me that she felt whole even in the face of loss.  As we were visiting, in the midst of this reverie, in walks her husband Tony. And she and Tony had fallen in love and married after her diagnosis, and had been together for several years, and was this remarkable love story.  [sighs]  As I left her room that morning, I have this image in my mind, of Alice and Tony beaming into each others' eyes, and for me, THAT is this whole notion of wellness.  There are two things going on -- dying and being well at the same time.  Even becoming MORE well during this process.  And also there was this sense of healthy defiance -- that they evinced this notion that their love for one another in the face of mortality is a statement that Love is stronger than Death.  Even death can't take this from us. To me, this is such an example of the fulfillment of the human condition in the face of death.

Tippett:  You've also said that one thing mortality teaches is that human life is inherently spiritual.  Tell me about that.

Byock.  Well, the confrontation with death lays bare the spiritual core of the human condition.  Death acts like a hot wind to strip away any pretense a person has for any sense of self and exposes our personal essence, our elemental core.  What I call spiritual is our innate response to at once awe-inspiring and terrifying fact of human life.  In many ways we're just all hurtling through deep space on this tiny rock we call earth, you think think about it, protected from the frigid galactic void of the Milky Way by a blanket of air, held on the surface by gravity -- whatever the heck that is!  [laughing]  And here we are!

Tippet: So with all this work you're doing, what do you think it means to be human?

Byock:  Well...It calls me back to realizing that every moment is sacred, if I have the presence of mind and the openness of awareness to recognize it. ... I'm aware every morning as I meditate the challenges of that awesome consciousness.  And you can't do this work without recognizing that life is unbelievable in its history. It's terrifying and awe-inspiring, and truly awe-some.  My goal is to live as fully as I can in the present, and enjoy all of it, because we're all going to be dead a long time.

I couldn't help but compare this with another presentation I heard on TED, a talk by inventor Ray Kurzweil who is making a bid for immortality through the use of technology and hundreds of supplements/vitamins every day.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Falling down, story of my life...

I fell at church this morning.  GAWD.  It was about 8:15, so a little before the place was packed, but there were plenty of people in the narthex when it happened.  I'm walking along in my 1.5 in heals, not high, right? and next thing I know my upper body is thrust forward and down, at something like a 40 degree angle to the ground, such that my legs couldn't keep up, and I take these gigantic steps forward trying to regain something like a normal 90 degree angle to the ground, but legs keep trying, but I keep going down, down, down...30 degrees, 20 degrees, I must have covered 10 yards, and then KABOOM!!, I hit the ground, splayed out almost spread eagle, papers flying everywhere . . .

Dear God in Heaven, save me from myself!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Update: Work and Home

Life at Cathedral of Hope is good.  I'm just so impressed with this church; perhaps it's a honeymoon kind of thing and I'll ultimately find things I don't like, but for now, it's REALLY good.

I've put together about 15 different classes for the summer -- which really means I found teachers and scheduled the rooms and worked with our IT folks to get online registration ready, and worked with our graphics designer and communications director to have the classes marketed.  Yes, we have an IT department and a graphics/communication department -- can you believe it?  After my whole ministry in small churches, this is a dream!  It's not been easy finding teachers, so I'm facilitating some classes that are easy for me to do:  lectio divina, group spiritual direction, writing spiritual autobiographies, and a class on Anger, but that's not until August.  Then we also have some "fun" classes like acting, cooking, etc., and the senior minister is teaching a class on "homosexuality and the Bible" -- she always has lots of people sign up for that, I'm told.   We have a class on "Activism 101" taught by a couple of folks from our Hope4Peace&Justice non-profit.  And a support group, facilitated by an outside person.  It's been good, but I want a LOT more for the Fall.

The receptionist has been transferring a lot of the "I need help" calls to me.  She says it's because the other ministers on staff have a way of letting her calls go to voicemail.  I think she's kidding, but I'm not sure!! ha!  Anyway, I've had the privilege of twice going down to our sanctuary to pray with people about some really serious issues.  Just last week I made two "house calls" -- one to a woman who wanted a house blessing, and another to a man who had tried to commit suicide the night before (that call was from his sister in another state, so I had to find where he lived -- no easy feat -- and then cold-call-knock-on-his- door).  Of course those were sad conversations; these folks were hurting badly, but I was able to offer the Hope that God provides.  That's such a powerful reason, for me, to be in ministry.

I haven't yet been on the chancel, and my bio and picture is not yet on the website.  I think they want to get a good sense of who I am  first.  They are very protective, as well they should be, of their members, wanting to make SURE that no one says anything that will hurt them.  Our society has hurt them enough already.

It's TooDamnHot here, as always for the summer.  And of course along with the heat comes the awful pollution.  Bronchitis and asthma have me in their grip yet again.  I do have some hopeful news on that front, though.  I saw my new doctor, a pulmonologist, who did a Challenge Test on me -- giving me two vaccines, for pneumonia and for tetanus.  On Friday this week I get my blood tested again so see what happened with my immune system.  Then, two weeks later I see the pulmonologist to hear the "verdict."  The gammuglogulin infusions cost anywhere between $8,000 and $10,000 per infusion (once a month).

Yes, I know.  Unbelievable.

The preliminary talk with my insurance company, though, indicated that it will cover these infusions with only a $20 co-pay.  Yes, I know.  Totally unbelievable!!  ha! 

That was just preliminary, though.  I'll know for sure when I see the doc in a couple of week.  Prayers appreciated.  I REALLY want to feel better and STOP this getting sick all the time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thanks, Jan

Hat tip to Jan at  Yearning for God (who attributes to Co Exist)

 Hilary Clinton:  
Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world.  They are all ages, all races, all faiths.  They are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes.  And whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.  Being gay is not a western invention.  It is a human reality.
 Jimmy Carter:
The truth is that male religious figures have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or to subjugate women.  They have for their own selfish ends overwhelmingly chosen the latter.  Their continued choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.

Lonergan on Authenticity

For unbloggable reasons I had to drop out of the Ignatian Exercises.  Too bad; I was looking forward to completing that 9 month project and had had some really helpful experiences.

Anyway, this book, The Dynamism of Desire: Bernard Lonergan, S.J. on The Spiritual Experience of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, (James Conner, editor) has me really excited to continue the exercises.  When I wrote my dissertation on Authenticity I didn't know that Lonergan was a source.  Catholic theologians--we never thought to look there! ha!  Should have, because from what I can tell so far, he's amazing.

He says what so many spiritual teachers say:  to find and develop the Authentic Self we need to let go of the false ego (to overcome oneself, to transcend oneself) and open ourselves to what God has created us to be and to become.

Lonergan wrote that we have a inbuilt structure and process by which we move toward authenticity, and this structure/process is profoundly religious...."Development occurs in stages:  we attend to the data of our lives, make sense of it through understanding and judgment, and after deliberation reach decisions and takes action.... based on values--is what I've achieved really worthwhile? These kind of questions can be principles of benevolence, of genuine cooperation, and true love."

All authentic being in love, says Lonergan, is a total self-surrender to the Gift of God's love. But it includes something more, something in itself, something personal, intimate, and profoundly attuned to the deepest yearnings of the human heart.  It constitutes a basic fulfillment of our being.  Earlier, Augustine wrote of the deepest yearnings of the human heart when he exclaimed that 'God has made us for himself and that our hearts are restless till they rest in him.'  Lonergan explains Augustine's restlessness by underscoring that 'there exists in us a capacity for holiness, a capacity for love that, in its immediacy, regards not the ever-passing shape of this world, but the mysterious reality, immanent and transcendent, that we name God."
"But remember that being in love with God is never a state that is fully and finally attained in this life:  'the very being of the human person is not static but dynamic; never a state of achieved perfection; always at best a striving....'Indeed, the basic fulfillment of which he speaks is not "the fulfillment of any appetite or desire or wish, more precisely, it is "the fulfillment of getting beyond one's appetites and desires and wishes and impulses, the fulfillment of self-transcendence, the fulfillment of human authenticity, the fulfillment that overflows into a level of love of one's neighbor as one's self."

More later.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

No Sermon! Woo-Hoo!

First week at new job.  Friendly people.  I felt very welcomed--they were glad to have me aboard.  My boss wasn't in until Wednesday, so I decorated my office, filled out paperwork, went to a couple of meetings and tried to learn the names of my 36 co-workers.

Today is Saturday, and I've had a fantastic day!  There's an incredible sense of FREEDOM, knowing that tomorrow I go to church and do my thing (my first assignment is to be with the Children's Minister, who reports to me, and observe the children's program) and I don't have to worry about a sermon.  That feels pretty darn good!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rest and Work

View from our cottage at Beaver Lake, near Eureka Springs
Vacation was wonderful, but, oh, too short!  David and I both remarked on Thursday morning, as we were leaving, that we'd only just begun to decompress.
          David and I both lead such busy lives.  Three days is hardly enough time to reconnect, either.  That we did reconnect only left us wishing we had more time for ourselves and our marriage.
          Ministry is so demanding--it's always zeroed in on my conflicting work-ways.   As I approach this new job and position, I'm aware of my need to create strong and appropriate boundaries.  My awareness also extends to my need to prove myself a strong and effective minister and employee which always tempts me to say 'yes' when I really don't have the time!  David is warning me to stay true to appropriate boundaries and not overwork.  
          I'll have to take the pulse of the culture.  Hopefully it's a healthy one and won't stress me out.  At least not too much!! :-)  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In-Between Time

I've enjoyed my week off...First couple of days were restful, then I prepared for helping to facilitate "Space for Grace," a Courage and Renewal-type retreat on Thursday.  I was strangely tired after that, but took Friday afternoon to drive to Denton to pick up our little granddaughter Morgan.  We had a wonderful couple of days playing - we went to the mall, rode the merry-go-round, got her nails done, watched a seemingly endless number of movies (I think "Care Bears: The Movie" was her favorite, with at least 3 showing!), and just goofed around.  She's SO fun.

Now we soon travel to Arkansas to our favorite cottages on Beaver Lake.  A nice trip and good time with my sweet husband.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Gammu globulin

Saw my doctor today, a pulmonologist.  He tells me that the blood test revealed that I have IgG deficiency, so he's referring me to an immunologist who will probably have me do gammu globulin infusions.  He says, "Katherine, you're going to feel a lot better."

Then he tells me that the two sleep studies I've done reveal that I have a mild case of sleep apnea.  I stop breathing about 10 times each hour.  I'll get one of those machines with a mask that pushes oxygen into me.  "Katherine, you're going to feel a lot better."

That would be nice.  We'll see.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Leaving one church, Serving another

Tomorrow, Apr 29, is my last Sunday at First Congregational.  I've been packing my office this week--still not quite finished.  Feeling quite OK about it all.   I guess that whether I continue to feel OK about it depends on how I like serving Cathedral of Hope--all indications so far are that I'll love it.  I'm one of 4 straight people on the staff of 37, and the church is 90% LBGT although the number of straight families who want their children raised with progressive theology is one of the church's fastest growing demographics.  Pretty exciting!

One of my biggest learning curves is going to be learning how to minister in a church where I won't know all of the members.  I'll know the lay leaders, those who are really involved, of course.  And I guess that will be enough!  I don't know...that's going to be really strange.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to two weeks of vacation, one of which will be on Beaver Lake near Eureka Springs. We've rented a cottage -- the same one we've had twice before.  It's so beautiful there; I can't wait!

Here is the "Leaving" article I published in our church newsletter yesterday.

Contemplating with Katherine
This is my last newsletter article for First Congregational, and that fills me with sadness.  As I take my leave, I thought I'd share with you my sense of what it means to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how that shapes our relationships.  
The position of clergy is a bit of strange--in one sense we work for the Church as an institution and are employees like any other.  I can be hired and fired, and the relationship is hierarchical.  When viewed strictly from a business model, you might say I'm the hired help.  When viewed from another, much more important way, however, I am not the hired help at all.  As an employee of an institution, I work for the church.  But for the church as The Body of Christ, I serve the church, and I do so without reserve, with zero diminishment of who I am because I am in a covenantal relationship with the Body of Christ.  
The relationship as covenantal means a number of things.  First, our tradition holds that as clergy I'm "set apart" from laity in the sense of a recognition of a particular inward calling from the Holy Spirit to serve the Body of Christ and a recognition of certain gifts and graces for ministry.  It doesn't mean "set above" or "set below."  Set apart, yes, but we are all ministers to each other.  We are equally the servants of God in and for the world.  
Second, my covenantal relationship with the Body of Christ means that we are called to love each other.  That has many layers of meaning, of course, but let me focus on the most personal aspects of my side of the relationship and what this means to me.
For many years now I've known that the real purpose of my life is to become more and more like Christ.  To become more Christ-like includes becoming more loving.  The first step is always to love myself, for until I love myself, all the love I direct toward others is mostly inauthentic.  Amazingly, as I've struggled to learn to love myself more authentically over the years, I've fallen more and more in love with God.  And as I love God increasingly with my whole heart, just as amazingly, I have learned to authentically love others.  
Having said that, the truth is also that much of the time I fail to love.  For various reasons, I hold back.  I fail because I start to think that I can love strictly under my own power, forgetting that love is always a gift from God.  To the extent that I have failed to love here in the last 4 and 1/2 years, I ask your understanding.  
I haven't always failed, however.  When I think back over these years, I'm overjoyed at the many ways I see how love has guided and filled me.  My purpose in life has moved forward here at First Congregational, for I believe that I've increased in my capacity to love, to allow God to love through me.  
And now I reap the consequences of that love.  
As I leave this place, leave this particular manifestation of my covenantal relationship with the Body of Christ, I must allow myself to feel the pain of sadness that is always interwoven with love--the cost of love in a world bounded by temporality and the changes that temporality always brings.   You have been a HUGE blessing to me.  I'll carry with me to my new position at Cathedral of Hope many memories of the Spirit moving powerfully among us, memories of loss and grief, as well as fun and laughter.  Thank you for allowing me the privilege of walking with you through life for these years.  
Glad to have been  your pastor,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Metroplex living

Metroplex living is kind of interesting.  I drove to Dallas yesterday for a late afternoon meeting with my colleagues at my future church.  Of course I left home way before I needed to, so I had time to really look at all the places close to this church.  Did some window shopping at the Crate & Barrel outlet store, noticed all the hotels in the area, TWU has a giant building there -- its Dallas campus.  The church is in the Oak Lawn section of Dallas, close to Love Field.  A mile south and you're in an ugly, rundown part of town.  But the giant hospitals are a stone's throw--Parkland, UTSouthwestern, Southwestern Medical, Zale-Lipshy.  And just north of the church is the beginning of some ritzy expensive neighborhoods.  Park Cities Motors is literally next door and some guy in a Mercedez nearly ran into me as I made [what might have been an illegal] u-turn. ha!

Anyway, after this meeting (which was FABULOUS and made me very eager to begin contributing to this lively place!), I went to the mid-cities to meet a friend for dinner.  I haven't lived in Dallas since 1998 and there are part of the city that I've had no reason to go to in all those years.  But as I was driving yesterday the feeling of Big D came back to me.  It's hugely different from Fort Worth -- faster paced, less forgiving, more expected of you--that kind of feeling.

Wasn't that I disliked being in Dallas. I didn't.  I rather enjoyed the feeling of getting familiar with it all again.  It's just so noticeable how much difference a place can make.  Strangely intimate.  Memories kept coming back to me...the time I went with my father to Dallas when I was in junior high to buy some Dallas Cowboys tickets.  All those years I was buying office equipment at that spectacular building on Stemmons Frwy, the name of which escapes me at the moment but it's modeled after some building in London.

My commute is going to double; it'll take me 40 minutes minimum to drive to work every morning, but I've already bought some books on tape, and am looking forward to it.  I don't anticipate the driving to be a huge problem for me, and I'm SO looking forward to reconnecting with some of my Dallas friends who I've only seen sporadically during these years.