Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sandy update

Sandy took three walks with me today. First to the corner and back, then down the block and back and tonight around several blocks through the neighborhood! I am so encouraged. I had no expectation of such a quick recovery. Who knows? Maybe she'll be hiking mountains yet. What a good girl she is.

Friday, December 21, 2007

My Dog Sandy

Yesterday, my dog Sandy had a stroke. This is a picture I took of her tonight.

Some of my blog-buds speak often of their dogs and I always enjoy hearing about them. I haven't said much about mine, but it certainly is not for lack of love. Sandy came into my life almost exactly 10 years ago. I had just discovered I was pregnant. My then-husband and I figured this meant we'd be less foot-loose and fancy-free, so we could settle down and get a dog. Both of us grew up with dogs and loved them, but also loved to travel and were not sure we were ready to be conscientious dog-owners up until then.

On January 2, 1998 we went to a wonderful animal shelter and began observing the dogs. Those of you who have adopted from shelters know how it is to walk by cage after cage of hopeful looking dogs, all barking and jumping and begging you to pick them! We took a few dogs out of the cages and into the "meeting room" for brief times of play. Sandy seemed especially eager to please and happy to see us. The staff let us take her out on the front lawn and run free with her for a bit. She made no effort to go anywhere other than where we were. She had already decided she was our dog, I think. She was. She went home with us that day.

Sandy had been a stray, with an unknown history. The vet where we took her to be spayed thought she appeared about 2 years old. She was well house-trained, knew the command to sit and loved people. The shelter just called her a "shepherd mix" which is what it said of about half of the dogs. (Those shepherds really get around). Over the years, taking her to dog parks and walking around, we discovered that she appeared to have traits closer to an Australian shepherd than a German one and probably had some kind of collie -- maybe border -- mixed in. She definitely had some herding instincts and absolutely no retriever in her. She happily followed the retrievers around in parks for the company, but seemed baffled by their need to have somebody throw something. She also doesn't swim. She'll wade, but the look of distaste on her face whenever she accidently steps in water a bit too deep is priceless.

Sandy is an exceptionally gentle dog. She doesn't jump up on people or play rough, but she loves to run around and chase people or other creatures. She has endured years of childish pushing and pulling without ever once snapping at my son. She loves hiking and other dogs. And she loves to sing along when the music is loud or we're all dancing or singing or giggling in the house. She has a nice howl when she chooses to share it.

Sandy has lived with us in four homes in three states. She was in foster care with my ex-mother-in-law for 10 months when we were living at an outdoor education center in the back-woods of northwest NJ and couldn't have our pets with us. She gained about 10 pounds that year! We got her back down to her usual 50 pounds with plenty of good walks once we got her back. I got custody of Sandy in the split because I have the fenced yard and the bigger home and because she has been more my dog all along. But the ex happily walks her on the days I work too long and keeps her when I travel. My mom has loved having a granddog as well as a grandson nearby and also happily dog-sits as needed.

Today Sandy has had two small walks around the yard. She looks like a very lethargic drunk when she's walking now. Normally, her food, water and crate are in our basement. Today I brought up the food and water and a blanket on which she lay very quietly for most of the day. I went down to work in my office for a while (also in the basement) and carried her down to be near me. I came up to get something and to my surprise, she followed me up the stairs. Going down is another story and so I've kept the door closed to the downstairs. (This means that my cat will now have to learn to use the cat door in the door to the basement, which he has refused to acknowledge exists for 1 1/2 years.)

Sandy has eaten and seems to have no problem swallowing. She can manage to take care of her business when taken outside. She just barked for the first time as someone approached the door, so I take that as a good sign. She doesn't appear to be suffering in any way, other than looking a bit sad when lying on her blanket. It must be so confusing for a dog to have this happen. To be out on a wonderful walk one evening and then wake up the next morning, twisted and shaking and unable to stand.

I'm pretty sure that Sandy will never join me on another mountain hike. Hopefully she'll regain enough strength and balance to be able to take a slow walk around the block and visit all her doggy friends. I am both sad and relieved today. Sad that she is not the dog she was two days ago and relieved that it looks like she will be OK.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

December Diary, cont.

I'm asking for prayers ... again! My son has been very, very sad this week. I need to hire a new office manager over the holidays because the volunteer who was going to cover January-February got a new job (found out late Tuesday). I need to take my parents to see my dying uncle who just went into hospice. I've got a lousy cold.

And my dog had a stroke this morning.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Too good not to share.

Thanks to Mags.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December diary

*Holiday party at my retreat ministry last night. A board member had prepared a ritual of jumping over brooms for the boss and myself. She jumped toward the door. I jumped toward the office. It was a nice event and good to ritualize the big threshold each of us is crossing as she moves into a part-time consultant role and I move into the director's seat.

*Today, however, she was in a predictably foul mood. This is not an easy process for her -- letting go of the reins of the organization she created. And she is not entirely letting go. I am stepping in with my eyes wide open. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. Que sera, sera.

*The boy and I made an advent wreath together and have been enjoying lighting the candles and eating by candlelight each night that he's here. We have a deck of Advent discussion cards that we read from, which has been fun.

*I'm interviewing folks for the office manager position which will begin when the boss moves out and I get her office. Nice people. But I need someone with better computer skills than I've seen so far. Anyone out there want to move to Asheville for a low-paying, part-time job in a beautiful, funky little city? You'll have a great boss!

*My Christmas tree is up -- little organic one from a neighbor (have I mentioned that I love my neighborhood?) -- and it is mighty cute if I do say so myself. Also, white-light snowflakes on the porch.

*School situation with the boy's teacher has not really improved, so we're making the best of it by compensating at home. However, I made a new friend recently, who used to teach and is married to a teacher and they both were entirely appalled by my son's teacher's methods and the principal's defense of them, so I did feel somewhat justified. No need to go into details here, but basically she's all about punishing children for not reaching perfection on certain benchmarks. Not satisfactory passing grades. Perfection. Long-term punishment. We're talking months. There is not one person to whom I've explained the situation, except for the principal, who is not completely appalled. The neighbors/new friends/teachers really want us to take the issue to the district office, as they find her practices "bordering on abusive," but ex and I don't really have the energy or stomach to follow through on it.

*In spite of everything -- move, divorce, shitty teacher, sensory integration issues -- the boy is doing very well. He seems like a happy kid. A parent I don't know stopped me on the sidewalk the other day to tell me what a good boy he was. Out of the blue. It made me so happy to hear that from a stranger. He is a good boy.

*Ex and I continue to get along exceptionally well. And on those days when it makes me wonder whether we should make another effort at getting back together, we'll have just enough snippiness to remind me of certain character flaws that I really don't want to deal with again. I take them as little signs from God. Really, I do.

*Have tried out a couple of other churches recently. Yes, I've become the All-American church shopper. Met a lovely Episcopal priest this past week and she and I are having coffee next week.

*Life is good. In spite of crazy boss and mean teacher and loneliness and other things I could complain about, the truth is, life is good. I am healthy, my son is healthy, my parents are near-by and supportive, my separation is going smoothly, I am employed in a flexible and meaningful job, I live in a great neighborhood and I'm making some lovely friends.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

LJ the Elf

Click here for a special holiday message.

(Thanks, Jan.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

High horse update

Caught some of "Living on Earth" tonight on the ride home from grandma's where my sick boy spent the day instead of being at school. Presidential debate on climate change. All candidates, both parties, invited. Three showed up: Dennis, Hillary and pretty-boy Johnny. Tonight they featured the comments of the latter. And ya know what? He inspired me! I mean, I actually got teary-eyed listening to the guy. He was really good. I may have to re-consider my position on him.

See? I can change my mind.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Difficult Dialogues, part 1

Several events in the past week have me thinking about how we talk about Important Issues. There was an unpleasant conversation with my son's teacher and principal. There was a controversial play and follow-up comments both on the blog and in real life.

And there was a thread of comments on another blog where I was accused of "intellectual dishonesty." Granted, I had been on my high horse, but as it is a horse to which I have dedicated some of my professional time and much of my a-vocational energy to over the past ten years, it is a horse to which I am particularly committed. The topic was climate change and the commenter was defending the "nay-sayers" in part by suggesting that those of us who are astounded that nay-sayers still exist don't really know what we're talking about. I have no doubt that I have read, thought and worked on this issue considerably more than said commenter, but pointing this out would have been both rude and unhelpful. So I let it go and the blog-owner came in with her own delicately stated and thoughtful response, as she is wont to do.

So ... I'm thinking about conversations about the things that really matter to us. I mean REALLY matter and on which not everyone agrees. For example, I do not know how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Honestly, I don't. I care deeply about the secure existence of Israel. And I believe strongly that buildling a wall, demolishing homes and farms and cutting off economic security for Palestinians is wrong. To me, holding these three truths together makes sense. I can care about Israel and not know how to solve the problems and know something wrong when I see it. Tonight, our church had an advent wreath-making time. Another woman present had also seen the Rachel Corrie play.

She: I find it hard to be impartial on this topic.
Me: Why would you want to be?
She: Well, there were Jewish people there who seemed very angry.
Me: Well, there are people who get very angry when I protest the Iraq war, but that doesn't mean that I need to change my convictions and become impartial about the war. I think the demolitions are wrong.
She: Some people would say suicide bombing is wrong.
Me: (thinking: some people? duh!)
Me (speaking): Yes, suicide bombing is wrong. But the connection is illogical. If only the houses of suicide bombers were being demolished, then perhaps that argument would have some validity, but demolishing hundreds of homes of people who are only connected by association is still wrong. It doesn't address the real problems that exist in the region; it merely makes them worse by literally walling them off.

There was more to the conversation, but you get the drift. Now, let me give some personal history. I have a severe case of WASPishness. I am a blond, blue-eyed, Protestant, well-educated mid-westerner, who could have joined the DAR had I wanted to. (I didn't). Both sides of the family can be traced back to colonial times, with relatives from England, France, Germany, Holland and probably more -- but all northern, western European and all here long enough to be thoroughly mixed together. I grew up in a small community with two industries: making fire-bricks from the local clay pits and hog farming. I do not exaggerate when I say that I had never met a Jewish person until I arrived at college. Given the diversity with which I have lived for the last 20+ years, this now shocks me, but it is nonetheless true.

So you might imagine how thrillingly exotic it was for me when I joined a college boyfriend at his home near DC for Passover. His large, extended family was there and I don't think his mother was particularly pleased that my waspy little ass had joined them. But the rest of the family were delightful. I learned much in my two days there. For example, they didn't just sip from the wine cup four times during the Haggadah. They drank four glasses of wine! A gorgeous, red-haired cousin stood up during the answering of one of the questions to give an impassioned, feminist mid-rash on the women who saved Moses' butt so that he could go on to get all the glory. I loved her!

Early on, his liberal New York relatives were discussing Israeli politics in the kitchen when his Orthodox sister and her family arrived, fresh from Israel and the kibbutz where they lived. Right away the liberals started in on the kibbutz dwellers, daring them to defend some recent action of the Israeli government. "Oh, shit," my friend whispered to me, "Let's get out of here before this place explodes." And he ushered me away, but not before I got a whiff of the diversity around that family table.

In the years since, I've continued to listen for that diversity. I'm glad that PJ piped in that she finds it anti-semitic to claim all Jews walk in lock-step or are too sensitive to withstand criticism. That's the kind of thing I can't really say from my cultural position, but it makes sense to me. It does seem to me that to give in to censorship in fact feeds the conspiracy theories of the all-powerful Jewish lobby controlling America.

When I stayed on the West Bank, I befriended a couple of the Arabic staff at the place I stayed. I would stay up late with them, drinking and listening to them quote Kahlil Gibran at length. They LOVE that guy. We talked about our families and poetry and education and religion and sometimes politics. I was shocked when, one night, one of them matter-of-factly stated something about how Jews run everything in America. I quickly jumped in and told them that this was only propaganda they had been fed and tried to give them as many real-life examples of how it wasn't true as popped into my head. They looked at me like I was stupid. They really couldn't believe that I was so blind, so naive, so ignorant of the workings of my own country. After a few minutes more of protest I realized I was making no head-way and shut up. It was a moment of realization of how deeply our fears can shape our beliefs.

We all have blind-spots. I have ideas where some of mine may be lurking, but they are blind-spots precisely because I can't see them. We all have the responsibility to wake up as much as we are able and to live with an awareness and maturity that allows for our short-comings, while still holding firmly to our convictions. We have a responsibility to listen carefully and respond compassionately when we disagree. But one of the things that saddens me the most about our country today (and, oh, there are so, so many things) is the willful blindness born of a strange mix of comfort and anxiety. We simply don't want to see the truth of our actions on the world. We don't want to believe there is a connection between our lifestyles and extreme suffering in other parts of the world or our foreign policy and the continued growth of terrorism.

How do we have these conversations? How do we speak difficult truths? Or more to the point, how do we learn to hear them? To be continued ...

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Words of Rachel Corrie

Thanks for the well-wishes for my kick-ass dancing night, but my kick-ass friend called in sick at the last minute and I had a few minutes in which to decide whether or not to go by myself and decided ... no.

Today, however, I had a very different sort of cultural experience. I went to see the one-woman show The Words of Rachel Corrie. This is a powerful play produced by Alan Rickman and a reporter (whose name I forget and I'm too lazy to look up), who took the actual words of Rachel Corrie, from her diary and emails, and created a show about this 23 year old who was bulldozed over and killed by the Israeli Defense while she stood protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes. It has been banned in New York because of the one-sided nature of its portrayal of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Of course it is one-sided. It's one woman's voice. One actual human being who was killed standing up for what she believed in. Rickman has spoken out strongly against the censorship the play has encountered. As for me, censor something and I'll go out of my way to see it or read it. So that's what I did.

The play was held at a local college and was followed by a panel of responders, including a Holocaust survivor. I appreciated the chance to have a conversation afterwards, but unfortunately couldn't stay for most of it because of a work commitment I needed to get back to.

So, at the risk of opening a can of worms I really don't need to open, I will say that I visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in 1990, during the first Intifada. I lived for five weeks on the border between Israel and the West Bank. There was a check point set up on the road right by the entrance to the place I was staying. This was long before the building of the wall, which goes right through that area now, so I didn't witness the demolition of homes and farms that Rachel did, but I did see a lot of difficult encounters and was deeply saddened by the effect that strict curfews, travel rules and economic barriers had on the Palestinian people.

It is a very complicated situation and not one I pretend to have any answers to. But I will say that the dialogue in Israel about the situation is far broader than the dialogue in this country. Jewish Israelis have a wide variety of opinions on the occupation, the wall, the possibility of a two-state solution and they are expressed vibrantly in the newspapers and the public square. Women in black --Jewish mothers who have lost children in the fighting -- protest the occupation daily and young Israeli soldiers complain about the Orthodox Jews (who have a strong influence on what the army has to do, but don't serve in it themselves). There are resistance movements within the military, with soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories. These are just some examples of the kind of dialogues I experienced there that I seldom hear about when this is discussed here.

Peace talks were once again attempted in Annapolis this week. The thought that the Bush administration could have any possible credibility in Middle East peace talks is so far beyond absurd that I won't go there. But that is not to say that I don't pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And all of the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


A question for you parents out there: how do you deal with teachers with whom you disagree and principals who defend them to the hilt? I just came from a really, really hard parent/teacher/principal meeting, which his father and I had requested and, Lord have mercy, do I have a stomach ache. I need to get back to work, but I am really wiped out. Help!

(Breathing deeply: remember that your child is doing wonderfully in most areas of his life, in spite of all he's been through over the past year, coupled with his own unique little life issues ... remember that you are a good enough mom ... remember that the teacher is a beloved child of God ... remember that the principal is defending her territory and watching out for her teachers ... remember that this is not the most important thing in life ...)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And the thankfulness continues ...

I'm playing along on this meme for Max, whose wise and witty spirit seemed to have vanished from blogland for a while, but who is back and has tagged me. Also, because as I have said before, gratitude is a wonderful spiritual discipline and one can never be too thankful. Really. So here goes.

Write down five things that you're thankful for.

Tag five friends who you'd like to see participate in this meme. (Optional) Include a link to the original at SmuloSpace in your post, and then visit the post yourself and place a link to your completed meme in the comments section so John can keep track of the thankfulness running around the blogosphere.

1. My son. It is impossible to imagine my life had he not been born. That I get to be his mother every day for the rest of my life is an amazing and wondrous thing. May I have enough wisdom to not screw him up too badly.

2. Tea, coffee, wine and whiskey shared with friends. Each of these things is gift enough on its own, but when consumed in the company of someone interesting and thoughtful and funny and kind, the value increases exponentially. I am thankful that this has happened repeatedly in my life over the last three weeks, with several people. An embarrassment of riches, really.

3. DVDs, popped in at just the needed moment, to get all those fussy children away from the dinner table and properly sedated.

4. Music. The sound of the soul.

5. Almost winning the trivia game at the local pub last night. I never win things like raffles, door prizes, slots. Never. Now, I do win at many board games, because I am one competitive b*t#h, but never at Trivial Pursuit. Never. So imagine the thrill, if you can, of ending round two of the weekly trivia game tied for first place. The last question is final jeopardy style, where you have to decide on a wager. If our team had wagered more we would have won the big kahuna. I wanted to wager more, but got talked out of it by team members. Had we wagered my amount, we would have walked away CHAMPIONS, because we answered correctly. But I'm not blaming my teammates, because they were troopers and, as it was, we walked away with second prize, which was, I kid you not, a thrill. We would not have ended where we did had I not challenged the game leader on one of his responses. Here was the trivia question: What denomination uses the Book of Common Prayer? In the comments, tell me what you think I said and what you think he said was the correct answer. For a bonus challenge, here was the final jeopardy question: Put the following cities in order of distance from NYC, as the crow flies: Moscow, Madrid, Honolulu, Los Angeles. (No peeking at a globe or map or using any electronic cheater toys.)

I have bad luck getting my blog friends to play along on these things, but if you feel like being thankful, in the comments or on your own blog, please join in.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More Worship Ramblings

It was a year ago that I began attending the church I currently call home. My ex and I were still living together but were planning the split. I was working a dead-end temp job and was too emotionally washed-out to seek any social life at all. We had been in town only five months. I went to this church one week and then jumped in feet first the next. I made a financial pledge, put my son into the Sunday School, met with the pastors, and have been attending faithfully ever since. This is how I do church. Whole hog. I've tried to be half-hearted about church, but it doesn't work for me.

That said, whole hog isn't working for me right now either. I think I jumped too quickly, too desperate for a community. The politically progressive stances worked for me. The small informal circle seemed like a place I could actually make friends. The weekly potluck seemed almost like having a social life of my own.

The thing is ... the worship doesn't really work for me. It's too informal, to be honest. I have to confess: the kids running in and out throughout the service irritate me. This from the pastor who spent her career convincing old ladies that it wasn't sacrilege to have active children in worship. Wow. Weird to have the shoe be on the other foot. I want to say to the offending parents, "Don't you realize that the rest of us are here to WORSHIP GOD??!!"

OK, OK, it's not that bad, really. I do still enjoy children in worship, acting like children. Just reasonably well-behaved children, at least most of the time, please.

And then there are the sermons. One issue is that there is a different preacher every week. I mean, seriously, in a year, there is only one person I've heard preach more than a handful of times and I don't like his sermons. Which is the other issue. Let me just say that these folks, with a couple of notable exceptions, would have a hard time in a Presbyterian homiletics class. Bless their hearts.

Geez, am I cranky or what?

Also, last year there was an adult Sunday School class while the kids had theirs. I went every week. Sometimes there were only two of us, but that was fine with me, as it allowed me to get to know other people. This year, they dropped the class. Did anybody ask my opinion? Me, the only person who was in the class every week last year? Umm, no. It wasn't like they had to buy curriculum or plan anything. We just got together and read a chapter of the Bible and discussed it.

So, I found myself beginning to dread worship. But having made the family commitment and having this deeply ingrained belief that my child should be in SS and worship every week, coupled with guilt over the fact that the poor child has had seven congregations to adjust to in his 9 years (Presbyterian, Quaker, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Quaker, non-denominational and now Baptist), I am very hesitant to start looking around for another church home.

And yet ... have I mentioned that my son HATES this church? Well, I think he actually kind of likes some of the adults there and he loves a good potluck as much as I do, but beyond that, he has not connected with one single child at this church. Not one.

So today I told him that maybe we could keep going to his SS, but try some different things out worship-wise and only go to our congretation a couple of times each month. I told him about Taize and said maybe we could go to Taize services sometimes and Quaker meetings sometimes and Episcopal services sometimes and that when we didn't go anywhere else that we could worship at home.

And tonight, that's what we did. We went to SS and then came home and had dinner and afterwards had our own worship. We began by putting on a CD of Gregorian chant and then going into the little room off our living room which I call my prayer room and lighting lots of candles and some incense. Then he read (by candlelight) from this tiny little Gideon Bible that he got at the State Fair, which he loves. It's King James, which makes me crazy, but he asked me to give him an assignment and he opened up and read it straight through, with all the "he spakes" and so on. When he finished, I read the same story (the shepherd and the lost sheep) from our Family Story Bible (by Ralph Milton, highly recommended for anyone with young children looking for a children's Bible that won't gross you out) and we discussed it. I asked him if he wanted to read a Psalm and he piped up, "What about the 23rd since it's about shepherds, too?" (He remembered!) So he read it, King James.

Suddenly he asked, "How many verses are in Psalm 119?" (He knows this is the longest Psalm, because that's the kind of Biblical information that will stick with him).
Me: "I'm not sure but it's well over 100."
Him, finding it: "176."
Me: "Why don't you read the last verse out loud?"
Him: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep. Seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments."
How's that for fitting a theme?

Next, I read a prayer from Edward Hays' "Prayers for the Domestic Church" and we added our own thanksgivings. About this time the dog wandered in, so I found the blessing of the pets in Hays' book and read that, too. We then offered intercessions for several people. I told him how the Quakers speak of "holding people in the light" and how I picture the person I'm praying for in my mind's eye and see them completely surrounded by a warm white light. So we did that in silence for a few minutes until he cleared his throat to let me know he was done with the holding part. (Says he, "I don't want to hold them there too long. They might have to use the bathroom or something. Besides, I was beginning to get bored.")

I suggested we sing a hymn or two. He picked "Deep and Wide," complete with gestures and leaving out words. I picked "Jesus, Remember Me," from Taize. We, or rather I, sang it through about 8 times.

Him: "Does it really go on that long?"
Me: "In a real Taize service it would go on much longer."
Him -- dumbstruck: "Why?"

Finally, we ended with a simple benediction (Me: "Go in peace to love and serve our God." Him (with a little prompting): "Thanks be to God!") and the ringing of my small Tibetan singing bowl.

We agreed that we would do this again, that we'd begin and end each time with familiar words and that it would be his job to sing the bowl.

Now if we could just figure out how to blow out all the candles without setting off the smoke detector.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wait, Wait!

OK, folks, tune in to your favorite public radio station Saturday to hear this week's game of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" See if you can guess which of those laughs is mine. I just got home from watching the show taped in front of a live audience here in beautiful -- CHILLY -- downtown Asheville. (The show is normally taped in Chicago and apparently they brought their weather with them.)

Paula Poundstone is fricking hilarious. I haven't laughed that long and that hard in ages. Nobody looks like I expected them to. That's the funny thing about radio. Peter Sagal is short and bald and very, very funny.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Diary Dots

*I have felt too tired to write most nights recently and nights are the only time I have in my schedule any more. But I think of my blog-land friends every night, whether I'm commenting or not.
*I have the coolest kid. A nine year old boy who knits and throws pots and does martial arts and loves to read and do math and build things and who is beginning (finally!) to show some interest in music. A kid who loves his heelies and new hiking boots (I missed sized 4 completely -- all his shoes were size 3 and it occurred to me he probably needed new ones -- yes, he is now size 5). He, like all young males, cannot go a day without extensive potty and body function language, but he also lets me snuggle with him in bed and cover him in kisses.
*The Bush countdown to the right is going very slowly, though I don't really hold out huge hope for these next elections anyway. But the countdown that really matters to me -- weeks until my boss is no longer my boss and I get to be the boss -- is seven and the last one we'll be on vacation, so really six. Yee-haw!
*Things I love about this town: the Film Festival and the Studio Stroll, both of which happened this past weekend.
*Things I love about this neighborhood: the neighborhood DVD store and the neighborhood coffeehouse and the neighborhood pub and the neighborhood pizza joint.
*I get to have dinner with my folks every week. For 26 years, we saw each other a couple of times each year. Now it's at least once a week. And my mom is a great cook and a lovely hostess, so that's a bonus. And they have a great view of the mountains off their deck, double bonus.
*In an attempt to be more social, I got off my back-end and made plans with five different friends over the next two weeks. Hallelujah, I have a social life! At least for two weeks.
*I can't complain, but sometimes I still do. Life's been good to me so far.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

And now for a poem

"The Worriers' Guild"
by Philip F. Deaver

Today there is a meeting of the
Worriers' Guild,
and I'll be there.
The problems of Earth are
to be discussed
at length
end to end
for five days
end to end
with 1100 countries represented
all with an equal voice
some wearing turbans and smocks
and all the men will speak
and the women
with or without notes
in 38 languages
and nine different species of logic.
Outside in the autumn
the squirrels will be
chattering and scampering
directionless throughout the town
they aren't organized yet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Empty and Full

Life these days is both empty and full and I am sitting uneasily in the paradox.

Full: work is busy and constant. I never feel caught up. There is always something more I could be doing. I'm just keeping up. There is planning for next year and evaluating each program and improving the website and working with board committees and reorganizing financial records and working on advertising and ... and ... it's like parish ministry without the fun stuff. No worship leadership, no pastoral counseling, no sacraments, no rituals for life transitions. I miss that stuff. That would go in the empty column.

Full: being a single mom. I'm the one responsible for making sure he's fed, bathed, rested, well-balanced, to school on time, to bed on time, all homework done. I have to make sure there are groceries in the fridge, clean underwear in the drawer and money in the bank to pay the mortgage and the health insurance and so on and so forth. Even though his dad has him a few nights each week, I am completely responsible when he's with me -- nobody to pass off any of the responsibilities. Also: full in the sense that this really is the best part of my life. He's my dear, even when he's infuriating. And honestly, he's a wonderful boy. Funny and helpful and smart and sweet.

Full: homeowner and pet owner. Again, it's just me and with these responsibilities I don't get any breaks any days of the week. Every day, I'm the one to walk the dog and vacuum up the dog hair and make sure the furnace works and the lawn is mowed and dishes are clean and the cat has flea medicine and they both are fed and watered and the toilet works and is clean. No landlord, no husband, just me.

Full: having my parents near-by. Full in the sense of wonderful to get to spend time with them each week and full in that I'm spending time with them each week. Watching Dad descend into the land of unknowing and unknowable is hard. Watching Mom care for him and lose her companion of 55 years is harder.

Empty: my sense of what God wants of me. My sense of call. What am I doing here besides taking up space? I know I am called to love those around me, to be in the moment. I wish that could be enough.

Empty: my social calendar. I have no social life. Really. None. I keep thinking I should make an effort in this department, but all those "full" notes above leave me little time, energy or money. I miss having friends, but finding the time to make new ones is tough. And I'll confess, I'm kind of picky about friends. When my time and energy is limited I want to spend it well. I don't suffer fools gladly.

Empty: my bed. Big ole fecking king size one, too. Enough said.

This sounds whinier than I intended. What I mean to say is that life is kind of mixed for me these days. This is a hard time, I won't deny. I long for clarity. I'm tempted to find a palm reader and get some fix on what the future holds. But here I am, in the present moment (wonderful moment, according to Thich Nhat Hahn, but as Jerry May once said, "Yeah, Thich says present moment, wonderful moment, but sometimes the present moment just sucks.").

Empty. And full.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Today's Poem

As Death Approaches

by Susan Deborah King

I can't believe I'm laughing!
I'd have sworn I'd be
shaking or sniveling.
And I sure didn't expect
a limousine.
I've never been in a limousine.
No biggy.
I've had better than fame.
Who needs the pressure?
As for fortune, I'm filthy.
That's why I'm laughing.
I've had so much love:
the giving, the getting.
It's shameful.
It's embarrassing.
And it's too late.
No one can take it away!
And I've had the pain
to help me appreciate it.
Thank God for the pain!
Easy for me to say
now that I'm going!
But no, seriously,
the kicks in the teeth,
the gut, the rugs
pulled out, slammed doors,
setbacks, snubs.
Without them, I'd
never have recognized
Love, bedraggled,
plain eyes shining,
happy to see me.
Do I want more?
Of course I want more!
I always want more
of everything: money, hugs,
lovemaking, art, butter,
woods, flowers, the sea,
M&Ms, chips, tops, bottoms,
trips — I did give up drinking —
time, sure, and yes,
I'd like to see
my grandchildren,
if there are any.
I'd like to see my books
but more has never
been good for me anyway.
Enough — that's what I've
always needed to learn,
and is there a better way?
So this laughter
I had to work up to
through so many tears,
it just keeps coming
like a fountain, a spray.
Let it light on you
refreshment, benediction,
as I'm driven away.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yup, still a Calvinist.

Got this from Kirstin, who didn't expect to be a Calvinist. I, on the other hand, would have been surprised to be anything else.

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Calvin

You are John Calvin. You seek to be faithful to Scripture, and to harmonize difficult sayings. You believe that in the Lord's Supper those who have faith are united to Christ, who is present spiritually, yet in a real way.













Monday, October 22, 2007


Haven't been blogging much, way behind on reading my blog buds, feeling sort of overwhelmed by life at the moment. Some bullets, in no particular order:
* Got a bookcase from my mom on Friday (beautiful!) which made me start to sort through the umpteen boxes and shelves of books in my basement.
* Discovered mildew on most of them.
* Spent large parts of Friday, Saturday and Sunday in my basement wiping mildew off books and standing them around the dehumidifier to dry.
* Brutally rid myself of a large portion of my books -- 8 boxes now ready to give away.
* Reshelved rest of books. (I still have lots).
* Got horrible news last week of a young woman who volunteers in our office being date-raped.
* Got other sad news of a bad car accident with a church member who is now in a coma.
* Worked the past two Sundays, meaning I missed my own worship time.
* Missed LEAF, big, wonderful music festival near-by.
* Had my first live blogger meet-up with Jane R. of Acts of Hope! We ate sushi and I got caught up on much gossip from my alma mater.
* Still struggling with boss. Ended up in tears at office twice in recent weeks. This does not please me.
* On the other hand, had a good board meeting last week.
* Came home from the office sick today and spent afternoon sleeping or resting.
* Have a presentation to give on "Sabbath" later this week and can't find time to prepare for it. HA!
* Was treated to an amazing meal out last night after work and wished I had felt better to fully enjoy (though I did enjoy! Scallops, yum.)
* Am experiencing repeated blogger difficulties which is part of why I'm blogging less these days and ending this now.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Message from Color of Change

For far too long, the Republican party has suppressed the votes of Black folks and other minorities, while the Democratic party has stood by and done nothing. Now, President Bush and his allies in the Senate want to give Hans von Spakovsky -- the architect of some of the worst voter-suppression schemes in the last decade -- a six-year appointment to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). It's a slap in the face to Black voters and anyone who cares about democracy.

Can you tell your senators to reject von Spakovsky's nomination? It takes only a moment:

sign here

Republicans have been fighting for months to get von Spakovsky confirmed, and, last week, Democrats in the Senate caved. They made a deal with the Republicans that would allow von Spakovsky's confirmation to be voted on as a part of a "package" with three other nominees, essentially guaranting his appointment. Thankfully, Senators Barack Obama and Russ Feingold stepped up and blocked it.1,2 Now they need our support to convince their colleagues to do the right thing and take a stand against voter suppression.

Given von Spakovsky's history, it's sad they need any convincing at all.

A long history of undermining our vote

During his first term, Bush installed von Spakovsky in the Justice Department's (DOJ) voting rights section, which enforces the Voting Rights Act. There, von Spakovsky undermined the DOJ's historic mission of protecting minority voting rights and actually transformed the department into a tool to suppress the vote. Here are just a few examples:

When long-term, career attorneys at the Justice Department unanimously recommended rejecting Tom Delay's infamous Texas redistricting plan because it discriminated against minority voters, von Spakovsky led the charge to overrule these voting rights experts, and approved the plan.3 The Supreme Court later ruled that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act.

Similarly, when career attorneys recommended rejecting a discriminatory Georgia voter ID law -- a law that even the Republican Governor said would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Georgians -- von Spakovsky overruled them to approve the law.4 Again, the law was later struck down by the courts, with the ruling judge likening it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.5

This summer, seven of von Spakovsky's former colleagues at the DOJ said that he blocked career attorneys from filing at least three lawsuits against local governments that had violated the voting rights of Black people and other minorities, and that he derailed at least two DOJ investigations into discriminatory election laws.6

Von Spakovsky's career in suppression didn't start at the DOJ. In 1997, he set the stage for Florida's 2000 voter purge when he wrote an article that called for purging felons from voter rolls. Serving on the board of the "Voter Integrity Project" (VIP) he quickly put his ideas into action -- VIP met with the company that designed Florida's purge to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters, most of whom were Black.7,8 During the recount, von Spakovsky was in Florida as a volunteer for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

A key part of what has allowed von Spakovsky to push his suppression agenda is the myth that "voter fraud" -- individuals voting illegally, or voting twice -- is a real problem. Republican politicians invoke these concerns to justify stronger restrictions on voting and voter registration (like voter ID laws), as well as voter roll purges. But the problem simply doesn't exist. When the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) researched voter fraud, they found that it wasn't a problem.9 But before the EAC went public with its report, von Spakovsky pressured them to change it.10 The final report said that there was "a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of [voter] fraud."11

Does the Senate support voter suppression?

As shocking as these examples are, they only scratch the surface. Hans von Spakovsky has built a career solidifying Republican control by disenfranchising untold thousands and subverting our most fundamental democratic right.

Bush gave von Spakovsky a recess appointment to the FEC in 2005 (which doesn't require Senate confirmation). Now he has nominated him for a six-year term. It's been clear since von Spakovsky's arrival at the FEC that he is playing the same role he did at the DOJ -- scoffing at the spirit of campaign finance laws, thumbing his nose at the law as he seeks to help create routes of circumvention."12

Republicans want von Spakovsky on the FEC so much that they threatened to block all FEC nominees unless the Democrats let von Spakovsky through.13 But last week, instead of fighting back, the Democratic leadership agreed to give the Republicans what they wanted -- a vote on all four FEC nominees as a package, which would have guaranteed von Spakovsky's appointment. By blocking that vote, Senators Obama and Feingold went against the leadership and thwarted its compromise with Republicans.14 That gave us the fighting chance we need to defeat his nomination.

It's hard to know exactly why Senate Democrats have come so close to letting von Spakovsky through. Some say it's because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is afraid that if he blocks von Spakovsky, Republicans will retaliate by blocking another FEC nominee who's a friend of Reid's.15 Some senators may just not care enough about protecting voting rights to make a real effort. Whatever the reason, it's part of a pattern that has existed for far too long -- Republicans trashing our right to vote and Democrats looking the other way.

A vote for von Spakovsky is a vote for voter suppression. Anything less than the strongest condemnation of his nomination sends the message that the Senate will turn a blind eye to Republican attacks on our voting rights. Let's demand that our senators send the opposite message -- that they will fight tooth and nail to defend the right to vote, and that their rejection of von Spakovsky's nomination is only the beginning of a much needed reckoning for his assault on voting rights over the last six and a half years.

Sign here

psssst ... Do something.

Just in case any of my readers don't get these messages sent to you already, I wanted to pass this one along. That nuclear is now lining up to be counted as green is a clear sign of the Orwellian world we live in.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What I Did and Saw and Thought

What I Did:
*Hiked the Appalachian Trail along the French Broad River up to Lover's Leap for a gorgeous view.
*Soaked in the natural mineral springs hot tubs
*Enjoyed a lovely dinner on a deck overlooking a creek
*Slept deeply for 9 hours
*Hiked up Max Patch, which one book calls the best views on the entire AT and another calls the best views in NC (photo above doesn't come close to doing it justice).

What I Saw:
*The rocky, wide French Broad River
*Kayakers practicing in said river
*A smattering of bright red and yellow trees amidst the green views
*Couples hiking
*Families hiking
*Friends hiking
*Dogs hiking
*Wildflowers galore: buttery snapdragons, purple clover, goldenrod, milky Queen Ann's lace
*Native grasses
*At least six different kinds of butterflies
*Gargantuan grasshoppers
*Wild blackberries
*Cerulean skies
*cottony clouds
*360 degree views of mountains -- as far as the eye could see in every direction!

What I Thought:
*I don't need to wait for the right job, the right relationship, the right boss.
*I need to practice the difficult task of loving with a whole heart here and now.
*Today. Tomorrow. This is it. This is my life. This is not practice, but the real thing.
*And God is calling me to love.

Here is the reading my spiritual director gave me this week, before knowing of my most recent considerations about my job and boss:

I Wonder
by Derek Tasker

I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.

Source: Pilgrimage, An Exploration Into God, by Ivor Smith-Cameron

Friday, October 5, 2007

I'm Off

I'm taking off for a short retreat into the mountains for some hiking, quiet, and mineral spring hot tubbing. Hold down the fort while I'm gone.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Four Things

I've been tagged by Diane for this Fabulous Four meme. A while back Kirstin tagged me and I never responded and then I felt guilty for weeks. So to avoid further guilt, here goes:

Four jobs I've held:
fry-vat scrubber at McDonald's
docent at the Audrain County Historical Museum
safer sex educator for women in prostitution

Four films I could watch over and over:
The Wizard of Oz (who couldn't?)
The Sound of Music (I'm such a sap)
sex, lies and videotape (only thing I ever liked James Spader in)
She's Gotta Have It (favorite Spike Lee joint)

Four TV shows I watch:
OK, I don't even get any TV reception these days. None. But if I did I would watch:
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Dave Chappell
(and to get away from Comedy Central) Countdown with Keith Olbermann

Four places I've lived:
Mexico, Missouri
Chicago, IL
Indianapolis, IN
Rochester, NY

Four favorite foods:
California rolls with plenty of pickled ginger
pecan-encrusted mountain trout
mashed potatoes

Four websites I visit every day:
(I visit an embarrassing number of blogs and I'm not going to narrow down to four of my blog buds. Sorry).

Four favorite colors (from the big Crayola 64):
Carolina Blue
Lime Green
Forest Green
Deep Coral

Four places I would love to be now:
A pub in Ireland
The coast of Spain
The Serengeti
The Carolina Coast

Four names I love but wouldn't name my children:
(well, I tried a couple of these for our son, but they got nixed by his dad)
Hezekiah (noticing a trend here?)
and one of these things is not like the others:
Clyde (after my grandmother. yes, that's mother)

OK, since I didn't name 4 blogs above, I'll tag these 4:
Grandmere Mimi

Monday, October 1, 2007

Today's Portion from the Prayer Book

Lord, open unto me
Open unto me -- light for my darkness.
Open unto me -- courage for my fear.
Open unto me -- hope for my despair.
Open unto me -- peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me -- joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me -- strength for my weakness.
Open unto me -- wisdom for my confusion.
Open unto me -- forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me -- love for my hates.
Open unto me -- thy Self for my self.
Lord, Lord, open unto me!

--Howard Thurman

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Good Therapy

When in despair, turn to nature. (And God, of course, and the two are well connected, as we know). This afternoon I packed a picnic, then son and I headed out into the nearby wilderness to sit and watch an elk herd. Old guys with huge racks, young studs with sharp spikes, cows, calves, adolescent elk. The whole elk gamut. Wonderfully funny-looking creatures on their spindly legs, they nonetheless appeared majestic roaming across a verdant valley as the sun set over the world's oldest mountains. Son called it "an elkstravaganza".

If you've never heard an elk bugle, put it on your list of things to do. Good night, all.

A Patrick Prayer

I'm not really much of a prayer-book kind of gal. The Presbyterians I grew up with did not have prayer books. We had Bibles and hymnbooks and that was sufficient unto the day. Then I hung with the Quakers for a number of years while sometimes sneaking into Episcopal churches. Later, I found myself delighted with the growing liturgical sensibilities of Presbyterians. But recently I've been more into silence and trees and secular poetry. Not so much the prayer books. However, I keep hanging out with all these Episcopalians online and getting saint days and angelogy and daily offices and such. So I got out my prayer book today (being much in need of whatever help I could find -- see below) to find this lovely little bit of celtic assurance. Enjoy.

(from a much longer prayer by Patrick of Ireland--389-461)

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Prayers, please

OK, I haven't really wanted to blog about this, because this isn't really an anonymous blog. But here's the truth: I don't like my boss. Actually, if this were an anonymous blog, I would say it more forcefully. I have never worked with a meaner person. But she's Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, so she knows tons of people and they like her. Which is kind of beyond me, but now I'm stuck with a decision. Do I quit a job after 6 months in a new city where I don't have good contacts, as a single mom with no money in the bank? Or do I keep taking the abuse and hope that something will open up? You don't really need to answer that, but prayers would be appreciated.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mind the Gap

Went to opening night at the symphony yesterday, where my presence in the audience helped bring down the average age considerably. But that was in the audience only. Our conductor, (see photo) who is starting his 3rd season with us, is considerably younger than me. (His new wife was there tonight. She looks about 22). The first piece was by a composer younger than me by several years and the guest artist was a good bit younger still. Being the opening night, the conductor (who is not only young, but hot) introduced new members of the orchestra. The new oboeist looks approximately 13.

So, the audience made me feel young. The musicians made me feel old.

The first piece, Rainbow Body, by Christopher Theofanidis, won an international competition for new compositions when he was about 35. (He's an old man at 40 now and working on a new opera.) It was a lush, lovely piece. Jennifer Frautischi played Tchaikovsky's violin concerto in D to a standing ovation (two actually). She played with energy and drama. (And her dress was fab -- showed off her toned body very nicely, as she seems to spend almost as much time at Pilates as on her violin. Maybe that's what got all those old men to their feet). The second half was Elgar's Enigma Variations, which I found charming and beautiful. Mom said that was not her favorite Elgar, so I'm going to have to find some more of his stuff. We went to the pre-symphony talk -- always helpful for listening, I think -- and I was a little worried when I heard the Elgar was 33 minutes. I get restless with long compositions or long sermons. But the time flew.

Back to the age gap. Classical musicians have been worrying about graying audiences for a long time. And for those of us who have grown up moving to our music, it is such a different experience to sit very still for all that music. In fact, we didn't grow up sitting for much -- church, school, all the places a previous generation would have been expected to sit very still and quiet for long hours -- all changed in the 70s and beyond. A young couple sat in front of us -- he in the torn jeans and tee -- and were very affectionate with each other. You could see the uncomfortable responses on all sides as he sensuously kissed her fingers during the Tchaikovsky. My mom said after the first piece, "They need to get a bedroom."

It cracked me up, but brought to mind this whole audience age gap thing. At a rock concert touching would be not only fine, but expected. At the pre-talk the young conductor and guest artist joked about how some music gets old and boring for them after they've done it several times. Mom thought they were airing their dirty laundry and didn't like it. I thought it was authentic and interesting. But then, I'm part of the therapy generation where we talk about what we feel and think. My mom is of the "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything" school.

A final thought: I was startled by the abrupt beginning of the concert with the National Anthem. Has that always been done and I just don't remember? I could never afford going to the symphony in DC, where I would have expected the stars and stripes, but back in Rochester, I don't remember the Philharmonic starting its concerts that way. Can anyone enlighten?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Six years ago I was in a new pastorate inside the Beltway. I was walking through our decrepid building with our property committee chair feeling overwhelmed by all the repairs needed on it when news starting coming in. By mid-morning people were stopping in to pray. By mid-afternoon shell-shocked neighbors were walking home from their capitol hill jobs-- the metro system having been shut down, the evacuation routes jammed with cars-- making the long walk through the city to the Maryland suburbs in stunned silence. I remember the eerie silence broken by the mad rushing of military planes and helicopters flying over and over and over the skies. I will never forget that week.

One hundred and one years ago a young Indian lawyer in South Africa led his first non-violent civic action, fighting against discrimination in that land. Gandhi went on to be the last century's leading proponent of non-violence.

Two anniversaries on the same day. Violence. Non-violence.

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, that you and your descendents may live."

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Voting News

Just returned from the WNC State Fair and at the Democratic booth they were holding a straw poll for the primary. Our lot is not in keeping with Western North Carolinian Dems, it seems. Hillary had more votes than the rest of the candidates combined by a long shot. Edwards was next, Obama third. I cast the lone vote for Dennis.

In other State Fair news, I was reminded that I am really in the South, as the Sons of the Confederacy were well represented. Fair food seems to be the same across regions, however: funnel cakes, Sno-Kones and corn dogs. Which is weird, when you think about it. Here's the place we're promoting our region's agriculture ... wouldn't it make sense to have a regional diet based on that agriculture represented?

And have I mentioned that my son has discovered thrill rides this summer and can't get enough of them -- nor can they be dangerous enough? What happened to my shy kid who wouldn't even go on the kiddy rides two years ago? Now he's happy if he's barely strapped into a contraption hanging upside-down as far up in the sky as he can get while twirling in strange formations.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A New Challenge: The Cabinet

My friend, Laura C, suggested that all the current Democratic candidates would make a good next cabinet. Which made me think ... who would I like to see? Below are some thoughts, though not a full cabinet. We need more women and people of color. Also, I don't want to take too many of our best senators and representatives out of those roles. Discuss.

President: Dennis Kucinich
Vice President: Barack Obama
Secretary of State: Bill Richardson
Secretary of Defense: Wesley Clark
Attorney General: Andrew Cuomo
Secretary of the Interior: Barbara Boxer
Secretary of Labor: John Edwards
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Hillary Clinton
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Eleanor Holmes Norton
Secretary of Energy: Al Gore
Secretary of Education: Howard Dean
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: John Kerry
Department of Peace: Mike Gravel!

Fool Me Once ...

Y'all probably get all these MoveOn videos, but this one bears repeating, if only for the last line.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Australian humor

The Chasers explain how to dress if you're a terrorist in Australia:

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Political Choices: Discuss

OK, my left-leaning friends of the blogosphere. It is still 14 months before we elect a president, but the early primaries make the Democratic election only 6 months away. The mainstream media narrowed the field to two months ago. But I'm not buying it. What if this election really was turned by the grassroots, the internet generation, a nation full of people tired of sound-bytes and caricatured candidates?

Personally, I've gone from falling in love with Barack, to backing Bill Richardson, to giving Dennis Kucinich a good look, to even reconsidering Hillary (if only because we'd get Bill back into the mix and because my son thought it would be "amazing" to have a woman president). I'm still undecided. What about you? If you could vote next week for the person you genuinely wish could be president, not the person you assume is most electable (that was the cry that brought us John Kerry, lest we forget) who would it be?

Discuss. (If there are right-leaning readers of this blog, I'd love to hear from you as well!)

A poem

"Keys" by Nancy Henry

When things got hard
I used to drive and keep on driving—
once to North Carolina
once to Arizona—
I'm through with all that now, I hope.
The last time was years ago.

But oh, how I would drive
and keep on driving!
The universe around me
all well in my control;
anything I wanted on the radio,
the air blasting hot or cold;
sobbing as loudly as I cared to sob,
screaming as loudly as I needed to scream.
I would live on apples and black coffee,
shower at truck stops,
sleep curled up
in the cozy back seat I loved.

The last time, I left at 3 a.m.
By New York state,
I stopped screaming;
by Tulsa
I stopped sobbing;
by the time I pulled into Flagstaff
I was thinking
about the Canyon,
I was so empty.
Thinking about the canyon
I was.

I sat on the rim at dawn,
let all the colors fill me.
It was cold. I saw my breath
like steam from a soup pot.
I saw small fossils in the gravel.
I saw how much world there was

how much darkness
could be swept out
by the sun.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Since I Lost My Illegal Cable TV Reception

... when the guy came to fix my interent connection, I figured I could get this fabulous item and take care of multiple needs at once. I can pretend I'm still watching TV while seasoning my meal with salt, pepper and prayer.

Between this and the plastic Jesus on my dashboard, I think I've got most bases covered.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Out of Purgatory at last!

My four days without internet at home have finally ended, after 4 long technical phone calls and TWO FULL DAYS waiting at home for a technician who finally came at 3 p.m. on Sunday when I had just stepped out to buy groceries and spent two hours rewiring my house after which he told me everything was working perfectly and since I was about to be late to church I said "great" and headed out the door, only to come home to discover it was not working perfectly, but after TWO MORE very long technical phone calls, it finally is.

On the bright side, I did get some house-cleaning done and read all of last week's newspapers.

But now I have lots of blogs to catch up with. See ya!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Gratitude Adjustment

Some things I've been dealing with recently:
*Long work hours
*the reality of being a single mom most of the week and alone the rest of the week
*the occasionally soul-deadening nature of my mostly administrative job
*my brilliant but somewhat crazy boss and her super-frenetic energy
*lousy plumbing
*a sick cat
*a dog shedding approximately three tons of hair per day
*old tax issues
*internet issues at home (as in, not connecting)
*money (as in, not enough of it)
*a deeply depressed friend who needs me at a time when I'm feeling I don't have much to give
*some distance from my congregation which is almost my only community outside of work and family and so feels particularly poignant to me ...

What I want to focus on:
*that I have a wonderful, wacky little son who is the love of my life
*that I have a job which puts me in touch with interesting people -- like the Buddhist woman I met yesterday who started a Zen Center for Women here in the mountains and brought a bottle of champagne to our place of work which we shared with her in honor of her birthday (which she couldn't drink in her community because of the no-alcohol rule)
*that my boss is phasing out her work and if I can hang in for four more months, I'll be the boss
*that I live in a gorgeous part of the country
*that I live near my mom who is one of my favorite people on earth
*that on lonely nights I have a very funny friend who is only a phone call away
*that I am mostly healthy most of the time
*that several old friends have contacted me via internet recently
*that I have a home and a car and a laptop and a comfortable bed and an iPod and a fridge full of food (when I remember to go to the grocery store)
*that I finally frigging figured out how to do bold and italics on my blog!

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is "Thank You," that would suffice. -- Meister Eckhart

Forever or today. It is enough.

"Psalm" by Stuart Kestenbaum

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn't forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today's
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning's clouds in first light.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A little Catholic humor.

You can kiss a nun once.
You can kiss a nun twice.
But you'd better not get into the habit.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 3

So, if you've been following these ramblings you know that I am deeply rooted in the Presbyterian church with extended forays into Quaker and Episcopal congregations. From the Quakers I gained deep appreciation of silence and trusting in that of God in all people (though certain members of our current administration strain this belief to the breaking point) and the calls to simplicity and peace as a way of life for all followers of Christ. From Episcopalians I gained deep appreciation of the liturgical traditions and the centrality of the eucharist to Christian spirituality. All the traditions I lean towards have great respect for human intellect and are friendly toward the sciences.

So why, now, in middle age, am I hanging out with a bunch of Southern Baptists? Good, good question.

It's certainly not because I've suddenly gone anti-intellect or developed a disturbing case of fundamentitis. It's not because of their liturgy or their silence, that's for sure, cause there ain't much of either of those happening! It's for one simple reason: community.

When I came into a new town last year, in the midst of an uncertain career change and, it turned out, a marital implosion, I worshiped in a few places. This being the South, it was easy to figure out which churches would share my general social views, since they were in the minority. Theologically I am open and ecclesiastically I am interested in new ways of being church. So when I discovered (online) a church that was trying to do something new, that had a deeply ecological orientation and a great world band, I knew I had to try it. I went to this new church for several months. They had a "wailing wall" where people were invited to wander during worship and, given my life circumstances, I did. Week after week, at some point in the service, I would run off to cry at this little prayer alcove. I was glad it was there.

I loved the band. I enjoyed the preacher -- a jazz musician who wove music and poetry and dance and drama into each service with skill and grace. The congregation was hipper than any I'd ever been part of. I mean, if you were going to be in church on Sunday morning, this was the happening place to be.

But as my marriage disintegrated, I knew it wasn't my church. So he got the church in the separation and I went off in search of mine. My next stop was one I had heard recommended by a colleague in DC. So I checked it out. And I stayed. A little bunch of renegade Baptists, worshiping on Sunday afternoons in an Episcopal fellowship hall, in a circle of folding chairs, singing along to a guitar and sharing a potluck dinner every week. Nothing flashy there. But good folks, trying to live the gospel. A house church that turned 5 years old about a month after I started worshiping there, it had outgrown houses within a few weeks of its birth. Now it is outgrowing the fellowship hall where we meet and looking for new space to rent. We don't aspire to be home-owners in this congregation. Who needs the headache? We just need a big enough, flexible enough space that we can gather in a circle, sing our Iona chants and old Baptist hymns, and then break up the circle for dinner.

It's an uneasy fit for me in some ways. I am so not Baptist. I like liturgy. I like a broader hymnody. I get a little restless with all the lay leadership -- especially as the quality of preaching varies greatly from week to week, since we let just about anyone who wants to have a turn at the pulpit. But here I am. Because I found a group of pilgrims who want to follow Jesus. When that means standing up alongside the Smithfield workers at the state's largest pork processing plant or being the first in town to speak out against the possibility of war with Iran or choosing to re-order our retirement portfolios to better reflect our gospel values. And when it means listening at length to the prayers of our community.

What is church for me? This is an evolving question. I suppose there is nowhere I would feel entirely at home. And maybe that is part of the human condition. We aren't entirely at home here. The God-itch inside of us is always calling. Each of us has just a little corner of the truth-cloth and we keep looking around to see where the rest of our quilt might be. So far, my quilt has quite a mixture of textures and colors. I keep looking for the pattern, but I'm not sure there is one here.

And that is just fine with me most days.

Time for more Mary Oliver


Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky -- as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Heap o' plumbin'

Having spent last night cleaning up shit from my bathroom floor, hallway, bathtub and, of course, toilet, when the plumbing backed up and burst out with vigorous mirth, I offer the following poem by Ogden Nash (with apologies to the poet and readers for the lousy formatting):

Lines to a World-Famous Poet Who Failed To Complete a World-Famous Poem; or, Come Clean, Mr. Guest!

Oft when I'm sitting without anything to read waiting for a train in a
I torment myself with the poet's dictum that to make a house a home,
livin' is what it takes a heap o'.
Now, I myself should very much enjoy makin' my house a home, but
my brain keeps on a-goin' clickety-click, clickety-click, clickety-click,
If Peter Piper picked a peck o' heap o' livin', what kind of a peck o' heap
o' livin' would Peter Piper pick?
Certainly a person doesn't need the brains of a Lincoln
To know that there are many kinds o' livin', just as there many kinds o'
dancin' or huntin' or fishin' or eatin' or drinkin'.
A philosophical poet should be specific
As well as prolific,
And I trust I am not being offensive
If I suggest that he should also be comprehensive.
You may if you like verify my next statement by sending a stamped, self-
addressed envelope to either Dean Inge or Dean Gauss,
But meanwhile I ask you to believe that it takes a heap of other things
besides a heap o' livin' to make a home out of a house.
To begin with, it takes a heap o' payin',
And you don't pay just the oncet, but agayin and agayin and agayin.
Buyin' a stock is called speculatin' and buyin' a house is called investin',
But the value of the stock or of the house fluctuates up and down,
generally down, just as an irresponsible Destiny may destine.
Something else that your house takes a heap o', whether the builder came
from Sicily or Erin,
Is repairin',
In addition to which, gentle reader, I am sorry to say you are little more
than an imbecile or a cretin
If you think it doesn't take a heap o' heatin',
And unless you're spiritually allied to the little Dutch boy who went
around inspectin' dikes lookin' for leaks to put his thumb in,
It takes a heap o' plumbin',
And if it's a house that you're hopin' to spend not just today but
tomorrow in,
It takes a heap o' borrowin'
In a word, Macushla,
There's a scad o' things that to make a house a home it takes not only a
heap, or a peck, but at least a bushela.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Total blog cattiness

OK, this is completely unnecessary cattiness, but I just stopped by a blog I rarely visit any more, though it was among the first blogs I discovered. Back when I discovered it, it was mostly an emergent church blog. Then the blogger went offline for a while and came back with an all-new blog. The reason I rarely visit is that I just don't find it interesting any more. Now here's the catty part. This particular blogger takes lots of photos and posts them. Of herself. Herself alone. Herself and her hubby. Herself and her kids. Herself and her friends. Rarely of those people by themselves. No, with her. So, her face is almost always at the top of her blog and I don't mean in one of those cute little side photos. Now, I once put a photo of my face on my blog, but almost immediately regretted it (I didn't take it down for historical purposes -- it was my first post ever). And I love it when my blog buds put up the occasional special event photo where they are included.

But this constant self-photo thing. Is it just me or is that a little weird?

(p.s. Yes, I will get back to worship theme eventually ...)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 2

I noted below that I've served as a pastor for 13 of the 17 years I've been ordained. The off years have given me a chance to visit lots of churches and worship in many traditions. One year my then-hubby and I took time to do volunteer mission work -- including a couple of months with homeless families in rural Maryland, 3 weeks with homeless cows in Russia, and the rest of the year as house-parents for ex-offenders. Lots of worship opportunities over that year -- gorgeous Orthodox singing in candlelit churches with floor to ceiling icons, old ladies prostrating themselves repeatedly in prayer all around us; twelve-step meetings; outdoor services with homeless children and various dogs and cats wandering in and out of the circle; and months of masses at the progressive urban Catholic parish where then-hubby was then-worshiping.

This latter church was the sponsor of the ex-offender ministry where we were living, so we chaffeured the guys back and forth to masses whenever they wanted and every Sunday. When I first started worshiping there, the iconoclast in me refused to genuflect or cross myself or say what I felt was a horrible line in the mass: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Somehow, it struck me as that wormish theology aimed at keeping the masses bowed down low beneath the Pope and other Truly Holy People.

Over time, I came to love that line most of all: "only say the word and I shall be healed." I loved that we said it circled around the table, squeezed onto the altar, singing together, hugging our way through the peace, looking around at faces as diverse as one might hope for in the kin-dom of God. Old, young, many-colored, gay, straight, homeless, known criminals, local politicians, affluent business owners, questioning youth. None of us worthy. All of us worthy. All of us standing in the need of healing and hope, holding out our hands for the body and blood. I also found myself loving that my body was invited into worship: I genuflected, I knelt, I crossed myself repeatedly, I raised my hands for the Lord's prayer. Sometimes I have to stop myself from doing those things now in places where they would be suspect.

[Later, that whole congregation got ex-communicated. After years of slaps on the wrist from the loving and liberal bishop-- for the women who served on the altar, for the glbt ministries, for the open ecumenism--it finally came down from on high that they needed to shape up. The issue that finally did them in? Open communion. They had the gaul to serve the precious body and blood of Jesus to (gasp!) non-Catholics. (In fact, as an ordained woman, I co-officiated at the mass at that church.) Who was the one to finally call it quits on the church? None other than our beloved Benny, back when he was still the Ratz. But I digress ... ]

My roots among the Presbyterians are deep. I love my church. I love that my own Dad laid hands on me to ordain me to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the very church where I had been baptized and confirmed and where I had listened to him preach about 2000 sermons. I loved going to the World Mission Conference as a child and later the Youth Conference and the Youth Triennium and our General Assembly as a Youth Delegate and then as General Assembly staff and later still as a seminary assistant to the Stated Clerk. I loved knowing our missionaries from around the world and visiting my own brother doing mission work in Haiti when I was a teen. I love my church.

And, given a Sunday not leading worship, I never attend a Presbyterian church. Really. One of the other years I wasn't serving a church, I was working on Presbytery staff (that's like a Diocese, for the uninitiated). Some weeks I preached at our regional churches and other weeks, I felt obligated to visit various of them. That lasted about 3 months. Then I couldn't take it any more. "The church isn't dying of liberalism or conservatism!" I would whine loudly to anyone who would listen, "The church is dying of boredom!"

Honestly, Presbyterians can be dull as dirt. I hate to say it, but it is true. And let me say this as clearly as I can: there is no greater sin than to take the Gospel of our Lord and Savior and make it BORING! I mean, really, how does one accomplish that? Jesus in not boring! Grace is not boring! The eucharist is not boring! People, please!

So I found an Episcopal church and hung out there for the rest of that year. Then I went back to a preaching gig.

Two and a half years ago I left my last called position. I needed a break. I needed to re-group. I wondered what else might be in store for me. I thought I could figure all that out in 6 months to a year. Still wondering. In the meantime, I have done lots of supply preaching, some church consulting, and non-church work of various sorts. Still, unless I'm working there, I don't go Presbyterian. My first Sunday off after leaving my last church was World Communion Sunday. I knew I wanted to be among the Presbyterians for that one. So I went to a friend's church. He's a great preacher. And everyone leading the service was old and white, as was all the music. On World Communion Sunday. In one of the most diverse cities on the planet. Heaven help us.

So my general rule on non-working Sundays was either Quakers, where at least I'll get some silence and I won't have to endure a boring sermon or Episcopalians, where at least I'll get the liturgy and the eucharist, even if the sermon is boring. For more than a year in DC this is what I did: the Quaker meeting where my hub and son attended or the neighborhood Episcopal church, generally alternating between the two.

Then I moved and needed to establish myself and my family in a congregation of my very own choosing. To be continued ...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ramblings on worship, denominations and such, part 1

My son is returning home this afternoon from eleven days of vacation with his dad. That's the longest I've ever been apart from him and I can't wait to see him home. But the timing means that I'll be missing church since my congregation of choice meets at 5:30 p.m. So I did this morning what I do whenever I'm in need of a random worship service: I went Episcopal.

Today I opted for the Cathedral. Built in the 1890s by George Vanderbilt to accompany the Biltmore Estate, which is across the road, it is a little architectural gem. (Yes, little, though the Cathedral). I had been told the Dean was model material and sure enough, there he stood: tall, thin, with his thick, wavy, salt and pepper hair, looking like he could have stepped out of the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalogue (except for the silly white dress he was wearing). His sermon was passable, in spite of him starting with a long baseball story (is there anything more boring?) and in spite of the fact that the man was full of nervous energy and never stopped moving around in the pulpit, which made him a bit dizzying to watch. It was also too long, because he decided that today's text on Abraham was not enough information and we really needed to follow Abe all the way from the land of Ur to the near sacrifice of Isaac. (He didn't preach on this week's gospel). Still, his basic point was moving and reminded me of a lovely post by Kirstin.

I came home pondering what makes church work for me. This is something I ponder quite regularly and something I thought about incessantly when I was serving as a pastor, which has been about 13 of the 17 years I've been ordained. I could say that I love a good sermon, and that would be true, but I also loved the years I spent attending silent Meetings for Worship among the Friends.

I could say that I love good music, and that would also be true, but my tastes are so eclectic that I tend to get bored with the music at any one congregation. For example, the place I now attend, a small, very informal church, has a wonderful lead musician, who plays guitar and writes much of what we sing. We also do a fair amount of Iona and Taize music, and some good old Baptist hymns and some good old protest hymns and spirituals like, "Down By the Riverside." We have a guy who plays the djembe and a young Down syndrome man who plays another drum and a various musicians who join on other instruments from week to week: clarinet, cello, banjo, piano, flute, fiddle. The congregation likes to sing and we often have beautiful a capella singing with lovely harmonies.

But today it felt like a relief to sing traditional hymns accompanied by a wonderful organist on what seems to be (I know little of these things) a terrific pipe organ. What could be better than a grand opening hymn, organ booming, choir soaring, singing these words to the tune of Truro?

Redeemer, come! I open wide
my heart to Thee; here. Lord, abide.
Let me Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in me reveal.

(They had Wonder, Love and Praise in the pews, which we used only for the Sanctus this morning and I'm guessing it doesn't get used all that much there.)

So, Episcopalians. That's where I like to go on random days. I love the words of the Book of Common Prayer, though I do get tired of the male language. (My little congregation is adamantly gender-free in references to God and humanity. But Jesus, being both, is still allowed to be male.) I went to my neighborhood Episcopal church on Ash Wednesday and had high hopes because it was a) nearby and b) rumored to be progressive. It was both those things, but it was also very low church.

Here's the thing. If I want low church, there are a hundred denominations I can attend. When I go to an Episcopal service I want liturgy. Give me a little smells and bells, cause I'm not getting that with my Baptist buddies. Present the eucharist with dignity, cause that's what you folks do. If I want "chat and chew with Jesus" I can get that elsewhere.

Of course, I also like a church to be reasonably child-friendly and I don't want dignity to roll over into snobbery. If I come dressed in less than my best, I still want to feel at home. If I forget to genuflect or whether "Praise to you" or "Glory to you" comes before or after the gospel reading, I don't want to be made to feel foolish. But I've been to several Episcopal churches that have found just the right balance: good liturgy, warmth, a welcoming spirit, and a eucharist that makes me remember I am in the presence of Holiness.

Today's thoughts. To be continued.