Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Creating a Butterfly Garden

I have wanted to create a more beautiful space since I first saw the ugly tables that sit on the top floor of our parking garage.  I had a vision of a small garden in pots.  But I worried about bringing them to such a harsh landscape.  But in many ways, every part of South Florida is a harsh landscape of penetrating sunshine and periods of drought mixed with flood.  I continued to dream.

As I thought about beautifying the space, I thought about butterfly plants.   They're usually hardier varieties of plants, and they have the added bonus of attracting beautiful butterflies.  Plus, my pastor knows a lot about creating a viable butterfly garden out of ugly space. 

I reached out to him to see if he had some seedlings.  He said sure, and on Monday night, I picked them up.  I was expecting a few sprouts.  He gave me full grown plants:

My friend who is moving to a smaller space donated the pots that I put them in:

Once I had the area set up, I realized I had room for more.  My pastor had additional plants, so yesterday, I picked up two more plants:

Late in the day, I had a vision of inspirational rocks, so I picked up the chunk that I had on hand and painted it freehand:

Yes, I have the kind of office where I have a paintbrush and a variety of paints.  And yesterday, plants!

Yesterday when I opened my office door, a co-worker joked that my office is like the general store in the country, with plants here, and a bakery there.  I said, "All I need is some chicken feed, and I'd be set."

But as the day went on, and I worked on the butterfly garden in between my traditional administrator tasks, I thought that my office is more like the office of a retreat center.

And now I'm dreaming of a labyrinth in the ugly parking lot . . .

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Retreat Endings--and Other Endings?

At our Mepkin Abbey retreat, we had a really wonderful ending to the retreat.  We spent some time on Sunday morning reflecting on what we had just experienced and writing a letter to ourselves.  Our leaders suggested we record three take-aways and then three practices we hoped to institute after the retreat.  They gave us envelopes to be self-addressed, and sometime in the next few months, the leaders will mail our letters.

I'd have been happy with that ending, but our leaders did something much more special.

We gathered in the chapel after lunch for our closing ritual.  We read from our letters.  And then, our retreat leaders read a letter of encouragement they'd written to each individual.  That letter will be mailed with the letters we wrote to ourselves.

Each letter showed that the leaders had been listening deeply as the retreat went along.  I was astonished at the level of detail--and at the fact that they had been able to get them all written in the short space of time.

We then did a closing prayer, with an anointing of the hands and foreheads of each individual.  Here, too, we had an unusual twist.  We each blessed the oil before the prayer began.  Each person in the circle held the vial of oil, blessed it with words given to us, and then breathed in a word that we wished to see manifest for each of us as we moved forward (for example:  "patience" or "vision for a different future" or "grace").

I left feeling blessed in a multitude of ways.

I wondered about ways I might take this kind of ending with me into other parts of my life, especially the letter writing.  Could I do this in a traditional classroom?

I used to teach over 100 students a quarter, so writing an individual letter to each one might not be feasible.  And most places I've taught would not have given me the postage.

But if a teacher offered me a letter mailed later if I provided the self-addressed, stamped envelope, I'd have done that.  And even if students didn't want a letter mailed, having students write their future selves a letter could be very meaningful.  They could seal it and open it at a future time.

I've done that with a church group.  At the beginning of a year, we wrote down what we hoped to accomplish, what our deepest yearnings were, where God might be calling us.  I kept the letters and gave them back at the end of the year.  Most people had forgotten writing them.  Most people found it meaningful to receive the letters.

I like the idea of closing rituals too, but I've spent most of my life in public institutions where I might get in trouble for any sort of ritual that seemed religious, even if I tried to make it ecumenical or secular.  That idea still calls to me.  I like the idea of an anointing of hands ritual at the beginning of a writing class.  But I'm teaching online, so that's not feasible, at least not in the way I'm thinking now.

It's time to anoint myself in a different way--time to get ready for the day.  I'm creating a small butterfly garden at school.  More on that tomorrow.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Leadership Insights on a Sunday Morning

I've been doing a lot of thinking about leadership and different leadership styles.  Do we trust the teams that we've hired to do good work?  Or do we feel that they won't do good work unless we're constantly checking on them?

As various people have chimed in on their ideas about how faculty should be managed, I have realized that I operate out of a place of trust: we've hired good faculty who cover the course objectives in masterful ways, and I'm going to stay in the background and let them do their work. 

Yesterday, I listened to an episode of On Being that looked at whether or not we can bring our whole selves into the workplace.  This part seemed worth recording:  "There are times in which those who have power need to speak with authority. But too often, we mistake and conflate that action for the day-to-day “directing” of people’s lives. And I think that leadership is much more subtle, much harder, and ultimately, more life-giving, more fulfilling. And that is, the leader’s role isn’t to be the authoritative figure telling everybody what to do and how to do it, but to be the model for creating a container in which their best possible work can get done and to perhaps remove obstacles from the paths that are in front of their colleagues so that they can then grow into their best possible selves. That feels very strong, very firm, and not particularly authoritarian."

The whole episode, an interview between Krista Tippett and Jerry Colonna was full of important insights.  Colonna noted that just as most of us are working out our childhood family dramas in our grown-up relationships, we're often doing that at work too:  "And so the middle way is to recognize that none of us leaves our personal stuff at the door, that we are always seeking to replicate structures from our childhood, and, by reinforcing that we have a shared sense of purpose, a shared sense of mission, and a shared commitment to work, we can use that as a kind of exoskeleton structure so that, internally, we can each do our work but not expect the organization to solve the wounds of our childhood. When we use our work environments to try to heal our wounds, we are actually opening ourselves up to even more pain and suffering."

Later, Colonna quoted Parker S. Palmer, a favorite of many of us who listen to On Being:  "Again, our friend Parker Palmer likes to say that violence is what we do when we don’t know what to do with our suffering. And I think that corporations, businesses, have a well-earned reputation for inflicting a kind of suffering on our communities and our planet; and I think that a lot of that stems from the fact that the leaders in those corporations don’t know what to do with their suffering, and so they inflict it on others. And so we see a kind of callowness, a kind of inhumanity, constantly perpetuated."

They circled back to the central question of how we know we're doing our best work and bringing our best selves to work. Colonna said, "There’s a line from David Whyte, which we use all the time, my colleagues and I, which is, “Good work, done well, for the right reasons.” And when I can lay my head down on the pillow at night, saying to myself, “Good work, done well, for the right reasons,” then I feel that I have done enough, and I am enough. And when I can hold that, then I understand that that is the kind of leader I am. I am not the kind of leader that is rapaciously seeking more, more, more. And when I can feel my way into that, then I know that the kind of adult I am, the kind of man that I am, is a man who knows — dare I say it — when to rest."

What an eloquent way of looking at leadership!  How I wish more people had these ways of leading.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sketching Discernment

I slept later than usual this morning--in part because of tiredness, in part because we spent much of yesterday hanging our new drapes.  They are light blocking drapes, so we didn't have the natural light to help us wake up.

I often sleep a bit later than usual on Sundays.  If I can sleep, I'm happy to get a bit more.  But usually, I can't sleep, especially if I know I need to get up for spin class.

I spent part of yesterday falling down a rabbit hole of looking at real estate in other areas--actually, just one other area, my college town of Newberry, SC.  I could get a historic house, but it looks like it may need some work.  I am tired of home repairs, and I understand the sucking neediness of a historic home. 

I could get a goat farm outside of town.  I wonder if the goats come with it.  That site had a picture of some huge pigs as well.

I am astonished by how much one's monthly mortgage goes down when one isn't living in South Florida, with the high property taxes and the even higher insurance.

I also looked through my sketchbook.  I was struck by this one that I made during a presentation on clergy coaching while I was at Synod Assembly:

I also made this reminder for us all.  If thinking in terms of a call is too religious, you could substitute language about being the person you were born to become.  That's pretty cumbersome--a call is more eloquent.  It doesn't have to be God calling.  It could be your soul or your childhood self or what the world most needs you to be:

And here's a sketch from language from the opening prayer for our Friday Synod Assembly.  It's a good reminder that God can create beauty in even the most chaotic times.  And so can we.  It's also a reminder that Divine timing may not be our timing.  And that there is value in imperfection--another good reminder for our chaotic times.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

What Discernment Means to Me

As I was driving home from Mepkin Abbey, I thought about the fact that about a year ago, we started packing up our possessions in our process to get ready to begin the hurricane damage repair and restoration project.

Regular readers know that many of those possessions are still in boxes in the cottage.  As I drove the length of Florida on Monday, I gave myself a pep talk:  it's fine that things are still in boxes now, since the repairs and restorations took longer than expected.  It's not O.K. if they're still in boxes in a year.

Or maybe it will be O.K.  Maybe then I'll be convinced that there's no need to keep them.

Sometimes it's important to change our language.  Similarly, when I've been thinking about the future, I'm using words like discernment, as I think about the second half of life, and what I want that to look like.

What I'd really like (but I don't know if it would pay the bills): to work in a retreat center. To create retreats and programs that explore the intersections of creativity and spirituality--and I use those words creativity and spirituality in the largest ways possible. I think that the needs of people at midlife are overlooked by churches and by the larger society. We're so focused on youth and on the aging. I want to work in a place that's focused on the hungers and yearnings of people. That could happen in a higher education institution--but I'm distressed by how much debt we ask people to take on for a college degree and I'm weary of the compliance and assessment work that seems to come along with higher ed these days.

I also return to a vision of being a retreat coordinator who creates online retreats so that camps and retreat centers already in existence don't have to create them. They provide x amount of students, and for a pre-determined price, I deliver a retreat to those people. I can't imagine doing this part-time, but I'm also not yet ready to take the leap to creating that kind of company--lots of legwork.

I envision doing that, though, if something happens to my current job. Or if I keep thinking about it and creating a plan. I would yoke that with a dream of having a practice as a spiritual director--like a life coach, but with a spiritual lens.

While I was at Synod Assembly a few weeks ago, I talked to a woman who is finishing this program which gives a certificate in spiritual direction.  She says that there's a huge interest in people having a spiritual director. When one gets the certificate, one gets added to a database of directors. She's already had calls from people, even before she finished the program.

That program has a next class starting in Jan. of 2020, and right now, I'm leaning towards doing that regardless. I've been wanting to do this kind of program for a long time. This one is affordable and I can do it in my current job. It has on-campus intensive times, as do most distance learning programs, but it's a Wed-Sat. time, which is much more doable--the other program I was looking at for spiritual direction requires a week away. The seminary program I was thinking about requires a 2 week time away, which is not as easy in my current job.

Thinking of myself as being in a time of discernment helps my mood. I'm moving towards something different, although I'm unsure of the shape of it.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Random Thoughts on a Summer Solstice Morning

I've been trying to catch up with my grading, which means I'm feeling a bit more fragmented, for some reason.  Let me write a collection of thoughts, which may or may not be connected.

--Once each quarter, I need to get faculty contracts to HR, which is a much more complex process than you would expect.  It involves getting faculty to sign the contracts, scanning them, saving them to my file, uploading them to an HR site, and updating a log with some of the same information that's on the contract.  Last quarter, the copy machine that does the easiest scanning wasn't working, so this quarter, I got that scanning done early.  Yesterday, the HR site was down.

--While I was waiting for the site to be operational again, I submitted my full-length book manuscript to Sundress Publications.  I've admired that press for years, but never been able to figure out how to submit.  Yesterday, I didn't wait, even though the reading period lasts until August 15.  I just went ahead and sent the manuscript.  Here's information about submitting, if you're interested.

--It's one of those submissions that require a book purchase, which I prefer to a contest fee.

--As Wednesday night moved to Thursday morning, I woke up with a vision of a traveling arts person who would go from church to church creating interesting opportunities for parishes.  I woke up thinking about a bookmobile for churches, a van full of art supplies.  That vision kept returning to me yesterday.

--I think that many churches are open to creative experiences beyond the usual ones that involve music, but many of them don't have lay leadership (or staff leadership) with ideas about how to involve more of our creative capacities.

--Or maybe I just had that idea because I went to a Tuesday night meeting about the future of our church.  We have had an offer for some of our land, which would mean we'd build a new building in the back.  But what kind of building?  We had a brief discussion about the possibility of a food truck.

--I've been exhausted all week, sleeping a bit longer than is usual for me.  But this morning, I woke up as I was about to fall out of bed.  I never really got back to my apocalyptic dreams.

--Here we are at the longest day of the world:  summer solstice!  I don't have any pagan celebrations planned, but I do remember past solstice parties.  This year will be a bit more subdued with my spouse teaching his last meeting of his Friday class tonight.  But there will be burgers at work--time to empty the freezers where we've stored the 33 hamburger patties from a past open house.  And tonight, there will be some time with an old friend this evening while my spouse teaches.  If I make time for some reading, my day will contain some of the best elements of summer:  reading, cook outs, reconnecting!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A New Poet Laureate and Thoughts on What Makes Art Valuable

I have been feeling a strange sense of accomplishment because I finished a book in the same week I started it. It's not that I don't read books anymore, although I don't read them the way I used to. But it takes me forever to finish them, unless they're super compelling or unless I'm on a plane or somewhere where the Internet doesn't distract me.

I am the person who always had her nose stuck in a book--as a child, as a teen, as a student, as a commuter, in every facet of life.  Now I'm still reading, but I'm more likely to have my nose stuck in front of a computer screen.  I still read a lot, but I read shorter pieces.

News that might have once taken days or weeks to get to me now finds me in a matter of minutes.  As we all know, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Yesterday, I read the breaking news that Joy Harjo has been named the next poet laureate of the U.S.

I saw a Facebook comment that remarked that the recent choices for poet laureate have been fabulous.  I agree:  Natasha Trethewey, Traci Smith--beyond that, I'd have to look up the list, but I'm rarely annoyed at the pick.

Sure, I'd like it to be me, but I also know I'm nowhere near accomplished enough.  That's O.K.  I have time.  I turn 54 in a few weeks, and Harjo is 68.  But even if I'm never accomplished enough, I'm happy that I've kept writing, kept submitting, kept checking in with this deepest part of myself that I access through poetry.

Poetry--both poems written by me and poems written by others--has taken me to places I wouldn't have found otherwise.  If you asked me to define good art, worthy art, that kind of definition would leap to mind.

In Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson.  the book that I just finished in the same week that I started reading it, Marilynne Robinson says that good literature is subversive, which she defines this way:  "It [literature] wants very much for you to think about something in a way that you would not otherwise" (p. 182).  She goes on to say that Christianity functions in much the same way and finishes by saying"  Christ became a slave.  It undercuts cultural assumptions about what is valuable, what the hierarchies in fact are and so on.  Art sort of reproduces that great overturning whenever it's good art" (p. 182).

In the transcript of the conversation between Robinson and Rowan Williams, they go on to analyze democracies.  Robinson says, "But the issue for a democratic citizen is the questions, 'What kind of world do I want to make for the people around me?  What kind of reality do I want the people who I call my community to live in?  How can I create institutions or support traditions or whatever that actually free and enlarge the people around me?'" (p. 187).

Those ideas, too, seem like ones that lead us to valuable art.  

Joy Harjo has made great art--poetry, music, historiography--that has the effect on readers that Robinson describes.  I was thrilled to hear her speak at the 2018 AWP.  I took some pictures at her session.

I was fascinated by her wrist, where her tattoos that have a look of ancient ancestors meet her smart watch.

Her hand and arm seem like a fitting metaphor for much of her work.  I look forward to seeing what she does in this new position of prominence.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Different Online Spiritual Journaling Workshop

Today I begin a different online journaling workshop.  Mepkin Abbey wanted to develop a program for those of us far away from the Abbey, so they have created something they're calling Zip Code Contemplatives.  Those of us who are geographically close are gathering online to do some journaling and have some lectio divina.  People who are truly in the same zip code might decide to meet in person, but since my group contains people from various places in the lower part of the Florida peninsula, we're not likely to do that.

We are working our way through a group of CDs by the Marist brother Don Bisson--the title is Individuation:  Beyond "Happy and Normal."  This morning, I listened to the first 3 tracks.  Tonight at 7, we will gather in an online space (a Zoom meeting).  We will do some talking and do some individual journaling.  It should be interesting.

I'm doing some sketching along with writing.  It helped me stay focused on the CD tracks.  As I'm doing more to stay on task and stay focused, I am realizing how easy it is for my attention to wander.

Of course, the danger with sketching is that I can be so focused on the sketching that I forget to listen.

This morning's tracks reminded us again and again that society gives us all sorts of false messages.  We go to therapy to get some insight, and we often go again and again, getting the same insights.  But very few of us can live with the insights--we're in a quick fix culture after all.  Plus it's often a tough message/insight to live with--the idea that the ego isn't in control of its own destiny.

One of the final messages spoke to me:  the idea that we have a beautiful garden, where we continually plant weeds that choke the garden.  The weeds are the false dreams and illusions that our larger culture gives us.  The true self is the beautiful garden.

It will be interesting to see if my fellow contemplatives notice different things.  I'll return to make some follow up observations. 

I'm interested in this process for many reasons, chief among them is that I think that more and more of us will be less and less able to get away for a full retreat.  Can online retreats nourish us?  And if so, will it be in similar or different ways?

I'm also interested, of course, because I have visions of being a retreat leader in the future--whether as a full-time job or a volunteer ministry.  These kinds of things can nourish those of us in a congregation to be closer, even if we can't gather in person throughout the week.

And of course, I'm interested in what I can learn for my online teaching, particularly if I move into jobs where I have some creativity and control.  Right now I don't--but in the future, I might.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An Overview of My Latest Mepkin Retreat

This time yesterday, I'd have been on the road for an hour.  I got up, made my thermos of coffee using a ridiculous amount of pods in the fancy Keurig machine, and drove down the very dark country roads under a full moon.

I saw the same moon rise the night before while I was walking the labyrinth one last time.  Most of the retreatants, including my two friends, had already gone home.  In our Sunday morning session, one of the retreat leaders told us of his experience walking the labyrinth under the full moon, and I felt this regret that I hadn't thought of it--but then I realized I still had one night left.

Watching the light drain from the sky after the sun set while seeing the glow from the rising moon was very cool.  Was it mystical?  No, not really.  I knew that I was fairly safe, but I still felt a bit uneasy.  Plus it was a bit humid and buggy.  But I do love a good moonrise:

The moonrise walk was not my only walk in the labyrinth.  I also walked with a group on Saturday morning.  We got to the center of the labyrinth and sat in silence together.  I looked at a dragonfly and marveled at its eyes.  I don't often sit and gaze at something--oh, let's be honest, I never do that.  It was wonderful.

Other highlights of the long week-end at Mepkin Abbey:

--I did get some writing done.  I had an idea for a poem about Noah's daughter, and I wrote it.  I also got an idea driving home about Noah's descendants selling the ancestral lands that once grew citrus fruits.  This morning, I wrote that poem.

--The weather was amazing.  I got out of the car on Friday and was struck by the lack of humidity.  It was warm, but I could walk from place to place without breaking a sweat.  On Saturday morning, it was downright cool.  What a treat to sleep with an open window.

--The retreat was a structured retreat, which is different from the majority of retreats that I've made at Mepkin.  Although I enjoyed our time together, it was strange to have less time for all the worship services.

--One of the retreat leaders is a specialist in a Japanese form of energy alignment and realignment, Jin Shin Jyutsu.  I had never heard of it before.  She called it accupuncture, but with fingers instead of needles.  I had a session on Sunday morning.  I stretched out on my back (clothed) on a massage table, and for an hour, she put light pressure on a variety of points on my body.  I felt interesting tingles on whole sides of my body, and at one point, my right hand fell asleep.  At various points, I fell asleep.  For hours afterward, I did feel energized beyond my normal after-nap feeling.

--I read most of a book of academic essays, Balm in Gilead:  A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson.  It was wonderful, and I felt my brain come alive.  I plan to reread Gilead, which I read in 2005 and loved it.  Maybe I'll read the whole trilogy again--and there will be a 4th book soon.

--The best part of the retreat was the chance to reconnect with old friends from my past.  We often meet at Mepkin, but it's been harder with the new retreat center and the new approach to retreats--the slots fill up fast.  I hadn't seen them in 2 years, and we agreed that we need to get together more often, even if it can't always be Mepkin.

--One of these friends is the one who said to me, "You've been talking about being a spiritual director for some time now.  Maybe you should look into that more seriously."  That was years ago.  This year I'm looking into programs and making plans and also considering seminary.  This same friend said to me this year, "You really come alive when you talk about these plans."

--I worry that I'll make decisions based on how I can fit them into my current life, rather than making decisions that will lead to the life I really want.  I feel like I've been fitting my true passions into the crooks and crannies of what's left over after I do what I need to do to pay the bills.  There's less and less time these days, and I mean that in all kinds of ways.

--I loved having long walks and beautiful gardens to see.  The hydrangeas were in full bloom--breathtaking!

--It was good to have time away.  It made me sad about all the reasons why I get so desperate for time away, and also sad about all the people whom I love and whom I wish I could see more often.

--I have returned home resolved to get some affairs into order.  It's been almost a year since I boxed up everything and moved it into the cottage.  I need to make some decisions about all that stuff.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Off to Mepkin Abbey

Tomorrow I am off to Mepkin Abbey.  My spouse will stay at the house, since he's got a Friday class to teach.  While I am there for a retreat on caring for caregivers, I'm also looking forward to getting writing done.

Some years, I've headed to Mepkin Abbey near February feast days and come home with interesting poems.  This year, I'm traveling with poems of Noah's wife in my head.  I'm looking forward to having time to write them down.

Two years ago, I went to a retreat at Mepkin in June.  I hope the gardens are blooming this year the way they were last year.

I'm planning on a quick stop at the SC Artisans center in Walterboro.  When I was there in November, they were constructing a cafe.  I hope to get a snack and artistic inspiration before I head up 17A to the Abbey.

I won't be posting as I go along.  Unlike many retreat centers, Mepkin Abbey doesn't provide Internet connectivity.  In fact, the copper roofs of the new retreat center make it tough to get a connection, even if one has a smart phone.  I'm actually happy about that.  I'd like to get some reading done.

So, there will be rich blog posts ahead as I look back on this upcoming week-end.  Now it's time to get the work of today done so that I can hit the road tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Shackles Off!

A few weeks ago, I was yearning to revisit a time when all things seemed possible.  The books that lead me in those directions are all packed away.  Happily, there are libraries!

I've been reading Martha Beck's Steering by Starlight:  Find Your Right Life, No Matter What.  In some ways, it hasn't told me anything I didn't already know. In fact, I probably read it when it first came out.  I'm a big fan of the power of positive thinking--but books like this one don't do enough to talk about the structural issues that might be stacked against us.

Still, there were some great nuggets.  Let me capture 2 of them:

"The Buddha often said that whenever you find water, you can tell if it's the ocean because the ocean always tastes of salt.  By the same token, anywhere you find enlightenment--whatever improbable or unfamiliar shape it may have assumed--you can tell it's enlightenment because enlightenment always tastes of freedom.  Not comfort.  Not ease.  Feedom." (p. 42)

"If you do nothing more than choose whatever feels most 'shackles off' to you, moment by moment, you will fulfill your best destiny.  . . .   Don't wait for your lizard fears to go away; they never will, as long as you have a brain.  You will never realize your best destiny through the avoidance of fear.  Rather, you will realize it through the exercise of courage, which means taking whatever action is most liberating to the soul, even if you are afraid." (p. 44, emphasis the author's)

Yesterday I wrote to the woman at the Synod office who's in charge of discernment and candidacy:  "I am most interested in the areas where creativity and theology intersect. I am also interested in serving people at midlife. I think the church has often done a great job of ministering to youth, but we tend to ignore vast swaths of populations at midlife who are often wrestling with a variety of profound issues."

I love that the church realizes that people can hear a call in many different ways.  I like the idea of a process of discernment, which I'm hoping will lead to my discovery of what feels most "shackles off."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Prayer Frame Instructions

As I posted pictures of the prayer frame I created, I realized that the instructions couldn't be read in the photos.  Let me rectify that here.

Here's what I wrote:

Think about the prayer that’s most important right now. Is it a prayer of gratitude, or a request for assistance or a prayer of appreciation? What does your soul most need to articulate?

Now choose a strip of cloth to represent that prayer. Use it as the next layer in the frame, weaving the strip of cloth over and under the yarn.

As you weave, offer up your prayer.

If you feel moved, pray for the others who have woven strips of prayer together.

Reflect on the whole cloth that is being created when we pray both as individuals and as part of a group.


As I wrote it, I wanted to be aware of all the people who would be baffled if they discovered the prayer frame and strips of cloth in a prayer chapel.  I wanted to write clear instructions--and I wanted to write them for people who may have never woven or braided anything ever before.  I did weave a few strips at the bottom, a start to show people what it would look like as we went along.

I thought it had a bit of poetry about it.  And I loved the weaving that we created together:

Monday, June 10, 2019

Monday Fragments

Let me capture some thoughts about this particular moment in June before they disappear:

--I spent part of Synod Assembly trying to find time to reconnect with my campus pastor from undergraduate school.  He's gone on to work for Novus Way, which runs the four church camps that I love most.  We never found time at Synod Assembly, but he was in town yesterday, so he came over for a quick coffee with my spouse and me.  What a wonderful talk!  It is amazing to sit with someone who has known us both for all of our adult lives.  He was also my grandmother's pastor, after he left campus ministry and before this job.  He was an amazing parish pastor.

--One of the interesting facts I picked up from Synod Assembly and that my campus pastor also noted:  we have a shortage of people coming out of seminary.  There are more jobs than there are pastors to fill them--and not just in places like North Dakota.

--My spouse and I spent a delightful afternoon on the porch yesterday, after our coffee with our campus pastor, watching the thunderstorms roll through.  We dreamed of the types of retreats we might create. 

--I have been fighting off a cold for weeks now.  I have a lot of congestion, but it's all in my throat.  I've never had a crud quite like this, but I'm not the only one who's dealing with it.  I wonder if this kind of cold is making the rounds in other areas.

--Yesterday, I got to church early to decorate for Pentecost.  I used the banners and glass blocks we made last year, which made me happy to see them:

I draped the big cactus underneath the cross in red and orange netting--did it resemble flames?

This picture shows some dangling ribbons:

What you can't see is the fan beneath them.  I was trying to make people think of the Holy Spirit as rushing wind, but it was more like a gentle breeze.  Still, I liked watching them move and weave themselves in and out--that, too, seemed like a good metaphor to me.

--And now, back to regular life.  Time to make the bread/baked goods run for my school.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Creating a Prayer Frame for the Prayer Chapel

Once there were raw materials:  strips of fabric, yarn, branches, a frame designed for posters.

I spent Friday morning creating a frame for the prayer project I envisioned for the chapel at Synod Assembly.  I had a smaller frame that I used last year with our church, but I couldn't get the yarn tight enough.  I thought it might do, but by Friday, I wanted something better.  Plus, I bought the frame and didn't particularly want to take it back to the store.

Taking the frames through the Synod Assembly crowds at different days and times helped publicize the fact that we had a chapel.  It was far away from the traffic patterns, but people still found it and made their way to weave some prayers.

The finished project was part of the altar area of the Synod Assembly.  It will go to the Synod Office.  The woman who asked me to participate was pleased with the project and asked if I'd help next year.  Of course I said yes.  I feel good about this first foray into helping create a prayer chapel for Synod Assembly.

As I was getting the baskets after the closing service, a woman rushed forward.  She said, "Wait, wait, I want a picture.  I've been waiting for a good time to get a picture all morning."  Hurrah!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Report from the First Full Day of Synod Assembly

As I have moved through the Synod Assembly, I've taken a mental note of many things.  Because I'm traveling with a laptop, I'm not making as many handwritten notes as I might have.  But the laptop is in my room.  I wonder if I'm losing anything?  And of course, I have to wonder if it matters.

I did go back to look at old blog posts yesterday.  I was trying to determine when I was last at Synod Assembly as a voting member--it was in 2013.  In 2014, we came to the Assembly for a day so my spouse could go to a board meeting.  When I looked at my posts on my theology blog, I discovered this one from 2013 that shows that I've been thinking about seminary for a long time.

Happily, Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore the new dean and rector of Southern Seminary, reminded us yesterday that "there is no sell-by date on a call."

This Assembly has been one of the ones where I wonder why we bother to meet in person.  Most of the people running in any of the elections are running unopposed.  The reports that we've gotten could have been delivered by way of e-mail.

Still, it's good to meet in person, and I remind myself that many of the people here may need these face-to-face encounters in ways that I can never fully understand.  I ran into an old friend from my former church, and it was great to have a chance to sit with her at the WELCA table and catch up.

This year, I'm also in charge of one of the prayer stations in the chapel.  I created a prayer weaving station:

By last night, the loom was half full--that made me very happy.  The prayer chapel is very far away from the rest of the Synod events.  I'm not sure I would have found it if I hadn't been looking for it.  I brought too many strips of fabric, but that's O.K.  I'd rather be overprepared, especially since we drove here, so it didn't take much extra effort/money, the way it would have if I had to fly.

Last night, we went to a church that's also a brewery:

In the photo above, I'm standing next to one of the founders (the one in the white shirt).  He used to have an extensive home brewery set up in his garage, where people would gather to sample his beer and talk theology.  Still, the steps it took to go from the garage to the building they're in now--it sounded daunting to me.

Of course, it sounds daunting because it's not something I want to do.  What vision would make me want to fling myself at all the obstacles?

Last night, I wrote this Facebook post:   "Interesting to go to a brewery that's also a church--I would not want to create/be in charge of a brewery that's also a church. A church that is also an urban/suburban retreat and arts center--now that could be thrilling!"

There have been moments here where I've thought that once again, I'm with a group of people who would only understand part of me, the spiritual part, not the creative part.  The only place where I feel I'm with a tribe of sorts is at the Create in Me retreat.  And even there, I sometimes find myself yearning for more intellectual heft, depending on the type of Bible study we're doing.

That yearning for integration may never be fully realized--I do know that.  But it also makes me wonder if I should be contemplating an on-ground seminary program.  Southern Seminary has just announced a commitment to having their graduates leave with no debt--hurrah.  And it's in Columbia, SC, where I went to grad school and still have friends and community there.

Could we have a Florida base and a Carolina base (whether in Columbia or at Lutheridge)?  As my old boss used to say, "More will be revealed."

Now, it's time for breakfast.  One HUGE difference between this gathering of Lutherans and the gathering of AWP folks:  Lutherans get to breakfast early.  I don't have the omelette line all to myself, the way I do at AWP gatherings, where writers have stayed up too late to get up early for breakfast.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Sketching the Synod Assembly

Last week-end, I tried to follow the Southeastern Synod Assembly from a distance--they were electing a bishop, and I knew two of the candidates.

Our Florida-Bahamas Synod Assembly has not been nearly so thrilling.  We are not electing a bishop.  So far, in most of the elections that we're doing, people are running unopposed.  It doesn't make for a riveting election.

We've heard lots of reports, and while they're interesting, I did find my attention wandering away.  I'd already had a long day, in a way--I was up early catching up on grading and then there was the trip to Orlando and the checking in and the locking myself out of the room and the waiting for elevators.

So I pulled out my sketchbook.  I worried a bit that I might not seem respectful of the speakers, but I decided that if I drifted off to sleep, that would seem even less respectful.  Plus, I noticed lots of folks were tap-tap-tapping on their phones, which seems like a sure sign of lost attention to me.

I didn't have my full collection of markers, but I'm pleased with the sketch:

I found myself paying much closer attention, even though to the casual observer, I might have seemed zoned out.  I can look at that picture and remember some of the information about the good work being done by various groups.  For example, I made the marks at the bottom left of the page when the speaker was talking about seminarians helped by various scholarships.

My pastor is the official photographer for the Synod Assembly.  Yesterday I dreamed of a future where in addition to official photographers and note takers and the video record, we might also preserve a more impressionist record.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Off to Synod Assembly

I am soon off to Synod Assembly.  My spouse will stay here, since he has a Friday night class to teach.  I am going up with my pastor and his wife--I get along well with them, so the carpool trip to Orlando doesn't cause me anxiety.

We are not electing a bishop, but we shall meet to take care of various legislative things.  I often think of these non-bishop-electing legislative years as a waste, but then I remind myself of the year that it wasn't, the year in 2009 where I was on hand to cast a vote for a more inclusive Synod.  It was not a pre-ordained deal, and my vote really counted.

This year I'm going primarily to be part of the prayer chapel creation team.  I'm creating an interactive prayer station.  I have a suitcase full of supplies to do a prayer weaving project like the one I talked about in this blog post.  More on that in a later post.

I am looking forward to being away.  Yesterday was an exhausting day at work.  Most days feel that way.  I am aware that my life may be telling me something.  I am discerning what the next steps should be.

We will be at an Embassy Suites, which will be a treat for me.  I always think about the money that we spend on these gatherings.  I worry about the better ways the money can be spent.

I haven't been to a Synod Assembly in many years.  I was able to go when we had the gathering in May, but when it moved to June, it was usually during the one time where I couldn't be away in my old job, the week of graduation.  And then, in my new job, I didn't have any time off accrued.

This year, I was so happy to be asked to be part of the prayer chapel team--I was glad that it was this year, when I have some vacation time.

This joy points me in a direction, I think.  I would love to be part of team that's creating meaningful worship.  I would love to be part of a team creating meaningful spaces.

On Sunday, as I was playing with some ideas after church in the sanctuary, ideas with fans and ribbons for Pentecost.  One woman said to me, "You should be an interior decorator."  This woman had once fussed at me for creating spaces for worship that are "too busy, too messy."  She prefers the old altar paraments.  She doesn't think that anything should be put on the altar but the Bible and the communion elements.  I took her comment on Sunday as a compliment. 

I'm assuming, of course, that she didn't mean that I should be decorating people's individual houses.

I've been thinking about seminary and wondering if there are programs out there that combine an MDiv and MFA degree, like those various degrees that combine with a law degree.

But now, back to practical matters.  Let me finish packing for Synod Assembly.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Teaching Composition Through the Decades

I have been up for hours grading essays for my English composition class.  I have now spent many decades grading essays for English composition classes.  Let me reflect on some of the changes.

Many things that once bothered me now scarcely grab my attention.  Once I spent hours arguing about how effective it is to teach the 5 paragraph model (intro, 3 supporting points, conclusion).  Once I thought that model strangled emerging writers.  Now I'm happy if people can follow that model. 

Once I knew fellow faculty members who deducted major amounts of points if students couldn't/wouldn't follow that model. And once paper requirements were longer than the ones I'm assigning now.  Now I can't imagine assigning an essay of 5+ pages in a first year Composition class.

Once I took off major points for failure to follow MLA formats and standards.  Now I'm mostly happy if students make an attempt.  And the MLA guidelines are much looser.  Of course, now there are more types of outside sources.

I've had students write their thesis statement as an announcement ("This paper will prove ____").  That approach used to drive me crazy.  Now I shrug.  At least they're clear on the purpose of the paper.  And if the paper fulfills the purpose?  I'm deeply happy.

I'm still a stickler for grammar, although I don't fail students for x amount of major errors.  I do predict that we are very close to accepting comma splices as standard usage.  If that happens, I'll be O.K. with that--it makes a certain amount of sense to me.  Fragments seem a much more serious problem.  And subject-verb disagreement is also a major problem to me, although with writers who have a first language other than English, that issue, too, seems less glaring to me.

When I first started teaching in grad school, we adopted a strategy that taught argument as a way to teach writing.  We used the textbook Elements of Argument.  I'm glad to see it's still in print--in its 12th edition, in fact.  We used either the first or second edition, way back in 1988.  Once I would have sworn that teaching writing by way of teaching argument was the best approach.  Now I see it as one of many.

I have had students write in many different modes, and I've known colleagues who would have sworn we should leave the modes approach:  the writing should dictate the mode, not the teacher!  But that motto implies a much more sophisticated student writer than the ones I usually teach.

In many ways, not much has changed in my decades of teaching writing.  But in some ways, it's changed substantially.  Happily, I still enjoy teaching composition, since it's still one of the essential classes, one of the major job opportunities for those of us with graduate degrees in English.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

English Major Joys

A friend wrote this Facebook post:

So...Gentleman Jack’s episode 7 had a clever little moment torn from the Charlotte Bronte playbook and omg I am so beyond here for it. File under: “random, unexplained psychic moment between lovers that makes sense nowhere else in the plot” for $200 pls, Alex.
I responded:

The page from the Charlotte Bronte playbook that I request for my life: distant relation dies and leaves you money. You didn't know him so there's no complicating element of grief. You not only inherit enough money to secure your own future more than comfortably, but you also have enough to share.

I could go on like this all day.  I could create a whole game!  Of course, I'm sure that someone already has.

My friend wrote back to say, "This reads like a 19th century choose your own adventure."

Ah, English major joys!

Yesterday I had a different set of joys.  I was listening to colleagues talking about 1980's music; they were eating a late lunch while I cut pie into slices for evening students who would soon be arriving.  My colleagues are younger than I am, so it was sort of strange.  The music of my college and grad school years is the music of their middle and high school years.  One of them confused Bono with Michael Stipe. 

I reminisced about when REM first broke into the national scene, and I would watch their videos on MTV trying to figure out the lyrics that we had been told were very profound, but who could understand the vocal mumblings?

One of the younger colleagues made a connection to Kurt Cobain.  I hadn't ever made a line from REM to Nirvana before, but it intrigued me.

I could have stayed there talking about the music of the 80's and 90's all day, but I don't want to be that kind of geezer.  I finished cleaning up after the pie cutting and slipped away, leaving them to move along to exchanging interesting student stories and me to think about how little I know about the music being produced today.

A few hours later:

In a strange case of synchronicity, as I was driving into work today, the NPR announcer remarked that on this day in 1984, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. was released.  I thought about that album; if I made a list of my top 10 albums that have been most important to me, Born in the U.S.A. might be on that list, as would the Police album, Synchronicity.  Certainly U2's War would be on that list.  Hmm.  What else would be on that list?  Anything from the 90's?  Probably Nirvana's Nevermind and the first album released by Garbage.

Once  I thought a fun writing assignment might be to show the movie The Big Chill and to ask students to write about the music they'd choose if they were creating a similar script.  But soon after I had that idea, I stopped teaching the kinds of classes where I might use that idea.  And so, I leave it here, for others who need some inspiration and a reason to show the movie to a new generation.  I wonder if it holds up well.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Hurricane Season Begins

On Saturday, I got an e-mail from my U.S. Congresswoman to remind me that hurricane season starts June 1.  Can there be anyone in this state that's unaware?

I did not spend the week-end stockpiling resources during the tax-free window.  I hardly have enough room for necessities; I don't have enough room to stockpile.  Often I think that's a good thing.

This morning I thought about what we'd do if we faced devastation like the panhandle faces.  I would probably get in the car and drive to a new place to start over.  It's hard enough to recover when there's some infrastructure left.  I can't imagine how one recovers from a category 5 storm, except to move someplace new.

I started counting the months that we've been recovering.  We're mostly recovered in the big house, except for some of the difficult decisions about what comes back in the house from the cottage.  But the cottage needs serious attention, and I am just so tired.

I'm also thinking of a poem I wrote years ago.  I got the title from a powerful essay by Philip Gerard that appears in one of the very first books about how to teach creative non-fiction.  My poem was written years after after Hurricane Wilma (which wreaked devestation in 2 months after Katrina, just after we had finished up our hurricane Katrina clean-up) when I found myself weeping in the car, flooded by post-hurricane despair, even though the clean-up had been done and regular life mostly restored:

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Spells to Cast and Incantations of Joy

In addition to the long post I wrote yesterday about the bus stop coming to my campus, this week had other spots of joy.  Let me make a list:

--We had a Memorial Day week-end that wasn't as hectic as we had thought it might be.  While I was sad not to see a college friend in town for a conference, I was happy to have extra time for projects.

--I was able to get a chapbook pulled together for a contest with a May 31 deadline.   During a time when we had no access to our e-mail, I read the manuscript out loud, but softly.  I was pleased with the poems.  It's good to remember that I write poems that bring me joy.

--I have a stack of cookbooks that need to find a new home.  This week, I was able to give one of them to a colleague who had once worked at a school that had a strong culinary division.  She loved How to Eat Supper.  It's a beautiful book, but I don't really need the recipes that it gives.  I was glad to see it go to a new home.  My colleague was THRILLED--as if I gave her a winning lottery ticket.  Her reaction made me glad too.

--On Friday nights, my spouse is teaching a class in the Summer 2 session.  On this past Friday, one of my good friends came over for a simple supper of salmon and veggies--yum.

--All week-end, I've been following the elections for the Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA.  I know two of the candidates--amazing.  For more on the election, see this post that I wrote for my theology blog.

--I've been reading great books.  Circe by Madeline Miller is astonishing.  It made me want to grow herbs and cast spells.

--I have 3 herb plants in the kitchen windowsill that are thriving.  The sight of them brings me joy.

And now it's off to church to cast spells of a different sort and thanks of joy.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Social Justice in the Form of a Bus Line

When I look back on the events of this week, I think my all time favorite will be the news that in 30 days, we'll have a bus stop in front of our campus.  We've been working a long time to get a bus stop.

When I first started at the school, in the fall of 2016, I was told about the need for a bus stop and that the campus had been told that we couldn't get a bus stop until we had at least 250 students.  But as we looked at our campus neighborhood, we realized that we're not the only business on the street.  The nearest bus stops were over a mile away.

In August of 2017, I was at a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce breakfast, and I had a chance to speak to the mayor of Hollywood.  You may remember that I wrote about it in this blog post.  I realized I had one chance, and I introduced myself and identified the college campus, and then I said, "I know that a lot of government attention goes to the beach and the downtown area of Hollywood, and I live in the historic district, so I understand that it’s easier to work for the prettier parts of town. But the citizens who live out west need government help too.”

He said he would see what he could do.  I came home ecstatic, and my spouse reminded me that it's not just up to the mayor.  But throughout the months, we've seen the mayor at various events, and we've always reminded him about the need for a bus stop.

On Thursday, my boss told me to look out the window.  Lo and behold, there was a worker, installing a bus stop sign.  My co-worker (who has kept up the drumbeat for a bus stop even when others got tired) took this picture:

I realize that we may have had nothing to do with this bus stop.  There's been a lot of development, so an increase in bus lines may have been in the works long before we started advocating.

But I'm letting myself feel a sense of accomplishment anyway.  We saw a need, and we saw a solution, and we kept it in front of politicians.  I like the idea that there are still politicians who will do the work required to make life better for all of their constituencies, not just the rich and powerful.

I realize that some people might scoff at the idea that we've done anything worthwhile.  They might point to the crisis with immigrants being treated inhumanely at the border.  They might point to the Constitutional crisis that seems to be unfolding at the Federal level.

I would remind us all that most humans aren't wired to be able to respond to crises on this global level, at least not on a regular basis.  We are, however, able to help those that are within a certain radius of us.  We're more likely to understand the situation on a local level:  who's hurting and how we can help.  We're likely to be able to make those changes happen.

At the end of my blog post that I wrote back in August 2017, I wrote this:  "I can't make Trump quit sending out tweets that bring us to the brink of annihilation, but if I could get a busline to an impoverished area, that would make me feel proud."

Let me take a moment to feel proud.  And then let me keep working on making the world a better place.  It will take more than a bus stop, but for the people who need a bus stop, what we've accomplished is a big deal.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Incubating the Impossible in an Unlikely Place

Today is the Feast of the Visitation, a church festival day which has only recently become important to me. This feast day celebrates the time that Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Both women are pregnant in miraculous ways: Mary hasn't had sex, and Elizabeth is beyond her fertile years. Yet both are pregnant. Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist, and Mary will give birth to Jesus. For a more theological consideration of this day, see this post on my theology blog or this article by Heidi Neumark in The Christian Century.

In the churches of my younger years, we never celebrated feast days. What a loss. I love this additional calendar that circles through the year, this calendar that reminds us of what ordinary people can do.

I also find these days inspiring in so many ways. Today, let's think about what this day teaches us as we approach our creative processes.

In our age that worships fame and celebrity and insists that if they haven't come early, then what we're doing isn't worth much, this feast day reminds us that there are times when we may need to sit with our projects. It may be good if it takes months, years, or even decades to bring a project to completion. We may need periods of distance to see what we're creating with fresh eyes. It may take time for us to know what we're doing. We may need to wait for the surrounding world to be ready.

In short, when I find myself feeling despair over how long it's taken me to meet my publication goals, I remind myself that time to incubate is not bad.

I also love the idea that these two women have each other. They're both taking similar journeys through very unusual territory, and they can use support.

We live in a culture that doesn't support much in the way of creativity, unless we're harnessing our creative powers to make gobs and gobs of money. It's good to have fellow travelers. On this day, I'm offering up gratitude for all those who have given me encouragement while also working on their own projects. I'm grateful for the ways that their creativity has nourished mine.

This feast day also reminds us of the value of retreat. I love to get away on the writing retreats that I take periodically. I get so much done when I'm away from the demands of regular life. And even during those years when I return with not much done, I often have a blaze of creativity shortly after I return. Those retreats nourish me on multiple levels.

This morning, I'm feeling most inspired by the possibility of the impossible. The world tells us that so much of what we desire is just not possible. Our work will never find favor, our relationships will always disappoint, we will never truly achieve mastery over what hurts us--in short, we live in a culture that tells us we are doomed. We swim in these seas, and it's hard to avoid the pollution.

Along comes this feast day which proclaims that the not only is the impossible possible, but the impossible is already incubating in an unlikely womb. It's much too easy for any of us to say, "Who am I to think that I can do this?" The good news of this feast day is that I don't have to be the perfect one for the task. By saying yes, I have made myself the perfect one.

The world tells us of all the ways that things can go terribly wrong. We need to remember that often we take the first steps, and we get more encouragement than we expected. God or the universe or destiny, however you think of it, meets us more than halfway.

Today is a good day to think of all the times we've been afraid to take those first steps, those projects and dreams to which we've said no. Maybe it's time to go back and say yes. It's not too late. As long as there is breath in our bodies, it is not too late.

So today, on this feast day that celebrates unlikely miracles, let's practice saying yes. For one day, let's quiet the negative voices that shout at us. Today, let us try to remember all of the dreams we might have discarded as improbable, impossible. Nourish all the possibilities. Let's choose one possibility and try it on for size. Let that dream incubate a bit. Let it swell and grow into a full-blown alternative.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Sonnet Cycle and the Surrealist Independent Prosecutor

A week that begins with a Monday holiday shouldn't feel this long.  I woke up thinking it was Friday.  So, let me record a few thoughts which might make a longer post later, but probably won't.

--Yesterday's big news was Robert Mueller's press conference (really more of an announcement) to talk about his report and his return to private life.  He said that everything he had to say was in his report, but the language of yesterday led me to believe that he has plenty more to say, but he's not going to say it.

--I have a vision of a person who wrote a sonnet cycle who knows that if he tells you what he really knows he will veer into a surrealistic poem from which he might never make his way back.

--I have seen a copy of the Mueller report, soft-covered.  I know that I will never read it.  My life is too short, and my list of worthy reading too long.  I would like the very short form, in bullet points.  You might see this as an indictment of an attention span shortened by modern life.  You might be right.  But I suspect I would not have read The Pentagon Papers either.

--In other signposts of modern life circa 2019:  last night on my way back from Total Wine, I saw a building under reconstruction.  It had been a place that sold upscale tile, marble, granite and quartz for all your remodeling needs.  Now the building has a sign half the size of its front wall that declares "Cannabis." 

--Florida is not Oregon.  I think that we've passed a law to make it legal to have a few state-sanctioned dispensaries for medically prescribed pot--but the legislature has been tied up in knots about how to make that happen.  As far as I know, there are no permits yet.

--I'm not Googling to get the facts on this law because I'm afraid of what kinds of advertising I'd get after doing that kind of search.

--Once I thought about certain Internet searches because I worried that the government might be keeping track.  Now it's advertisers that I want to avoid.

--I have seen several pot-themed shops being created as I drive through various streets in Broward county.  I am deeply uncomfortable, and I'm intrigued by my discomfort.  I'm already distressed by how many people go through life zombified by their cell phones--and now we'll add pot to the equation?

--Are we self-medicating/self-obliterating because we can't face our lack of resiliance?  I read a great article that argues that our self-help culture gives us false expectations of what self-help culture can do for us.  It concludes this way:  "The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself."

Let me now go for a walk, a way to feel nurtured before the hectic day begins.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Listening Across Divides: Tony Horwitz Will Be Missed

We lost another great writer this week.   Yesterday we learned that Tony Horwitz died at the very young age of 60.

I am most fond of his book Confederates in the Attic, but I've always been impressed with his ability to immerse himself in whatever story he's telling.  It's a technique that allows him to dive deep and avoid the errors of shallow thinking.  He's followed many a trail, literal trails, like in his latest book Spying on the South, where he took the same trip as Frederick Law Olmsted, a nineteenth century architect and designer of Central Park.  He went from New York City to Mexico, trying to duplicate the pre-Civil War journey of Olmsted, while reading Olmsted's account.  What a fascinating approach!

Until reading some of the remembrances of his work, I hadn't realized how many of his books have found their way into college History classes.  He gives an essential piece of insight for History students:  "'I think part of what I wanted to do is restore a little bit of the unpredictability to history.  . . . It didn't have to unfold this way, it could well have gone very differently'" (in this NPR piece).

As I've spent some time reading about him this morning, I feel the sorrow that comes when we've lost a rare voice that seems essential for our time.  Instead of resting in stereotypes, Horwitz went out to meet people and record their stories.  He shows us where we might have common ground.  Very few people are interested in doing that these days.

In a recent op-ed, Horwitz says, "Our current national fracture isn’t over slavery and freedom, or so clearly defined by region. But I came away from my travels feeling that there’s still great value in seeking, as Olmsted did, to cross geographic and ideological divides and engage with fellow Americans as individuals rather than as stereotypes."

He goes on to say that he had the occasional insult but far more common was the genuine curiousity:  "In almost every other instance, I’ve been met affably, by drinkers open about their views and curious to know mine, as a visiting writer from “Taxachusetts.” Often I hear opinions I don’t expect, like self-described right-wingers dissenting from Trumpian orthodoxy on health care or a border wall. More often, we disagree across the board, vigorously. In two years of travel on Olmsted’s trail, I doubt I changed anyone’s mind, nor did they sway me from my political stance."

But changing minds doesn't need to be the point.  If we could just listen to each other, for a change, that might be enough.

Tony Horwitz was one of those writers who knew how to listen and how to tell the stories that people gave him in a way that showed respect and love.  We have so few people who know how to do that.  What a shame to lose one of them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Holy Hospitality and the Dusk of Indecision

Some of us carry our homes on our backs:

Others need shelves to hold what is most precious:

What shows holy hospitality?  Is it a good reading light?

Or an abundance of mugs?

We wish for a clear path, for all the gates to open:

But some years, a clear path requires a time to dwell in the dusk of indecision:

Even in those times, grace abounds, if we have eyes to see:

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Memories and Prayers

Memorial Day looks to be bright and calm down here on one of the southernmost tips of the U.S.  We will have cooler temperatures than many in the Southeast.

I'm thinking of past Memorial Days.  Once we would have spent the week-end in Jacksonville with old college friends. During some of those years, we had to leave on Sunday, because I taught in South Carolina, a state which didn’t have Memorial Day as a state holiday. Memorial Day began as a day to honor the Union dead, so many southern states had an alternate Confederate Memorial Day.  And my school didn't have many of the federal holidays off at all.

But I digress.

That tradition ended when one friend's marriage ended.  In more recent years, we've stayed down here and not done much special--although we often meet up with friends at least once during the week-end.

I do find myself missing the places I've lived that had a longer history, even as I've learned all the troublesome aspects of that history.  As we've traveled from place to place,  

Air Force dad made sure we understood that our freedom came at a real cost, a lesson that too many people seem to have skipped.

Nothing drives home the cost of war more than a visit to the Vietnam Memorial and seeing those 58,000 or so names carved into a black scar of granite.

How might our thinking about war change if we also added the names of all the maimed war veterans? What a cost.

And then there are the civilians. And the family members. So much wreckage on so many sides.

I'm thinking of the 2005 trip to France I took with my mom and dad and our stops at a variety of WWI cemeteries.  That effect, too, is similar to the one that the Vietnam Memorial--those graves, stretching on as far as we could see.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember. If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude. Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.

Let us remember how often the world zooms into war. Let us pray to be preserved from those horrors.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Faithful Writing Practices

Today was my last day of the week to meet my goal of writing 3 poems this week.  I needed to write 2.  I had an idea for one, but not the other.

I went back to what has served me well:  take a story that's established, and take a minor character.  See what happens.  Fairy tales and mythology have often been fruitful.  But again, I had no ideas.

I thought about another avenue that's been fruitful.  Fast forward with a character.  For example, years ago I wrote a poem about Nancy Drew who returns to teaching in her later years.  You can read about it here.

This morning, for some reason, I thought about Goldilocks and the 3 bears.  I thought about the baby bear.  What happens when he grows up?  Does he always feel that what he loves will be stolen from him?  Does he have 3 locks on the door?  Does he feel a gaping hole of need that he can never fill?

I had a delightful time imagining baby bear.  And the poem has potential.

I also want to record another type of success.  I was talking to a friend who's been a colleague for over a decade, at more than one school.  We talked about the middle of the night, where our brains wake us up with worries about all that needs to be done.

She told me about her approach of keeping a pad of paper by the bed.  She wakes up, writes a bit, and drifts right back to sleep.  We talked about the value of hand writing vs. typing.  She said, "Of course.  You taught us that in the faculty development session you had years ago."  I wrote about that session in this blog post.

What a gift to hear that something I planned was not only useful at the time, but continues to be useful.  I plan faculty development sessions in part because we need to have something free and easy to attend, and in part because I am interested.  But I rarely know for sure that they're useful to others in their regular lives.

And now, my regular life dictates that I get ready for church.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Friday Art Adventures

One of the delightful parts of the online journaling class that I took last fall has been the continuation of the relationships.  I am now Facebook friends with most of the participants, and as with most of my Facebook friends, I'm always interested to see what they're up to.

Earlier this week, one of them posted some art that reminded me of the art that she'd created for the journaling class.  I went back to the closed Facebook page that was created for our class, and I spent some wonderful time scrolling back through our posts.  We did some amazing work.  It's no wonder that I've found myself missing the energy of that time.

Last night I went to a gallery opening.  It was interesting to go to the opening with the work of the journaling class on my brain.  Many of those journal entries could have held their own against the artwork that I saw last night.

I'm not saying that ours was better, and I'm not denigrating the art in the gallery show.  I'm not the person who exclaims loudly about children I know who could fingerpaint better than that piece of art.  But I am the person who is puzzled over some of it.

Most of what I saw last night I could see the skill/talent evidenced in the work.  Some of it, however, just baffled me.  For example, there was a white panel on the floor, a panel that was about the size of half a door.  In neat rows were castaway metal:  a variety of old springs primarily, along with other scraps.

I spent some time wondering what it meant, what the artist was trying to do/say.  The title didn't give me a clue.  The art didn't sing its purpose.  Some assemblages have an inherent interest:  the shapes of the objects, in terms of what goes together and what doesn't, the colors.  This piece didn't speak to me.

It was for sale.  I always question the price of art.  Some of it makes sense to me.  Spending money for the old springs didn't make sense to me.  I don't need talent or an MFA to be able to replicate that.

I did see a piece that interested me in terms of what I might try assembling.  It seemed to be a piece of woven scraps of paper, along with an upside down page or two of a book, with various paints over it all.  The top part of the piece was beige, with only a whisp of the words showing through.  The bottom of the piece had more color covered with paint.

The cost was $700.

The gallery opening was small and crowded, so we didn't stay long.  Still, I'm glad we went.  It was on our way back from dinner, and it was free, so I didn't feel bad that we weren't as inspired.

We did have a lovely dinner.  We ate at the Chimney House in Ft. Lauderdale, near the performing arts center.  We shared a half pitcher of sangria, and we both had the skirt steak.  It was all delicious.  And we ate on the outside deck.  The rest of the southeast is about to have suffocating heat, but down here, it's still comfortable with a great ocean breeze.

I came home and sketched a bit.  It is time to think about doors and thresholds, the theme of the online journaling class, again.