Friday, April 30, 2021

Friday Fragments: The Administrator Edition

It's been a strange administrator week--but has it been any stranger than most?  Let me record some fragments and see:

--Monday was the kind of quiet day in the office when I wondered if the campus had already closed and I hadn't been notified.  The rest of the week, however, made up for that lost time.

--Tuesday was the day that we had a student shaking and dizzy because he hadn't had food in weeks; I wrote about that day in this blog post.  The next morning, I applied for a microgrant to create a small food pantry on campus, and yesterday I found out that our proposal has been approved.

--One of our program chairs will now move to part-time as we look for her replacement, and she'll be working remotely.  Wednesday was a bit hectic, as it was her last day on campus.  I thought of the last days of others, and it seemed quiet--we didn't have a festive send-off party, although I did bring in a pan of butterscotch brownies that I baked.

--We discovered that phone calls to the campus have been routed to the Ft. Lauderdale campus.  I spent days this week returning to this problem, trying to figure out how to solve it, a process which involved IT which had questions, like "What happens when ______ can't answer the phone?"  I said, "It goes to voicemail."  That was my answer to several questions:  how hard is this????  By the end of yesterday, it seems the problem is fixed.

--Speaking of strange phone calls, yesterday a woman called and said, "The Ft. Lauderdale campus told me that I can just bring my dog in for an ultrasound without having an appointment."  Oh, I have so many questions.  Who might have said such a thing?  Do we have an ultrasound machine that I don't know about?  Without an appointment?   We don't have an ultrasound machine, and we don't see the pets of the public and if we did, we would require appointments, but we don't because we don't have the staffing or the insurance.

--Yesterday I was on a multi-campus phone call to discuss the programs we have, the programs we will have soon, and the long range plans.  We ended by suggesting other possible programs.  It felt strange to be discussing a future that won't include me.

--Yesterday I made this Facebook post:

"Because I'm a Lutheran who will go to a Methodist seminary, I have to affiliate with a Lutheran seminary, so I chose Southern. Today during my lunch break, I had a wonderful chat with the Admissions Coordinator at Southern, when I called just to make sure that I didn't need to be doing any paperwork or processes for them. I'm in good shape.

As we finished our conversation, I said that my dream job would be creating a program on Theology and the The Arts at Southern, or any other Lutheran seminary. I said it out loud, and the Admissions Coordinator said that it sounded wonderful.

It does sound wonderful . . . a bit like a call . . ."

That post inspired me so much that I wrote this piece for my theology blog so that I could dream a bit more.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

My Life in Marys or the Marys and Me

 I am reading my way through John for Everyone by N. T. Wright.  You may or may not remember that I spent much of 2020 reading my way through the gospel of John one chapter per morning, chapter after chapter, starting over when I got to the end.  You may or may not remember that I began to wonder how Christianity had caught on, since the Jesus in John was so . . . irritating and offputting.

One of my spiritual direction certificate small group friends recommended that I find a good study guide, and when I came across this one, I knew that N. T. Wright would present the material in a way that made sense to me.  So for much of 2020, I've begun the day by reading a portion of a chapter of John in Wright's translation followed by a few pages of wonderful analysis.  Then I read a chapter of Luke.

This morning, I noticed that the next chapter has Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb.  I felt so happy that I would soon be in her company again.  I thought of the Marys in the Bible, and how they've spoken to me--in ways much more so than any of the male disciples.  And lately, Mary Magdalene feels most important.

My life in Marys began with the Virgin Mary, mainly the version of her that I knew in childhood Christmas pageants.  I always wanted to play the Virgin Mary, the plum role for a girl in my childhood church.  But I was always too much:  too tall, too blond, too much.  I didn't blend in.  The pageant needed a demure girl who could gaze lovingly at the baby doll Jesus and not be distracted by the rest of the pageant.  I could be an angel in the choir, in the back of the choir with the tall kids.

As a young feminist, I wanted to love the Virgin Mary, but I was irked by the constant offering up of her as proof that the historic Church had not been patriarchal.  As a young feminist, I wanted more ways to see myself than as a vessel for the Holy or a container of demons or a temptress that would lead men astray.  And the temptress idea wasn't even part of the Jesus narrative.  Jesus and his disciples didn't seem to expand to include women at all.  They might have healed women, but they didn't invite them to dinner.

As a woman heading into the last part of midlife, I now pay attention to the shadowed corners of the stories in the Bible.  Women get the briefest mention, which make me want to know more.  One of the healed women is Simon Peter's mother-in-law, which implies a wife.  Where is that wife?  What does she do while Simon Peter tramps around with Jesus?  In the gospels and in the book of Acts, there's a sentence here and there that makes me infer that women are part of the the ways that the bills get paid.

And I've written this before, but it bears repeating--we give credit to the disciples and the others, like Paul, who take the Good News out to the furthest stretches of the empire, for the success of Christianity.  But we don't spend much time at all talking about the communities left behind, the ones given the seeds to cultivate, the ones who nurtured this new plant and made it grow and rooted it securely for generations coming later.

In the last year or two, I've come across scholarship that suggests that Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus (the one raised from the dead) might have been one of the ones who was instrumental in the success of the early church, that she was one of the evangelists.  I haven't bookmarked any of that information, and I will confess that when I read about her, I don't see it.  But if I had knowledge of Greek, and I read the stories, some of the words might leap out at me as important, and the words used in discussing the work she was doing might suggest that she was doing more than simply absorbing the teaching of Jesus while Martha bustled around the kitchen.

But I confess that it's hard for me to even perceive Mary when Martha is so central in those stories.  Lately, I am much more intrigued with Mary Magdalene, intrigued in a new way.

Even in my young feminist days, I was intrigued by Mary Magdalene.  Was she really possessed by demons or was that code for something else?  Was she a prostitute or was that a way to undercut the idea that she was influential?  I sat through many Easter sermons, and it was late in my life that anyone pointed out that Mary is central to the resurrection story.  It was later still that Mary was mentioned as the evangelist to the disciples, the first one to tell the Good News of the empty tomb.

I realize as a reader that I tend to cast about a story as I look for a person who's dealing with similar circumstances as I am.  Lately, I'm wondering about the age of Mary Magdalene.  Could she be a woman at the far edge of midlife?

It's hard to tell, especially since the lifespan of a woman was so different then.  But in some of her actions, I see a fellow traveler in Mary Magdalene.  In some of the gospels, she's the one who anoints Jesus, much to the displeasure of the disciples.  Even though in my early years, I might have agreed with the disciples, especially in terms of the cost, lately, I find myself admiring her gutsy determination to do her own thing, to stay true to the behavior that makes sense to her.  And it's this dedication to her own self, especially in the face of criticism, that I perceive a woman moving to the end of her midlife years.

And yet, she's not acting with reckless, destructive abandon, even as she ignores the judgment of those around her.  She's not partying with demons while her community collapses out from under her.  She knows what the priorities need to be, and by the reactions of Jesus, we see that her intuition is correct.

In fact, we see her commitment to community as we think about her role in the Easter story.  She stays put, a witness to the horror, a witness to the resurrection.  The crucifixion seems like the ultimate metaphor for life.  We will find ourselves the witness to life in all its gruesome grittiness, and all we can do is be present.  We will suffer grievous losses when all that we can do is tend to the housekeeping types of tasks, like Mary was prepared to do on Easter morning, when she arrived with spices.  By our communal commitment, we may be the first witnesses to a new way of life.

I realize that I'm spinning a back story out of very little.  And yet, I do think I'm staying true to the truth of what we're given.  And I realize that I'm spinning what I need to hear.  We have stories of young women and stories of older women that have informed our Christian spirituality.  But there's very little about women who have moved beyond the societal roles they've been offered, and we know that many women headed out of midlife have faced this dilemma.

I want more stories of women who dream a different vision and have the courage to move in that direction.  I believe that Mary Magdalene gives us that example.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Dreams of a Food Pantry

Yesterday was one of those difficult days at work, a day of solving an immediate problem, while realizing that the larger problem is societal and not going to be fixed easily or soon.  Midmorning, a teacher called us all to her aid, and when we got there, we saw a student shaking and unable to talk.

As always, we wondered if we should call 911.  Was he having a panic attack?  A heart attack?  A reaction to drugs or some environmental irritant?

The student was able to drink some water and tell us that he was just shaky because he hadn't eaten for a few weeks.  I have a stash of granola bars and peanut butter crackers, which I pulled out.  He was able to eat a granola bar and drink the orange juice that our library assistant offered.

The teacher went back to class, and the others also returned to their offices.   I sat with the student for a bit until he felt able to return to class.  Every fifteen minutes, I walked down the hallway to keep an eye on everyone, and the student had perked up and was readying slides for the microscope.

After class, the student came to my office, and I offered to go buy him some food:  a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a tube of jelly, some cookies, some sort of drink with vitamins or electrolytes.  He shook his head and said, "I don't want you to have to do that."  I said that I really wanted to help, and he nodded.  I bought the food and gave him contact information for the food pantry at my church which is nearby.  Later in the afternoon, my pastor told me that he had called.

We spent the afternoon talking about the issue of hunger, both for our students and for the larger society.  We talked about whether it was time to bring back the bread run; once I went to Publix every Monday and got at least 1 buggy full of bread and 1 buggy full of treats, food that would otherwise be dumped.  I got that food and set out treats each day with the bread available for students to take.

But that was back when we had a lot more people on our campus; now I predict that much of the food would be thrown out by us at the end of the week.  And it doesn't have much nutritive value.

So we dreamed a different dream, and we're now planning a small food pantry.  I'm thinking of something that could make a self-contained meal:  soup cups, pop top cans of ravioli, that kind of thing.  I'll supply flyers with information about where to get more food.  And we'll keep a basket with granola bars and peanut butter crackers for students who need a quick snack.

This morning, I applied for a microgrant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.  I also made a pan of butterscotch brownies because it's the last day of work for a colleague who is moving across the state.  I am aware of the juxtaposition of want and plenty.

I wish I had a vision for how to get more resources to more people.  But I also know that solving the issue of hunger isn't as straight forward as it might seem.  We have the resources to feed every person in the world--at this point in history, it's not a matter of not having enough food.

So, even though I know the difficulty of the task, I'll keep working on eradicating hunger:  giving money to groups that get resources to hungry people, while working to get food to people on the local level too.  And I'll try to forgive myself for all the times I should have done more.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Teaching with an MDiv

On Sunday, I was looking through Philosophy job postings to see if there was anything my spouse should know about.  I came across this posting for Claflin College:

Claflin University invites applicants to apply for a tenure-track Assistant/Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion position in the Department of Humanities. The department seeks an innovative and visionary scholar with an active research and teaching agenda in ethics or philosophy, spirituality, religious studies, and theology. Desired further areas of research and/or teaching competency include the philosophy of race and gender, American and Africana/African-American studies, feminist philosophy, social justice, human rights and philosophy of law. The candidate’s research should be of interest to the wider campus and greater Orangeburg community. The department welcomes applicants pursuing interdisciplinary engagement and we are deeply interested in social justice, inter-religious and multi-faith dialogue and comparative projects. He/she will teach courses in these areas and provide guidance in developing the curriculum and departmental programs, advising students and other duties within the scope of this position.

The successful candidate must possess experience in college level teaching and advising. The candidate must have earned either the Master of Divinity degree or The Master of Theological Studies along with the Ph.D or Th.D. in a relevant religious studies field from an accredited institution. Demonstrated experience in teaching philosophy and religion is required. Candidates with experience in the United Methodist Church are preferable.

-----------------------

Back to me.  At first I thought, hey, cool, maybe having an MDiv will open up more teaching doors for me.  And yes, I realize if I want more teaching doors to open, I should be getting a different kind of theology degree.

On Monday, I went back to look at the job description again and realized that they wanted an MDiv along with a doctoral degree.  It's the kind of job posting where I wonder how many positions they're trying to fill with just one person and one teaching job.

I'm thinking back to my grad school days, where a friend picked up grad level art classes along the way; she could now teach undergrad art classes too, and she has done so occasionally.  Looking back, I realize I could have easily picked up an additional 18 credit hours in an additional subject, which might have opened up an additional door or two.

Of course, back then, we didn't pay by the credit hour.  For those of us on a graduate stipend, teaching classes as a TA, we paid one graduate rate for tuition, a ridiculously low rate of several hundred dollars, and then we could take as many credits as we wanted to attempt.

Still going forward, let me keep that in mind.  Let me see what might be possible.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Housing Options

Yesterday, our conversations again turned to home sales.  I fully expect to have this conversation at least once a week while we're in the house, at least while the market is so red hot.

Our homeowners insurance has dropped us--it's not our fault.  It's something that South Floridians go through every few years or more.  Most of the homeowners insurance companies down here you wouldn't have heard of.  The companies with really good ratings want nothing to do with us.

So, because we were dropped, we had to get 2 types of inspections, and yesterday was the day the home inspector came.  The good news:  the house is in good shape.  The bad news:  that good shape may or may not have anything to do with our ability to get good insurance at good rates.  This problem isn't going to get any better, and the only unknown is the pace at which it becomes worse.

We had a chat with the home inspector, the same chat we've been having for years now with just about everyone in South Florida:  is now the time to sell?

The home inspector said, "Oh, yeah, you've got to get out of Florida."  My spouse and I both heard him ordering us to sell and get out of the state.  Upon further reflection, we wonder if he meant that one can only really sell if one is ready to leave the state.  We went on to talk about his buddy who moved and all that he could purchase in a place like Tennessee.

When the home inspector left, we spent the rest of the afternoon talking about options.  The options haven't changed, and I'm not sure our positions really have changed.  My spouse loves the house, but he wants not to lose the option of getting money back out of it.  It would be an easier decision if he was willing to stay with the house until it washes into the sea, and my fear is that the day that it washes into the sea may not coincide with death.  I don't want to deal with the aftermath of it all.  My inner apocalypse gal has been screaming that it's time to get out of South Florida, and if we're moving, I want to move to a place where I have a head start on community--that means the Carolinas or eastern Tennessee.

In the meantime, I'm making plans for seminary housing.  On campus housing is cheap and furnished.  There's also an option for intentional communal housing, but I've decided not to go that route.  In my younger years, I'd have gone that route, but these days, I'm in a more monastic cell kind of mindset.  This shift intrigues me.  I've requested a one bedroom apartment.

I have a vision of arriving at seminary with my sourdough starter, some musical instruments, and my markers.

Yesterday we transplanted seedlings.  We've been growing plants from seeds that we've collected from plants we've been growing.  Everything I researched told me that we would not be able to grow milkweed from seeds, but we gave it a try, and now we have 30 seedlings.  We did the same thing with peppers, cilantro, and dill.  We'll continue to house them as long as we can.  

The future seems murky with possibilities.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Progress: Diseases, Science, and Technology

Today I am awash in admiration for science.  Yesterday the Space X rocket was in the skies above us, and 23 hours it docked at the space station--astonishing when I stop to think about it.  And the space station itself--so different a vehicle than those that dotted the skies of my childhood in the 60's, 70's, and early 80's.

This week is the week of our last 2 vaccine shots in our household.  Two weeks until complete vaccination!  I was curious about the after effects since so many people I know had a more extreme reaction to the second shot, but so far, we've been fine.  My arm was more sore with the first shot than the second.  I was headachy yesterday, and last night, I crashed into bed even earlier than usual, and my usual bedtime has more in common with toddlers than adults.  Of course, my exhaustion on a Friday night might have nothing to do with a vaccine.

I am in awe of the new vaccine technology, the mRNA vaccine that teaches my cells how to resist the advances of the disease.  My poet brain thinks in anthropomorphic terms, seeing the virus as a suitor that doesn't have the best interests of the pursued in mind and my cells as innocent romantics, too open to the proclamations of the suitor.

Yesterday I wrote about this article by Megan McArdle who imagined this disease 20 years ago.  I have played the thought experiment of imaging that this virus struck back in the 80's, when AIDS first appeared.  What if the 2 diseases had changed places?  I do wonder if we'd have thrown more resources at AIDS if it had struck later in the life of humanity or if it had struck a less reviled minority--or if it emerged now, when more of us know more gay men, and we wouldn't have been content to abandon them to a horrific disease.

Now imagine if COVID-19 had descended on us in 1982.  We would have had the internet, sure, but most of us wouldn't have access to it.  We could have figured out a way to do school from a distance, but it wouldn't have been as easy.  Would we have done correspondence courses?  Would we have said, "We'll see you back in class in a year or two when this virus is over--until then, explore your own interests, students."

And what about work?  I think of our corporate team who has had a daily call.  In 1982, instead of Zoom sessions, I imagine that we'd have done a lot of conference calls on telephones.  But many of us forget that we couldn't just pick up a phone and have a cheap or free phone call back in 1982.  The cost of conference calls would have been enormous.  So maybe we'd have learned to trust each other and only checked in when we really needed the insight of far flung colleagues.

I am grateful for the technology that has allowed so many of us to pivot, even as I realize that technology hasn't worked for so many of us.  I am grateful for the science behind the technology.  I am hopeful about the future, even as I realize that we can never turn our back on diseases, even as I realize the forces of technology and science may not save us.

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Poet Gets the Second Vaccine Shot

Yesterday I drove to campus to help open, and then I drove to Publix to get my second vaccine shot.  Then I drove back to campus and waited to see if I would have any ill effects:




This morning I woke up monitoring my body, as I do most mornings.  Menopause has wrecked my ability to know if I'm truly hot or cold.  So this morning I have more chills than usual, which I'm assuming is because of the shot, since the AC hasn't cut on recently.  But the chills also seem in the range of my body's regular reactions without having had a vaccine.  I'm able to drink coffee this morning without sweating, so in some ways, it's a plus.

This morning, I woke up with aches and pains in my joints, but that, too, is not unusual.  Yesterday I had the same assortment of aches and pains, so I'm assuming it's not related to the vaccine.

My arm hurts less than it did the morning after the first shot, but I'm still glad that I don't have work that requires lifting today.  I have a bit of a headache, but that could be for any number of reasons.

This morning, I'm thinking about May and June of 2020, when students were returning to campus to do their labs in person, and I would wake up early, early even for me, wondering how on earth we were going to keep everyone safe.  I remember a moment when I lay there in the dark realizing we were all going to get sick.  I felt a fatalism about it, and then I got to work figuring out ways to make the odds better for us, to reduce the risks of infection.

So far, we have had a few sick students, but none of them got sick by being exposed to a sick classmate.  And when they got sick, they were compliant with our quarantine procedures.  We've had a few faculty members grumble about whether or not students were really sick--were they just trying to avoid tests and due dates?  But they, too, have been compliant with the requirement to work with sick students so they wouldn't feel pressure to lie about exposure so that they didn't fall behind.  It's led me to rethink all of our policies about late work and sickness and powering through and what we require.

I am looking forward to a wide variety of activities, should we ever "return to normal," and I'm hoping that some activities don't come back.  I'm really looking forward to the day when a cough is just a cough again, not a signifier of impending doom.  I'm looking forward to smelling the bag of coffee just because I love the rich smell, not because I'm making sure I still have a sense of smell, since the loss of the sense of smell is one of the most common early symptoms of COVID-19.

I am grateful for all the ways that this will be possible, and I'm aware of some fortunate timing.  As Megan McArdle says, in this article in The Washington Post, "Imagine what might have happened if covid-19 had hit in 2000 instead of 2020. The virus could have traveled as quickly down those economic superhighways. But the first in a series of seminal papers by Karik√≥ and her colleagues was still five years from being published [that work would lead to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines], and work on adenovirus vaccines, such as those from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, was also in early innings. We might well have had to make do with less effective vaccines, like the dead-virus vaccine from Sinovac, or simply wait until at least 70 percent of the population had gotten sick."

I am so grateful for these mRNA vaccines, and I'm grateful to have gotten my second shot.  I'm grateful to live in this world that science has built for us, and I'm hopeful that we can keep working to transform the world, through science and through art and through compassion.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

What's Making Me Happy This Week

This morning I get my second vaccine shot.  I plan to write more about that tomorrow, once it's actually happened.  Today I want to make a list of some things that are making me happy this week.  Some of them are tiny things that I might never remember if I didn't write them down.  Others are pretty big--like my second vaccine shot!

--Last night I stopped by the public library to pick up my books that were on hold.  A woman came in with her two small children who were SO happy to be at the library.  And come to find out, she had made them a challenge about how quickly they could get in and out of the library giving them a time to beat.  And somehow, it all worked.  The kids grabbed books, the woman checked them out, the kids raced to the door, there was no traffic in the parking lot late in the afternoon, and they made it to the car with one minute to spare.

--In tales of administrator life, I spent a good chunk of time hunting down a box of disposable pillowcases that we were told had been delivered, but we couldn't find it on site.  Finally, after looking in every room, I went downstairs to see if the box had been delivered elsewhere--and it had!  I felt like one of the girl detectives in the lesser books I used to read as a child--not Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew, but the girl sleuth who solved a lesser crime, the one who was never in danger, but solved a puzzle nonetheless.

--I have finished turning in all the paperwork required to begin the candidacy process (the way one becomes an ordained pastor in the ELCA variety of the Lutheran church).  If you have never done that, you might wonder why finishing the paperwork is such a big deal.  So many forms, so much information, so many processes.

--In my childhood, I called very small oranges tangerines, and these days, they have any number of names, but I rarely see them called tangerines.  It's the time of year when they are cheap, and I have a wooden bowl that's full of them.  I'm enjoying eating them, and I'm enjoying seeing them in the wooden bowl.  I can't have my cutie and eat it too--but I can buy more mandarins!

--I am trying to cut back, way back, on my alcohol consumption.  I'm trying to do this for any number of reasons, but primarily as I've considered the more recent research on cancer risk and alcohol, and with some family medical news, it seems essential to reduce the risks that I can.  There was wine in the house last night, and I was able to resist its siren call. 

--I am amazed that caterpillars eat milkweed down to the stalk, and a week later, they bounce right back with new leaves and new growth.  I never get tired of seeing that process.

--I love seeing monarchs in the milkweed.  I want to believe that they know that they are coming home, but I remind myself that life is not a Disney movie.  But maybe it's not Disneyfied to think that they might remember our milkweed patch, next to the herbs, next to the tomatoes that never produce, but we never give up hoping.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bearing Witness

There will be plenty of people weighing in on the guilty verdict of the police officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for over 9 minutes.  I was driving home yesterday afternoon, and I heard the verdicts read live, in the non-excited voice of the judge.   I confess I was surprised.  I expected one guilty verdict, not three.

There will still be interactions with the police, and so many of them will be violent.  Some of them will be filmed, and some of that film will give us insights.  But will anything change?

I began the work day by getting students settled and then signing up to speak at the Broward County Commission meeting.  Then I needed to stay on the phone line, since it wasn't clear when our issue would come up.  I could do other work, of course, and I did.  My church is working to bring more supportive housing units to our county--more of this type of housing helps not only with the homeless issue, but also supports people with mental health issues, which means in the best case scenario, less people in jails, less violent encounters with the police.

I wish I could tell you that I spoke eloquently and that the Commission voted to fund even more units than we asked for.  But when one commissioner saw the cost of the request, he moved to have the issue moved to a budget workshop so that the commission could figure out how to fund it.  And all the waiting on hold was for nothing, as they went on to other issues that didn't cost money.

My hope is that our issue will be taken seriously as commissioners figure out the budget, that as they have seen us register to speak across 2 meetings now, they will do more for the less fortunate members of our community.  Perhaps we could have all the developers of luxury properties make a contribution to provide for supportive housing and the other elements that we need to make our communities safer for all.

In fact, we could go in all sorts of directions.  Will there be leadership?  Will there be follow through?  Are we still able to dream?  The 29 people on the phone waiting to testify to the county commission yesterday might have helped persuade the commissioners to do so.  Time will tell.

I have no doubt that we would have seen a different verdict in the police officer's trial if the teenager with a smart phone hadn't recorded the encounter.  Sometimes, bearing witness is important.  Sometimes it makes a difference.  In this case, it didn't save George Floyd's life, but maybe it will make the world safer.

Eventually.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

What I'm Reading in this Time of Racial Reckoning

Here we are, another April, another trial about police brutality.  Yesterday lawyers finished closing arguments in the trial of the police officer accused of killing George Floyd.  In  April of 1992, officers accused in the brutal treatment of Rodney King were acquitted.

Across the years, my response is the same:  how can people be that brutal?  I am not one of those who would argue that any of us could be that brutal, given the right circumstances.  But to beat a stranger who has done nothing to me personally?  In both cases, and in so many cases of police brutality, I look at the victim--the crime is not something like child molestation.  Traffic violations, high speed chases, broken taillights, minor drug offences--that doesn't inspire murderous rage in me.

Against this drumbeat of the trial in Minnesota, the subsequent police mistakes that have lead to death in just the two weeks since the trial started, I've been reading two works of fiction.  I realize that there are many works of nonfiction that could give me important viewpoints during this time.  In fact, I read some of them last year.

In terms of understanding police brutality, the best book on the subject that I've read thus far is Resmaa Menakem's My Grandmother's Hands:  Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.  This April, I've been reading Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom and Ayad Akhtar's Homeland Elegies.

Both writers are exploring the immigrant experience, as varied as that experience can be in the U.S.  Gyasi's immigrants come from Ghana and end up in Alabama and later California, when the immigrant daughter goes to Stanford.  Akhtar's immigrants come from Pakistan.  All of the characters are treated as racially different from the mainstream, and the authors explore what that means in the modern world.  It's good to be reminded that racial issues are much more layered than just black-white.

Both authors also explore the issue of religion in the U.S.  Gyasi's characters are Pentecostal Christian, and Akhtar's are Muslim.  But of course, it's rarely that simple.   And there are other types of beliefs that the authors explore:  the belief in wealth and money, the pursuit of truth (scientific truth, relationship truth, medical truth, geopolitical truth), and the embrace of the ecstatic, even when the ecstatic will kill.

I enjoyed each book, and I do wonder if I would have enjoyed them as much if I had read them further apart.  Probably.  I also heard each author interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air, which also enriched my experience, once I finally found the books in the library.

Have these books helped me understand the heart and mind of the police officer who can kneel on a man's neck for 9 minutes?  No.  I can't imagine wanting to read that story, and I really can't imagine writing that story.

But I do believe in the power of story to help us understand each other.  Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom and Ayad Akhtar's Homeland Elegies are important pieces of that mission.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Saving the Earth, One Butterfly, One Potato Chip Bag at a Time

I have been feeling thrilled to see 6 butterflies, all monarchs, emerging out of their chrysalises this week-end.  We had a brief chat with our pastor when we got drive through communion.  He's taking a very different approach to butterfly gardening, as he builds enclosures and moves plants and tries to keep caterpillars and butterflies safe.  As a result, he's launched over 100 butterflies.  Many of them are monarchs. 

In some ways, it feels like important work, especially when I hear the news of how endangered this butterfly species is.  In other ways, it feel ludicrous, especially when I consider the lifespan of a butterfly.

I had similar thoughts this week-end, during my two long walks.  When I have time, I like to walk over to Holland Park, which is predominantly a boat launch area with some picnic tables.  But there are trails and more trees than in the neighborhood, and a different water view.

Saturday I found a big potato chip bag on the trail, so I picked it up and threw it away.  I did the same with some empty plastic bottles and a few other non-biodegradable food wrappers.  It felt like the ultimate Earth Day kind of action:  making a small gesture that likely won't have a long-term impact but it made me feel good.  On Sunday, I returned to the park only to find more trash.  I picked up a few more items and put the aluminum cans in the recycling bins.

I'm sure that there's more trash today.  The trash cans don't have lids, and there aren't enough of them.  It's been a week-end of beautiful weather, which means more people have been out and about.  It's a never ending issue.

Still, I'll keep making the effort, one butterfly, one potato chip bag at a time.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Nature in the Butterfly Garden, Bewitching and Terrifying

A few weeks ago, we had 36 caterpillars in our butterfly garden.  We've played Find the Chrysalis in the surrounding shrubbery.  We've found the occasional empty chrysalis, along with a chrysalis or two that turned black, but never had a butterfly emerge.

Yesterday, we had three butterflies hanging on the shrubs, waiting for their wings to dry enough to fly away.  




I couldn't get a shot with all three in the shot.  At least, I don't think I did.  In the picture below, imagine the third butterfly all the way to the left:





I had thought I'd just take a quick look, but I was too intrigued.  In the end, I sat on a lounge chair where I could see one of them.  I read my book, enjoyed the sun, and looked at the butterfly every so often.  It hung mostly motionless, with the occasional flutter of wings.

Eventually, the butterfly flapped its wings more regularly, and it wasn't long before it flew away.  We kept an eye on the other two, and eventually, they, too, flew away.

This morning, we had 2 new butterflies--and a snake coiled in the bush where they had just emerged.  In the picture below, the snake is the gray horizontal creature just below the butterfly and 1 inch below, you can see the rest of the snake (look at the bottom left of the picture where the snake's body is easiest to see):




My spouse and I had a brief talk about what to do.  It wasn't clear why the snake was in the bush.  He's been part of our property for years, so we're not afraid of him.  But I really didn't want to watch him eat the helpless butterflies.

In the end, we did what we usually do:  we let nature take its course.  We are not strict vegetarians, and we don't require all the residents of the property to be vegetarians.  I do wish they wouldn't eat each other, but I don't intervene.

I say that I let nature take its course, but I'm thinking of all the creatures we've pulled out of the pool, including baby snakes, frogs, and the occasional butterfly:




In fact, the snake we saw this morning may be the grown up snake that we saved years ago.  But this life isn't a Disney movie, where we have a strange bond.

Or is it?  As of right now, the butterflies are alive, and the snake has slithered away.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I have always joked that I'm a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I've meant by that statement is that I'm queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I'm queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze.

I want to be a hip mind trapped in a modern body.  For more years than today's hipsters have been alive, I've been thinking about queerness and all the ways that term is adequate or inadequate.  When  commentators on transgender issues tell us that we can't possibly understand what it means to feel like you're trapped in a body that's wrong for you, with outsides that don't match insides, I say, "I'm a women with flesh that's expert at storing calories for a future famine.  I'm a woman in a deeply patriarchal society that insists we strip every bit of fat from our bodies except for our breasts.  I'm deeply familiar with the feeling of feeling trapped in our flesh.  

I've spent decades trying to change either side of my own binary equation when it comes to these questions of the flesh.  Change my brain:  gratitude for all that my body can do, even with its insistence on storing calories in these extra pounds.  Change my body by monitoring calories, increasing exercise.  My inner medievalist eschews it all.  My inner medievalist asks, can't we just focus on what really matters?  Will we lose our mortal souls in this mad pursuit?

I'm versed in ways of gender expression, but I feel queasy about harnessing the power of surgery for those purposes.  Of course, I'm queasy about surgery regardless.

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I'm a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I'm thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I'm thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don't even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don't want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what's next.  

Friday, April 16, 2021

Medical Geneology

My family is involved in a sort of genealogy project, as we construct a family medical history, as we do that now, while we can all still remember.  I was a bit chastened to realize that I don't remember the exact age at which I've had each skin cancer.  The last two I could figure out because I was blogging.  But the first 2?  Was it before the year 2000 that I got my first skin cancer?  No, I'm sure it was not.  It was somewhere around 2002 or 2003, which means I would have been 37 or so, and that feels right.  And then the next one was 2 or 3 years later.

Late in the day yesterday, I took a break from work e-mails and read an e-mail from my mom's cousin, telling us about the breast cancers in our elders.  My grandmother had an aunt, Mary Jane called Jennie, who lived with them, and she had breast cancer.  My mom's cousin wrote:  "I was told that grandpa and she rode the train to Johns Hopkins but they could not help."  So that would have been a brother and sister, taking the train from Tennessee to Johns Hopkins and all for naught.

Then I looked at the rest of the my mom's cousin's message, figured out the dates, and wrote this e-mail:  

"So Mary Jane (Jennie) Crumley was 57 when she died. My age. I am sitting here feeling so sad at the thought of them taking the train to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done. And that must have been 1938 or 1937, during the Great Depression. They spent that money on train tickets and Johns Hopkins, and it was futile.

Sadness, sadness."

How did they find the money?  I know that they were very poor during the Depression, but because the family farm was in Tennessee and not in the Dust Bowl states, they managed to hang onto it.  Because they had a farm, they always had food and enough to share.  They had holes in their shoes, but they had food, as my grandmother's brother, Uncle Jim, always said.  My grandmother remembered all the quilts they stitched, but not with fondness.  She remembered the desperation.

My grandmother talked about the spinster aunt, Aunt Jenny, who lived with them.  But she never, ever mentioned the breast cancer or the train trip to Johns Hopkins.  I would have remembered that detail.

I know that my poetry brain is churning away at all of this.  My medical history brain is appalled at all the breast cancer running through my family, all the cancers of all sorts of kinds that I hardly remember.  I remember my grandmother's breast cancer, when she was in her 70's, but I always thought that it was the kind of cancer one might get if one lived long enough.  Now I think about my grandmother's sister who also had breast cancer in her 70's, and their aunt, who had breast cancer at a younger age.

Now I am thinking about how the need to schedule a mammogram has suddenly increased in urgency.  Let me add that to my ever-growing to do list.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

My Role in Pandemic Theatre

A large part of my administrator job in the past year has revolved around what I'll call pandemic theatre.  Let me say at the outset that the idea of pandemic theatre isn't original to me; a series of articles in The Atlantic uses the term "hygiene theater" and focuses more on the scrubbing that we've all been doing.  This article ties the term back to the increase in "security theater" that we instituted in the past 20 years after September 11, 2001, and this article tells us that we can quit doing all this scrubbing we've been doing for the past year.

As an administrator, I haven't been doing all that scrubbing myself, although I've spent a lot of time thinking about and ordering scrubbing supplies.  I'm using pandemic theatre because it's a more expansive term, and because I'm not sure it's done a lot of disease prevention.

Eleven months ago, we spent a lot of time writing pandemic protocols that we would put into place as students returned to campus to do lab work.  I would write a set of protocols, my campus team would offer suggestions, I'd rewrite them, and then the Corporate team would demand revisions.  I would take the parts of the protocols from other campuses that had been praised and try to shape ours to that, while at the same time wondering why the Corporate team didn't just hand us the protocols that they wanted us to adopt.

I've spent a lot of the past 11 months screening people arriving to our campus.  At first, I asked health questions, and then we decided we wanted a written record.  We continue to have people fill out a sheet of paper.  If we ever have to do contact tracing, it will come in handy.  So far, we haven't had to do contact tracing, so maybe our protocols have been a success.  Or maybe there's been exposure, but no one has told us that they were a possible disease vector.

As I look back over the last 11 months, I'm amazed that we haven't had outbreaks on our campus.  We've done our best to minimize large groups, and we still make sure that we don't have more than 10-12 people in a classroom.  We still wear masks.  I still ask students to space themselves out if they're congregating in clumps inside.  Those parts of pandemic theatre are the parts that have helped in disease prevention, at least according to what we know now.

Having people fill in the health question sheet?  Taking their temperatures?  Those things haven't helped, at least not past the first few weeks.  We now know how to answer the questions.  So far, no one has come to campus with a fever.

My school has gotten that the message that one should stay home when one is sick.  I hope that we can hang onto that when the pandemic ends, if the pandemic ends.  We have had the conversations about whether or not students are really sick or are they just trying to avoid a quiz or test.  I would love to see us go to an assessment model that moves away from whether or not students are cheating in any number of ways, but I accept that I'm not likely to change that discussion during the limited time I have left in my administrator life.

Our students have also been wonderfully forthcoming about when they've been exposed to COVID-19.  Yesterday was a new milestone for me.  A student came to campus when I was staffing the intake table.  She told me about her friend who tested positive yesterday.  I went through the questions:  when did she test positive, when did you last see her, were you inside or out, masked or not?  And then, when I was about to send the student away to get tested, she said, "I've been vaccinated."

I moved to a new set of questions, beginning with the most important one:  when was your last shot?  Lo and behold, she said she had had two shots of the Moderna vaccine, and the last one was two to three weeks ago.  I said, "Well, you should be protected.  You can't contract the disease or spread it.  You can be on campus."

Now that my state is vaccinating everyone, I need to remember to ask the vaccination question earlier.  And I know that the disease is ever evolving, so at some point, having been vaccinated may not be enough.  The thought that we might still be doing pandemic theatre years from now as the disease mutates makes me very tired.

I understand that we're performing pandemic theatre for a variety of reasons:  to make ourselves feel safe, to make others feel safe, to protect our institutions against litigation, and because parts of it actually work.  As we move through this second year of the pandemic, I hope we can start to understand what parts work and what don't--and maybe we can stop doing the parts that aren't important, like disinfecting the pens at the intake table. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Poetry Progress

I am happy to report that I have finally written a poem.  I have been aware that it is National Poetry Month, but I'd have been feeling anxious even if it wasn't April.  I like to write at least 1 poem a week, and it's been several weeks since I got a poem written.

Last week I sent out this tweet:  "I want to write a poem that juxtaposes feast days of virgin female saints (do we celebrate virgin male saints?), modern women's lives, and cancer. Can I do this without stretching a metaphor too far? Stay tuned!"  Even then, I was conscious of censoring myself--what I really wanted to write about were the virgin saints who cut off their breasts to preserve their purity and to juxtapose that image with the modern mastectomy.

I do worry that the comparison is overwrought, but I wrote it anyway.  I still need some distance from it to be able to analyze it, but it has potential. 

I've been feeling a bit dried up, like I don't have any good ideas for poems, like I once had them, but I can't remember what they were.  Sometimes, reading my old poems helps, and sometimes, revision and typing them into the computer helps.  

Yesterday I made this Facebook post:  "I had forgotten that I wrote a poem about Noah's wife who gets a job at a community college where she has to hear about a different kind of arc (average registered credit) as a means of salvation. That poem is now revised and polished and ready to sail out in a submission packet."

Did the process of revision yesterday lead to this morning's success?  Perhaps.  Or maybe it's because I got up a bit earlier, which for me means closer to 3 a.m. than 4 a.m.  I'm not sure why that hour of the day is most golden for my composing process, but it is.  At least, at this moment in my life it is.

Here is the last stanza of the Noah's wife poem.  It seems appropriate for this time in the life of our nation:


Noah’s wife returns to the wastelands
of the inner city laid bare
by predatory practices.
Her husband put his faith in floods
to wash away the blight.
She buys an empty warehouse.
Noah’s wife gets to work.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Of Masks and Plagues and Nancy Reagan

For some reason, I have masks on the brain.  I'm remembering a year ago, when mask mandates went into effect, and there was talk of mask shortages.  I'm a woman with lots of scraps of cloth, so I made myself some masks.  They were awkward and bulky, and I put ties on them instead of elastic loops for the ears.  Ties do not work well with my hair, so I soon changed them to elastic loops--the joys of a well-stocked sewing kit.

I remember the first week of the mask mandate when people were improvising.  I saw bandanas over faces, which made going to the grocery store feeling like bandits were among us.  Now I see two main types of mask wearers:  those who do a lot with cloth masks and those who are wearing medical type masks.  Or maybe a third type too:  those who don't cover their noses and/or mouths, but have the mask nearby.

I remember a year ago wondering how long we would be expected to wear masks and being eager to get to a time when we didn't have to wear them.  Now I have gotten used to them. 

I have also been thinking about a different plague, a different time of pandemic, the early days of the AIDS crisis.  In part, I've been going back to that time as our current pandemic has unfolded.  Yesterday, on The Atlantic's website, I read this excerpt out of Karen Tumulty's new book on Nancy Reagan.  The article explored both her response to AIDS and her husband's.

I have had strong opinions about that family, the Reagans, but those opinions have been tempered with time.  Ronald Reagan was elected when I was a sophomore in high school, which means he was governing for most of my early adult life, through high school, college, and part of grad school.  If you had met me in those days, I could have told you all the ways he was the most dreadful president ever.  Now I have seen worse.

But I'm also willing to see that most people are doing the best that they can with the information that they have at the time.  I do believe this statement to be true of Ronald Reagan.

Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, the response to AIDS was one of the huge failures of his administration.  If the disease had struck less marginalized parts of society, I have no doubt he'd have responded differently.  We've seen that dynamic at work in our current pandemic.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Week-end Update

It's been a strange week-end--but has it been stranger than any other week-end?  Let me capture some elements before the week cranks into high gear:

--Our neighbors two doors to our west put their house on the market this week-end.  I lost a fair amount of time Sunday morning looking up their property and then others.  I did not realize they had a pool!  Their house is similar to ours:  a 2/2 main house and a 1/1 cottage in the back.  Their cottage is unfinished.

--On Saturday, we had a Create in Me Zoom call.  Create in Me is the retreat at Lutheridge that explores the intersections between creativity and spirituality, the retreat that has been cancelled for 2 years in a row.  It makes sense that it's been cancelled, but wow, how I miss these people.  It's been interesting to me through the years, feeling so connected to people that I only see once or twice a year.  I feel so lucky to have this group, and others like this group, plus close friends in the South Florida area where I live.

--What a strange week it's been, a week of orientations with the new owners, a week that left me with more questions than answers.  It's been a week of finishing paperwork for seminary and for ordination, and I've been reminding myself to read those letters of recommendation, that belief that others have in me.  Let me also remember that one of my Create in Me friends was hoping I'd be coming to seminary in South Carolina; I told her that I have to do a Lutheran year, and I decided to affiliate with Southern, so she might be seeing me.

--I told my spiritual director that I'd be thrilled about seminary, even if I knew it didn't end in a job.  I am so thrilled about the idea of a deep dive into these subjects, of immersing myself, of having one last chance to do this.

--Am I silly for thinking it's my one last chance?  Maybe after this, I'll get a PhD in theology!

--On Friday night, my church council voted to support me financially.  I feel weird about that, but I know that it's important in the eyes of the larger church that my home church supports me.  I thought, well, I can always donate the money back to my home church. 

--I began the week-end with a church council meeting, and the week-end ended with a thunderstorm, a literal one.  Ordinarily, I might be delighted, but last night, we had water intrusion in the laundry room, which meant lots of pantry items to move.  We know how to fix it--cleaning out gutters and downspouts--but it's not a fix that can happen as the rain is coming in.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Ten Weeks of Charging Towards Change

It was only 10 weeks ago today that I first heard about the Theology and the Arts track at Wesley Theological Seminary.  It was only 10 weeks ago this week-end that I first explored that website in depth.  

What a lot has happened since then!

I do wonder if future me will look back on these 10 weeks and wonder how I had the energy to do what I did, much the way I look back on the months back in the 1990's where we got ready to move to South Florida.  Current me is a bit amazed at the way the pieces have come together.

Ten weeks ago, I had applied for the opening at the main campus for which I thought I was qualified and had a good possibility.  But on March 15, I found out that someone else had gotten that job when I read the school-wide e-mail congratulating people on their promotions.  If I hadn't already applied to Wesley, I'd have seen that e-mail as a sign.

The application was somewhat more involved than the ones for most graduate programs that I've explored, although I didn't have to take the GRE again.  I did have to provide 4 letters of recommendation from very specific types of people:  my pastor, another person working in the church, a professor or employer, and someone who knows me personally.  I had to fill out an electronic application, and I had to write an essay.

The process for candidacy was even more involved:  an online application, an even longer essay, 2 letters of recommendation, 2 congregational forms, a financial worksheet, a personal health inventory worksheet, an interview with one of the 4 people the Synod has chosen to do initial interviews, and a whole battery of psychological tests and interviews.

Even now, I am somewhat amazed that I have been able to get all of this done.  I'm fairly organized, so that helps.  And I love to write, so that helps too.  Throughout the years, as an administrator and a teacher, I've had to put lots of similar information into a variety of forms, so that part wasn't as daunting as it might have been.

I want to remember how pieces have fallen into place with what feels like very little effort.  I've had years where I've worked towards a goal and met obstacle after obstacle--at some point, I begin to wonder if there's a cosmic message I'm not understanding.

I do realize the danger in this thinking.  Just because the progress is easy or isn't easy, that's not necessarily a sign from God.

I've been thinking about working on an additional degree for decades now--some years, it's an MFA, some years a PhD in theology, some years an MDiv.  But as I've investigated the possibilities, it's never felt like the right time--until now.  

There are still some variables, of course.  But they don't seem overwhelming at this point, the way they have in the past.

I do wonder if this past year of pandemic has been a factor.  In some ways, yes.  I've had a variety of friends making choices they might not have made if the pandemic hadn't forced them to think in new ways; I'm thinking primarily of all my friends ow have moved.  Seeing this process has made me think in new ways too.

The pandemic has shaped my way of thinking in other ways too.  I've always been aware that I don't have all the time in the world to accomplish my goals.  The pandemic has not only reinforced that idea, but has also reminded me that there can be many unforeseen variables, which has led me to a carpe diem mindset.

I'm excited to see what the next 10 weeks will bring--and the next 10 months, and the next 10 years.  I know that I will look back on these past 10 weeks as a turning point.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Funeral Arrangements in a Time of Pandemic

Today is my aunt's funeral.  She had been gravely ill for months, and in hospice for weeks, so her death was not a surprise.  But in a time of rising pandemic rates, amongst my family members, we've had a different set of conversations than we might have had before.

I found out about her death on Tuesday, and her funeral in North Carolina on Friday (today) at 11:00 a.m., a drive of at least 12 hours, so I'd have to drive on Thursday (yesterday).  I briefly considered flying--I could fly to Charlotte, rent a car, and drive for an hour or two.  That would still need to happen on Thursday.

But there's a pandemic.  Do I really want to fly?  Even when there's no pandemic, I rarely want to fly.  But these days, the thought of being in airport terminals and planes with throngs of people adds a level of anxiety to travel that rarely seems worth it.

There's also the issue of exposing others to disease.  I live in a disease hot spot, and I have not been quarantining.  I spent two days this week in a room with 60 other people, some masked, some not, for over 8 hours each day.  Should I go to North Carolina without knowing my disease status?

I have had one shot of the Moderna vaccine, so I am partially protected, and thus, others would be partially protected, but I'm still not sure how much others would be protected if I was asymptomatic and traveling.  Even with a mask, there would be risk to others, since there's a lunch after the funeral.

Some other part of my brain wondered if I was considering all of these factors because I wanted to rationalize my not wanting to travel.  And then the other part of my brain reminded that part of my brain that the CDC still advises against non-essential travel.  And traveling to this funeral would be non-essential.

My uncle does not need me to be there.  He's lived in his community for over 50 years, so he's got deep roots.  His 2 sons, my cousins, will be there, as will my mom (his sister) and dad.  While I would like to see everyone, I can wait until Thanksgiving, when more of us will be vaccinated, and we will be able to catch up with each other at a slower pace.

So, I have decided not to go.  If technology is working in our favor, I can tune in on a YouTube channel.  If not, I'll sip my tea in my office and say some silent prayers.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Missing the Chance to Retreat

Today in normal times, in the time before this pandemic, I'd be headed to the mountains, to the Create in Me retreat.  This year, I'm selfishly glad that the retreat has been cancelled, because I'm not sure I would be able to be there.  I would have needed to be here in South Florida for the past two days, and I am grateful not to be driving twelve hours today.

But there is also a level of grief at this second year of cancellation.  I think cancelling the retreat was the right thing to do, and there will be a Zoom call on Saturday as a sort of cancellation.  I do worry that the retreat was losing momentum before COVID, and maybe these 2 years of cancellations will be the death blow.

Of course, maybe these two years of no retreat will make us all more dedicated to getting ourselves there each year.  Maybe we will treasure it more.

In past years, I've assumed the retreat would always be there--how could it not?  I've assumed that retreat centers would always be there.  I've assumed that I would always be able to go, that I would be working at jobs that would give me time off, and that somehow, I would be able to get away--at least most years.

This year, I'm wondering where we will all be next year on the Thursday after Easter.  I am hopeful that we will all be headed to the mountain top.  Next year Easter comes later on April 17, so the retreat will be the last week-end in April.

My hope is that I will have to plan carefully, because I will be in my second semester of seminary studies.  Hopefully, any final exams will be later.  Hopefully, my seminary professors will say, "Of course you should go to that retreat."  Maybe I will even get some kind of extra credit!  I am enrolling in a Theology and the Arts track, after all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Orienting to New Normals

Yesterday I had a fairly smooth commute to the Hollywood campus, where I helped unlock the building, and then I had a fairly smooth commute to the Ft. Lauderdale campus.  But then I walked into the main room, and I thought, I've made a horrible mistake.  

The room was set up with tables that were spaced well, but we were sitting 2 to a table.  I did sit with a colleague from my campus, and I know that she's been taking precautions, but it still felt risky.  And then there was food and drink all day, also risky.  And lots of people, most of them abandoning good masking practices fairly early in the day.

At first I tried double masking, and then my face got so hot that I took it off.  I've gotten used to my single mask, my medical grade mask (and I used a fresh one for Easter and for the multi-campus meeting yesterday).  As I noticed my own feelings and behavior, I reflected on this time in our collective life in this pandemic.

We're at a time of rising rates, after a time of two months of flat or falling rates.  We're at a time when we see more people travelling.  We see more variants in the country.  Many of us are vaccinated, or partially vaccinated, but many more of us are not.  And now, as stated on yesterday's episode of the Diane Rehm podcast, the median age for people who contract the disease is 39 in many parts of the country.  

It was interesting to watch people's behavior yesterday, and it helps me to see why it's so hard to get a handle on the disease.  At first we were all so careful, and then as we got comfortable, we went back to our old ways of acting.  People gathered around one of the small tables to eat lunch together, and they weren't part of a quarantine pod; I knew that they came from different campuses.  I saw the same thing happen at the quilt retreat back in October.  At first we were careful--then we got comfortable and relaxed our defenses.

To see our friends, family, and colleagues as disease vectors goes against many of our evolutionary impulses.  I understand that.  And yet, yesterday, I felt this rising anxiety as the day went on, anxiety that sometimes bordered on panic.  I tried to keep calm by holding my own hand and by singing the lyrics of Sunday's Easter music in my head.  Judging by the behavior of those around me, some of us were feeling similarly anxious, while others of us were feeling invincible.

And I know the invincibility doesn't come from vaccination.  Very few people in the room were old enough that they could have gotten 2 doses of the vaccine in the amount of time it has been available.

I'll be interested to observe our behavior during the second set of orientation meetings today.  Time to get ready.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Doubly Masked, a Mix of Fear and Hope

I don't have as much time to write this morning.  I'm leaving early, so that I can help open the Hollywood campus before I drive to the Ft. Lauderdale campus for day 1 of a two day orientation.  The e-mail with the orientation schedule went to 58 people.  If they all show up, I don't know how we'll fit safely into that room; it's a big room, but it's not that big.

But it's likely that they won't all show up.  Some of them will have to teach.  Some of them will read the sentence about being able to watch the recording later and decide to go that route.  Some of them won't want to make the trip from Gainesville or Orlando.

I had similar concerns back in December when we met as a larger group, and it turned out to be O.K.  And this time, I've had one vaccine dose, so I'm more protected than I would be with no vaccine in my body.  Still, I plan to be double-masked and to take my masks off as little as possible.

On Sunday, at the 11 a.m. church service, I looked out across the congregation and thought about how rarely in the past year I've been in an inside space with that many people--about 50 people.  We were spaced out across a chancel built for 300 congregants, so we were able to stay separated.  

Most of us hadn't seen each other in over a year, at least not in person.  I could see many of us trying to figure out this new normal--how close could we get to each other?  There was no hugging, although in the past, we were a congregation of gentle huggers.  There were some fist bumps, but mostly there were waves across the sanctuary.

It was also strange that it was Easter Sunday, a Sunday when traditionally we'd be seeing families that don't come more regularly.  This year, we've all been jumbled in terms of participation, as some of us have participated more than we would have in the pre-recorded segments of the services and some of us have drifted away.

Throughout the morning, across 3 services, I sometimes felt my heart squeeze at the thought of all the stresses and losses of the past year.  I've stayed more connected than many people.  I still go into the office each day, and I'm still doing lots of work with the church.  But I'm aware of all the ways my connections have become a bit looser; I'm not seeing people as much as I once was.  I know that some people have substituted Zoom calls for in-person get togethers, and I've done that to an extent, but not as much as some people I know.

So in a way, I understand the desire to have us gather in person, whether it be in church, in schools, or in the workplace.  I will try to hold onto that understanding as I go to my work orientations today, doubly masked, in a mix of fear and hope.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Easter Update

 Yesterday morning, Easter morning, I had planned to write something, even if it was a rerun of a past post.  But I had no time.  I did morning watch, my televised morning matins from the liturgy of the hours that I do on my church's Facebook page.  Then it was off to church to set up and play for the sunrise service that started at 7 a.m.

My church had 3 services:  sunrise outside at 7 a.m., and 2 indoor services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.  My spouse did a lot of singing for all of them.  In past years, I played hand chimes, but this year, I played upright bass in the sunrise service:


photo by Keith Spencer


It went so well that I played the bass during the song "Now the Green Blade Rises" (ELW 379) for the 2 later services too.  It's an interesting Easter song, since the music is a French carol.  It was far from perfect, but it was better than I thought it would be.  If I had had another 2 weeks to practice . . . 

The other highlight of the day was my pastor's Easter sermon.  I think that Easter would be a tough sermon opportunity.  You know that the audience has been to Easter services before, and many of them have been to many services.  In short, it's tough to say something new.

My pastor talked about resurrection ferns, plants that can lose 97% of their water in the South Florida dry season and come back to life with the return of the rainy season.  He also gave us an interesting lesson about the passage of a caterpillar to a butterfly, how the caterpillar in the chrysalis collapses into ooze and from that protein goo emerges a butterfly.  I didn't know about the imaginal disks that develop into the separate parts of the butterfly or that the butterfly might retain some of the knowledge it had as a caterpillar.

In short, the imagery was unique and perfectly suited for Easter.  I was happy to be able to hear it 3 times.

After the 3 services, my spouse and I stayed to count the money and make the bank deposit.  Then we came home and watched the services several more times.  My spouse likes to watch the music and try to figure out how to improve his singing and his instrument playing.  

Is it a good way to do this?  I don't know.  But I was intrigued to watch myself playing the bass, to know that I was actually doing a much better job of keeping time than I might have thought.  Hurrah.

And now, to nurse the blister on my bass picking finger.  Yes, I have a blister on my bass picking finger!  That may not ever happen again . . . or maybe it will!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Winsome Rabbits in Five Minute Sketches

When I started creating sketches with dates for the COVID check in station, I didn't anticipate how much joy they would bring me--and how much I might learn by doing them.

For those of you tired of my sketch process posts, just move along.  I do think they tell us something valuable about the creative process itself, regardless of medium, so let me do some processing here.  

I decided that I wanted to create a sketch for the Monday after Easter that wasn't too Eastery.  I decided on a realistic portrayal of a bunny.  Here's the finished sketch, which I did in about 5 minutes:





I feel like the rabbit in the above picture has a winsome look, or maybe it's a meditative kind of awed look.  Whatever it is, I confess it's an accident.  I started with the nose and worked out from there.  If I worked in pencil, there's a few places I might have revised; one of the benefits of working in pen is that I can't go back meaning I can't make a certain kind of improvement, but also that I can't ruin a piece by revising it into a wreck.

Here's what's really interesting to me--it was born out of failure.  Just 5 minutes earlier, I had made this sketch.





Both sketches used different photos of real rabbits, but still--what a difference in the two.  I'm not exactly sure of why--it's not like I suddenly developed powers of sketching in 10 minutes.  The sketch above was wrong from the minute I did the nose, and then the legs were wrong, and sometimes, it's good to give up and move on to the next sketch.

I like to make sketches a bit in advance, so that I can have them sit on my desk and enjoy them for a bit.



For the April 1 sketch, I didn't intend to have a mention of April Fools.  I drew the tree and liked it, and began to write the date, as I had been doing for weeks before M A--and then I thought, rats, I'm up to April.  But happily, my problem solving brain acted quickly.  No need to cross out my mistake--make it look like I did it on purpose.

I love these sketches in part because for so many years, I thought of myself as someone who couldn't draw.  Now I draw every day.

But more than that, I love them because they remind me of how much we can accomplish, even if we only have 5 or 10 minutes a day.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday, 2021

It is Good Friday, the first time that I have Good Friday off in years.  Long ago, when I first started teaching in South Florida, we had both major Jewish holidays and major Christian holidays off.  Now, my county's community college does not celebrate any of them by giving a holiday.

If you were hoping that I would write a special reflection for Good Friday in a time of rising violence, Good Friday in the same week that the murder trial of the officer who is accused of killing George Floyd, I have written just such a reflection; see this post on my theology blog.

I am writing a bit later than usual because I slept a bit later and went for a walk and baked bread.  I had been thinking about how I used to celebrate Good Friday, and I remembered making hot cross buns back when I had just bought The Laurel's Kitchen Breadbook at the Book Warehouse.  I remembered buying currants at the Fresh Market, back when they had a bulk section that rivaled the one that the health food store had.  So I decided to adapt the recipe, using white flour and chopped raisins and dried cranberries.

Of course, I forgot that I was making hot cross buns.  My spouse came up with a way to capture the spirit of the bread by creating a cross for the whole loaf:




Oh what fun we could have, thinking about the spirit of the bread, the Holy Spirit, the sacrament.  Maybe I'll think more about these ideas during our lectio divina.

At noon, I will lead a session of lectio divina by way of a Zoom session.  All are welcome; if you want to join us, here's how to join:

Have you ever wanted to experience lectio divina? Have you been wanting a contemplative experience to enrich your Lent, Easter, and Pentecost? At noon today, Kristin Berkey-Abbott will lead a session of lectio divina virtually--we will contemplate Good Friday. What might God be saying to us in the text, the hymn, and a short guided meditation?
If the technology works in our favor, we will meet by way of Zoom, and it will be recorded later for those who can't join live.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 944 5644 8856
Passcode: 971996

In the past, for most Good Fridays of my life, I would have attended church in the traditional way, by going to a service in a building.  This year, we're doing a pre-recorded service, which I'll watch this afternoon or evening.

My spouse will spend Friday night teaching his class at the community college that no longer observes Good Friday as a holiday.  He's teaching from the back bedroom, and I'll be in the front bedroom, doing some writing and taking time along the way to contemplate the mysteries.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

A Confluence of Significant Days

Here we are at a strange confluence of days and holidays.  It's Maundy Thursday, a significant day for Christians; if you were hoping I would write about Maundy Thursday, head over to this post on my theology blog.

Today is also April Fool's Day.  My spouse greeted me this morning by saying, "Happy Good Friday!"  For one brief moment, I thought I had missed a day.  And then he said, "April Fool's!"  We laughed and laughed.  It's a good way to start the day.

The first time I was aware of April Fool's Day was when I was a child, and my dad took the sugar out of the sugar bowl and put salt in the bowl.  One ruined bowl of cereal later, that was not a great start to the day.

Today is the start of National Poetry Month.  Some of us will write a poem a day, and perhaps others will read more poetry.  For many journals, this month will be the last one in which they accept submissions before shutting down for summer, so some of us may resolve to submit more.

Yesterday I got the notice that my book length manuscript was a semi-finalist for the Wilder Prize at Two Sylvias Press.  It's the same manuscript I submitted a year ago when I got a personalized rejection that was very encouraging and asked me to submit again.  And so I did.  And once again, I'm in the top 20, which is a kind of solace, but also a strange discouragement.

As I was getting my seminary application materials together, I thought about my other lifelong dream that's yet to be fulfilled, the book length poetry publication, the book with a spine.  I thought that maybe this would be the year where that acceptance happened in the same year that I got into seminary.

It could still happen.  I took a quick look, and my manuscript is still being considered at Copper Canyon Press and CavanKerry Press.  

I am a person that looks for the larger significance, the signs that I might be missing, the ways that God is trying to tell me something.  If I got both seminary/candidacy acceptance and book length manuscript acceptance in the same year, how would I interpret that sign?

I hope to find out!