With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Friday, January 30, 2015

Struggling With the World

I have struggled with the world's craziness of late. Wars, bombings, environmental degradation - all have weighed me down. It's the age-old dilemma; is the world more light than dark, positive than negative?  I believe in the light and the trending toward God, but my belief weighs down with newspaper articles and glimpses of CNN at the gym. When I found this email from Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation in my inbox today, it gave me heart, and so I am passing it along to you in the hope that you will feel the same uplift.
"The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is not the oldest book of the Bible. The Genesis account of creation was likely compiled in its present form as late as 500 BC, and in fact, there are at least two different accounts that you can see in the first chapters. At the time it was written, the Jews were likely in exile, having been conquered by Babylon. There they were exposed to many creation stories.

Rob Bell described one of the most popular stories of that time, the Babylonian Enuma Elish, at CAC's CONSPIRE 2014 conference. Within the Enuma Elish, creation happens after a battle between two gods. The male god kills the female god, then tears her body apart and uses half of her to create the heavens and half to create the earth.

Rob points out that the driving engine of this story is violence, carnage, and destruction. The exiled Jews decided to write down their oral tradition, a confrontive narrative to the dominant creation story, in order to stay cohesive as a tribe among all the foreign influences. In the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis 1, God, who is "Creator" in verse 1, "Spirit" in verse 2, and "Word" in verse 3 (foretastes of what we would eventually call Trinity), creates from an overflowing abundance of love, joy, and creativity! Rob contends that the question of whether the engine of the universe is violence and destruction or overflowing love, joy, and creativity is still the question. He says we live our lives according to these deep forces within us, and the engine that drives us is deeply connected to the way we view the Universe. Is our starting point love or is it fear and hatred? How you begin is invariably how you end. And both possibilities are rather visible in our world today. (Boldface my addition - LD).

Our creation story says that we were created in the very "image and likeness" of God (Genesis 1:26) and out of a fully generative love. I love how Rob, and many other evolutionary Christians, says what this means for us: "We are created with a drive to self-transcend, to move beyond oneself for the joy and blessing of others." It is all positive, an original blessing instead of an original sin, sending us toward a cosmic hope. There is something within us, which Christians call the Holy Spirit, that makes us aware that we are here to co-create with God and make something beautiful of the world. Like the Trinity, the perichoresis (divine dance) of God, we are made to encircle others and creation in self-giving love, generosity, blessing, and service. When you start positive, instead of with a problem, there is a much greater likelihood you will move forward positively too."
Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, pp. 27-28,
and In the Beginning . . . Six hours with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr
on reclaiming the original Christian narrative
(CD, MP3 download) -- Coming soon!




Wednesday, January 28, 2015

For an Education

What would any of us do to obtain an education? It's hard to imagine because many of us take a good public education for granted  - at least if we live in a city and state where K - 12 education is still publicly funded.  We imagine that the days of walking 6 miles each way to sit at a rustic desk in a one-room school house are a century behind us. They're not. Those days still exist, in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Guatemala. We have sponsored students in each of those countries and each quarter their updates plant a seed of incredulity and awe in our hearts.

K, in Kenya, walked to school barefoot and overcame public sentiment against girls attending school to attend K - 8 grade. She made beaded bracelets to pay for textbooks and eventually boarding - financing her own way through the school for girls. She passed exams to qualify for high school and was sent to a school that suffered numerous setbacks last year. The principal / history teacher quit, leaving the students without a history teacher for three months. K did her best to study for the state exams on her own - which was difficult with the lack of oversight and the lack of textbooks (only 6 books for 46 students in her math class). When the school eventually found a nun to serve as principal, the other teachers went on strike for several weeks.  K's father and advocates are working to transfer K to a different school, but meanwhile she returns this month to the dysfunctional location. She writes that she will persevere on her journey.

W, in Guatemala, was unable to pass her courses and will have to repeat seventh grade. Her mother was ill last year and the whole family had to relocate from the countryside to the capital in order to find proper care. W and her siblings tried to go to school in Guatemala City, but their curriculum was disrupted and W found herself far behind when she returned to the John Wesley School near her home. She walks a distance each day to attend school and the tone of her letters is discouraged, but she writes my children to "study hard, especially in math and Science - they are important."

My children grumble about waking up early for class and we all grumble about homework. K and W are blessings to us because they remind us of the value of an education, and of how much children (especially girls) struggle around the world to go to school.  Our schools have rows of chrome books, shelves of paper books, and highly qualified and motivated teachers; we could not be more lucky. I hope that sense of gratitude and appreciation infuses all of our school days.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living in the House of Denial

"Oh the house of denial has thick walls
and very small windows
and whoever lives there, little by little,
will turn to stone."
- Mary Oliver, "Hum Hum," in A Thousand Mornings

I read Mary Oliver's poem in bed last night and stabbed my pen through the page in surprise. How could the universe know that I was in the house of denial at that very moment, not believing the truth that my daughter will register for high school in two weeks. I've watched her grow every minute and hour of the past thirteen and a half years so this should not come as a surprise, and yet, as I walked the halls of the high school last night at parent orientation, I felt guilty, as if a red T-shirted peer advisor would come to gently grasp my upper arm and lead me away from the group, then release me into the snow for pretending to be the parent of a rising ninth-grader.

My shock at the parent orientation was real, and I know this because I felt the heart-pounding, sweat-inducing stress of it; I also know this because I know our brains lie to us. My brain believes that I recently graduated high school myself, and that - if I could have just jumped into the new 8-lane pool and sprinted a few laps - I would have been forcefully recruited for the varsity swim team.
I don't remember the way my face looks after a mere forty-five minutes of goggle wearing (like the raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy without fur or bravado) or the fact that thirty years stand between me and my high school graduation.

Here's a quote from the NY Times to add some heft to my argument: "Adding to this innate tendency to mold information we recall is the way our brains fit facts into established mental frameworks. We tend to remember news that accords with our worldview, and discount statements that contradict it." ("Your Brain Lies to You," Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, New York TimesLink, retrieved 1/22/15). I believe I'm young, fit and strong, and so my brain discounts the truckloads of information that dispute that. It's so busy tossing out loads of old real data that it fails to take in new info.

When I ask my brain to take in data that I need now, like our insurance company, my password for the university's email, the steps I need to take to collect for hail damage, my brain draws a blank and then fills in something random. It does not want to admit that it doesn't know, so it makes stuff up. This article on cracked.com will explain: "It's like your brain is sitting in class, staring out the window at a cloud that sort of looks like a boob. When you call on your brain it does the same thing you do when a teacher calls on you in those circumstances: Start bull*****ing."  (5 Ways Your Brain is Messing With Your Head, Brian Walton, cracked.com,   link retrieved 1/22/15)

So what do we do when our brain lies, omits relevant data, even makes things up?  We stop, take a deep breath, and question our first response. We think for precious minutes while the insurance adjuster taps impatiently, our children yell in frustration, and our cats roll their eyes. We seek the truth so we can respond with the truth. Just as I - after a few deep breaths in the high school lobby - could answer another parent's question about my rising ninth-grader, remembering fully that I am now on the sidelines as chaffeur, chaperone and cheerleader, happy to watch as my kiddo takes central stage.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Falling off the Conveyor Belt

I talked my way through a 90-minute water polo practice last week with a new acquaintance who shares a lot of my interests - what a bonus! Our conversation started with surface details like ages, grades and sports' interests of our children and moved deeper as the practice wore on. By the end we had introduced our families (both of us one of five children) and their challenges - with illness, adoption, and so forth. While acknowledging the pain and difficulties around these issues, we agreed that heartache and trauma can change us, break us open, and make us better (at least decidedly different) people. She said, "challenges knock us off the conveyor belt of life and force us to find our own path. That's especially good because a lot of times we were put on the conveyor belt by someone else and were just randomly moving forward without thinking!"

The image stuck with me over the past few days. Our society does put us on conveyor belts, depending on our socioeconomic status, aptitude for school, parental demands. When we're placed on the belt as children we have no indication that this could be taking us in the wrong direction, and - desperate for approval - we stay, moving forward blindly through college and jobs, graduate school and more jobs, family life and obligations. These things are not bad, but would we have chosen them for ourselves? It's only when we are knocked off the belt by illness, by children, by extraordinary events, that we can struggle around in the darkness looking for our own way out.

It's hard to take a different path in our society and leaves one open for scrutiny and lack of understanding, but its fulfilling to make your own way, to learn how to listen to your gut. I like the image of many of us wandering around in the dusty under the machinery, brushing our clothes off and finding the light. We're not in lock-step, but we are together, many who got knocked off and are discovering their own way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Nature of Reality

I just got off the phone with my wonderful spiritual director, Dominie, and feel compelled to share a few of her wise nuggets. First, she reminded me that when we want things to be different from how they are, we suffer. I want my calendar to be less full and my health to be equal to when I was in my early 20's - so I suffer. By expecting to maintain the health and stamina of a much younger person without genetic autoimmune issues I am going against the nature of my reality, and that will only lead to stress and anxiety.

The good news: I can develop positive intentions that work with reality. I can respect my body and its natural limitations so that I can live in a state of health. I can examine my heart each day and determine what has the most meaning and importance, and what can be dropped from the to-do list. In some cases, I can leverage my energy and get a two-for-one, as in, I can spend time with my husband so that our self-nurture / alone time in turn creates a happier and healthier environment for the children.

Reality is a big mother-f*****, and if I take it on, I won't win. To see clearly is difficult; we have to wipe the fog of wishful thinking out of our eyes and sharpen the lenses of our truth-telling glasses. But when we see clearly and acknowledge reality, we can make things happen, or - even better - we can be the still point of the turning world.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Control Enthusiast

"Patrick Warburton has been called a control freak, but he prefers to be called a control enthusiast."
- National Car Rental Commercial

"I once had a grip on everything
It feels better to let go."
 - lyrics from "I'm Not Over" by Carolina Liar


The return to real life and busy schedules was a plunge into icy water and we all surfaced on Friday gasping for breath. The week before I had outlined the activities and appointments on my old-fashioned paper calendar in green, pink, blue and red and made myself ill with the number of items to be completed each day. As I gripped my pen more firmly and gritted my teeth (I have serious gum issues from all the jaw clenching), I heard the National Car Rental commercial in the background and I had to put it in the first person: "I have been called a control freak, but I prefer to be called a control enthusiast." 

As a control enthusiast, I am tempted to reaffirm my grip on the reins at every beginning: school, new year, summer, etc. After only a few days I realize that I am not in control at all - that illness, a snow storm, a call from a  friend in need - events can quickly and without warning disrupt all of my careful planning. My choice is to let go or be turned into a frazzled, grasping maniac. I let go, and I remember that this works, that somehow everything comes right in the end, whether the kids miss practice, the floor stays unwashed, or we have to wait three nights for a family dinner.   

It's better to let go, to ask for help and to realize that modeling imperfections for your kids only prepares them for the real world, where no one is perfect (and anyone who looks that way is only hiding something). So when we bounced between water polo, two basketball games and a swim clinic yesterday we let go of the reins, called the neighbors, and drank a lot of water. Somehow it worked out, and we made it to a party and babysitting (x2) last night. The cat was grumpy and laundry still going at 10:30 pm, but neither was fatal and we're ready to go again this morning.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Grace and Families

“What most of us live by and for is the love of family – blood family, where the damage occurred, and chosen, where a bunch of really nutty people fight back together. ....  And by the same token, only redeeming familial love can save you from this crucible, along with nature and clean sheets."
-          -Anne Lamott, “Voices” in Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace


This morning I bought some cards - a birthday card, two notes of sympathy for friends who recently lost a parent, and two 'welcome baby' cards. Life is surely a crucible, and I was relieved that the mathematics of my card-buying leaned toward the celebratory. In the face of life's difficulties, nothing seems more glorious, joyful, and just plain hopeful as the birth of a healthy baby. We had the occasion to celebrate such a miracle this week as my youngest brother James and his wife, Molly, welcomed their first child. Little Jack is gorgeous, and the gift of two family babies in a six-month period (nephew and cousin Thomas arrived six months ago) is the lead story at my house. In addition, my brother – in – law, Ron, and his wife, Kelley, just told Rob’s side of the family that they were expecting, which elated my children and inspired an argument around which was more necessary - a boy or girl cousin.

Like everything human-related, families are imperfect. My family of origin jokes that we get along so well because everyone has their own state - sometimes their own time zone. We're living in Los Angeles. San Francisco (northern and southern California really are two different states), northern Montana, Denver, Chicago and Boston. Though more a reaction to job markets and climate preference than a response to "damage occurred" it can be both blessing and curse to be separated by so many miles. Little celebrations pass without family members around, hard times go by and sometimes we don't even know what or whom to pray for. But our big celebrations and our really hard times are definitely noticed - and embraced in all the right ways.

When I was a child getting wounded by the world, my solution to bettering myself (and the rest of civilization) was to 'make it big:' publish the Great American Novel, start a peaceful revolution in Africa, become the CEO of a green company. After years spent establishing and growing a family of my own I realize that all I need to 'make it' on this planet is the love and support of my families - of origin, of creation, of friends who are chosen. 


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Launching into 2015

On the way back from skiing last night we were listening to the 80's channel on Sirius Xm and Prince's “1999” came on. William asked why Prince had sung about 1999 in the 80’s, and I told him that – at the time – the pending change to a new century had seemed like a big deal. “Oh,” he said confusedly.  It is hard to remember in this year of our Lord 2015 why 1999 seemed like a big deal. Time keeps pushing on, and we could mark its passage yesterday in Daniel’s improved skiing – he made it from the top of the mountain to the bottom without issue of any kind!

Despite the fun day of skiing I think we are ready to end vacation and get back to real life. My suspicions arise from the sudden spike in teenage / tween moodiness and agitation, sibling bickering and lack of food in the pantry. While sledding on New Year’s Day our neighborhood nearly witnessed bloodletting on the hill as the boys took to piledriving one another into the snow. When I scolded them by saying how shocked the neighbors would be, one son said, “No, mom, they’ll just think you can’t control your kids.”  School time, anyone?


We enjoyed New Year’s despite the full contact sledding, watching fireworks with neighbors and enjoying the college football semifinals. My younger brother Michael went to the University of Oregon, and my parents and siblings lit up the text-ways one more time as Oregon cruised to victory. Mom’s comment on the pretty new uniforms and Karen’s note on how Marcus Mariota goes easy on the eyes served as contrast to Michael’s passionate fandom and gratitude for his team’s chance at the championship. Then Rob’s team, Ohio State, achieved a hard-won victory over Alabama and our day was complete.  Now “back to life, back to reality” as (80’s band Soul II Soul would say). 2015 will wait for no one.