Sunday, June 30, 2019

Poetry Sunday: "Nitpicking"

I don't often put unpublished poems online in their entirety.  Many journals consider blog postings to be publication, so I often put my already published poems here or poems that I don't think will be published.  I've written a lot of poems, so I have a lot to choose from.

This week, I wrote a poem that juxtaposed our happy Facebook pictures of beaches and church camps with children sleeping in different kinds of camps and that iconic picture of the father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande.  As I was writing that poem, the possibility of a sonnet came to me with these lines:  Children pick lice from each others' hair / and cry for parents who are not there.

Usually I can't write a sonnet--there are parts I just can't accomplish, usually having to do with rhyme schemes.  But as I played with lines, a bigger idea occurred to me:  a poem that had three stanzas that looked at how each branch of the government is dealing with the immigration crisis.  And the poem came together fairly easily.

I'm going to post it here in the hopes that these problems get resolved quickly and that this poem ceases to be relevant.


Children pick lice from each other’s hair.
They sleep on cold concrete floors
and cry for parents who are God knows where.
Legislators look to settle scores.

A father and a daughter drown.
Immigrants die in the desert heat.
At least their bodies are found.
The president makes policy by tweet.

In October the Supreme Court will hear
the case of children without documents.
We dare to hope and sometimes fear
the end to years of arguments.

Historians may say the nation lost its way.
Or maybe this time we will hold the evil ones at bay.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Poetry and Current Events

Long ago, before I wrote poetry in a serious way, my favorite, much loved undergraduate English professors declared that there had never been good poetry that wrote about current events.  She talked about how aesthetically bad all the anti-Vietnam war poetry was.

She taught British Literature, and she was much more likely to spend time with Wordsworth and Coleridge than any poet still alive.  It would be much later that I would discover that one could write compelling poetry about current events, poetry that was both powerful and aesthetically admirable.

Rattle has a feature called Poets Respond, which it describes this way:  "At least every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse."  I've often thought that it would be a cool practice to write one poem a week and submit it, but I often don't do that.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I wrote not one, but two poems that dealt with the crisis at the border.  I began in the pre-sunrise hours of the morning as I watched the sliver of moon rise in the east.  I came up with ideas, but nothing solidified.  Off I went to spin class.

As I spun, I thought about various vacation photos posted by friends about their family trips to the beach.  I thought about the photo this week of the father and child washed up on the shore of the Rio Grande.  I thought about the pictures from camp that grandparents had posted, and I thought of the unaccompanied minor children who are at very different camps courtesy of the U.S. government.

During the morning, I took a break from work, and I wrote out some lines.  I wrote these lines: "Children pick lice from each others' hair / and cry for parents who are not there." I thought, I wonder if I could write a sonnet.

I took out a different sheet of paper and played with rhymes.  Usually my sonnet writing falls apart as I try to get the rhyme structure to work.  But yesterday, the fact that heat and tweet rhyme led to a breakthrough: three stanzas, each one exploring a branch of the government and its approach to immigration.

I was pleased with both poems, so I submitted them both to Rattle.  What a day!  One "failed" poem, 2 poems written and submitted.

As always, I wonder if the poems will work once the specific events have faded from the news.  For that reason, although I may have a poem that blooms because of a specific event, I do try to make most of what I write more universal.

But I also think that a poetry of witness about current events is important--especially during this age, when current events seem to have a much deeper historic import than at other times.

Update:  On Sunday, I decided to write a post that includes the sonnet.  Go here to read it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Inspirational Butterfly Gardens

What does it mean that the parts of my job that I've liked most this week probably have the least to do with my official job description?

Let me stress that I'm getting the parts of my job description done, to the best of my ability.  I'm not sloughing off my official duties.  But those official duties are not what has brought me joy at work this week.

My primary source of joy has been the creation of a butterfly garden.  We have an ugly concrete deck of an upper parking garage with some metal tables.  From the moment I saw it, I wanted to transform it. 

I had a vision of some sort of garden--at one point I thought of growing food.  But gradually, the idea of a butterfly garden inspired me.  Those plants are fairly hardy:  drought resistant to a point and tolerant of long hours of intense sun.

Plus, I love the idea of butterflies.

And so, I got some pots from a friend who's downsizing and some plants from my pastor who is also a talented gardener, and just like that, my dream became a reality.  I've been waiting for the rainy season to start, and once I procrastinated, I realized it would be a great welcome back message for students as they returned to class on Wednesday.

On Monday, as I finished the first phase, I thought, what this garden needs is an inspiration stone.  And so, I made one. 

Yesterday, I wanted another one.  As I was taking my morning walk around the neighborhood, I saw a chunk of concrete in a pile of construction debris.

By the end of yesterday, I had transformed it:

I do worry that it looks a bit amateurish.  And yet, I'm hoping that's part of its charm. 

Anyone can go to a garden center and pay for some mass-produced inspiration stone made in a factory in China.  Not every butterfly garden has repurposed construction debris!

The other favorite part of my week has been putting baked goods out for students.  We got a huge haul on Monday.  Some weeks I pick up the day old baked goods from a local grocery store, and I have to parcel them out carefully to last the week.  This week, we had more than we could use, and it's been fun to put out a variety.

What does it mean that I'm enjoying these aspects more than the onerous parts of my job, like accreditation report writing?  I'll think more about that in the weeks to come.  My initial thoughts:

--I like creating a beautiful space that might inspire us all.

--I like the way I feel like I'm nurturing people when I put out baked goods or creating a beautiful space.

--This week I also had an idea for a "Summer of Self Care."  I like creating co-curricular activies for students.

--I might like creating a beautiful space more than I like creating events. 

--I like creating a green space out of concrete and metal--the possibility of beautifying something that was ugly.

--I like the creating part of it all--the way that inspiration comes to me as a surprising, "I can do this!" moment.

--I like that I have supplies in my office so that, indeed, I can do this.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Whispers from the Universe at Midlife

A friend posted this Brene Brown quote, which has been making the rounds:

"I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:

I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.''
Then my friend wrote, "I have felt this. In fact, I’m in it now. Has anyone else felt the universe telling you to seriously start moving?"

I replied, "Piercingly I have felt this."

My friend asked, "What kicked it off for you? Was it an event? A feeling?"

I liked my response so much that I decided to post it here.  I can't always find things on Facebook again when I want, so I often transform them into blog posts or journal entries.  Here's what I wrote:

"It's been growing since the election, and then there was Hurricane Irma and reports of sea levels rising more rapidly than we anticipated, which made me think my retirement plans needed to be re-evaluated. Once I start to re-evaluate one thing, I've just kept going. But mostly, it's a realization that I no longer have as much time as I once did, and it's time to go into a higher gear. I don't always have the energy for the higher gear--which may also be saying something about my choices. What drains me? What energizes me? Once I'd have avoided those answers, knowing that the answers meant I should be re-evaluating. Now I know I need to re-evaluate, so I'm returning to the basic questions: why am I here? What needs to be done? Or, to paraphrase writer and theologian Frederick Buechner: what's the intersection between my deep yearning and the world's deep hunger?"

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.