Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Monday, October 20, 2014

Struggles and Sitcoms

Last week was rough. Daniel and I could not get our groove on, and though I should wake him up  now, I'll let him sleep so we have fewer minutes in which to struggle over breakfast cereal, backpacks and teeth-brushing. Morning battles are rough, but at least they are time-limited, whereas our evening battles can last an eternity. In one of last week's evening tussles, Daniel threw a book on the ground, and it happened to be The Day Mom Quit, by Nancy Seghetti. One of D's former teachers gave him this paperback, which he doesn't like because it's "scary."

Of course the idea of Mom quitting scares young children, and I made the situation ten times worse by saying that I did want to quit, that if he could not listen to me that I was going to head for the hills. That spurred his tears, which made me angrier (at myself), and it took us an hour to rewind and get him to bed  As I staggered downstairs, figuratively beating my head against a wall, I wondered why God saw fit to make me a parent. He must know what's right, but at times I doubt His judgment.

So I'm sitting on the couch arguing with God and wallowing in guilt when the older kids turn on "Modern Family."  In that particular episode, Claire and her husband and three kids are trapped in a hotel room together (5th level of hell). Claire yells, curses, and finally purchases a secret room as her own private get-away, abandoning the kids and hubby to noise and squalor. She's discovered, of course, and endless jokes and laughs ensue. I caught myself comparing my yells and runaway attempt with Claire's, wondering if they would be funny and not dreadful in the context of a sitcom. How can we let the characters on TV get away with so much in the name of laughs, but find our smallest actions weigh us down with unbearable guilt?  In my next life I'm coming back as a sitcom character . . .

Monday, October 13, 2014

Richard Rohr, Roberto and Karma

"Some Eastern religions have called the correspondence between who you are and what you can make happen or what will happen karma. And Jesus said it this way:
Do not judge, and you will not be judged,
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned,
Grant pardon, and you will be pardoned,
Give, and there will be gifts for you….
The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. "
                                                              –Luke 6:36-38 
-From Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation 10/13/14: Your Response is Your Reality, Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 160-162
I was at the detention center today, teaching the middle class of my three-week course. The story for today's lesson was "The Sparrow and the Hare," or, "El Gorrion y la liebra." In the story, the normally alert and speedy hare falls asleep in the sun and is caught by an eagle. The mean sparrow, whom no one likes, flies around the hare as he dangles in the eagle's claws and mocks him, laughing at his misfortune. Suddenly a hawk swoops out of the sky and gobbles the sparrow up in one mouthful.  When we discussed the lesson of the story, one of my students (we'll call him Roberto, though it's not his real name) said: "You shouldn't look down on someone who has a bad time. Like some people look down on us in here."  I felt my gut twist at the double punishment; they are locked up and swept aside, and they know that the rest of the country has little sympathy for their situation.  
He added, "You say we should practice the English, but when I try, sometimes the people laugh at me. It's true, it happened." It's so difficult to learn another language - especially as an adult - and I experience that every time I teach at the detention center. I get a few sentences out in Spanish and start to feel confident, then suddenly the well goes dry and I can't come up with the next word - or any word like it. I can always turn to the students for help and they rush to supply the word or phrase. They never laugh. Wish we could keep this in mind for folks learning English.

Karma. The detainees I see come to class when they could be watching movies or playing handball outside. They take pages of notes and volunteer to read despite their fear of mockery. They are shaping their reality the best they can. How do we think of them? Do we condemn or pardon? When we see them outside the walls what do we give?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese"

Asbolutely wonderful.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver

Here is a link to Oliver reading her poem on You Tube:  Mary Oliver reading Wild Geese

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Difficult Conversations

"Writing a poem is not so different - it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind."
 - Mary Oliver in A Poetry Handbook, p7

Mary Oliver's handbook on poetry reads like a poem, and her words about the courageous yet shy heart hold a universal truth that brings clarity to a period of difficult conversations in my life. I am 43 now, and my friends' ages are similar, which means that we have experienced some of the tragedies of life. We have walked or crawled through dark valleys and emerged with scars.

When we talk about the difficult times -when we cry or laugh hysterically through our tears - we get scared. Afterward we may have an "emotional hangover" when we regret sharing our innermost hurts, hopes and fears. When rational thought kicks back in, that courageous but shy heart turns back on itself to hide and heal.

This seems natural to me, especially after reading Oliver's beautiful line, but I so appreciate courageous sharing.  I would never wish any of my dear ones to travel through a vale of tears, just as I did not ask for, or enjoy, my own dark time. But now we can share heart-to-heart in a rich tapestry from great joy to deep sorrow. It's a blessed communion, and though rare, it connects us in ways that are holy and lasting.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Highlights and the High Life

I've read that the music of our teen years packs the greatest emotional wallop. The soundtrack for my junior and senior years leans heavily on the music of Steve Winwood and includes tracks from his Arc of a Diver, Back in the High Life,  and Roll With It albums. I was thrilled from my hooded head to my wool socked toes when Winwood played at Red Rocks last Wednesday. Despite the 45-degree temperature and a steady drizzle, my eyes were glued to the petite British musician as he rewarded my decades of fan-dom by playing "Back in the High Life" and "Higher Love."  I never thought I would hear Winwood play live, let alone at my favorite venue in the known universe. It was a bucket-list experience.

Winwood opened for Tom Petty, who always puts on a great show, but the drizzle turned into a downpour which was highlighted by the gigantic spotlights panning out from the stage. We would not have noticed the cold rain had it not been for the lights, because we were breathing in ginormous clouds of second-hand pot (gives new meaning to the phrase 'high life'). I was a bit shocked to see my own exhalations floating on the breeze, forgetting that the night was cold enough to crystallize a even a pot-free outbreath.

Last week also brought the gift of a frosty morning mountain hike with friends. Our feet slipped on heavy frost and fallen leaves as we tried to step lightly over the mud. Lost in conversation, we almost passed elk without seeing them, but were lucky enough to catch the bushy red tail of a fleeing fox, his black feet and white-tipped tail bright against a great grey rock. The week ended with Rob's annual epicurean adventure at Beer Fest and then a wonderful family day at home, beginning with church in the morning and ending with a long cuddle session on the couch. Such are the highlights of a busy autumn week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Jeffco Protest Update

For those whose news source is the Missoulian or the Ashland Times-Gazette and may not have read the recent updates on Jeffco civil disobedience:

"Hundreds of Jefferson County Schools students, teachers, and parents demonstrated before Thursday's board meeting in Golden."

"Two students from Standley Lake High presented the board with boxes filled with 40,000 signatures gathered online from people opposed to the curriculum committee concept."

"While the controversial section about patriotism and civil disorder had been stripped out of the proposal that went before the board Thursday, it didn't stop dozens of people from blasting the board for the idea..." (see Jesse Paul, Denver Post,, 10.3.14).

"Michelle Patterson, head of the Jefferson County PTA, told the board that 'civil protest is one of the highest forms of patriotism.' She said she has heard from many PTA members over the last few weeks objecting to the curriculum committee idea. 'If the teachers and students don't move you, do 13,000 angry parents get your attention?' she said."

The upshot was that the controversial proposal to sanitize AP US History was stripped from the board's discussion, and the board voted to include more teacher, student and community voices in the curriculum review process.  A slight victory, certainly. I wonder what Colorado parents, teachers and students could accomplish if they set their teeth into the 11 days lost to testing this year?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Civil Disobedience at School

Jefferson County has been civil disobedience central for the last few weeks. The school district, just northwest of here, has seen teachers walk out (or "sick out") and high school students skip school to protest actions of the conservative school board majority. The high number of teachers out sick on Monday resulted in two high schools closing for the day, and yesterday several dozen students from a middle school walked out of their classes to join the protests (Denver Post, 9/29/14 - 10/1/14, Teachers have been protesting a new evaluation system and curriculum changes for months, but a recent board decision to alter the AP US History curriculum galvanized students to their side.

The conservative majority of the Jeffco board proposed a committee to revise the AP US History materials. 'As initially proposed by board member Julie Williams, instructional material should promote "positive aspects" of U.S. history and avoid encouraging "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."' (Jesse Paul, Denver Post,, 10/1/14). Students, parents and teachers hit the streets with signs saying "don't censor history!" and "we will learn the truth". One student said "if they don't want to teach us civil disobedience then we will teach it to ourselves." (Denver Post, 9/25/14

Editorials in the Post have called for teachers to return to work and students to return to class. The editorial board exhorts students to learn more about the proposed changes and realize that any history curriculum leaves material out by default. I don't know a lot, but it looks like the students got the right memo. Who thinks that US History should be all about the "positive", without referencing worker's rights, women's suffrage, or the civil rights movement?

The protests get more interesting today, the official "count day" when the schools report attendance to the state, which then determines how much funding each school will get based on the number of students present. We received a letter from our elementary school strongly encouraging our students to attend on this day; I wonder what will happen if the protests continue in Jeffco through the count? The board says Colorado will look 5 days before and 5 days after the count to get a true picture of attendance but these protests have been going on for three weeks; who's calling who's bluff? The Jeffco board has really done a wonderful job in teaching civil disobedience and I commend them for getting students from ages 11 to 18 to join their teachers in a new rights' movement.