jeudi, décembre 31, 2009

Bidding 2009 a graceful adieu

A first in 2009 and one I hope to not experience in 2010 ...being threatened with a lawsuit by someone's angry wife.

And NO, it's not what you think, people.

Anyway, here are some wishes for all of us:

That we'd stop hurting innocent kids because, both locally and globally, adults cant navigate our difference...

That we'd be more respectful of those differences.

Care more about this beautiful pendant globe

Help our neighbors be their better selves, and let them reach us.

Be a little wilder (you know who you are).

Be a little tamer (and you know who you are, too).

Live with a disciplined passion.

Dear peeps and tweeps, new adapters, slow adapters, and noncomformists, may this year ahead be filled with graces.

mercredi, décembre 30, 2009

Once a dog...

I interviewed the former Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, recently for an Episcopal magazine.
He recalled the weekend when he learned he was elected bishop of Chicago.
In one of those strange coinkidinks, it happend that he was in an amateur production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Griswold was Snoopy.

In one of the numbers, he sat on his doghouse, and reflected on the fact that whatever happened, he was a dog...and would always be a dog.

Very true for all of us in one way or another. I'm a dork.

And I will always be a dork.

At least technologically speaking.

Monday my p.c. died when I touched it. The Staples guy said it was because the motherboard couldn't speak to the hard drive, but I don't believe that, do you?

I'm the black widow of computers. This morning, a whole interview (on a challenging subject) disappeared. Only a few lines witnessed to its existence. It was virtually absent.

And this as I've finally set up new phones that mean I can actually hear the people I'm interviewing.

My kids are so much sharper at the new technology than I am. But they are also less patient.

What would it be like if we teamed up?

I may have to wait ten years to find out.....

dimanche, décembre 27, 2009

Is this thin ice?

I wonder what it would feel like to float gently in the superficial? Christmas parties, a round of stories and sermons to write, the endless round of clean up after boxes and food tend to induce some shallowness.

Would I skip the war articles and rush to the fashion pages of the New York Times? Would I read the Times at all?

Perhaps the folks who do that aren't shallow so much as pragmatic.

Or maybe I'm just a bit frazzled. As an introvert, I'm like a child when they are overstimulated. I want to cry, or nap. A broken computer (my normal one isn't working) seems like a big obstacle to reasonable thought.

Are you going to the UL New Years open house, asked someone today. We stood in the midst of upper middle class chatter by a table crammed with good food. We see him and his wife, my old friend, every year at the Philadelphia club. I'm not sure, I told him. It was a tradition, but the ex doesn't want to go anymore. The DQ and I might go, I said.

This week off of school is getting very busy, and I'm not sure how I feel about not having time to be pensive -- so I think I'll wait and think about it.

One think centers me in Christmastide -- lying on the sofa, watching the lights glow and blink as the vented air caresses them.

What about you? Do you ever want to think less and do more? Or is thinking a sort of doing?

Blessed are those who have discovered balance.

vendredi, décembre 25, 2009

Owls and Orrefors

I'm not sure why I decided to make stollen tonight -- oops, last night. Christmas Eve. I was taking a Christmas service for a little country church nearby, which, of course, entailed writing a sermon. And preaching it. And generally being on top of details, not always my strong suit. Then coming home to heat up some left overs before going to church with the ex and the kids. All in all, a very liturgical night.

So I'm up, doing some very unorthodox things to the bread to get it to rise and into the oven.

Though I'd had Mr. C and the DQ decorate the tree earlier, they were rather exhausted, and ended up putting only about one third of the ornaments on the tree. I realized that when I got ready to put the boxes somewhere where we wouldn't trip over them when the ex comes over tomorrow.

I mean, today.

I hadn't seen a lot of these ornaments before. Or, it would be most precise to say, I hadn't seen them in 20 years. That's when my mother put them away on the Christmas we realized Jonathan wouldn't be coming home. When my sister cleaned out my dad's house she discovered the box I hadn't taken while dad was alive.

Of course, Mom had some glass balls. But nothing else matches anything. The straw bird and ladies -- Mexican? The Orrefors glass ornaments. The Mexican metal owl. The Indian animals decorated with tiny pieces of glass. The glass girl holding balloons, probably crafted by one of our friends down the block.

Dearest mother, I know there was some kind of story to go with most of these. My mother didn't know from God -- but she did have faith in the healing power of family.

Yesterday as I ran through Target, I saw these big plastic containers, full of gold balls. Some glittered, others were shiny, but you saw them hanging on someone's tree, you would see that they had come from the same place, likely, from China.

An interior decorator would be horrified by our Christmas tree. Ornaments scattered all over, with no regard to symmetry, and no unifying theme.

One can't see grief. Memory. Or love.

But they live, ah, they live.

mardi, décembre 22, 2009

A trial month

I've decided to give online dating another try.

I've paid a ridiculous sum for a one month-subscription -- not so much a trial run as a way of evaluating what I've learned since the last time.

Why did I reactivate my profile? Considering that I have profited from maligning it, it's a fair question.

A few practical issues motivated me.

Some logistical issues with my ex are going to take longer than I hoped to get settled.

No matter what the song says, Mother Nature doesn't rain men in exurban Glenmoore. My work as a writer is unlikely to bring them to my door.

Franchment, I am curious. I'm interested to see who contacts me, if anyone. I'm wondering if I'll cut them some slack. I am going to be metering my cynicsm like the sewage in my backyard.

I have promised myself that, except if someone contacts me, I'll only go to the site twice a day. Dating sites can be huge timewasters, for all of you married and single people who would never in a million years join one.

Plus, I've got better things to do -- the practical details about which I so procrastinate are still going to be there, regardless of the lures of Sham Wow salesmen who created this, and other sites.

In other words, I'm going to try to keep a sane distance -- but stir the pot just a tince.

By the way, I bought one yesterday. A Sham Wow.

But not for me.

At my son's imploring, I bought one as a holiday "thank you" for the math teacher.

I wonder if he's single....

dimanche, décembre 20, 2009

Rescue me? Not today...

The first day after the East Coast blizzard of Advent, or should I say the Advent of the East Coast blizzard, didn't start out too well.

Knowing I had to do my clergy thing at a service about 15 minutes from where we live, I'd hired my neighbor to plow my driveway. Normally, I get out there and do the bulk of it myself. But everything I was hearing, minus half the hyperbole, said I couldn't keep up with the snow.

Feeling very pleased with my forethought, I happily opened the breezeway door about an hour and a half before I was supposed to leave -- to see that he'd only done part of the driveway, and taken up a lot of my turf with his trusty plow.

But what does THAT matter, given that the septic fellow has ruined my front lawn trying to find my neighbor's drainfield before he found mine?

I went to work with the shovel, feeling very sorry for myself. A pity party that went up a few notches when my car wouldn't start.

My ex has been on me to buy a new car -- and I keep promising I will. But which comes first, a new car, or a new drainfield?

Today eventually straightened itself out. The morning service was redeemed, as it were, by a member of the congregation said he'd drive me to church -- until his horses got out and he had to help his wife of a week get them back into the stalls. So I took his mother's car and navigated the slushy roads to church, where the congregation was waiting.

There were times today when I just felt overwhelmed by the burden of these problems. Having someone to put them into perspective would have been a pleasure.

My new strategy is to establish a tiny green zone in which I can act as though I am in control of these challenges, and move boldly forward in other areas. Hopefully, then, the chunks of turf I found in the plowed snow and the minor nit of a kinda dead battery won't matter so much.

Forgive me, but I've got to write the septic guy and ask him: how do you propose we deal with all of this sewage? Then I'll figure out if that's the way I want to proceed.

Of course there are some things you can control -- and some things you cannot. Learning to leave some of them in the hands of others might be a good, hmmm, exercise.

A snowy night

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samedi, décembre 19, 2009

The Stranger

Yesterday I was exchanging emails with a guy I had interviewed for a story. He's good with the quotes, smart, and very opinonated -- no shock then, that many writers call him up and ask him to, err, pontificate. He's got a liberal point of view, he was a journalist himself, and he is nice about giving reporters what they ask for -- the pointed quote.

As one often can in email threads, we digressed, to chat about an acquaintance with a conservative public persona. Our friend is a very nice guy in private, but very much "in your face" when he comments for attribution.

A sense of weariness came over me. "It's like a pavane" I wrote to J. "Everyone knows their moves, and their lines."

If I have one consistent criticism of my fellow journalists, and of myself, it's that we construe complexity sometimes as dualism -- Republican v. Democrat, single v. married, librarian v. sexpot (sorry don't know where THAT came from). Yet as we grow, hopefully we make room for all of these complexities within ourself.

What of the relationship bloggers? Mommy bloggers? Dad bloggers? What about bloggers who run from categorization like me?

We trade in self-revelation, hopefully written in a way that touches something common in someone else.

Most of us don't want to share all of our complexity -- we don't really know the people at the other end. I've been the subject of enough crazy comments in venues like the Washington Post to know I don't want to hang all the dirty laundry out. And intimacy needs to grow in real time. Yet it seems that sometimes our online personality can become detached from our real self -- or glamorized -- or take on an energy that is potentially toxic.

Where are you, fellow bloggers? Are you and your online persona one and the same? Do you stray off the reservation?

Or are you another participant in the predictable dance?

If so, do you ever think of taking some real, not virtual, risks?

Talk to me.

mercredi, décembre 16, 2009

Remembering Dave

I guess I can't avoid the subject weighing down my spirit this morning.

A few hours ago the clergywoman who heads our deanery (yes, archaic), emailed us to tell us that one of our colleagues, had died last night. Visiting his sister in Vermont, he crossed the divide between this world and the next in his sleep.

Dave was, in so many ways, larger than life. He was a big guy -- I'm sure I'm not the only friend who was concerned about his health. He had a hearty laugh, and a great sense of humor -- much more Chaucerian than most clergy, at least for normal consumption.

He wasn't, in that traditional way, genteel. He told it the way it was. He didn't have a lot of time for frauds. If something was troubling him, he'd tell you, most of the time.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I've been posting stories about clergy who have mental or emotional issues - -and the lengths they often go to keep to delude others, and often to deceive themselves.

You pretty much knew where you were with Dave. As his assistant a number of years ago, when served as an interim rector in a previous job, I didn't always agree with him. But I respected him -- in part because I knew that he felt that way about me.

Some laypeople may want to be around social climbers or be part of the clergy social circle. But more crave the kind of courage and openness he showed. He was indeed a role model, but not because he let anyone worship him instead of God.

In a country in which conventional forms of religious commitment are becoming less appealing, he was a credit to his calling.

Dave, you were a rare bird. We will miss you so much. Pray for us, as we'll be praying for you and the ones you loved -- and love.

lundi, décembre 14, 2009

The pity factor

What on earth do they think of me, I wonder sometimes.

Honestly, I'd rather not wonder. I like to go through my life feeling like, in general, I'm part of the crowd.

Lots of us have to deal with bad luck, or broken relationships, or, particularly recently, financial problems.

Telling some friends about my septic tank melodrama (want me to talk dirty to you?), I was stunned into brief silence when the wife said: "You always have such troubles, Elizabeth. Our lives just go along without problems."

As it happens, that isn't really true. But as I grinned at her husband, I have to admit I felt a bit pissed off.

I've know real grief -- a brother lost, way too young. A mother who never got to meet her grandchildren. But oh my goodness, I've been so blessed in so many other ways.

Am I pleased that my neighbors got a variance 25 or so years ago, when this was the WildWild West, to bury their waste in my yard? No, of course not. Will it matter in a year?


I have so much -- healthy children, a place to live, money enough not to stay up at night wondering how we'll eat, good neighbors, work that fulfills, a God who loves me... and who loves you.

Yes, it would be awesome to have a man here to help me cope with tanks and toilets and folding the wash -- and all those other things some men are good at. And if he shows up, it will be another thing to marvel at....but I'm not feeling sorry for myself.

So why do you?

I am more like you than unlike you -- you who fluff your feathers in the perceived security of a marriage, or good health, or successful children.

I think it might be different in a less conservative area, where there wasn't quite the same stigma to being a woman with a failed marriage who hasn't buried the evidence by remarrying.

But when someone starts with the supposition that managing my life without a man makes me less competent, I bristle. I know it says more about them than it does about me, but kid in me still stamps her feet.

That being said -- I have a suggestion for those of you who pity us.

Start with what we share -- and what we don't share won't be quite as frightening.

dimanche, décembre 13, 2009

Hug me

I have a confession to make.

And I make this one with more anxiety than I would admitting to getting angry with my ex (which happens, even in our "amicable" split) or envious of friends who still have living parents, or a night of irresponsible, torrid sex with someone I don't know well (I'll leave you guessing).
When he's here, and he asks me, I lie down on the twin bed, next to my 12 year old son, and put my arms around him.
Until he asks me to leave, and I boot out the cat, and close the door gently, and say: "Good night, sweetie. I'll see you in the morning)."
Lots of boy kids Mr. C's age don't want their mom anywhere near their almost adolescent shoulders. But both his father and I have noticed that this boy needs a lot of physical affection. As a toddler, he would come downstairs in the morning, and make a beeline for our laps.
When he's sitting in church next to his dad, he'll lean in so his head rests on his dad's shoulder. In the house, when I'm cranky, and one of the two children is driving me crazy, he'll come up behind me and stroke my back.
I know that lots of boys his age are playing war games on the computer, while he plays chess and Toontown. Some are out killing animals with guns their dads (or moms) taught them to use. Some are closing their doors and posting "keep out" signs.
And yet, almost every night that he sleeps in our house here in the country, he says "Hug me." Stay with me. The night is dark, even when it glitters with stars and the moon leans in as though it would enter the windows as we sleep. The fears are more realistic, but they are still there. Magic stalks the small hours.
Hug me, Mom. Someday soon I'll know that's not what other boys do when they are trying to get some distance from their first love -- and I'll tell you.
But not now.
Not yet.
Hug me, he asks.
And I do.

vendredi, décembre 11, 2009

The echo of cowbells

My friends left about 15 minutes ago. Don't get up, said the retired journalist who had also been one of the more scintillating guests.

She and her husband, a former editor, had gotten here before everyone else. I, of course, was in the shower. I am never quite able to pull it together before guests arrive.

Actually, they all were scintillating. Once started, conversations didn't stop until the last guest had closed the door.

Out into the chilled December air they all went in a blur of hugs, leaving this room, which had been filled with tales of domestic poverty and foreign wealth empty of all but me and the two cats.

Large buildings in Dubai. Music in the high mountains of Switzerland. Waves in Hawai. Stories of places I hadn't seen, and some I might never see. I let the thrum of chat flow around me, offering a perspective occasionally but mostly happy to let them talk.

Smiling was easier with feet propped up on the sofa.

Reclining I viewed volcanoes, transexxuals and huge glaciers through their experienced eyes -- pleased not to leaving my house tonight, even for beautiful sandy beaches or views embracing two thirds of Switzerland. Someday.

Afterwards, I hobbled to the kitchen to put the seafood stew away. My food is dicey, so the conversation better be good. Happily, most of the plates were in the dishwasher. I'm not used to chronic pain, and I'm not very good at dealing with it -- sometimes you can't just grit your teeth and get through it. Next Thursday-- the epidural.

But I am pleased when my guests enjoy themselves. Put the right people together and they will create a wonderful evening, regardless of the hostess.

I wonder if most single people hang with singles. I wonder about friendships and what makes them endure.

My pals are by no means all single -- or a particular age -- or a particular political conviction. I'm fortunate in the ones I do have -- they have to tolerate difference -- and, apparently, spend a lot of hours on airplanes .

And they have to know how to hold a conversation without lots of help from this hostess, in the kitchen, or on the couch.

Now...can I get off the couch and wend my slow way to the bedroom? I can't count on the felines to help with the kitchen cleanup. These cats are worse than kids when it comes to tidying up -- although Inky did try to help with the tilapia.

jeudi, décembre 10, 2009

Tossing the recipe

Are you Catholic? Do you also believe in having had a past life -- or two?

A Protestant -- and a person who finds energy in rocks, rivers, and the great outdoors?

A self-avowed atheist, yet you check that horoscope every day?

Not that you believe it, or anything...

We are a nation with many syncretists, as this article from Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today points out.

She includes some very interesting snippets from the latest Pew Poll, which you can
find in even more detail on their website.

Ranting and raving and condemnation from the orthodox, even the threat of excommunication, don't seem to keep Americans from throwing in a little eye of newt and tongue of dog.

What do you think might keep believers in one pew?

Where do YOU fall on the heterodoxy spectrum? Or are you more mono than stereo?

mercredi, décembre 09, 2009

Claws on the cliff

Our tuxedo cat rolls on his back, green eyes looking up at me, as papers slide to all corners of the small computer desk. Purring, he sticks his legs up in the air, ready for....a kiss on the head? A finger so that he can hook one of his sharp claws in it? A tummy rub and then the claw?

I have no clue. All three of us are convinced that Inky chose us, not the other way around. But what drives him is still as opaque as it was when we adopted him from the mean streets of a neighboring exurb on Halloween a few years ago.

But in rolling over, he has almost made a mistake -- one he has made before. He comes perilously close to rolling off the desk onto the floor, making a delicate adjustment to maintain his deceptively humble posture.

I think of my daughter, the DQ. In some ways she is, in adolescence, as hard to understand as this most lovable but most irritating feline. She is lovely, my daughter -- sometimes I think God gave her good looks to balance out the difficulties she constantly encounters in finding her way through the challenging terrain of friendships and academia.

Last night I went back to take another look at the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. I needed to remind myself that much of her inability to finish or even recall assignments is normative for such children. I don't know what I can expect. She doesn't know, either.

I'm more like dad than I am like you, she tells me -- and where once I was disturbed by this, now I am grateful that she feels that close connection to him.

Then there is the matter of social relationships. I don't know how to comfort her as she suffers when friendships fall away. Watching her interact, trying to find the key that so many others find by trial and error, is painful. Other girls sense that she isn't "like them" -- and they disappear. She covers it all up with bravado -- but there are times when the bafflement and hurt spill out.

So close to the edge -- knowing that increasingly I cannot keep her from dancing on the cliff, I will try to stand there with her, arms outstretched, in case she needs a hand to grab. Even when, sometimes, I know I will get the sharp edge of the claw.

lundi, décembre 07, 2009

Hope for Anissa, hope for us

As you know, I am skeptical about blogging, particularly relational blogging's real potential for creating intimacy -- or for creating much, in particular, but a kind of faux bonhomie.

Nice to know someone out there is listening.

But at evening's end you're still left with the distractable kid, and the mud where you ran over the lawn, and the empty bed.

I think I'm at least partly wrong. First of all, many bloggers, perhaps most in the relational arena, aren't as cynical as I am. There's a sometimes lovely innocence, an unstudied vulnerability about what they throw into the blogosphere.

Some of them are professional writers or teachers -- most, I'm guessing, are not.
While the artful posts are often more fun to read than the ones with major typos and warped grammar, I find myself more intrigued by those who only recently started to blog -- and are slowly finding their way.

But what's made me a little less cynical about motives of bloggers like me is the amazing outpouring of concern for 35 year old Anissa Mayhew. Anissa, a mommy blogger with a child who had cancer, had a stroke a few weeks ago. When he's not at the hospital, her husband has been keeping up with Anissa's blog, There is a sincerity and a lucidity about the way he writes that is extremely poignant -- and does make you feel like you are having a chat with him in an ICU waiting room.

But the good news is that Anissa Mayhew is out of the ICU -- and that thousands of people who never knew her are sending money to support the mother of three, and praying, and offering to help the Mayhew family.

The money is real.
The prayers are real.
And I have to believe that even if it is virtual, the friendship and love are also sincere.

So count me a believer tonight. Tomorrow...we'll see.

dimanche, décembre 06, 2009

In my sons eyes...

Looking back, it is no wonder that it became a rather stressful day.

In an act of either great trust or laziness, I had accepted my son's assertion that yes, he knew where today's chess tournament was to be held -- in the building right next to the Radnor Elementary School.

If one takes that to mean about a mile and a half from the new building on Louella, Mr. C was absolutely right.

The school where the Silver Knights had the competition isn't that easy to find. So we circled the lovely snowy streets of Wayne for about a half an hour, both of us growing more upset -- and he forfeited his first game.

Although I did find my way up to the gym for an hour to rid myself of the excess energy, the day felt oddly disorienting, partly because once familiar landmarks were covered with white. It was evidently that way for my son, who won a game and lost two.

On the way home, Mr. C cried a little, complaining that the light from the sun was bothering him. I think, from what I can tell, that the kid, who struggles with stomach and headaches, was having a migraine attack.

When we finally got back home he lay on my bed and tearfully asked me: why don't I do more for others? Why do I care only for myself?

Where did he come up with that? If you could only hear what others say about you, I said to my twelve-year-old. Teachers comment on what a kind person he is -- dunno where that comes from either, but I'm glad that he is an empathetic kid.

I wish I could, he said to me. Maybe I'd change.

Your job right now is to grow up and do the best you can in school, and help others when you can. There will be plenty of chances later on.

Looking into those sad blue eyes, so like mine, I wondered with some distress if I had somehow made him feel that he was self-absorbed, or uncaring. Or had he just inherited the family guilt -- never enough, never enough, always more to do to save the world.

He is a bit of an old soul, Mr. C. But there is still so much he has to learn. And when the questions get too huge, I hope he comes to me, to his father for the truth -- that he is loved, and loving.

After a while, he fell asleep. He even laughed a little bit tonight. And I was left to wonder at how, despite all that we do to create other universes in which our children can wander, they still find their way back to territory we often recall...and wish we could keep our kids from entering.

This morning, things are back to normal. He has shed the burdens of the cosmos, and is pondering a more immediate terror...that of having his hair, which currently acts like an insulation system for his ears, cut.

Trumpet in one hand, juggling balls in the other, he has stepped back into the present -- when the idealism surfaces again, I'll try to have a practical suggestion instead of a rush of motherly concern.

Even old souls need hobbies.

samedi, décembre 05, 2009

Lancaster column December 5: the victims speak


Sometimes writers discover that the story they thought they were writing takes on a life of its own. I began what I originally envisioned as two commentaries on struggling clergy — but as people began to volunteer to talk about clergy misconduct, it became clear that I had a bigger story here.
I promise this won't be a yearlong epic, but I have a few more stories to tell in the coming weeks from those who were brave enough to share.
• • •
There's not a lot, on the surface, to link Anne Beiler and Kim Logan.
One woman is a white former executive of a global business empire whose family has deep Amish-Mennonite roots in Lancaster County. The other is an African-American administrative assistant at a medical graduate school in Kansas City, Mo., whose family has worshipped in Baptist churches.
But dig a little deeper, and some pretty fundamental similarities start to appear. Both women are deeply devout, convinced that God is in charge of their lives. Both suffered almost unimaginable loss that propelled them into times of anguish and depression. And both were, they say, enmeshed in abusive relationships with the very men who were supposed to offer them spiritual comfort and direction: their pastors.
"We were looking for a family-oriented church," Logan said of her family's decision to join a small Kansas City Baptist congregation. "I was very much into women's ministries, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for the family to grow."
But Logan also was struggling with depression and the strain that losing loved ones (two brothers and a mother within five years) can put on a family.
The year after the Logans joined the church, her younger brother was sent to prison.
At her husband's suggestion, she went into counseling with her pastor. Their families became close, sharing children's sleepovers and birthday parties.
After five or so years, the clergyman invited her to become his assistant — and his attentions became very personal.
"He wanted me, and he did whatever it took to get me there" Logan said. "I believe in my heart of hearts that was his intention from day one."
Having given her a personal cell phone, he would awaken her in the morning and take her with him when he went to a doctor's office or functions with other clergy. Meanwhile, she said, he was counseling her husband in ways designed to alienate the couple from one another.
"This abuse continued for about four years," Logan said. "I was breaking down. You live a lie, you can't laugh ... you don't know who you are. He took me to a place of darkness."
• • •
Beiler is familiar with that dark place. A young mother with a loving husband, Jonas, her world had been torn apart by the accidental death of her toddler daughter.
"My husband and I were emotionally separated, and I didn't want him to know how badly I was feeling," she said.
Caught up in grief, Beiler was pleased when the charismatic Assemblies of God pastor came forward to pray with her.
"Come see me in my office," he said. "Your husband can't meet your needs, but I can."
Then he seduced her.
"They become your only lifeline; they put you in such a small world," Beiler said. "Then it turns into guilt, abuse, major control and manipulation when you feel like you can't get out."
When the Beilers and their two surviving children moved to Texas, the pastor surfaced again down there — and the sexual misconduct continued.
• • •
"God sent you to me; I need you. You are the only one," Logan's pastor told her, as he talked about his abused childhood.
And she believed him — until she came across e-mails and heard him talk to other women and realized he was telling them the same thing.
Beiler's pastor also was a serial abuser, she said, preying on other family members.
Overcome by guilt and a strong sense of failure, Beiler withdrew from her friends and family, shrinking down to 92 pounds.
"Our choices have consequences," she said of the six-year entanglement with her pastor. "My choice at that time was to keep a secret, and the secret almost killed me."
• • •
What broke the chain of secrets and lies and abuse for these two women?
In Logan's case, her husband came across explicit e-mail and texts. He had her quit her job and called a meeting with the pastor and congregational elders. But the pastor blamed Logan, she recalled, and the elders called her a liar with mental problems created by the loss of her family members.
Logan, who has been in counseling for the past few years, is now considering her legal options in confronting her former pastor.
The Logans have moved on to another congregation.
"Thank God that we are attending a church where we have received great support from the leadership, who continues to help us during our time of healing," Logan said.
In large part, she credits her husband for her continued move toward recovery.
"We still struggle, but we have a strong man of God in my house," she said of her husband. "This man is unbelievable. I did him wrong, but he thought about me and his family."
As for Beiler, she says that her healing began with acts of confession. By dropping the pretense that she was really doing "just fine, thank you," she began to feel stronger. Eventually, she broke off the sexual connection with the pastor.
After years of depression, Beiler was finally able to confess to her husband, who reached out to her with forgiveness and compassion.
"Christ sees my potential, and my husband saw value in me, that I was worthy, even though I couldn't see it myself."
After more than half a lifetime of struggle and years of counseling, Beiler says that she is now "free indeed."
Though her pastor was dismissed from his post and stripped of his license by his denomination, he moved on to another congregation in a different denomination. When the Beilers found out, Jonas Beiler traveled to Tennessee and alerted church authorities. The pastor was stripped of his license by that denomination, yet was able to move on to another pulpit.
"Most days I feel like I've forgiven him," Beiler said, "but these men need to be rehabilitated or put behind bars where they cannot harm women and children."
She and her husband have started a counseling center for troubled families in Gap — a mission that has been her "redemption" she said.
"If you have a cause, a purpose birthed out of this, that will give you great joy."
As we talked, there were times when Beiler's voice broke or she seemed to hesitate until she could regain her composure.
And that's a good thing, she said when I asked her about it.
"It's so interesting to me that the more whole I become, the more I feel. God created us for emotional health. I know now what it is like to live."

vendredi, décembre 04, 2009

Pick Me!!! Pick me???

When you were in high school or college, were you jealous of the popular girls and guys? Did you try to be like them? Or did you sit in the cafeteria watching them...just watching, wondering what it felt like to be the ones who got to give permission?

That's how I've been feeling.

At the moment I'm adrift on the edge of the vast ocean of men and women (well, vastly more women) who blog on a regular basis about their social lives, children, and dating.

I don't know if I have the idiosyncratic ability to stand out in a crowd like that -- and I'm egotistical enough to want to stand out. And I don't know if I want to compete...for your attention.

I mean, I want you to notice me, of course. But let's just agree that it's complete serendipity that you are here at all.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with date blogs, or parenting blogs, or virtual truck stops on the blogging roads where old Harley riders get together to recall some of the fantastic trips they had.

And I have some good reasons to join the stampede -- as a writer today, you are continually under the gun to raise your profile, and be current, witty, and very cool, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will see you -- and want to brand you.

OK, maybe that's not retirement income. But it might buy your daughter a jacket at Hot Topics.

Hey Mr. Ziegfeld, here I am!

But I'm not sure I'm cut out for mommy blogging. I am not cute enough. Being an introvert who doesn't get out enough (I'm working on it) sharing about my social life much more than I do already would be a stretch.

Some raisons I'm probably not going to veer solely into blogging about relationships --

1. In general, I get squeamish about blogging about people who might be reading my blog. Unless I am mentioning you as part of a story or a meditation on a theme, you aren't likely to find yourself here.

That's a rule that gets broken sometimes, but I don't think I could do it on a regular basis. If you recognize yourself, I'm not doing my job. Or I've given in to temptation, and I need to see you and confess.

2. While I am most definitely not a saint, and can bitch as well as the next guy, I have problems getting too snarky. In print.

3. I don't think what I have to say about dating, for example, is neccesarily helpful to you. And I'm afraid I was born with the "helpful to you" gene.

4. I like being able to vent about whatever crosses my mind. How can these bloggers write about the same subject all the time? Many of them seem to be smart, funny, successful people. Don't they ever get bored with their topic? Do they start to lose themselves in the brand?

6. When I try to ask you questions, I sometimes sound pedantic -- even to myself. I don't promise to stop, however.

6. I know its a way of making a living, and I am not being critical at all, but I find I can't advertise on my blog. Just saying.

7. I'm probably too old to be hip.

As you can tell, I'm way too ambivalent to market myself effectively in the world of relationship blogging.


mercredi, décembre 02, 2009

Palace of delusions

The rolling stone has gathered a lot of muck as it speeds down the hill.

This is really the first time in a long time that the story is leading me, instead of me trollling for leads for a story.

At this point, I can't even recall how I got started on the topic of troubled clergy. Possibly it was the Baylor study and its horrifying stats on clergy sexual misconduct.

But once I began talking to people, people started making suggestions and contacting me.

Now I'm like Ariadne, following the thread through the palace.

This palace is a disgusting place, full of creepy guys who think they are literally, God's gift to women.

But it's going to take a while. As I tell the stories of victims and perpetrators, I have a sense that maybe I'm making a small contribution to helping people understand how congregations can become dangerous places -- and what to do to help keep that from occuring.

I'm not sure if that's a delusion or not, but its part of why I'm continuing to follow the thread.

And increasingly wishing that, in a few weeks, it will lead me out of this building.

I never thought I'd look forward to writing about the Anglican wars again, but I much prefer the blood and gore of a good ecclesiastical fight to this shadowland, in which pretty much everything is not as it seems.

mardi, décembre 01, 2009

Mouths to be kissed...

This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine section had a fascinating article on therapeutic work being done on low sexual desire in women.

Did you know that around 30 percent of young and middle-aged women (20-60) go through periods when they either have little desire or perhaps no desire to have sex? If this is indeed a disorder, then it needs to be defined -- and not only because it's a potentially lucrative one for the drug companies.

The article raises all kinds of questions. Does lust wane over the course of time in relationships -- and can anything be done to bring the embers back to life? Do most women begin with lust, or do they need to learn it? How much does your partner's health or dysfunction set the mood for lust? And is there even such a thing as "desire" -- or is that something we learned at the movies?

Oh, and let's not even look closely at the "romance" or "bodice-ripping" genre, responsible for half of the cliched sex in this country.

"His hard face softened as he gazed at her, this fire-breathing hussy who had stolen his heart. She was so witty, yet so innocent. He longed to pull that lissome body against him, feel those silken lips under his own, pull the fancy pins from her blazing auburn hair... Then she stuck out her foot and tripped him."

See where I'm going?

Nuts to that for the moment. The part of the article that really drew my attention was the possibility that mindfulness could help renew desire in women who might have forgotten what it felt like.

Mindfulness is being as aware as you can be of this moment, not the one you are about to inhabit. It's about observing, without judgement, what you are feeling and seeing now. There's evidence that it really helps all kinds of problems, from high blood pressure to anxiety.

Why shouldn't mindfulness help build intimacy that makes the present moment very sexy indeed? I can see all kinds of ways in which mindfulness could help not just women, but men, too, move beyond anxiety and defensiveness to openness and trust.

After reading this, I was more convinced than ever that emotional intimacy is pretty crucial for women to be fully present to sex -- or at least an open, and naked mind.

And on that note, this is the best excuse I can find for offering a Stephen Sondheim song I love -- one that is pure id. Let others moan about sending in the clowns -- Petra doesn't mind a little fantasy in the here and now.

Also, if decolletage offends you, don't watch the snippet. There's a lot of it. I mean, of her.

"And a girl has to celebrate what passes by"....

Of course, she probably does marry the miller's son. And ends up in therapy.

lundi, novembre 30, 2009

Tramps like us, baby....

Tell it like it is, Bruce. Are we "born to run?"
Or should we ask one of our other gurus, Bono?
A few posts ago, I said I'd talk about the effect of virtual reality on relationships. Then I got distracted by...the effect of relationships on relationships.

As I've said before, guys have tried to put the moves on me by telling me I think too much. But I gotta tell you, both clothed and in my right mind -- I do think too much. Sometimes.
Maybe all the time.

Here's what I've been wrestling with today. Why can't we face the ugliness in our daily lives? Do we hope that, by turning away, somehow it will go away? And if we can't do that, what hope it can be redeemed?

Last week I interviewed Diana Garland, who heads the School of Social Work at Baylor. In dissecting sexual misconduct among clergy (with adults), the dean made a comment that really rang true to me.

When something bad occurs in churches, people don't tough it out, or fight it out, or deal with each other and move towards reconciliation. Instead, they simply leave the congregation.

Generally, this is true of relationships outside churches that don't have other, pressing reasons to be -- we seem woefully unequipped to handle conflict and move towards some kind of resolution.

I don't know that this was always true. In the past, one's survival as a member of a community might have been affected by having a good relationship with the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse, or the pastor of the Lutheran Church. Now we shop around for schools, and churches, and new relationships.

And the Internet has only exacerbated this tendency to withdraw at the first hint of a challenge -- or to hang around, waiting to see whether someone or something better comes along.

How many times have you invited children to a birthday party, and then had to wait until the day of the party to find out whether little Susie is coming or not? At some point, you have to play the hand you have been dealt.

When I see this lens applied to congregations, it feels even more serious to me. Many churches and synagogues are just horrible at handling and resolving conflict. And if the church or synagogue isn't a witness to reconciliation, then why bother to go?

Similarly with marriage and romance. We grow through struggling with our own pride, and past hurts, and desire for love. How can it be constructive to run in the other direction? That doesn't mean that we can always make a relationship work -- but we owe it to the other person to engage with as much of ourselves as we can find.

Even when it gets gritty, even when we rage and rail and want to surrender, we have to act in faith that there is something we can take from our conflicts -- gold in the ashes, the flame of wisdom, the ethereal song of love...and forgiveness ...and rebirth.
Hey, maybe I'm a guru! Either that, or there's a moooon out tonight.

dimanche, novembre 29, 2009

Might as well jump

Here's the conventional wisdom on dating while you are separated: don't.

The reasons?

Well, basically it boils down to having unfinished business with your ex -- or should I say spouse.

Possibly you have financial matters that haven't been figured out between the two of you. Sometimes this can be a real source of acrimony. Or sometimes it's dictated by some cold financial realities. That was true for me and my ex and centered on medical insurance for me and the kids.

Not troubled by figuring out your finances?

How about the sensibilities of your children? Children often struggle with the idea that their parents are going to be living different lives -- it's not in their game plan. I can't tell you the number of times when I've recounted a child's learning struggles and heard (almost always from a married friend): is it possible they are having problems with your split? After I stop gritting my teeth, I tell them the truth -- while the children had some definite issues at the beginning, we haven't been living together for almost five years.

Now my daughter tells me she doesn't mind if I remarry -- as long as "he" has money.

But I digress. Already disoriented, kids do often see dad or mom's new friend/lover/sex toy as a rival for their affections.

Dating while separated can put you in legal jeaopardy, too.

Then there is the Judeo-Christian point of view, which views marriage as a sacred covenant -- and dating before divorce as adultery. My question about this view is -- does your marriage end when the state sends you a piece of paper? I don't have an answer yet.

And, of course, there is a pretty crucial question -- are you ready? Have you done the work needed to work through whatever unfinished emotional business you have, or are you going to take a few innocent bystanders down with you?

By and large, the majority of the separated guys I "met" online had unfinished business of one sort or another.

One was still living with his wife -- she had started dating, and he apparently felt the need to play catch up. That's a clear red flag.

Another guy listed himself as divorced, but was, and is still, as far as I know, separated. The way he talked about his spouse, she sounded like Nero on a good day. The monster ex-- she might be everything he said, but sorting it all out would take a long time -- maybe years.

Another man had been separated for only a few months -- and grappled with an inability to resolve financial problems between him and his wife.

So why do people date while separated? Well, sometimes it takes folks a long time to get things figured out.

Dating after six months or a year is definitely a different experience from dating three weeks after you put that first month's rent down.

And as far as I can figure out, people who leap into dating often do so because, to put it crudely, loneliness sucks. Men of a certain age, who often depended on their spouses to make social arrangements, are suddenly forced to find something to do on the weekends when they don't have the kids.

Or maybe the kids are gone -- which leaves an even larger void.

Either way, it's not a lot of fun to be by yourself.

My observation is that relationships based on that kind of intense need don't normally survive the emotional turmoil of untying the threads of the marital tapestry.

And this isn't just a "guy thing" -- women also struggle, but perhaps in a different way, with becoming less dependent.

If you want a fling, however, (though I'm not arguing for flings) and the other person is well aware that your contact might have a short shelf life, then dating while newly separated might very well be a fascinating walk on the highwire -- and allow you to experience things you haven't in a while.

Depends on what you are looking for.

I have come to believe, based on my own experience, that in general the conventional wisdom is right.

It is more effective to do the work you need to do to work through past hurts and conflicts and move forward.

And even if you have done a lot of internal work -- there is still something in the practical steps one has to take to take apart a marriage that clears the way, or can clear the way for other relationships.

I say that without judgment -- each of us has to figure it out for her or himself. And it is in our human nature to believe that WE are the exception that proves the rule, isn't it?

Go ahead -- prove me wrong. But just let me know how you reached your conclusions. I'd be intrigued to hear from those who are daring enough to share either experience or opinions.

vendredi, novembre 27, 2009

Roots and branch

Before President Obama and his wife Michelle made the White House a symbol of racial and ethnic diversity, I interviewed a Unitarian minister from New England. The place was the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. He and many ministers from other denominations had gathered for a service of reparations for slavery. I was covering it for RNS, and wrote about it when it happened.

Having had a DNA test done, he had found out that in his family tree ran the blood of slaves and slave-holders. Or perhaps it's more correct to say he had DNA from Africans and Caucasians as well as some Native American blood.

I wish I could say the same. Not that I wanted to have ancestors who owned slaves -- I could tell it was something this man had to work through. My Hebrew great-greats were more likely to have been slaves. Not that this gives me any borrowed nobility -- as it doesn't give him any intrinsic blame. But since that time, I've wondered about taking the DNA test. Maybe I've got some Spanish blood from an ancient converso marriage. Maybe there is some ethnic diversity way back on the family tree.

Since I spoke with him, I've been, well, a little jealous. How cool it would be to be to testify to the possibility of a postracial world in oneself.

It's not that I had an "Obama" moment -- I just had the sense that the dream of racial equality might come faster if some of us lilies found out we were really tulips and roses.

It's so absurd that we judge by color -- and yet pervasive, like the pollution over Los Angeles. How many millions of people have been killed for being black rather than white, for speaking a different language, for having Semitic features? I have friends with biracial kids, and I have a feeling even they will encounter prejudice.

Many judge President Obama by how dark his skin is. Bias has just gone a little underground.

I'm proud of my heritage, and appreciative. But it seems to me that the closer we get to tracing our common ancestors, the better off we will be.

I asked my ex yesterday if he would get a DNA test -- some of his relatives go back centuries here. But he didn't seem interested. So I guess I'll be happy with the genes God has given me -- scholarly, left-handed, Semitic, near-sighted, flat-footed (and a runner) , and a reformer. We don't all have to symbolize the melting pot -- we just have to make sure there is room for all of us at the table.

Bowling Alone -- Together

"We are in the middle of a revolution" I said to my ex as we sat in his living room, sated with turkey (him) and sweet potatoes (me) and his fabulous apple crisp (both of us.) "We're struggling to keep up so hard that we really don't understand what it means."

Downstairs, our son and daughter were playing Guitar Hero on the Wii. Next to me on the sofa, the "on" button of the DQ's Netbook blinked blue, waiting for her to return. Upstairs in my ex's bedroom, an LCD television that my ex, who mostly watches sports, cedes to our daughter for Disney movies.

As my kids remind me, often, I don't have the good toys at my house. Our television is a young, robust, 10 year old (maybe older, she lies about her age). The computer downstairs takes about ten minutes to load AIM and Mr. C's chess websites. But for Christmas (don't tell them) I'm surrendering enough to buy an LCD television for the downstairs. I may even go wild and begin forking out an enormous amount for some extra channels.

Go on, call me a mini-geezer (sometimes I feel like one). But those of us born before 1990 recall when the phone was in the hall, or the kitchen, not under the pillow. If you wanted to use a computer, you had to sit, by and large, in a public space. Even if you wanted to be available 24/7, at a restaurant or in church, it wasn't possible.

The downside of the technological revolution is how easy it becomes to isolate ourselves. At her dad's house, my daughter can take her Netbook downstairs and disappear for hours. He won't let her text, which I heartily applaud -- but she and I battle over keeping the cell phone (she's already lost four or five) in her room at night.

Another dilemma? It's become very easy to hide things you don't want others to see. A researcher I interviewed for a story on sexual misconduct among clergy commented on the fact that it's very easy now to start a tryst privately, via email and cell phone calls, developing a language of intimacy before the actual snogging starts (well, she wasn't that crude).

Did you know that Wii bowling leagues are a hot number among seniors? Last week an NPR segment on tech innovations for older folks noted that there are at least 86 American leagues.
They seemed to consider this a step forward. I'm not so sure. I can see grandma and grandpa standing in front of television screens, miming the game they used to play until bad backs and knees caught up with them. Virtual reality for the senior set? Is this a positive?

Not to mention what this does to relationships -- more on that in my next post.

lundi, novembre 23, 2009

The mystery of an intriguing life

What is it about some people? Why does serendipity seem to find them, fame touch them with her windy garment, strange encounters seem to fall into their laps?

We've all known people who, for one reason or another, seem to be lighting rods for adventures.

As I've commented in a prior post, my aunt Marilyn has had encounters that no one could have predicted. How many Brooklyn girls going on an senior's cruise had one evolve into a relationship an with Alaskan fisherman?

How many women in their 70's move West and start a volunteer drama group in a house where a flock of chickens just happened to roost?

Do you think, if you moved to Los Angeles (if you live there already, your odds may be slightly better) your veterinarian and ancient dog would be chosen to be trained by Cesar Millan?

I'd never heard of the Dog Whisperer. And I'm not sure Auntie M had, either, before...well, before...

I can't explain it. So I won't.

These adventures just seem to fall into her path -- and she navigates them with the same spirit that she has called on when faced with larger challenges, like my dear uncle's illness and death from lung cancer.

She's not wealthy, or socially networked (although she has lots of pals), or famous.

Maybe certain outsized personalities beckon other such personalities. Maybe having adventures doesn't make her anxious.

The more open one is to out of the ordinary occurences, the more they seem to present themselves.

But we observe with amazement, and admiration, and gratitude. Of course, those phone calls are always longer than either of us intend.

Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist, said recently that even if she doesn't believe things happen for a reason, they do happen so that they can be turned into a column.

Or a good story. That's the only rationale that clicks, right now.

samedi, novembre 21, 2009

Column: Pastor hopes his story helps other clergy

After I wrote my first of two columns on troubled clergy and what can be done to help keep congregations and clergy healthy ("A disturbing trend among our clergy," Nov. 7, Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era, Page B5), I realized how helpful it might be to have a clergyperson share his or her own personal story.
While hearing from experts is important, there is both immediacy and power to a first-person account.
I approached five therapists, promising anonymity to someone willing to tell his or her story.
No one was able to find a volunteer.
In a therapeutically oriented society, where reality shows and public confessions are part of our cultural discourse, it seemed significant that these therapists didn't know one clergyperson willing to discuss previous ministry or personal challenges.
Finally, someone I know, currently active in the work of promoting healthier communication among individuals and in congregations, made the decision to open up part of his past.
His name is the Rev. Howard Friend, and he is an ordained Presbyterian minister, founder and lead consultant of the Parish Empowerment Network, and author of "Gifts of an Uncommon Life: The Practice of Contemplative Activism."
In one of his book's chapters, he examines the challenges he faced and how he and his marriage were changed by them. He offered his experiences in hopes that clergy in similar situations might find them helpful.
• • •
When one arrives at midlife, said Friend, "stuff comes up." Sometimes you don't know what you thought you knew for certain. "You are so busy with personal and career development, with making a name for yourself, that you haven't been reflecting on your life."
In his early 40s, Friend was pastor of a church in an affluent Philadelphia suburb — a church that was doing so well that it was studied by a national think tank. He had a circle of friends, a wife and children — and yet he was asking questions like "Does my routine make any sense? Am I making any difference?"
In some ways, Friend didn't suffer from the pressures that can sometimes burden clergy and lead to secrecy and misconduct. His congregation didn't have a blueprint for his family — it wasn't until college that his son knew what the term "P.K." (preacher's kid) meant.
"They knew that I had an obnoxious, off-color, rambunctious side."
While the congregation didn't elevate him to demigod status, he was aware that he had a unique role as a pastor.
"I felt that their demands that I be a role model were reasonable," he said.
And then he met a woman at a conference, someone who shared his affinity for psychology.
"There was something about her that was powerfully engaging. I wanted to be with her and talk to her." In addition, Friend said, he found himself physically attracted to her.
At this point, Friend clearly had a few choices. He decided he was going to tell his wife of many years and go into couple's therapy.
"It was a transitional time that became a transformational time."
Strangely enough, said the pastor, his therapist advocated that he continue to stay in touch with the woman he thought was so attractive. She lived in California, so frequent encounters were not possible.
That advice turned out, in the end, to be really helpful.
"I was drawn to her spiritual heart and depth," he said. "I came to see that she was an object of my projections, parts of me that weren't developed."
On the heels of this revelation, Friend decided to seek closer communion with the divine — on a 30-day retreat in the woods of the Canadian north. And when he came back, following up on the advice of his retreat director, he purposefully renewed and deepened his commitment to his marriage.
In many ways, Friend doesn't fit the "profile" of clergy who get into trouble. He and his spouse had made communication and growth high priorities, both individually and in their marriage. And when they found themselves in tumultuous times, they sought help.
The fruit of his own experience, and his work with hundreds of congregations, has led him to a few conclusions.
• Acknowledge that pastoring a church when so many are in decline is tough, he said.
• Be willing to look at your "shadow side" and find places where you can own up to it without having to act it out.
• Seek friends outside your congregation.
• And if you know that you are lonely, suffering from lack of self-esteem, depressed or impelled toward misbehavior — get help in finding a safe place to open up those broken places and let healing begin.

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vendredi, novembre 20, 2009

Of all the Nerf!!!

A night of high drama in our house.

Oddly enough, it all started with a Nerf gun, apparently aimed at the DQ by her brother. Honestly, you'd have thought he got her with a quick left hook to the kisser.

After I told her that she had plenty of times when she hit Mr. C too, it quickly escalated to: "I want to live with Dad."

When I offered the unwelcome opinion that Dad was far too intelligent to have the DQ live with him all the time, she took off -- to sit by a neighbor's tree. He doesn't love me either, she told me as she walked out the door and down our drive.

Leaving the dinner which I was tending (grits and shrimp, which somehow had become cornmeal and shrimp), I pulled on my boots and followed her brother down the road.

Naturally, every commuter coming into our small development could see us -- the DQ, sitting head bowed under the tree, me with my Halloween flashlight, and Mr. C on his bike. My dreams of a quiet evening of good food (well, my attempt at good food), a movie and two well-behaved, appreciatve kids disappeared.

Interesting idea, wrong planet.

When I finally lured her home with the promise a phone call to an empathetic friend (more so than moi) she was still pissed.

Eventually, though she calmed down. She came upstairs, threw her arms around me and apologized. I know you and Dad love me. I get too dramatic, she said.


jeudi, novembre 19, 2009

The present tense

I am not sure that Eric remembered that today was the second anniversary of dad's death when he sent the email to his cousins before dawn this morning.

Two years have passed very quickly. I haven't reached the point, as most of us do, where the memories of his suffering recede to some extent, and those of more cheerful hours return.

Scan a brief memorial biography of dad, written by a colleague of his at Brooklyn, if you are interested in knowing more about him.

Eric's email wasn't about Dad, however. In many respects, Eric acts as the family historiographer. He's the man to query about long-dead relatives, the grandfather who faithfully sends his cousins videos, the person you want to call when you need information about a family event.

My cousin wanted to let us know that Grandpa's book was edging closer to publication. My grandfather was a turn of the century immigrant, and a rabbi. In his time, he was pretty well known - and in the arena of Judaic studies, still a man of historical importance.

Along with the information, Eric sent along a gift -- words from my father's heart.

His personal reflection on my grandfather will, in some way, become a part of the anthology. When I read the pages this morning, I hear the voice of the writer, with his unique style -- when did you last hear the word "minatory"?

But I also saw admiration, love, and warmth for a man that I hadn't ever known. I learned some family stories Dad hadn't ever told me -- did I never ask?

Just for a few moments, as the light grew, he was present -- as he had always been present, until he left us.

But I think the chain is unbroken.

We, like so many families, are bound by love, and memory, the difficult and disturbing along with the good -- and sometimes the rare, unsought, grace of the present tense.

mercredi, novembre 18, 2009

Party like it's 1984

This morning my former colleague and present friend Mollie posted on a story (loosely) from Politico on the Catholic bishops and abortion. Now, Politico is generally pretty trustworthy when it comes to the wall between opinion and hard news. But read this for yourself and judge whether David Rogers has jumped the line, right into advocacy journalism.

What hot button words does he use? Does he give us clues as to what he thinks? Are the bishops and their ideological opponents fairly represented? Are we being led, as opposed to being given diverse opinions and figuring it out for ourselves?

If you have time do some thinking before you wander over to GetReligion and read Mollie's post. I'm going to make it a little harder by not linking to it so you can't get there right off.

But it's not only liberal journalists who do push their audience. A few days ago one of my good friends forwarded an email she got from someone else. It was a hatchet job on Michelle Obama -- coming out of the so-called "Canada Free Post." It took me seconds to find out that the Canada Free Post is a conservative mutant -- and to find the post debunking most of the Michelle Obama trash talk.

How come folks don't bother to do this before they push "send"? Is it because I'm a mirror-gazing journalist that I even care?

As I wrote my pal, people have good ideological reasons, and some pretty creepy (read "birther") reasons for not liking the Obamas. For Pete's sake, lets be honest about our motives. But my buttons get pushed, big-time, when I see the crap, frankly, that becomes "truth" simply because a friend or relative believes it and sends it on to you.

Should I have called her out on this? Hmmm....not sure. I haven't heard back from her.

With the decline of mainstream journalism, we are losing writers who even make a pretense or take a shot at objectivity. Liberal readers get to take in their drug of choice, while conservatives have plenty of places to go for theirs.

Sounds like George Orwell land to me. But maybe I'm the one who is deluded.

lundi, novembre 16, 2009

Get a kick out of you

I was lucky in high school. In a school in which it was fine to be an egghead New York Jew (not yet a Christian) with curly brown hair and a love of the theater, I was merely one in a group of eccentrics. It was fine to be a nerd -- that's how you got into the school.

Nor was there any pressure to conform to the current female idols, have sex before we were emotionally ready, or even inhale. So I didn't.

In college, I hopped from group to group. Frat boys, Christian fellowship fellows with short hair, and the college rock band guys with the long hair, with whom I shared a fraternity home one summer (not as suggestive as it might sound). The drummer had a gorgeous, skinny blonde girlfriend -- I would have given a lot to be Kate. If if hadn't been for the artist who hopped out from behind trees to photograph me, it would have been even more of a romantic wasteland than it was.

The only young man I really liked had a big time jones for, you guessed it, a pretty blonde a few years his junior.

I suppose a lot of us females remember times when we felt too exotic...translate unattractive... to fit in. The guy at grad school who preferred women with "All American looks". The friend who was a sweet guy magnet (you know who you are) and from whom I learned a lot -- but didn't get to try out for myself. Walks down the hill in Princeton to the WaWa for licorice and cookies on Saturday nights when my BFF's were out eating, dancing, and kissing guys.

It took me until my forties to like the face in the mirror -- how about you? If you aren't there yet, start working on it. You are never going to look like "him" or "her" -- but you are pretty darned lovely just the way you are.

dimanche, novembre 15, 2009

King of Night Vision

I don't change my MP3 mix as often as I should -- and even when I do, I tend to keep some old faves on there.

One of these is the Indigo Girl's chestnut "Galileo" a song I continue to find delightfully quirky and fun.

Saturday I was on the elliptical machine at the Y, wishing I was outside in the park. Man, I hate to exercise indoors. Back problems -- attitude problems.

Somewhere after Maroon 5's "Wake Up Call" and "A Little of Your Time" the Girls start declaiming: "Galileo's head was on the block/crime was looking up the truth."

Black and white. Polar opposites. Pick one. That tends to be the way we humans seem to like to see reality. Only, as I raved a few posts ago, truth rarely is a single-celled organism.

Take our old pal, Galileo. His head was never "on the block" for "looking up the truth." Here's part of what the NASA writer on Galileo has to say about the trial:

"Galileo's quick wit, which he often used to ridicule his opponents, earned him a number of enemies. In 1613, Galileo wrote a letter in which he tried to show that the Copernican theory was consistent with both Catholic doctrine and proper Biblical interpretation. Some of his enemies sent a copy of this letter to the inquisitors in Rome, who sought out and punished heretics -- people who opposed church teachings. In early 1616, Galileo was summoned to Rome for a determination on the orthodoxy of his views. Although he was cleared of charges of heresy, he was ordered not "to hold or defend" the Copernican theory. That is, he could treat the theory hypothetically but not treat it as if it were true.
In 1632, Galileo published his first scientific masterpiece, the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In this work, he compared the Ptolemaic-Aristotelian theory to the Copernican theory to show that the Copernican system was logically superior. Once again Galileo was summoned to Rome, this time to answer to the charge of willfully disobeying the order not "to hold or defend" Copernicus' theory. In 1633, the Inquisition found Galileo guilty of the charge, forced him to recant (publicly withdraw his statement), and sentenced him to life imprisonment."

Apparently Pope Urban VIII asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism, and not to advocate for either view.

As other writers on the subject point out, while the Catholic Church never formally (ex cathedra) condemned heliocentrism, they did hold it to be contrary to the plain sense of Holy Scripture. Or did they? That's not quite clear either.

Of course, Aristostle was wrapped up in this whole story. The church had relied on his philosophy to defend its worldview for hundreds of years. A challenge to the Greek philosopher was a challenge to one of the foundations of Catholic theology.

And, as I found out when I saw the Galileo exhibit in Philly last summer, Galileo didn't have the instruments he needed to prove his point. His contemporary, Kepler, and others moved the ball considerably forward.

In modern times, in this secular era, the role of the church is filled by other scientists, who sometimes hoot and boo those with whom they might disagree right out of the establishment. In the sciences you are free to go where the evidence takes you -- sometimes, and if you have a modern benefactor funding your research. Unfettered inquiry is a myth.

Eventually, the Catholic Church dropped its opposition to the publication of Galileo's heliocentric views. More recently, a prominent RC clergyman actually said that the controversy should be a "teachable moment" for both church and science.

I think what troubles me the most is the way we like to pit ourselves against each other -- as though either or all sides had the truth gripped between their steely jaws. Time will humble, if we allow it.

What makes you, or you, or you -- so sure?

samedi, novembre 14, 2009

The South Philly No Complaining Rule

No nets on the basketball hoops for the ball to slide sweetly through.

How can you shoot and score when there is nothing at which to aim?

How 'bout castles with 21st-century-compounds providing a floor so that children wouldn't hurt themselves if they fell off the watch-towers?

You gotta be kidding.

This "playground" didn't have swings, slides, or a painted area for hopscotch.

But boy-oh-boy, did the dark floors on the school's first floor, probably dating to the 19th-century, glow.

Children's artwork clustered on walls built around the time my grandmother was born. I thought again and again, how comfortable she would have felt in this environment, the lissome blond librarian with the long skirts, throwing herself into her work with the same energy and joy she did pretty much anything.

If she thought the library could have used a wee bit of updating, she would have organized workers into a union to make sure the job was well done, and the workmen got good wages.

But this school shimmers with energy, and much of it emanates from the principal's office. Only to understand what he's been able to do requires some of us to tweak our middle-class lenses.

Out here in the western 'burbs, we question the "No Child Left Behind Act" and talk about unfunded mandates -- but generally our schools continue to produce large numbers of students who exceed the requirements.

The principal here has some honors students -- 42, I believe. But a major achievement has been raising the percentage of students with acceptable basic PSSA scores from the 30's to the 70s. That has all happened since he became school leader.

Poverty. Long-term unemployment. Streets that aren't as safe as they could be. Kids who have to cope with unstable family environments. It gives me mental vertigo to contrast the daily challenges some of these students confront with those of my daughter, say, for whom a crisis is not having a ride to youth group. Or my son, who responds to having left something at his father's house by asking casually if dad could come drop it off.

And there are other challenges. In the past few years, Philadelphia has deep sixed its middle schools -- so that students stay in one place from kindergarten (or Head Start) to eighth grade. Although there are positives and negatives, that means big changes for staff and students.

How does Mr. E. tackle the stumbling blocks his students face? By running a very tight ship, in which succeeding is the only option.

As we sat in his office, he gave us umbrellas with the school's logo -- and a copy of a book which seems compatible with his philosophy. "The No Complaining Rule" by Jon Gordon is about a mythical company that refused to take negativity for an answer.

And maybe, in some way, I am part of the chain of positive results. He heard about my offer to provide some library money as he sat in a meeting in which they were coming up with some ideas for rehabilitating the large, but shabby room. When he first heard about it, he thought the person who told him was joking, said Mr. E. But once he realized that the woman wasn't joking, he began to realize that they really could recarpet, and put the catalogue on the computer, and put in some colorful nooks so that students could read there.

It doesn't seem like a lot of money, I said, feeling embarassed. "It is to us" he said simply.

And you know what? I can't wait to see what he and his teachers and administration are going to do to with it.

Anyone want to kick in for some basketball hoops?

jeudi, novembre 12, 2009

Tears of a clown

While we have our wack jobs in the United States, geography and a commitment to remain an open culture have been, on the whole, blessings for us.

But, like most blessings, there are shadow sides.

One? Our American cult of victimhood.

How can it be that, in this large country, which offers so many opportunities, we pit ourselves against one another in a grotesque dance of victimization?

I've read that bankers complain because the public apparently has negative opinions of (some) of them.

Honestly, its hard to feel too sorry for folks making upwards of $500,000 a year.

Celebrities complain because, well, they are celebrities -- and they lose their "zone of privacy."

Affluent evangelical Christians claim they are part of the persecuted counterculture.

Businessmen and women are persecuted by bureaucrats and taxes.

Farmers are persecuted by government trying to take away their subsidies.

Liberals blame conservatives as a class for pretty much everything (and let's not talk about what the conservatives say about liberals).

Catholics in places of great influence rail at the media (always the easiest target), Episcopalians assert that they standing up courageously against a prejudiced world (from the safety of their shrinking churches).

The past few weeks have afforded a few more chances to think about this strange thread in our national character. CNN anchor (now former) Lou Dobbs helped fan the embers of this national pity party. His resignation is a positive for the cable news network -- but he will find another place to voice his anti-immigrant rants.

After all, there are plenty who still want to hear, and to believe.

I'm only a generation or three removed from the immigrants who had to deal with generalized prejudice against Jews -- as there was prejudice against the Irish and Italians. But as far as I can tell, my ancestors, like perhaps your ancestors, saw overcoming bias as a challenge, rather than as a reason to compare themselves with others less afflicted.

I have friends who have truly been the victims of hate. There are few things more painful than hearing that someone you care about has been wounded by institutional prejudice, or by someone's hateful mutterings.

I recently had to work through some of my own feelings as a member of a minority denomination when Pope Benedict reached out to some of my more conservative brothers and sisters and invited them to swim the Tiber.

My wounded feelings weren't for me in particular, because I have a strongly ambivalent relationship with the Episcopal Church. Instead, I felt that seductive sense of oppression by a majority faith.

"They" don't understand our ways or traditions. "They" don't care about how we feel.

Yanno what? That could all be true, and it still wouldn't matter. If I'm a member of a minority, I am a darned privileged one.

To blame bias for everything doesn't do justice to the complexity of the truth. And truth is usually complicated.

Yet those most deserving of our empathy, those who most need our help, are those often without a voice -- abused kids, men and women serving our country out of sight and often out of mind, the urban and rural poor. They don't have our soapboxes.

If we started looking out for their welfare, instead of complaining about how we have been slighted, maybe we could use our passion for justice to truly make a difference.

However, if you like feeling like a victim, this truly is the land of opportunities.

mercredi, novembre 11, 2009

About that school

When I visit Philly, I prefer to walk.

Through the jewelry district on my way to my doctor at Pennsylvania Hospital. With reverence on the flagstones covering the graves of soldiers at Washington Square Park, wondering who once lived in those 19th-century red-brick buildings, watching for the ghosts of Jefferson and Madison in the cobblestoned alleys.

Swiftly up the wide thoroughfares leading to the University of Pennsylvania for dinner with a visiting friend, students, faculty and visitors lingering on the campus green spaces, talking, eating, studying.

Craning nearsighted at plaques that recall famous men who once walked these streets and lifted their hats to bow to the ladies, who lifted their skirts to avoid the horse poop -- or the famous ladies.

It's natural that those of us who didn't go into the "family business" would still swim through history as though it was our own private funhouse fair. And this great city surrenders its treasures to anyone with the slightest yearning to know more about where we came from as a nation, and possibly where we might be going.

Ah, but I digress. The streets on which I walked yesterday have their own, more recent history. Once beyond South Street, there are fewer people out walking dogs or shopping. A few buildings are being renovated. Some are abandoned. No big grocery stores -- lots of bodegas. Being a little clumsy, I look down, where trash and weeds lurk among the broken sidewalks. Still, I maintain a good pace, only stopping to ask a few friendly folk for directions.

As far as I can tell, I'm the only white person out for a walk in the neighborhood. It is helpful, now and then, to experience what it feels like to be a minority. Of course, in America, we are all persecuted minorities of one sort or another -- or so it sometimes seems. Even upper middle class white guys. Bankers. Lawyers. Doctors. There is something in our national narrative that doesn't want to be associated with dominance, even if we have to go back a long way on the family tree to re-experience oppression.

When I arrive, the principal tells us that thirty-six nationalities and ethnic groups attend this South Philadelphia school.

He, and the school, are very impressive. But I see that I have just arrived, and it is time to begin the day's work.

More later.

mardi, novembre 10, 2009

The left hand talks about the right

I'm wasn't sure I should write about this particular topic. But I'm going to, in spite of my feelings, because it seems to me to serve a larger point. And shouldn't those big points always be served (grin?)

When I tell you why, I think you'll see why the ambivalence.

I got to be a minor philathropist this morning. It was a huge kick. Let me race down a rabbit trail for a minute, and I'll tell you why. Maybe you've had the same experience.

As Jesus and the Judeo-Christian tradition put it, you aren't supposed to let the right hand know what the other one is doing.

But you know what? I'm left-handed in a righthanded world. The road less traveled is the one I take pretty much every day, somedays just to piss someone off....

But even more important --I don't even feel like this money is really mine. It was my dads, the fruit of his frugality and a lucky house buy 40 years ago -- and so what I'm doing is simply giving a little away.

And the reason I'm telling you isn't about the money. It's about what I saw, the extent of the need, and what a little money can do to change a few kids lives. I hope. Oh, how I hope.

I'll get to that in my next post.

lundi, novembre 09, 2009

Worth a second look

I've taken a vacation, or should I say I'm in detox, from online dating.

I'm not completely cured -- now and again I'll return to the dead version of the website. Did the guy who wanted to see me a third time, but lived almost 2 hours away ever come back? His reservations seemed to focus on the alleged lack of intelligent women online. Turn that one over, and it also seemed that women wanted a guy with lots of money, and probably no children in his life right now. Either way, he wasn't having a lot of luck online.

Nice guy. One of the very few men I met who I would have enjoyed seeing again -- an evocative, quirky blend of egghead and athlete.

And what of the West Chester businessman who appeared as ambivalent as me? Or the Route 422 techie with the alleged spouse from hell?

Now that I've signed off, and have time to take another look at my complicity, what I find most depressing is the rampant consumerism of virtual dating. Trying to sum up your strengths (when did loving golf or even dogs become a virtue?) in a few paragraphs becomes a marketing challenge -- and almost invariably leads to exaggeration, if not lying.

Eventually, you gotta start wondering what the woman or the guy is hiding. I'd be interesting in seeing a profile that came close to telling the reader what someone looked like in three-dimensions:

Something that read like this:

Do you like adventure? I've traveled far, and I've learned some interesting things along the way.

I've found that as much as I want something to work, I can't always made it just by trying. I confess that I evade and avoid sometimes, compartmentalize, make excuses. Sometimes I've tripped on that banana peel and fallen on my tush.

But I've discovered interesting things about myself that I'd like to share. I am quicker to say "I'm sorry", swifter to listen, less interested in what's down the road and more grateful for what is right now.

I am truly fascinated by, and appreciate, difference. I find pleasure in quirkiness.

Yes, various bits and bobs of my body ache sometimes when I get up in the morning. My body is slightly less taut, that six-pack a three-pack on my good days. But I've got a lot of energy, and hope and empathy -- and I'd like to find someone to share them with. I'm committed to investing some of my time and energy in helping to make this world a little better -- but I don't take myself that seriously.

Care to join me?

I've never seen a profile as direct and open as that -- nor do I think that such a guy would get a lot of responses from women.

As for me, I hope to heck that I'd answer it (having written it). I guess there's a part of us that would rather peddle dreams. But I want to use what I've learned and move forward--otherwise, what a waste of a high-end education.

samedi, novembre 07, 2009

(Don't) call me irresponsible

For months, many months, my check statements have been piling up on my desk. At a certain point last spring I stopped entering checks into the Quicken register.

I hasten to say that I never overdrew that account. A pretty conservative, though not frugal spender, I checked my balance with care.

Yet I grew more and more overwhelmed, as the fiscal situation grew out of hand. I mean, it's embarrassing not to know if you have 3,000 or 1,000 in your account.
So I did what many Americans apparently do -- opened a new account. My first deposit? Very virtuous intentions -- and a nice sized check.

A few weeks ago I went house -hunting with my realtor. I've known him for over ten years. After having seen a particularly awful house, a contemporary, he told me he felt baffled by my housing choices. What single mom chooses to live, not in a townhouse, but in an exurban village filled with pioneers, farmers and landed gentry?

How many of your divorced clients live in townhouses, I asked him. 80 percent? I guessed. More like 95, he said wryly.

When I left my former place of work, he told me, people came up to him and asked him how could he allow me to buy a house out here?

I was furious at the idea that they would be so, well, parental. Even though I know they care, and I am grateful. How could you be responsible for where I choose to buy a home, I asked him?

Yes, I don't live by their conventions.

And yes, I confess, I don't always balance my checkbook.

But two children aren't being raised by themselves. My ex and I draw compliments for the collaborative way we co-parent. We agree on most of the important stuff, including income-- and the static starts to fade after, well, a year or two (grin).

There's a difference between eccentricity and irresponsibility. And right now, I'm able to chalk up that little electronic check register issue to eccentricity. How about you?

On second thought, if you have strong feelings about this, I have some former workmates you can talk to. Better you, my dear, than me.

My column from Lancaster

Column: A disturbing trend among our clergy
Intelligencer JournalLancaster New Era

This is the first part of a two-part series on troubled clergy and what can be done to help keep congregations and clergy healthy.
What's going on with our clergy?
Once upon a time, they were regarded as role models.
Serving at the altar, baptizing babies, delivering a sermon on a Torah portion, asking God's blessing on our marriages — they seemed just a little holier, more knowing, perhaps more innocent, than the flock which sat in front of them on Saturdays and Sunday mornings.
But the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, the highly publicized cases of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy and the occasional eruption of high-profile clergy sex scandals point to a more mundane but troubling reality: in the shadows, many of our clergy are struggling.
Take three stories plucked at random from national media this past month.
The New York Times profiled a mother and her terminally ill son — the progeny of a now-suspended Franciscan pastor.
In a Religion News Service article on pastor suicides and attempted suicides in the Carolinas, one counselor estimates 18 percent to 25 percent of clergy are depressed at any given time.
And an article showed how a Baylor University study found that sexual abuse by clergy is prevalent across all denominations.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, local and national church leaders have been locked in a struggle for years with former Bishop Charles Bennison Jr., who is appealing his ecclesiastical court conviction and deposition on grounds that he covered up the sexual misconduct of his brother John, a former Episcopal priest.
Being in ministry "can be a very lonely occupation" says Dr. Jeff Hamilton, a Lancaster-based clinical social worker whose primary work is with churches and clergy. An ordained United Church of Christ minister, Hamilton spends much of his time helping clergy and congregations navigate often challenging transitions, as well as recognize appropriate boundaries.
"One of the painful parts of being ordained is that we are set apart," Hamilton said.
One of the reasons clergy get depressed is that "there are so few places where clergy can go to tell their story," he said.
Some clergy attempt to quench this loneliness by forming relationships within their congregations.
Not a great idea, argues the therapist.
"It's easy to create relationships that can become muddled … and improper," Hamilton said. "You can end up treating parishioners differently (from each other) without even knowing it."
Upon reflection, I had to admit he had a point.
Most of the congregations where I have worked and worshipped seem to tolerate special clergy friendships. But I also have heard lots of complaints about clergy who appear to favor particular parishioners.
One of the fundamental problems is that clergy don't always recognize that they have needs for companionship, friendship — and sometimes even confession. For married clergy, Hamilton has a straightforward word of advice.
"If you can't tell your spouse, you shouldn't be doing it" — even if "it" is a public lunch with that attractive parishioner who is having marital problems. What starts in all innocence may not end up that way.
"Clergy get into trouble when they don't have their needs met," Hamilton said. "We have such an intimate relationship with people at different times of their lives, that if you don't have a good sense of yourself, things can get confusing."
Hamilton and I didn't get into what effect the Internet has had on clergy, but, as a Christian Century article from a few years ago notes, online porn also is a problem for pastors already troubled by relationship problems — or simply lonely.
And then there are significant numbers of clergy, who, at some point or another, question their call. "When their visions of what ministry might have been is not what they hoped for … they wonder about the value of what they are doing," Hamilton said.
Get too deep into this topic, and the overall picture begins to seem bleak, doesn't it? But in fact, there are many ways in which clergy and their congregants can work individually and collaboratively to prevent clergy meltdown and be proactive about it if it happens.
My next column will focus on strategies for nurturing healthier clergy — and congregations.