Sunday, December 31, 2017

Prompts to Help You Think About Your Goals for 2018

Some prompts to get you thinking about your goals, creative or otherwise, for the coming year:

--It's Dec. 31, 2018, and you look back over the past year.  What's your biggest accomplishment?

--What new activities do you hope to try during 2018?

--When do you want to say yes?  When must you say no?

 --What activities do you miss?  Choose one that you miss the most or one that's easiest for you to do in your current life.  How could you do this activity quarterly during 2018?

--It's Dec. 31, 2023.  What's your biggest accomplishment since 2018?  What's your biggest surprise?

--What small steps can you take that will shift your trajectory towards your goals?

--What are habits that you need to work on changing so that you're not undercutting your efforts?

--If you could only accomplish one big creative project before you die, what would you want it to be?  Would it be a collection of poems?  A novel?  Some sort of multimedia project? 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hope and the "Tyranny of the Quantifiable"

Before Christmas, I heard an episode of On Being, which featured an interview with Rebecca Solnit.  It was aired during the 2016 election campaign, but I didn't catch it then.  Solnit talks a lot about hope, and how many of us think about hope in wrong ways or ways that leave us hopeless.

For example, Solnit talks about Walter Brueggemann, and says, "Yeah, and I listened to his interview, and he talked about how much hope is grounded in memory. And I was so excited to hear someone say that. We think of hope as looking forward, but memory lets us know, if we have a real memory, that we didn’t know. We didn’t know the Berlin Wall was going to fall, and the Soviet Union was going to fall apart, and the binary arrangement those of us who are older grew up in, where it seemed like capitalism and communism and the Cold War standoff was going to last for centuries.

If you study history deeply, you realize that, to quote Patti Smith, “People have the power” — that popular power, civil society, has been tremendously powerful and has changed the world again and again and again; that we’re not powerless; that things are very unpredictable and that people have often taken on things that seemed hopeless — freeing the slaves, getting women the vote — and achieved those things. And I feel like so much of what we’re burdened by is bad stories, both people who have amnesia, who don’t remember that the present was constructed by certain forces to serve certain elements and can be deconstructed and that things could be very different, that they have been very different, that things are always changing and that we have agency in that change.

And one of the simple examples I often go back to is that when you and I were small, to be gay or lesbian or otherwise — something other than standard heterosexual — was to be considered mentally ill or criminal or both, and punished accordingly. And to go from there to national same-sex marriage rights is an unimaginable journey. It’s — and that’s a lot of what my hopeful stuff is about, is trying to look at the immeasurable, incalculable, indirect, roundabout way that things matter.

My friend, David Graber, has a wonderful passage about how the Russian revolution succeeded, but not really in Russia. It terrified, or at least motivated, leaders in Europe and North America and elsewhere to make enormous concessions to the rights of poor and workers and really furthered economic justice in other places. And if you can say that a revolution was successful, but not in the country it took place in, then you can start to trace these indirect impacts."

Krista Tippett, the interviewer, sums it up nicely, "You have this wonderful sentence that 'History is like the weather, not like checkers.' And you talk about — here’s another: 'Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends towards justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.' It’s an un-American way of thinking, but it’s an essential way, I think, to inhabit this century, in particular."

Along the way, there's a wonderful conversation about the ways that New Orleans has gotten better after Hurricane Katrina, in ways that might not have happened, had there not been a massive storm.

She keeps reminding us that hope isn't a rosy optimism, an insurance that we can make everything O.K., because we can't.  Hope is about negotiating, realizing all the while that we can't possibly guess all the outcomes of our actions. 

She offers historical examples:  "And my wonderful environmentalist friend, Chip Ward, likes to talk about the 'tyranny of the quantifiable,' and I’ve been using that phrase of his for about 15 years. And it is a kind of tyranny, and I think — and it does get mystical, where you have to look at what’s not quantifiable. Martin Luther King is assassinated in 1968. A comic book about how civil disobedience works out was distributed during the civil rights movement, gets translated into Arabic and distributed in Egypt and becomes one of the immeasurable forces that help feed the Arab Spring, which is five years old right now; and most of it doesn’t look that good, but they did overthrow a bunch of regimes. And the French Revolution didn’t really look very good five years out, I was saying the other day.

She concludes this way, near the end of the interview:  "And hope is tough. It’s tougher to be uncertain than certain. It’s tougher to take chances than to be safe. And so hope is often seen as weakness, because it’s vulnerable, but it takes strength to enter into that vulnerability of being open to the possibilities. And I’m interested in what gives people that strength, and what stories, what questions, what memories, what conversations, what senses of themselves and the world around them.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Weaving Ourselves Together

On Dec. 17, I was in charge of our interactive service at church.  I'm reposting this post from my theology blog because I think it could be useful in many settings, in any place where we need to remind ourselves of the value of being woven together.  Even if you don't have a manger lying around, you could use any wooden frame--even cardboard would work--so, think about drawers and shoeboxes and such.

Our church heard the story of Joseph, who planned to quietly disentangle himself from the pregnant Mary--and then the angel comes in a dream to tell him of God's plan, and Joseph marries Mary.  I wanted to do something different for our interactive service.

I'd been thinking about Joseph's actions and how by accepting Mary, he keeps from shredding the social fabric, and we talked a bit about this aspect of the story.  If he had sent Mary away, he'd have still made a hole in at least two families.  And his actions would have likely had further effects.  We rarely shred and tear in one place without seeing stress in other parts of the social fabric.

I thought about a previous Christmas when I made strips of fabric for the wooden manger.  I wasn't there for that service, so I couldn't remember what we did.  But I had an idea for Joseph Sunday, as I'd taken to calling it in my head.

Happily, we still had the manger, although no one could remember where the legs had gone.  I stretched fabric across in one direction and taped it to the ends.

I cut strips of fabric:

On these strips of fabric, we wrote places where we wanted reweaving to happen in 2018, whether in our individual lives or our larger networks.  Here's part of my strip, where I talked about my house needing to be put together after Hurricane Irma and my need to prioritize:

And then we wove them together.

We talked about the symbolism, about how we all have issues, and how we are more supported when woven together.

We talked about whether the baby Jesus is under our concerns in the manger or whether or weaving could hold the baby Jesus.  I found this doll, which doesn't weigh as much as a real baby, but it's an interesting image:

We noted the crosses in the middle of our weaving, an unplanned bit of loveliness:

It was an interesting way of experiencing the way we weave ourselves together.  In the end, I untapped the weaving from the manger and took it home.  I'm not sure it would mean anything to people who hadn't participated.  I hope it means something to those who did.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sympathy for the Devil (Herod, in this Case)

On Dec. 28, we remember the slaughter of all the male children under the age of 2 in Bethlehem in the days after the birth of Jesus. Why were they killed? Because of Herod's feelings of inadequacy, because of his fear. The magi tell him of a new king that has just been born, and he feels threatened. He will stop at nothing to wipe out any rival, even one who is still a tiny baby.

We like to think that we wouldn't have reacted that way. We like to think that we'd have joined the band of wise men and gone to pay our respects. We like to think that we'd have put aside our worries of not being good enough and our doubts.

But far too many of us would have responded in exactly the same way, if we had the resources at our command. You need only look at interpersonal relationships in the family or in the office to see that most of us have an inner Herod whom it is hard to ignore.

If you're old enough, you've had the startled feeling when you realize that the next rising star at your workplace or your congregation or your social group is a generation younger than you. It's hard to respond graciously.

Many of us are likely to respond to our feelings of inadequacy in unproductive ways. If we hear a good idea from someone who makes us feel threatened at work or in our families, how many of us affirm that idea? Instead of saying, "How interesting," we say, "How stupid!" And then we go to great lengths to prove that we're right, and whatever is making us feel inadequate is wrong.

So often I feel like I will never escape middle school, that particular kind of hell, where the boundaries were always fluid. Kids who were acceptable one day were pariahs the next. Many adolescents report feeling that they can't quite get their heads around all the rules and the best ways to achieve success.

Adult life can sometimes feel the same way. We fight to achieve equilibrium, only to find it all undone. Most of us don't have the power that Herod had, so our fight against powerlessness doesn't end in corpses. But it often results in a world of outcasts and lone victors, zero-sum games that leave us all diminished.

But feelings of inadequacy can have lethal consequences, especially when played out on a geopolitical scale, the powerful lashing out against the powerless. We live in a world where dictators can efficiently kill their country's population by the thousands or more. Sadly, we see this Herod dynamic so often that we're in danger of becoming jaded, hardened and unaffected by suffering.

Now as the year draws to a close, we can resolve to be on the lookout for ways that our inner Herod dominates and controls our emotional lives. We can resolve to let love rule our actions, not fear. We can also resolve to help those who are harmed by the Herods of our world.

Thinking of Herod might also bring to mind the flight into Egypt, the Holy Family turned into refugees. We remember the Holy Family fleeing in terror with only the clothes on their backs -- and we remember that this story is so common throughout the world.

As we think about Herod, let us pray to vanquish the Herods in our heads and in our lives. Let us pray for victims of terror everywhere, the ones that get away and the ones that are slaughtered.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Feast Day of Saint John

Today we celebrate the life of the only one of the original 12 disciples die of natural causes in old age.  Tradition tells us that John was first a disciple of John the Baptist, and then a disciple of Christ, the one who came to be known as the beloved disciple, the one tasked with looking after Mary, the mother of Jesus.

There is much debate over how much of the Bible was actually written by this disciple.  If we had lived 80 years ago, we'd have firmly believed that the disciple wrote the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation.  Twentieth century scholars came to dispute this belief, and if you do scholarly comparison, you would have to conclude that the same author could not have written all of those books. 

Regardless, most of us remember St. John as the disciple who spent a long life writing and preaching.  He's the patron saint of authors, theologians, publishers, and editors.  He's also the patron saint of painters. 

Today, as many of us may be facing a bit of depression or cabin fever, perhaps we can celebrate the feast of St. John by a creative act.  Write a poem about what it means to be the beloved disciple.  Write a letter to your descendants to tell them about the good news that has meant the most to you.  Paint a picture--even if you can't do realistic art, you could have fun with colors.

Here's a prayer for the day, from Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime:  "Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen."

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Beauty and Joy

I hope your Christmas day draws bright, regardless of the weather.  I hope it's full of everything you love!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Empty Mangers

The manger is empty, but not for long.

"Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord."  Psalm 31:24

"For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in God."  Psalm 62:6

A Prayer for Christmas Eve:

Oh, God, we weep in our chains.  So many things hold us captived in our devastations, the ruins of our cities.  Fill our hearts with courage.  Remind us of the promise of redemption.  Come to ransom us from all the things which hold us in fear.  Set us free.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Poetry Saturday: "Mary's Sonogram"

This time of year often takes me back to the days of my sister's sonogram. Not the routine holiday memory, I know.

I didn't actually see the sonogram in December of 2005, but we were in the area, and the whole family went out to dinner on the night that she had it. I think the grandparents were allowed to be in the room during the sonogram too, if they promised to keep the gender a secret.

We travelled to the dinner after the sonogram with my parents. It was just a few days before Christmas, so we had the Advent narrative ringing in our heads: the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, her response. I remember my father saying, "What if sonograms had been invented then? What if Mary could have had a sonogram to see Jesus before he was born?"

That idea haunted my head for weeks, and I began to fashion it into a poem. I worried that it might seem irreverent, disrespectful of both Mary and all parents. But I think that some of the best poems feel dangerous in that way.

 As we get closer to Christmas Eve, my thoughts often return to Mary, that soon-to-be mother, and all parents. My thoughts return to the wonder of life and how amazing it is that any newborns survive--we start out so fragile and tiny.

Here's my poem:

Mary’s Sonogram

All children appear otherworldly in the womb,
a strange weather system come to disrupt
the world as we have known
it, to rain blessings on unsuspecting souls.

On a sonogram, all children resemble angelic messengers.
They appear in ghostly
shades of green and gray and black.
Complete with fingers and a cosmic
heartbeat, this great mystery, birthed
in passion, sweat and tears,
a bath of body fluids,
and nine months later, a baby
squeezes from the womb, blinking,
staggering us all with wonder.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A New Wine Bar On an Interesting Side of the Tracks

Last night was the kind of night where I reflected, "When I was little and thought about being a grown up, I thought it would be just like this."

Of course, it was after a late afternoon of grumbling, "I didn't think my grown up life would come to this."

I arrived home to find my spouse working on the yard with tools that were not cooperating.  Why is it so hard to find a weedeater that will edge the lawn without destroying itself?  Or when will someone create a disposable weedeater?  It's only going to work about 10 times anyway, so let's just admit a sort of defeat so that we can move on.

I went off to get to the bank before it closed, but it had already closed.  Happily, my ATM card worked and I remembered the PIN, so I could access my money.

I got home and realized I needed to get to the library--if I'd read the message board, I could have gone there after the bank, since the bank was halfway there.  My spouse was still wrestling with the weedeater, so off I went, back to the library and CVS.  Grown up life so often consists of trudging from chore to chore.

I was happy that we had a social event planned.  A colleague from a former school has opened a wine bar crafted out of what was once a garage/storage site in an industrial part of town near the train tracks, and there was a beer tasting last night.  Off we went.

I'm amazed at what they've done with the place.  There's comfy, overstuffed furniture, along with the more prim styles that might have come from someone's grandma's house.  There's a huge circular table.

We sat in the back patio area that has a huge fountain and lots of shrubbery in metal tubs.  In all of my running around, I hadn't eaten dinner, so I ordered a cheese plate, the Smoky and Sweet (smoky blue cheese and cheese with cranberries--along with fruit and nuts, displayed on a beautiful marble plank), a great value for 9 dollars.  The beer tasting, too, was a great value, beer after beer--but I shared a bottle of wine with one of my friends who was there.

It was one of those evenings where I thought about how it would all make a great setting for a TV show.  I briefly wondered what kinds of characters we would be--we'd certainly be interesting, with our wide variety of backgrounds (the poet, the philosopher, the animator, the marine biologist, the psychologist, the environmental tour entrepreneur--and then I start thinking of other ways we could describe each other . . .)--yes, I would watch that show.  I thought about how few TV shows show a wide group of friends, and how fewer of them still show friends who are in their late 40's and early 50's and still working at specific jobs that regular people do.

It was a great way to end a hectic afternoon.  We came home and tumbled into bed, where I slept soundly for the first time in days.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Doubts and Dining Room Tables and Hinges in History

I spent this morning not being able to access the Internet from my home computer.  I'm trying not to feel anxious about that, not to see it as early evidence that we really did need net neutrality after all.

Let me record some thoughts that I don't want to slip away:

--Today we celebrate the life of St. Thomas. It's also the Winter Solstice.  This time of year, the sun is much lower on the southern horizon here in South Florida.  I spend the first part of every work day squinting into my computer screen as the sun streams in the window of my office.  It makes for a different Solstice feeling.

--You may remember St. Thomas by his other moniker:  Doubting Thomas. How appropriate, both for this time of year, for this time in history.  Let me also remember the end of that story:  Thomas doubted, but it wasn't held against him.  He was able to see the evidence that allowed him to believe that death and despair did not have the final word.  May we all be that lucky.

--Later we may remember these days as the anniversary when a massive tax reform bill was passed very quickly.  I've been around enough to know that there's no magic fix.  The tax bill of the 1980's was not kind to me as a grad student who was the first of a set of grad students who had to pay taxes on our tiny graduate stipends, but perhaps it helped me in other ways that I didn't know.  Every time we change taxes, I hear the same cries of how it will destroy the nation and from other lips, how it will lift up the nation.  The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

--I went to an annual cookie exchange of mostly neighborhood folks last night.  What was different this year?  There was some talk of hurricane damage and recovery, as I expected.  I got the name of a contractor from one woman--but she had been remodeling her house before the hurricane.  It sounds like it was a major job:  making one bedroom into 2 bedrooms, moving the kitchen from one end of the house to another.  This was also the first year with arthritis in both my feet.  I spent much of the evening standing, and much of the rest of the night with my big toes throbbing so painfully that I work up. Sigh.  But the cookies were beautiful.  And ibuprofen is effective for times when I overdo it.

--Yesterday, one of my colleagues at work was describing things for the dining room table that she'd bought as Christmas gifts for a friend:  napkins that shimmered because of Swarovski crystals sewn into them.  I asked, "How do you wash them?"  She looked at me as if I was a moron and said, "You don't actually use them."  She went on to describe her own dining room table and the ostrich feathers that were part of the tablescape.  I couldn't resist acting a bit:  I gave a massive sniff and said, "I have nothing but bills on my dining room table."  Actually, it's a lot of hurricane repair paperwork.

--There's part of me that wants to see this interchange as evidence of my outsiderness in the world.  But my poet self charged ahead with an idea for a poem:  3 dining room tables and what they tell us about modern life just before Christmas.

--I read this review of Arthur Herman's 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Order , and I was able to get the book from the library.  I've really been enjoying it.  It's an interesting approach, to use the biographies of two key players to explore a year that really is a hinge in human history.  Here's how Herman explains in the introduction:  “In April, Wilson thrust the United States into the greatest war in history up to that time, the First World War. Seven months later, Lenin overthrew a Russian democratic revolution and imposed his own Bolshevik Revolution in its place. Together, these two events changed history in ways that make the world as it existed before 1917 seem strange and alien, and the world afterward very much our world and age, the modern age. It’s an age that’s been shaped as much by what Lenin and Wilson aimed and failed to do as by what they succeeded in doing.’’

--What I was struck by last night, as I was reading and waiting for the ibuprofen to take effect is that Lenin was no young guy in 1917 when he was able to act on his revolutionary ideas most successfully.  And his early years were marked by spectacular failures.  Herman is not kind to the Marxist side of the history he's telling--but that's an interesting point of view too, and unlike the few histories that I've read, which were likely written by leftist sociologists who were much more sympathetic to Communists.

--I have a strange assortment of holiday reading:  that book and Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 (life after global flooding) and Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 (a telling of a life in 4 different ways) and Lauren Grodstein's Our Short History (I loved her earlier books).  If there's time, I may also read Lucia Berlin's collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women and Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.  I think there will be interesting juxtapositions and connections--I am so looking forward to having an extended period with time to read before classes start again Jan. 8.  It's the best Christmas present!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Illusion of the Empty Manger

It's that time of year:  I've been doing a lot of thinking about mangers.  I've been thinking about the Christmas story, about God who comes to us in a most vulnerable form:  a baby born to a poor couple who lived on the edges of a great empire.

I've been thinking about Joseph, who decided to stay with the pregnant Mary.  I've been thinking about the mangers that are our lives.  Some years they feel full--although perhaps full of something unexpected:  will it be a blessing or a curse?

Last night, I wrote this Christmas Eve meditation for my church's blog.  As we zoom towards Christmas, with so many of us eager to put a difficult year behind us, it seems like a good idea to share it here.

Many of us have had a tough year; we may feel the emptiness of the mangers of our lives, as we have come to see the vulnerabilities of our health, our jobs, our relationships, our larger pictures.

But even as we perceive emptiness, God is hard at work, ready to redeem all the frayed fabrics:

We may see only shreds and strips, but God sees a beautiful new creation, just waiting to be brought forward.

Our great teachers remind us that shreds and strips take on new strength once they are woven together.

And all of creation reminds us of the creator who forms our very center:

The manger may seem empty, but it won't be for long:


For those of you who are intrigued by the photos of weaving, if you want to know more about how we used the manger and the strips in our interactive worship service, I wrote this blog post about it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Weeding the Shelves

Last week, we had wine and cheese with neighborhood friends--not an unusual event.  She's a therapist, and she told me about one of her patient's need for books.  She works with clients in a home that's primarily funded by Medicaid.  It's safe and clean, but there are no frills; for example, if patients want a TV, they have to provide it.

One of her clients had a TV, but it quit working.  She talked about his longing for books, how he said he'd be grateful for anything to read.  It's a no-frills institution, so there's no library.

I can only imagine, with a bit of terror, how it would be to be stuck in an institution with nothing to read and nothing to watch.  I have lots of books that I'll never read again, so this morning, I turned an eye to my books, and I chose several for him to have.

I briefly wondered if they'd be suitable, but I don't know enough about the patient to know.  I chose a Louise Erdrich book, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, that I picked up on sale, but will never likely read since I've had it over 10 years.  I reread Julia Alvarez's Yo! this summer and won't be reading it again, so I chose that. It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond, the latest Julia Cameron book on creativity, basically repeated her other books, so there's no need to keep that.  I also chose a memoir by Rachel Held Evans, and a book of history that came to me when I ordered something else from a small publisher completed the set.

I've been thinking that it's time to weed the shelves again, and I think that it is.  But I don't want to do that until I know where the books are going.

Once I weeded with abandon; I assumed that the books would always be available, whether in the library or online.  Now I don't assume that anymore.

Right now, it's tempting to get rid of a lot of these books, especially some of the heavier volumes of theology that I don't anticipate rereading anytime soon.  But some part of me hesitates--it's the part of me that envisions being in a similar shape as my friend's patient when I retire:  in need of books with no way to get them.  At that point, I'd rue the years when I abandoned so many books.

One thing that keeps me from weeding is that I've built a really good collection in some topics:  individual volumes of poetry, theology, and creative writing.  I don't necessarily want to break up the collection--but there are some volumes that aren't really worth being included.

Do I need to have them here in my house?  If I had a place to send the poetry collection, and someone to pay for the shipping, I'd send off most of the collection fairly quickly.  There are only a few volumes that I can see reading again and again.  Many of them I bought because there was some kind of good buzz or good review, and often, they left me shrugging.

Part of it is my age old sadness at how much money I've spent and how it can all come down to being a problem of weeding.  It's a classic reason why we hold onto things, whether they be clothes, books, jewelry, housing:  if we let it go, we have to deal with the mental discomfort of knowing how much we've spent. 

And that's why I'd like to know that whatever I've bought is going on to a new life.  If I think of others getting joy from my castaways, it's easier to let go.

Perhaps in the new year, I'll make an offer on Facebook:  send me your address, and I'll send you a few volumes of poetry.  I'm not braving the post office during this holiday time, but most of us can use a boost in January.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Week-end of Cookies

Overall, it was a good week-end.  My spouse got some of his work done for his last class that ends this week, and I got cookies baked for the cookie swap on Wednesday, along with some writing.  We also watched a bit of TV, went to church, listened to Christmas music, had a meal with friends, looked at Christmas lights, and did some chores, like shopping and laundry and spraying herbicide on weeds.

I realize that I'm a boring grown up now as I look at my list of what makes a good week-end.

I didn't plan for this to be a week-end of cookies.  I knew that we'd decorate cookies at church between services:

Most people take full advantage of all the ways that they can decorate the cookies:

Here's another variation:

I don't really like all of this icing, so I ate my gingerbread plain.  Then I came home and made more gingerbread--but as a bar cookie.

I confess that I made gingerbread after first making a new-to-me recipe for basler-lackerli cookies.  I made a version from an online recipe--it has no oil/shortening of any kind and no eggs.  I thought it made the house smell great, but I wasn't sure about it as a cookie to take to a cookie swap.  My spouse, on the other hand, thought it would be perfect because it's so unusual.

And let us not forget, when cataloguing this week-end of cookies, we also made sugar cookies in star and tree shapes on Saturday.  I do like that simple icing that I make out of powdered sugar and milk.

Now to think about the coming week.

Unlike last year, when I had no vacation days to take, this year, I'll take some time off at Christmas.  But first, I have a few days of work this week.  I'll wrap up some of the tasks of the term, and try to think about what's coming in January.

But first, let me head to spin class.  This week-end of baking reminds me that it's the season where it's good to burn calories where I can.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Cookies to Elevate Your Mood

I didn't write a blog post yesterday.  I got up and thought I would submit to The Tampa Review, but their Submission Manager didn't recognize me.  It's a pre-Submittable submission manager, and I've tried the reset password option with other journals, with no luck.

So I was feeling a bit of despair, but I typed in some poems that I want to include in a chapbook that I'm creating.  My spouse woke up early, and we decided to take advantage of the early hour and go to Target.  But because he was up early, he was a bit snarly, which plunged me back into depression.

I was also feeling a bit overwhelmed, again, by home repairs and all that needs to be done.  It took me a long way to crawl out of my depression.  Along the way, I sprayed weed killer on the paver bricks, which have been sprouting weeds and grass at a high pace since the hurricane.  It didn't improve my mood.

What helped?  Cooking.  I made homemade pizza, which is enough like bread baking that it spoke to my soul.  I also made a cookie dough, one of the ones we always made at Christmas.  It's a sugar cookie, rolled and cut, and decorated with powdered sugar frosting.  I took the dough to our friends' house, and we finished the cookies together.

In case you need something sweet to help, here's the recipe. 

Sugar Cookies
2 sticks butter, softened
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
¼ C. milk
2tsp. baking powder
4 C. flour
2 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter, sugar, eggs. Add milk and dry ingredients. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness on a floured board and cut with cookie cutters. Sprinkle with colored sugar or leave plain to frost when cool (or to enjoy plain). Bake 10 minutes at 375. Easy frosting: moisten powdered sugar with enough milk to make spreadable and tint with food color.
Today I'll be making more cookies.  I have a cookie swap to go to on Wednesday, and I can't arrive empty handed.  I'm trying out a new recipe, and returning to at least one old standard.

And today, at church, is the decorating of the gingerbread cookies, an annual event.  I like my cookie plain, so that's what I'll be eating for breakfast.  And lunch.  I'll take pictures of it all and report back.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Photo Meditation on Modern Elizabeths

Yesterday I had a great writing morning.  I worked on two poems which aren't finished yet--and then, inspired by my poem which lists the reasons why the angel Gabriel wouldn't appear to me, I created a poem/photo essay for my theology blog. 

Time is short this morning, so I'll post that poem/photo essay here.  I titled it "Elizabeth's Song."  The photos are from various trips to Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, SC.  If you'd like a more traditional poem, see this post on my theology blog.

Elizabeth's Song

She knows the angel Gabriel would never appear to her. 

She is the one peering through the window, seeing others receive miraculous news.

No longer is she clay, waiting to be shaped:

She is in the autumn of her life, as the season begins the shift to winter.

Her body swells with the weight gain from medication, with arthritis in joints she never thought about as a younger woman.

She will plant the bulbs, as she has done every autumn.

In the Spring, she will stay alert for the first blooms.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent Lessons

Last night I stayed a bit later at work.  I was trying to help a student who had missed the final exam.  Because I was subbing for the teacher this week, I had exams on hand, and last night was the student's last chance. 

Why did I do this?  Why did I care?  He's graduating.  But truth be told, I'd have done the same for any student.  The other students in the class all made it in for Tuesday's exam.

I know that my efforts may not save him.  As I walked to my car, I reminded myself that there's only so much I can do.  The words of John the Baptist echoed in my brain, "I am not the Messiah."  I try to remind myself with those words--it's a strange mantra, I know.  But it's one I'd recommend to many people.

During some Decembers, it's the prophetic angle of the stories that speak to me.  Some years, it's the angel visitations.  This year, I find myself thinking a lot about Elizabeth.  In December, many churches give a Sunday to the Virgin Mary.  Her cousin, Elizabeth, hosts a miraculous baby too, but how many of us focus on her story?

She's not supposed to be pregnant; the Gospel of Luke reminds us that she and her husband are very old.  I think of all the ways that one's body changes not only with adolescence, but with old age.  I think of my own 52 year old feet, not swollen with pregnancy, but with arthritis.  I cannot imagine pregnancy right now.  And Elizabeth was older than I am.

I spent my younger years declaring that biology isn't destiny:  we can do whatever we want, no matter what bodies we inhabit. 

My middle-aged self is willing to admit that biology is often destiny, in ways we can't imagine when we're young. I'm seeing too many people at the mercy of bodies that they have increasingly less control over.  I've seen far too many people ravaged by the cancer cells that take over.

But the Mary and Elizabeth story reminds us of the body's miraculous capacity.  This year, I'm focused on life springing from improbable places.  I'm thinking of these pregnancies as metaphors, and it's Elizabeth's pregnancy that speaks to me this year.

In a culture like ours that worships youth and beauty, it is good to have these alternate stories.  As I see lists of writers and artists that are hip and under the age of 35 or 30, I like remembering that our fertility doesn't have to end with menopause.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Feast Day of Santa Lucia

December 13 is the day that Scandinavian countries celebrate Santa Lucia day, or St. Lucy's day. There will be special breads and hot coffee and perhaps a candle wreath, for the head or for the table.

 The feast day of Santa Lucia is one that’s becoming more widely celebrated. Is it because more Midwestern Scandinavian descendents are moving to other climates? Are we seeing a move towards celebrating saints in Protestant churches? Or is it simply a neat holiday which gives us a chance to do something different with our Sunday School programming and Christmas pageant impulses?

I first heard about St. Lucia Day at our Lutheran church in Charlottesville, Virginia. As the tallest blonde girl, I was selected to lead the St. Lucia day procession when I was in my early teen years. The grown ups placed a wreath with candles on my head and lit the candles. The younger children carried their candles. I walked up the church aisle and held my head very still.

I still remember the exhilarating feeling of having burning candles near my hair. I remember hot wax dripping onto my shoulders--I was wearing clothes and a white robe over them, so it didn't hurt.

It felt both pagan and sacred, that darkened church, our glowing candles. I remember nothing about the service that followed.

A year or two later, Bon Appetit ran a cover story on holiday breads, and Santa Lucia bread was the first one that I tried.

A picture from that cover story

What a treat. For years, I told myself that baking holiday breads was a healthy alternative to baking Christmas cookies--but then I took a long, hard look at the butterfat content of each, and decided that I was likely wrong. I also decided that I didn’t care.

 I still bake that bread almost every year, and if you’d like to try, this blog post will guide you through it. If you’re the type who needs pictures, it’s got a link to a blog post with pictures.

As a feminist scholar and theologian, I’ve grown a bit uncomfortable with virgin saints, like Santa Lucia. Most sources say we don’t know much about her, which means that all sorts of traditions have come to be associated with her. Did she really gouge out her eyes because a suitor commented on their beauty? Did she die because she had promised her virginity to Christ? Was she killed because the evil emperor had ordered her to be taken to a brothel because she was giving away the family wealth? We don’t really know.

 The lives of these virgin saints show us how difficult life is in a patriarchal regime. It’s worth remembering that many women in many countries don’t have any more control over their bodies or their destinies than these long-ago virgin saints did. In this time of Advent waiting, we can remember that God chose to come to a virgin mother who lived in a culture that wasn’t much different than Santa Lucia’s culture.

 Or we can simply enjoy a festival that celebrates light in a time of shadows.

I love our various festivals to get us through the dark of winter. When I lived in colder, darker places, I wished that the early church fathers had put Christmas further into winter, when I needed a break. Christmas in February makes more sense to me, even though I understand how Christmas ended up near the Winter Solstice.

 So, happy Santa Lucia day! Have some special bread, drink a bracing hot beverage, and light the candles against the darkness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Treats

Will this be the year I bake no Christmas bread?  I have Christmas breads on the brain because tomorrow is the feast day of Santa Lucia, and by Dec. 13, I've usually baked several batches of cookies and multiple types of bread.

I say usually--but that hasn't been true for at least a decade and probably longer.  Between my shift from faculty work to administrative work (which requires more time in an office) and more Christmas travel and a desire not to gain 20 pounds every year--I don't do much holiday baking.

I have shifted my joy to other parts of the holidays.  I love the variety of lights I see this time of year.  My spouse tries to play every Christmas CD we have at least once, and that's a delight. 

The weather doesn't always cooperate, but last night, we had a fire in the fireplace.  I thought back to grad school, where one of my friends dated a man who had a fireplace in his office.  She talked about finishing her semester's papers in front of that fireplace.  That sounded like such an amazing treat--it still does.  We watched TV while we sat in front of the fireplace--that, too, was an amazing treat.

This morning I drank my V8 juice in one of my glass Christmas mugs.  It's not as wonderful a treat as coffee in that mug along with a piece of Santa Lucia bread, but this morning it will have to do.  I have a non-leisurely morning--I'm subbing for a colleague.  I only have to proctor a final exam, but it means I must be early.

Tonight I'll take a walk through the neighborhood and enjoy the Christmas lights.  And then it's back to grading--my online grades are due tomorrow.  That, too, is a treat of sorts.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fighting the Chill

We have gone from record setting highs on Thursday to very chilly temps--it's 50 degrees outside, and all the windows have condensation.  I will wear my very heavy purple jacket, the one I can only wear a few times a year when the weather turns cold.

And yes, I realize that it's not really cold, according to any state to our north.  I've been watching everyone post their snow pictures on Facebook.  I'd been feeling a bit jealous, but now I'm ready for our warm weather to return.  It makes me rethink my vague ideas of where we might relocate, if rising seas and insurance costs make it impossible to stay here.

Still, even with the chilly temperatures, it was possible to sit on the porch in the late afternoon.  Instead of wine, I drank coffee.  I posted this on Facebook:  "Wild living, midlife style: we're drinking coffee at 4:43 on a Sunday afternoon. Can we drink enough to keep us awake until 9 or 10, but not enough so that we're still awake at midnight?"

I was trying to finish The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher before it was due back at the library.  It's strange to read a book where I agree with the basic premise (our modern culture is toxic), but I disagree with lots of the reasoning that Dreher takes to get there.  For a more complete review, see this post on my theology blog.

Last night I took my library books back and enjoyed the lights beating back the early night.  That's the part of the season I miss the most, once January has settled in.

Perhaps tonight we'll have a fire in the fireplace.  I always wonder about these historical houses with their fireplaces.  Is it because people came from the north and couldn't imagine not needing a fireplace? 

We've talked about converting it to gas as we repair the house.  But that's a ways down the road. For tonight, perhaps we will burn wood in the fireplace--another way to beat back the chill.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The House of the Tabletop Christmas Trees

A Jew, a Hindu and a Wiccan all come to the House of Tabletop Christmas Trees.  It sounds like the set up for a joke, but it's what happened yesterday when I hosted my quilt group.  I thought I might be the only one who celebrates Christmas, but while I am the only practicing Christian, we all observe Christmas to some extent.

I even got out my small collection of Christmas dishes.  Long, long ago, I had a group of grad school friends who gathered each Saturday to stitch.  One year we went to a house where we had cappuccino served in glass Christmas mugs, which I thought was the epitome of festiveness.  Years later, when I saw a similar set at an after-Christmas sale at Williams-Sonoma, I snatched it right up.  I have a set of 4 dessert plates, and 2 non-matching larger plates with a Christmas tree.

Now that I'm in a much smaller house, I question the wisdom of having stuff designed for just one season--but for now, I still have them, and it makes me happy to use them. 

While we were gathered, a cold front came through--with rain and gloominess, so it was great to be inside.  Last night, it was too chilly to linger long on the front porch.

It is hard to believe that two weeks from now will be Christmas Eve.  I always say that my favorite time of year is mid-September until late December:  so many great holidays, so many reasons to feel festive, such a welcome changes of weather (back and forth, from summer to winter and points in between), and so many memories.

Only yesterday have I found time to sit and listen to a whole Christmas CD.  It was great to have time to sit and catch up with friends, while listening to Christmas music.  While others feel sad that I don't have a traditional tree, like past years, I am happy that in every direction I look, a tree twinkles at me.

In past years, I've made use of Christmas greenery, and often ended the Christmas season with an oozy, goopy eye.  I'm allergic to pine, and last year, we spent every evening on the porch, surrounded by pine boughs.  By Christmas, I could hardly see out of my eye, my allergic reaction was so bad.

This year, I bought small rosemary bushes cut in a Christmas tree shape for the front porch.  So far this season, my eye is fine.

I can't say the same for my eating healthy goals.  On Friday, at our Holiday Open House Meet and Greet, I ate far too many cookies from Trader Joe's.  I bought them because I am usually not interested in mass produced cookies, but they were surprisingly delicious.

Ah well, far too soon it will be time to get back to more sensible ways.  Still let me look for ways to insert some sanity into my work days this week--we don't have any festive events at work this week.

Let us take some time today, before the holidays' hectic schedule completely overtakes us, to sit and contemplate the beauty and the mystery of the season.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Virgin Mary and the Discount Store

I saw the Virgin Mary outside of Marshalls last night.  She was feeding a bottle to a baby in a carriage.  In broken English, she asked for help for her baby.  I guessed that her native language was Italian, but it might have easily been Spanish or a language from the countries near the Holy Land.

No, I haven't lost my mind.  I am working on an idea for a poem.  But the above incident did happen--I did see a young woman in the shadows beside the entrance of Marshalls.  I smiled at her, even though I knew I might be inviting further interaction.  I would likely have smiled anyway, but in the season of Advent, with the Advent texts in my head, there was this strange moment when I thought about the Virgin Mary and angel messengers.

But of course, my encounter was more mundane.

She did ask me for money.  I don't often give away money (in fact, I rarely have cash), but there's something about a person with a child that can move me to give--and yes, I know that's easy to manipulate.  I know that there might be a man somewhere who drops the woman and baby off at a shopping center and says, "Don't come back until you get x amount of money."
But last night, I had a 10 dollar bill in my purse, which I gave her.  She said, in broken English, "But diapers cost $25 a box."
I said, "That's all the cash I have.  At least you now have more than you had."
Do I regret giving her the money?  No.  I suspect it will go to something for the baby, not for drugs or alcohol, the usual reason I don't give when I have cash.  But it did make me feel incredibly sad, this woman begging outside a discount store that has tons of deeply discounted clothes from past seasons.  It makes me feel sad knowing that harder times are surely coming for people in poverty.
And my brain immediately started crafting a poem.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Energy Ebbs and Flows

It is interesting to me to watch my patterns of energy.  On Wednesday, I felt ablaze, and I got a wide variety of tasks accomplished.  Yesterday, I crashed a bit.  I was still able to get through the day's agenda, but I didn't feel that same surging energy.

I hope my energy level is a bit higher today because we've got a big day on campus.  It's a holiday Meet and Greet Open House.  We'll have incoming students come in to meet people and get books ordered and paperwork completed--in short, it's a pre-Orientation opportunity that helps Orientation go more smoothly.  Beginning with this Meet and Greet, we're adding an Open House element--we're inviting everyone who has ever shown an interest in our school.

So, we could have 30 people come or 300--it makes it hard to plan from a food and beverage perspective.  I'm prepared to make a quick Publix run if we need more soda or bottled water.

Meanwhile on the home front, here, too, my energy has ebbed a bit.  I want to sort bookshelves and closets and kitchen supplies, but what to do with all the detritus?  I should see about various organizations who will come to my house, at least to pick up small stuff, like clothes.

I want to get rid of the dining room table and chairs--they're too heavy, too dark, with too many knobs where dust collects.  And did I mention how heavy they are?  And the surface of the table discolors if you glower at it.

Still, I know there's someone out there who might love it.  I wish I could figure out how to find that person.  After Christmas, I'll be more proactive about getting rid of furniture.

Now let me get ready for work--before I go to campus, I'm going to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hurricane Recovery

I ended up taking half a day off work yesterday to be home while the cottage foundation repair work was going on.  I felt a bit nervous about it--what if they had questions that I couldn't answer?  What if something dreadful happened?  In the end, it was fine.

Is our cottage foundation now more secure?  I assume so, but how would I know?  As I said before the final inspection, "You know, if you had showed up to mow my yard, I'd know how to evaluate your work."  They had drilled holes around the edge of the cottage on the inside, put a nozzle down the holes, filled the empty space with a foam that will harden and be waterproof, and filled the holes with concrete.  They even cleaned up the dust. 

My spouse worried that they might not show up at all.  He worried it might be a massive scam--after all, it's not too hard to hire pleasant people to talk on the phone and to manufacture some web sites that attest to your competence. 

The worker said that they had piped in more foam than they had anticipated.  So I'm assuming that we did have a problem that has now been solved.

As they worked in the cottage, I got a lot of grading done.  I had thought that I might get them started, go to work, and then come back, but the job ended up not taking as long as I thought it might.  It made more sense to stay home.

After they left, I applied online for a loan from the Small Business Administration.  You might ask, "You have a small business?"  No, but  I got notice from FEMA that we weren't eligible for disaster assistance because we have insurance, but we could apply for a loan from the SBA, which is how the U.S. Government loans citizens money for disaster recovery.  We'll see what the terms are and if we even need the money--but the deadline is upon us, so I went ahead and applied.

I have noticed this tendency in myself in past disasters, so I want to record it, in part so that I remember, and in part, in case it helps others.  After the disaster, I tend to shut down a bit--in some cases, completely.  I have trouble making decisions or even deciding on an approach.  And then, I come out of the disaster fog.

I'm still a bit overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. But I'm happy to be feeling more capable of doing it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Sociology of Gingerbread

I am tired today, in part because I didn't get enough sleep, and in part because I subbed for a colleague yesterday, which means I stood up all morning.  So, I didn't sleep well, in part because of my aching lower body.

I know that many teach from a seated position, but I've never been able to do that.  Plus I know that the class could be somewhat rowdy, so I wanted to be standing so that I got a full view.

The class wasn't rowdy--in fact, they were delightful.  I know that I came to the class from a very different position than the teacher, so I'm not reading much into it.  We spent the first 90 minutes talking about social change and how social change comes about--a great discussion about social justice movements.  We took a break, and then did a thorough exam review.  When I didn't know an answer, we looked it up in the textbook.

I realized that I've always felt like a failure if I have to send people to the book, while many students like using the book this way--an interesting insight.

While I was teaching upstairs, gingerbread house decorating began downstairs.  Here's my favorite picture from the day:

I spent the afternoon trying to recover from teaching.  In retrospect, I probably should have gone offsite for lunch to give myself a chance to regroup.  When I teach the way I did yesterday, it takes a lot of energy, which leaves me drained.  I'm not at my most patient, problem-solving self in the hours after a class.

But overall, it was a good day.  When students are enthusiastically decorating gingerbread houses, how can it be a bad day?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Unexpected Administrator Tasks

Yesterday was one of those days at work where I was struck again and again by how many tasks are not exactly what I thought I would be doing when I took this job as Director of Education.  For example, yesterday I cleaned water from the freezer of the fridge and tried to determine what had made the ice melt.  The fridge light was on, so we had power.  But we didn't have cool air in the fridge.  I turned the temperature gauge all the way to coldest and waited to see what would happen.

Happily it seems to be fixed.  One of our colleagues reported that she had dropped by the building on Sunday to get a USB drive, and it was very hot in our offices, so I'm guessing that we had a power outage; actually, I think a breaker was tripped, since the fridge in the student lounge was fine.

I went to Wal-Mart and made a lot of purchases for the coming month:  food and decorations for our Meet and Greet Open House, gingerbread house kits and mini marshmallows for our Winter Wonderland Festival week, and granola bars to greet students for week 1 morning classes in January.  I also bought general supplies, like paper plates and creamer for our coffee.

If we had a larger staff, maybe there would be someone else to make the Wal-Mart run.  But we don't.  Some days it's easiest for me to get away, and so I do.  Some days, others do the shopping.  We're all doing activities here and there that are outside of our job descriptions.

In many ways, it gives each of us on staff room to do more, if we choose.  It can be liberating and give us unexpected opportunities.  For example, much of our week-long Winter Wonderland Festival was planned by a woman whose primary duty is to staff the front desk.  Since we don't have a Student Activities coordinator or team, she was able to launch the festival she envisioned without worrying about stepping on the toes of someone with that job description.  Similarly, when I created the pumpkin decorating day, I just went ahead and did it--no need to worry that I would insult the Dean of Student Affairs, a position which doesn't exist on our campus.

I'm trying to improve retention, and I know some (most?) of the factors that cause students to withdraw are outside of my power to change, like illness or job loss.  But I'm hoping that if we make the campus a place that always has some interesting activity just around the corner, students won't drift away.  So far, our retention numbers have improved, so I'll keep doing what we're doing.

Truth be told, I like planning ways to make the weeks more meaningful.  Some approaches, like the pumpkin decorating, appeal to my inner camp counselor.  Some appeal to my inner chaplain, like the display that we created for Veterans Day, when we invited the entire campus to post pictures and stories of their favorite veterans.

Most days, it's the academic part of my brain that I use most, as I think about classes we're offering and how to staff them and how to make sure that students are making satisfactory progress.  When that work is going well, it's intensely satisfying.  When the problem solving isn't coming as easily, it's nice to take a break to go buy supplies for the campus, even if that's not exactly my job description.

And it probably won't be a surprise when I say that I often solve the thorniest problems as I'm driving to the store.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Annunciation from Different Angles

Yesterday, my church looked at the story of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary.  I was in charge of the interactive service, and I wanted to do something different, since I'm often in charge of the service that looks at the Annunciation.

Several years ago I was part of a project that had poets writing poems about the Annunciation.  Elizabeth Adams, the editor, created art to go with the poems.  Her publishing company published the book, and I ordered extra copies.  For more information about the book, and to order your own copy, go here.

We are celebrating Advent by having waffles between services, so as people ate their waffles, I read the story of the Annunciation in Luke.  After we sang two songs, we looked at the books.  We didn't have lots of time, so there wouldn't be a reading of the whole book, just a quick look to see what leapt out at us.

I divided the group into smaller groups, since I didn't have a book for everyone.  Each group chose a poem, with mine not being one of the options, and read it out loud.

The exercise seemed to go well.  People liked seeing the story from other angles, including from the perspective of the angel Gabriel.  The exercise did what I wanted it to do, which was to get us to think about the story in a different way.  Those of us who have been going to church for years have been hearing this story every year.  It's easy to forget how strange a story it is.

As I went to the next service, the more traditional service in the sanctuary, I looked at my feet which are a bit swollen with arthritis.  I thought about the story of Elizabeth, who was older than I am, and the swellings of middle and older age and of pregnancy--and I spent the next service, working on a poem.

So, it was a good morning, all around.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Annunciation Saturday

I started yesterday steeping myself in the Annunciation.  On Thursday, I had tried writing a list poem of reasons why women before Mary might have said no to the angel Gabriel, with his message of God's plan to take on human flesh in the form of a baby.

I didn't really like the list poem, although it helped me think about the categories of reasons why women might have said no to the opportunity of being the mother of the Divine.  Yesterday I wrote a different version of the poem, and I liked it much better.

I have the Annunciation on the brain because today I am in charge of the interactive service at our church.  We are off lectionary, so we're looking at the story of the annunciation.  I was trying to think of something new to do.  We've done plays and that kind of approach.

Today, I'm taking copies of Annunciation:  Sixteen Contemporary Poets Consider Mary.  One of those poets is me.  When the book came out a few years ago, I ordered extra copies because I could get an author's discount.  I thought I might want to have them if I did readings, but so far, that hasn't happened.  They have sat on my shelf since they came to my mailbox.

So, today, we'll look through the book to see if any of the poems or woodcuts speak to us.  Yesterday after I wrote my poem, I looked at the book to be sure that there wasn't anything too intense for children.  I should look again, because I got distracted by the poems that I read, and then I wanted to find more from the authors, and then I was down the rabbit hole of the Internet--but in a good way.

I've meant to return to this book since I ordered the copies.  I thought I might use it for an Advent practice, but that hasn't happened.  I'm glad to have an opportunity to spend some time with the book, and I hope others will enjoy it too.  If you'd like a copy, you can order it here.

I am often in charge of the interactive service during Advent, at least one of them, and I often choose the Annunciation.  I do worry that I say the same thing year after year.  There's nothing wrong with that--in fact it could be good.

But this year, I'm sure I haven't had this approach.  Tomorrow, I'll report back on how it goes.

The rest of the day moved me away from thoughts of the annunciation.  We did some trimming of the hedges.  I kept my spouse company--he did some grading for his online class on the porch, and I read--very pleasant.  I got a haircut and spent time with the friends with whom I always get a haircut.

Our talk turned to how the hurricane has impacted our thinking.  Our hairdresser is thinking about selling her house and renting for as long as she continues to live in the area.  One of my friends spent $17,000 to get a whole house generator.  I play with a variety of possibilities, like buying a house further inland and north of Lake Okeechobee (I could get there on one tank of gas, so it would give me an evacuation shelter), but the first thing to do is repair the damage to the 2 small houses on my property. 

When I got home, my spouse and I took a walk to the marina where we saw huge yachts docked at Hollywood restaurants across the Intracoastal.   We went home to a pasta supper and a glass of wine--perhaps just a variation of what those rich yacht folks were eating.  It's good to remember the pleasures of this place, even while preparing for disaster.

I wonder if I could weave those elements into an Annunciation poem?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

New Year's Eve

You may think I'm a bit early--or maybe you worry that December zoomed right by you.

No, I'm not talking about December 31, 2017.  I'm talking about the liturgical year, which ends today.  Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, although with Christmas Eve on a Sunday, many churches might have already started observing Advent.

What if we used this day the way that some of us might use New Year's Eve?  We could serve champagne and stay up to greet the new year at midnight.

Far better, though, if we use this day to think about our spiritual lives, especially the past year of our spiritual lives.  What has fed us spiritually in the past year?  What might we like to see more of in the year to come?

For me, it's been a stormy spiritual year.  My work life has consumed more hours than I'm used to, as we geared up for an accreditation site visit.  Many of my friends have been working through new milemarkers in their lives:  new jobs, new houses, impending moves, children/family members in transition too.  And then, there have been literal storms, like Hurricane Irma, which has left many of us considering our life choices.

I am pleased that I held onto some of the spiritual practices that moor me, even as I've felt increasingly adrift.  But make no mistake:  I am tired of feeling like a tiny ship taking on water on a stormy sea.

I am ready for the occasional retreat that helps to restore me.  This past year, I couldn't go to the Create in Me retreat because it coincided with our accreditation visit.  This year, I've already requested and been granted the leave time for that retreat.  I'm hoping to get to Mepkin Abbey too.

I am ready for regular creative practices that inject delight into my week.  I've done a fair job at my sketchbook journaling, but I finished a poetry legal pad today, and I didn't write as many rough drafts of poems this past year as other years.

Perhaps it is time to get more involved in worship planning.  I've done some of that in the past year.  I've written prayers for the liturgy, which I always enjoy.  I've liked the days when I've been in charge of the whole service, although those days do leave me exhausted.  For Advent, I'm in charge of 3 of our interactive service, which I'm looking forward to.

In this new year, I also want to stay open to all of the possibilities.  I want to remember the Advent message of the importance of staying alert and awake.  And I want to remember that new life can come out of the ashes--when it looks like all is over (think Elizabeth), the new vision might be unfolding.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Building Cathedrals of Social Justice, Stone by Stone

Each week, new revelations emerge about powerful men and the women they've sexually abused.  Some of the revelations, like the ones about Matt Lauer, are horrific.  Others are more puzzling.  I did not come of age in the 60's; I'm not comfortable with nakedness in the workplace.  I'm don't subscribe to the "if it feels good, do it" ethos; the thought of prison or bankruptcy or job loss or gaining 50 pounds in a year keeps me from doing many things that might bring me temporary good feelings.

On Tuesday when Garrison Keillor was suddenly fired, I felt this weariness.  I wrote this Facebook post:

"In these days when it feels like no one is living a life according to their values--or maybe the problem is the repellent values--let me remember forces of good in my small corner of the world:
--our Vet Tech student group who raised over $1000 (small donation by small donation) for a local charity that helps fund operations for pets that belong to families who are too poor to pay for the operations.
--my pastor, who has never been afraid to the preach the Good News that demands justice for the poor and oppressed; he's currently working on a sermon that weaves themes of gender justice with the Advent story of the Annunciation.
--all of the faculty members I know who are tirelessly helping students get to the finish line.
--all of the people who share their stories to demand justice for both themselves and those who cannot speak.
--more family members and friends than I can count, many of whom have stood beside me for decades, demanding the better world that we know we can create."

It is good to remember that it's these small acts that so often build together until change comes.  And we may feel that the change is temporary, but it's really not.  I know that we may feel we're revisiting Civil Rights issues that we may have thought were solved or sexual harassment issues that we thought we laid to rest with Anita Hill--it's good to remember that even though we made progress, we weren't done.  And now it's time to do some more to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Today is a good day to remember what ordinary citizens can do.  On this day in in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.  This liberation work had been going on since the end of the Civil War, and before, during the times of slavery.

For generations, people had prepared for just such a moment that Rosa Parks gave them. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.  We should take heart from their example.  Those Civil Rights workers faced much steeper odds than we face.

Today is also World Aids Day, a somber day that recognizes that this plague has been one of the most destructive diseases in human history. Let us remember another band of activists who worked hard to make sure that humanity vanquished this disease--I'm thinking of ACT UP, but AIDS united many groups that might not have otherwise found a common cause.

Many people idolize Ronald Reagan, but I will never be able to forget how he refused to take leadership as this disease emerged.  I am haunted by all the lives lost, and perhaps needlessly--if only . . . but history is so full of this needless loss.

It's easy to get bogged down in despair; we have survived earlier difficult days, and we will survive current and future difficulties coming our way too.

We can't know how long the struggle might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.