vendredi, décembre 31, 2010

Virtual arrival

A few days ago I got a text from the Lancaster area -- "Merry Christmas!" When I inquired who it was, the message came back -- "It's Jim from Salunga, do you remember me?"

Jim isn't the only former date to get in touch with me. A friend emails from the Middle East, where he has gone back to teach --another sends a terse message from Lancaster.

And after I congratulate a friend getting a degree in the city from removing his profile from the dating site (he's on his way to see his wife in Havana) he texts me back with cheerful impudence. He's made another profile with a different name -- and let's do coffee in the New Year. Even though I have spurned his sexual advances, he still apparently recalls me fondly -- the last time he communicated was to let me know that he thought of me (of us?) every time he walked by that restaurant.

And I remember him, on the subway platform, something in his eyes I could not name.

Why get in touch, I asked the teacher. You stand out, he told me -- you seem down to earth. We go back and forth a few emails, then peter off, challenged by the miles and starved of more than text.

Inevitably, even if one isn't out at a party bringing in the year, New Year's Eve is a night for taking stock. I watch my kids developing social lives of their own and know that, as much as I would like to spare them the loneliness and the disillusionments and drama of loving and losing and loving again, they will have to find their way.

Maybe they will be fortunate, and get it right the first time.

"It's a dog-eat-dog world" somebody told me earlier this evening. I try to relate to others as though that wasn't true. I hope that the guys who have checked back in this year, for whatever purpose, don't think of me as one of the dogs -- but maybe as someone who offered a little kindness on their journey.

And I hope that the New Year will offer me a kindred spirit, who reciprocates that chastened hope and wants to not only check back in -- but walk the road with me.

But for now, my son and daughter are spending the first night of the New Year in my room -- so eager to fly, but so unsure as yet, as to whether they have wings.

dimanche, décembre 26, 2010

Unwrapping the present (s)

I sat there during the musical introduction enjoying the music. The prelude was ambitious, but our organist, the instrumentalists and choir were all doing what they were supposed to do -- and then it happened. An instrumentalist put down his trumpet, apologized to the crowd, and walked away.

For me the mood of the service was shattered -- as the celebrant, I was the maestro who needed to keep things moving. People having fits wasn't in the program. I couldn't wait for the service to be over, and it wasn't until "Silent Night," with its candles shining on the stained glass picture of Jesus behind the sanctuary, that I recovered.

But the odd thing was that most of the congregation apparently didn't feel that there was a serious issue.

How was your Christmas? Were you tripped up by your expectations? How about New Years resolutions? Will you be hard on yourself if you don't meet all of them?

Is it hard for you to remain in the present moment?

One of my resolutions this to be more "present" to what is occuring in front of my nose -- as opposed to worrying what may happen in a few weeks, or a year.

A more peaceful stance has a few advantages. I'll be less stressed...and it gives us plenty of time to get that Christmas service fixed. ;-)

vendredi, décembre 24, 2010

Why...can't we behave?

How are you with fidelity? Keeping friends? An ongoing prayer life? Stepping up to aid those in need? Hanging on to your spouse?

We like to contrast ourselves with others -- and usually, we do better. But let's face it, none of us are great at the commitment thang.

Yet God loves us -- in spite of all that we do to push God away. So...even if you are late for the manger again...even if you don't believe there was a manger before St. Francis of Assisi -- let's go to Bethlehem, or Nazareth, or North Philadelphia and see our Lord, in a manger laid. Maybe this time, we'll even be able to hear, faintly, those angelic choirs...

mercredi, décembre 15, 2010

This ain't Casablanca, hon....

As a veteran of dating avoidance (I don't do Harleys, traveling salesmen or trios) and countless attempts on the evanescing virtue I have left, you would think that I'd be pretty wise about the pitfalls of the online variety by now.

Mais non, mes amis.

Maybe it's my middle-aged memory, or the way that people can reinvent themselves in new and charming guises on your screen.

When we began chatting, he looked appealing -- a nonconformist, a songwriter, the creative type to which I am impelled - in spite of knowing much, much better.

It wasn't until we moved to our normal email addresses that I figured out that I'd actually chatted with this fellow before. In fact, we'd (blush) met and had something to eat -- last summer.

In my defense, I must point out that he really is a nice guy, with one big flaw. He's leaving on the midnight train to Georgia (well, Asheville, N.C.) in March to do what people in Asheville apparently do a lot -- find themselves.

When I realized that, I emailed him back -- hey, aren't you S?

Yes, he responded. We had lunch at the Exton Square Mall -- we sat under a tent. You are a good kisser!


Kidding, he added. We didn't kiss.

And a few emails later -- hey, could we do that kissing stuff?

OK, now we were back on familiar ground. But I was too tired to deal with another proposition at 11:30 p.m. -- ya have to get me when I'm fresher.

So it wasn't until a few mornings later that I responded, when he wrote again, and told him a few night's sleep hadn't convinced me I was friends/w/benefits turf.

He responded gracefully, adding incongruously, that he thought I was "sweet."

Funny. I thought "sweet" women were the ones you dated for a while, not the gals you "loved" and left.

But given that my opinion of unattached men right now is about on a par with my opinion of the Senate and the House of Representatives, I guess I don't blame him for trying.

I wonder if I will even recognize the moment when I really, truly, want to say "yes" -- or if the chance will be lost in a flurry of men on their way to something else, far on the horizon, that they really, truly want.

mardi, décembre 14, 2010

Tis a gift to be simple

Life can get so complicated -- don't you agree?

And, with a sick kid, a girl who rips through 3 boyfriends in a week but can't do her bio homework, work, and other diverse forms of intrigue, it's evolving into a nest of ledes, subplots and sidebars.

When drama, whether boardroom or barroom, sneaks into my life, I get cranky. Long ago, I figured out that I don't do cute (I'm genetically incapable of perky) and I most enjoy the melo when it's on a stage or screen in front of me.

I don't think its age. It's more a desperate desire (at least I feel desperate desire for SOMETHING) to hang on to the threads of sanity I have managed to maintain in this menagerie.

Last night, we finally ended up in the same place at the same time. Trust me, this is a feat. That being so, we had no other option, but to seek out a Christmas tree -- and what better place than Bethany Farm?

We could easily stop, I figured, on our way to have Mr. C practice the trumpet for the evening Christmas service with the husband of our interim organist. Dick's 60 plus years on the instrument might outweigh my son's three or four -- but a kinder guy it would be difficult to find.

As we jumped out of the car into the frigid air, Farmer Dan limped over to us. We got a white pine last year -- or was that the year before? he wondered. Whatever we buy, I'm going to replant it, Dan, I said.

All the delivery details taken care of, we clambered into the car, leaving the redolent stench of chilled manure behind us.

As we turned right onto the road that would take us over the covered bridge, past the mill, still not bought, I began to relax. Time didn't seem to have ravaged much on this lane. We could have been taking this drive 50 years ago, and the road, with its fields and trees, might have looked almost the same.

A whitewashed house glittered with porch lights. A Victorian home loomed up on the left. The evening was quiet -- we were the only car on the road at that moment. We could have been anyone, any time in the last hundred years.

I turned right on Chestnut Tree, and the lights of the church windows shone on the hill, as they have for more than a 100 years.

There is a solace, amid the frantic changes we all desire or resist, in what has been handed down to us.

New is lovely.

But sometimes, older is even lovelier.

lundi, décembre 06, 2010

What mom can't cure

The rooms (his and mine) are littered with medicines. Some were prescribed by the doctor we saw at C.H.O.P. in Exton. Others we went out for around 1:30 in the morning, after the Saturday night drive to the emergency room. Still others we bought over the counter at our local drugstore.

I lose count. But my Mr. C doesn't. He gets up early to take one drug, then another one a half an hour after that. By that point, it's too late for breakfast, so he grabs a Promax bar on his way out the door to the bus.

After a couple of months of pain, he stopped eating food he thought might upset his stomach -- and now the bones of his legs are prominent his slender calves, this 13-year-old who is now taller than his mom.

We know he doesn't have appendicitis. The barium swallow showed no blockage. Next week? The endoscopy.

In the night, I hear him getting up to get another antacid. The medicines, while not curing his illness, have made it possible for him to eat again, he tells me. But it is so hard to have his doctors tell him something will help -- and then it doesn't help, he says.

Tonight he lay in bed, his hand on his tummy. Next door in her bedroom, his sister chattered on the phone, oblivious.

I did the only thing I could -- held him. As I had done thirteen years ago, when we thought we might lose him. We'll figure this out, I said. You've got the A team here.

And hoped...prayed...that I was correct.

I just want to be a normal boy again, he said the night we drove down to the hospital.

Nothing more than that, my darling. Nothing more than that.

samedi, décembre 04, 2010

My Main Line moment

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A few days ago I had reason to go to a doctor in Bryn Mawr.

My well-known dermatologist is friendly, chatty, direct, and mostly comforting. Pictures of dogs hang all over her offices, lending them a personal air. Unless you are another doctor (or ill, of course) you don't get to see her more than every 15-18 months.

But she's a darn good doctor, as are the doctors who share the practice. She's also quite the businesswoman, having created her own brand on the basis of her wonderful reputation.

As you go to the suite of offices that house the practice, you see, on the right, another door. That is my doctor's acclaimed version of a med-spa. While I confess that I've been to spas before (and even have a friend who botoxes regularly) I was both drawn and repelled by the idea of exploring the mysteries of this one. I mean, it seems a little cliched, doesn't it?

Catch me, I'm falling.

As soon as I walked in the door of the dermatologist suite, I noticed a big sign on the window, heralding a "once a year" party in which every service was twenty-percent off.

Ladies, how could I turn my back on a sale?

When I opened the door of the spa, having added a few sutures to my frame, I stopped for a moment, overwhelmed. A woman stood near the window, serving up sandwiches and fruit, cheeses and tea. Had I arrived late at some tea for the horsefarm set?

Apparently all the food was to underline the party theme - or maybe to tart it up. And speaking of tarts...the whole place was jammed with women. Tall women. Buxom women. Slender blondes with ponytails. Tiny brunettes.

Women in pantsuits!

Can you imagine?

I almost fled (ok, I've seen pantsuits before). But the greens and reds, the walls of semi-medical face and body unguents, the scented soaps and omni-present branding, were as compelling as they were pagan. The priestesses hid behind another door, attending their customers -- who knew what really went on?
Delectable as well as disturbing, the scene, reeking of discretionary cash in a time of want, rather like a Roman orgy.
I was seduced.

For a few moments, that is. Then it became claustrophobic.
I'm not unfamiliar with the customs of that land -- but returning made me aware of how badly I'd once wanted to learn the language and act as though I fit in.
I realized I couldn't game the hierarchy one night after a wonderful picnic with old friends. This swim club is so exclusive you don't even put it in your obituary, one of them told us. In Trollope's time, we might have passed for gentry. But not now.

Now I knew that I didn't belong -- and pretending that I did wasn't even fun anymore. Oh yes, I have my indulgences -- but being part of the Main Line lifestyle takes work. And I'm a slacker.

Progress? Arguable. I'm not going to tell you what I bought.

mardi, novembre 23, 2010

Who is YOUR King of Glory?

Can we get beyond pissed? Can we get beyond downtrodden? Can we acknowledge suffering without putting ourselves on the cross? Can we worship Jesus without wanting to place a crown on his head and keeping him safely away from the places where He might change our lives?

Who is this king of glory -- to you?

My latest HuffPost blog rant...

samedi, novembre 20, 2010

This American Thanksgiving

In a culture that seems so polarized, we sometimes forget to honor the best parts of our democracy -- sometimes more vision than reality, but real, nonetheless.

Wishing you the blessing of family, friends, and faith on Thanksgiving.

And recalling the women, and the men, who have kept the vision before us, even at the lowest points in our nation's history. Thank you for the light you carried so that we might see more clearly.

jeudi, novembre 18, 2010

Canvass White, or the myth of the level playing field

Do you know much about the 19th century inventor, Canvass White?

Thought not.

I would not know anything about Mr. White, either, if I hadn't picked up a book by the exceptionally readable and curious Bill Bryson. Author of A Walk in the Woods and oh yes, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson has just come out with a book on the history of the many household rooms and objects we most likely take for granted.

I'm loving At Home: A Short History of Private Life: if you like your history over easy with a little salt, run, don't walk to Barnes & Noble. Or Amazon. (We shall come back to these later).

Back to Canvass. When a number of very bright men decided to built the Erie Canal back in the day, they were a little stymied by the fact that none of them, says Bryson, had ever created a canal. In fact, none of the men assigned this job had ever seen a canal.

In an attempt to be helpful, young Canvass said he'd go over to England to study canals (as you know, for an island nation, England has many waterways.) For almost a year he walked up and down England, studying canals. In the course of his self-education, Canvass learned about a hydraulic cement created by one Reverend Mr. Parker (19th-century men of the cloth, with time on their hands, were fantastic at inventing things, but that's a whole other post).

After learning about hydraulic cement, Canvass White returned home, where he forumualted his own cement. This major step in modern technology, says Bryson, should have made White very wealthy.

But it did not -- instead, it made the manufacturers rich -- and the canal opened early, making lots of other people wealthy. White tried to claim his invention in the courts -- but the manufacturers had more power.

White, poor fellow, died in such a state of penury that his wife could barely afford, says Bryson, to bury him. "And that is probably the last time you will ever hear his name," he tells the reader.

Well, no. I hope we'll remember Canvass White because of his wonderful invention. But I also think he's an example of the fact that while we love to claim that America is a level playing field in which any boy or girl can grow up to be Bill Gates, or the President, that simply isn't the case.

The forces that work against the "little guy" are a lot more powerful than many of us like to admit -- creating a society in which wealth, and business monopolies, call the tune a lot of the time.

It is self-evident how much money can corrupt in Washington, and in our state capitols.

How much influence do the lobbyists of K Street have on our Senators and Congress? Why do corporations invest such huge amounts of money in electioneering?

But it's helpful to remember that we, too, fall into line very nicely when it is more convenient.

I don't go out of my way to shop at a small bookstore an hour away when I can shop offline at Barnes & Noble, or order my books on Amazon. It's much easier to go to the Mall and buy shoes at Macys than traveling to Wayne to a small independent seller. Gas is likely to be a few cents cheapers at the WaWa then the little gas station down the road -- so where do most of us go?

Why does any of this matter? Because we continue to subscribe to the myth that we live in a democracy in which anything is possible should we, rich or poor or middle-class, want to achieve it badly enough.

Sadly, that is less and less the case -- more often, it is the exception that proves the rule.

A toast to your memory, Canvass White.

lundi, octobre 25, 2010

Will and Grace

For those of us old enough to recall the horrible hearings on Clarence Thomas's nomination of almost two decades ago, the revelation by Ms. Hill that she had gotten a voicemail from Virginia Thomas a few weeks ago probably reawakened memories of a time in history we'd like to forget.

Frankly, I've held that nomination against Arlen Specter for almost 20 years -- but I've also wondered if Thomas would have been possible if the left hadn't gone after Robert Bork, judging him not on his scholarship but on the monster they created.

It's worth thinking about Bork, Thomas and Hill again in this poisonous environment -- and wondering if we aren't still in as dire need of grace as we were then -- and as reluctant to admit it.

Anyway, please read, ponder and comment--

dimanche, octobre 24, 2010

Are your children believers? Or are they "almost Christian?"

So you go to church with your kids -- you weren't the type of parent to leave your kid and go out for doughnuts.

You say grace at meals -- even when you are in a chain restaurant.

You drive them to youth group, go to church suppers, even invite the pastor over for dinner.

But are you raising children who have been transformed by the Gospel?

Or are they, like the majority of Christian kids out there, victims of "moral therapuetic deism?"

Read about Kenda Creasy Dean's new book, the research that impelled her to write it -- and what you can do to help your kids...

lundi, octobre 11, 2010

Meet the "bad" mothers

I admit that I don't always get to the front section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, our local media outlet of record, on Sundays. I've got a few other things going on, and by the time, I get home from church, my brain is often fried.

But yesterday I had time for a heating pad break to loosen up my wounded back before going out to rake the leaves (no, this doesn't make sense, but hang in there).

When I had finished reading this article, I felt sickened -- and deeply disturbed.

You see, I'm a fretting mom. I fret because I can't get my daughter to do her homework. I worry because my son seems overly responsible for his age. And heck, the kid doesn't practice his trumpet.

They turn up their noses sometimes at the vegetable-whole wheat pasta concotions I put on the table.

And often, I find myself tossing old vegetables or stiff cheese slices into the trash -- when I don't walk them guiltily out to the compost heap.

But I don't worry about what I can feed my kids.

I don't go without food for a day so my children can have hamburger and a bun (no sides) at night.

I don't wonder if my child will be brain-damaged because he or she doesn't get enough basic nutrients.

I don't consider suicide because, damn it, I can't feed the baby -- and I wonder what kind of mother would let her baby starve?

Most of us don't see this kind of poverty. Most of us would prefer to pretend it doesn't exist.

But it does -- often closer to us than we know.

Tax breaks won't feed poor children. The safety net, shredded already, is failing them. Lots of us are close enough to the poverty line not to have anything to spare for those whose need is just a bit more frightening.

And so I wonder -- for those of us who have so much, what makes a "good mother"?

Perhaps it is a mother or a father who cares about someone else's children, too -- and does something to reach out across the divide and say -- I want to help.

I don't know, for sure. But what I do believe is that it feels intolerable, at the moment, for me to sit idle while a mother thinks she might kill herself because she doesn't have food for her children.

And I'm going to try not to wait until the emotion passes before I do something.

samedi, octobre 02, 2010

The "more love" movement -- it's complicated

I've been writing about religion - - and the religion scene, for quite a while. And one thing I've found is that the folks on the fringes don't get covered enough. It's simpler for journalist to stay inside the lines, particularly when THOSE groups don't get enough press.

Yet it's on the fringes, otuside the mainsteam narratives, that a lot of Americans make their spiritual home -- or no spiritual home.

Thus this excursion into trying to understand the spirituality and philosophical roots of the "more love" community. A future piece for the Huffington Post will dig a little deeper. Comment, debate, take me on.

Are you seeing the same shift? Is it new? Part of our United States love of Chinese food spirituality (one from column A, one from Column B)

And how do you feel about it? Feel free to talk back.

lundi, septembre 20, 2010

Is he blog fodder? Mourned? Or roadkill?

It's over.
I think.
In spite of some huge cultural differences, we tried to have a friendship, and it just didn't work out.
Somehow, we could not help pissing each other off -- in a big way.
He didn't believe in God anymore.
In spite of being a priest in a denomination on the front lines of liberalism, I still do.
In love with someone distant (sometimes very), he looks for "present tense" sexual relationships to help get him through the night until his future becomes more certain.
That's never been part of my gig.
Sex and God came between us.
But we had some good discussions and, I thought, some mutual respect.
After our last disagreement, I told him I thought it wasn't healthy for us to continue conversation.
After a few more back and forths, he quickly, surgically defriended me on Facebook.
Which saddened me, because although we couldn't sustain an ongoing discussion, I was still, and I am, fond of him. I want to know what happens to you, I told him - in an email to which he never responded.
Yet to move on, to define the relationship, to grapple with its symbolic importance -- I am bent towards writing about it.
Would that be a betrayal of our friendship, even a buried one?
Is it revenge for his ability to turn off his involvement and "move on" so fast?
Or does it in some respects honor our struggle against the differences that came between us?
I don't know for sure.
But I've got a few kickbutt opening sentences.

mercredi, septembre 15, 2010

A you a "nice Christian"? Get over it!

Have you ever been the subject of church gossip? Been charming to someone at coffee hour and then complained about their voice or their politics or their faith all the way home?

Are you a "nice" Christian?

Do you think the faithful are supposed to be genteel? Or are they just numbskulls like the rest of us?

Comments, puhleese...

dimanche, septembre 12, 2010

So who am I (or you) ... really?

I have this friend, an accomplished writer, who recently described herself in an email as a "stay-at-home mom."

I have a lot of respect for women (well, lots of women) I know who either have the time and money and/or make the financial sacrifice to be at home with their children while they are young.

But in this case, I threw in a caveat. I'd describe you as a writer with two kids who works at home, I told her.

Oh yeah, and a wife. A faithful laywoman who represents her denomination nationally.

And, of course, a good friend.

But who am I? How would others describe me?

It's possibly an inevitable question for those of us who stumble upon life in the public eye, even if in a small way, or have positions that place us under the lens, whether we are doctors, or lawyers, clergy or teachers.

Perhaps its also a question that women, who often treat parenting as a competive sport, ask one another -- and themself.

Am I the successful writer? Am I successful (published, paid, hard-working) enough?

What about that mix of skills and defects, history and aspiration, that I bring to mothering? Am I "there" enough when my children really need me?

Am I the dork, the thick-lensed introverted intellectual I recall from high school, that some men brush off as a possible date? Too old? Too conservative? Too much the mom?

Or am I the middle-aged hottie refracted by some others? I chuckle. This is purely impossible, I say to myself - - they need better specs.

Most baffling, at this point in my ecclesiastical career -- with my drive towards change, toward mission sans bricks and mortar, do I belong in the hierarchical, glacially-changing denomination in which I currently serve?

And who are you, anyway? What persona do you inhabit today? What dreams are you shelving? Which ones yet to be explored? What are your hopes? Regrets? Secrets that you haven't even told yourself?

It's so much easier to limn my friend, than to catch myself in flight, and say -- oh, THIS is who I am.

Can you nail the butterfly? Do you even want to?

lundi, septembre 06, 2010

Know-nothing, forget nothing

It's amazing what I have managed to forget in the process of something like 18 years of education. I can't even remember, this child of a professor of American intellectual history, taking that subject in college.

But out of some musty crevice of memory emerged, like a crocodile out of a Delta swamp, the phrase "know-nothing party."

And once I remembered it, of course, I was on the hunt. For if the climate of political discourse today isn't identical, then it has many similarities.

For the party, if the secretive groups could be called a party, emerged out of the anti-immigrant movements of that turbulent pre-Civil War period of United States history.

Here's what a blogger named Daphne (hat tip to her for figuring this out before me) has to say about the nativist party:

"Back in those days, a lot of people were upset at the large influx of immigrants, especially Irish and German Catholic, arriving here. Between 1820 and 1845, the number of newcomers had been steady - 10,000 to 100,000 a year. Then immigration surged: from 1845 to 1854, some 2.9 million people, most of them Irish and German, poured into cities like Boston and New York. That's more people arriving here than in the previous 70 years combined!"

Clearly that many immigrants arriving was going to tick some people off -- particularly when times were tough and there weren't enough jobs -- which isn't to say that native-born Americans (music and lyrics, folks) wanted the jobs that the immigrants had. In this area, we are only now uncovering the apparent brutal murder of Irish men who came over to work on laying tracks for the trains. Their ghosts are said to haunt the area where they were allegedly murdered.

But I digress -- this isn't a ghost story. Not in that sense, anyhow. My aim is to suggest that what we are undergoing, in terms of the anti-immigrant (and anti-Muslim) sentiment threaded through America right now, isn't anything particularly new. The Know-Nothings, as the site reminds us, were kind of hard to pin down.

Many secret orders grew up, of which the Order of United Americans and the Order of the Star-spangled Banner came to be the most important. These organizations baffled political managers of the older parties, since efforts to learn something of the leaders or designs of the movement were futile; all their inquiries of supposed members were met with a statement to the effect that they knew nothing.

Guess what they wanted? Some nativists argued that only those who had lived in the U.S. for two and a half decades should have the vote. It may not be too surprising that the parties that emerged out of the original nativist movement endorsed slavery. Abraham Lincoln, for one, was a voice against the movement.

But they had many successes -- and in the North, including Delaware and Massachusetts. It's a rebuke to any who believe that, when it came to slavery and anti-immigrant fervor, the North had no blood in its hands.

Yet the parallels, while evocative, should not be taken too far. The Know-Nothings of the 1850s's aren't the Tea Party of today, with its focus on returning to an arguably more originalist perspective on the Constitution and on economic problems.

Anti-immigrant sentiment seems to come, in large measure, from outside the bounds of those political parties who have the microphone today -- although that doesn't prevent politicans within from using it for their own gain. And it may be no surprise that anti-immigrant sentiment surges when unemployment goes up.

Which doesn't mean that we shouldn't fight it -- but perhaps we might not act, again and again, as though it was something new.

Picture thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

samedi, août 28, 2010

Hospice or Health? Where is your parish?

Can clergy help congregations die -- or become healthier? Well, some can, and some can't. A conversation with the Lancaster, PA, Samaritan Center program director Linda Crockett.

vendredi, août 27, 2010

samedi, août 21, 2010

Your house, my house, lakeside version

Here's my latest post on The Smartly about the benefits of a relatively healthy split family.

Read, debate and comment, please!

mercredi, août 11, 2010

What of the poorhouses?

Trade deficits. Unemployment. Deflation.

The vaunted recovery is now a tricklet. Britain is changing its fiscal forecast.

China, as this New York Times story recounts, is moving from boil to simmer.

Have you noticed?

I'm sure you have, if you are unemployed. Surely you aren't trying to find a job? You prefer welfare benefits. People like you always would rather take money from those who pay taxes.

Or underemployed. If you were only willing to take a position at CVS or a fast-food eatery, you and your family would be doing just fine.

Or have just surrendered seeking a position -- as the months tick, tick, tick, without a job you gave in to anomie. I mean, where's your sense of enterprise?

I suspect the folks who sling names at the almost ten percent of Americans out of work don't know a lot of the unemployed.

But many of us do. I've not seen this kind of frustration and depression for a long time. And it's not solely the working-class who are trying to support their families on benefits -- when the Congress decides to allow them benefits.

It's middle-class Americans -- teachers, computer geeks, social workers.

Someone said recently on the radio that recoveries were taking longer and longer.

And while no one seems to have the alchemical pill that cures, one thing is predictable -- safe in their historic chambers, Democrats and Republicans will blame each other. And then they will go home to their comfortable houses and apartments.

They don't have to stare fear in the face each night -- and then get up, against most odds, and try again to make meaning out of thin gruel in the morning.

Surely...there are poorhouses?

samedi, août 07, 2010

Sowing the wind

The three of us have just taken off our lifejackets after a wonderful few hours on the Weber River.

Fabulous guide, great stories (can you believe a tourist really asked "at what altitude does a deer become an elk?") and the sight of my son floating alongside the raft have produced a mood of blissful relaxation. Looking at the canyons above, I am amazed by the natural forces that created beauty that inspires such awe in humans.

Walking over to the Explorer my friend has rented, I decide to check my email. And my jaw drops as I scan the diocesan email telling congregants and clergy that the ecclesiastical appeals court has reversed the judgement of a lower one against Bishop Charles Bennison.

Not because the case against him was incorrect -- he did indeed act, they argue, in a way unbecoming a member of the clergy by covering up the sexual abuse of his brother.

But because, dear friends, the statute of limitations ran out.

The Bishop says the case ought not to have been brought. I say, it should have been brought decades ago.

But this issue is much bigger than our Bishop, previously and now my boss.

It is a judgment on a church whose leaders, like so many Roman Catholic bishops, ignored the abuse going on right under their behatted skulls. What did Bishop Borsch know? What of other bishops now gone? Why did they protect the brothers, Charles and John -- because the Bennison's father was a colleague?

The bitter fruits of that bigger cover-up are evident now. A bishop tainted by a court judgment, but free on what is basically a technicality. A Standing Committee that did all they could to unseat him, using whatever weapon lay nearby. A Presiding Bishop and ecclesiastical court that now look weak and perhaps even inept.

What would have happened if twenty years ago the men who ran the church would have put justice above self-interest? What of the men and women ruling it now? Where are the models for charity, or humility, or integrity?

Sow the wind...and reap...a judgment.

I hop into the car. You aren't going to believe this, I tell my friend, also an Episcopalian. And she doesn't.

mardi, août 03, 2010

Deadline for the mainline? Commentary from Lancaster

What does it feel like to be a church pastor in a denomination struggling with shrinking membership and roiled by internecine arguments over social issues?
Having served in an Episcopal evangelical congregation in which the debate over gay ordinations and blessings was often right there on the front burner, I am aware of the stress such arguments can exact.
But to get another perspective, this time from an urban pastor in the Lancaster area, I turned to Steve Verkouw, senior pastor at Lancaster's Grace Lutheran Church, 517 N. Queen St.
For the past fifteen years, Verkouw has both observed and participated in the changes that have affected both his northern corner of the city and his denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Verkouw certainly doesn't give the impression that he is depressed by the challenges of an inner city-pastorate in a mainline church -- in fact, Grace Church has grown slightly over the past few years.
But he is clear that where once the congregation could take its city leadership position for granted, thanks to immigration and ranks of the faithful fueled by procreation, now it must chart a very different course, maintaining a Lutheran identity but reaching out in new ways that meet the needs of its neighbors.
Founded in 1874 as a daughter congregation of the colonial-era Holy Trinity Lutheran, the church once stood in a growing neighborhood bounded by farmland and dirt roads. Thanks in large part to the energetic work of long-term pastor Charles Elvin Haupt and a surging immigrant population of Lutherans, the church "flourished as its members took advantage of American opportunities," he said.
Over the first part of the 20th century, both church and Sunday school attendance grew.
Then the demographic changes which transformed cities around America began to affect Grace Church. White members left the city for the suburbs and the area around the church became one of rental units and apartments.
Many mainline congregations in urban areas haven't been able to survive this transition.
A solidly middle-class congregation with pockets of affluence and poverty, Grace was able to remain vital, however, because many loyal members continued to commute into the city to worship.
Having spent six years working in the Rust Belt in northwest Pennsylvania, Verkouw was no stranger to wrestling with the problems faced by urban pastors ministering in evolving neighborhoods.
The first thing he and congregational leaders did, he said, was to try to "build bridges from congregation to neighborhood, and see if people would walk across and become part of the church's life," he said. New afterschool, childcare, community meal and housing programs were begun to reach the various ethnic and cultural groups living near its doors.
In the meantime, Grace chose to maintain and deepen the eucharistically-centered, traditional style of worship, letting rock bands and Christian contemporary music largely pass it by.
Yet "if you built it, they won't necessarily come," found Verkouw. It was then, he began to reflect, that maybe the congregational culture itself needed to change.
Worrying about whether the congregation would die wasn't helpful for evangelism or for the church, he reflected.
Instead, he began to wonder what Grace Church would look like if it modeled a revitalized faith that allows the Holy Spirit to move -- without trying to engineer it.
The church had already renovated the worship area and narthex. Should it add a more deliberate small group structure? Is the church called by God to reflect the neighborhood and work to respect the differences within it?
These are the kind of practical and theological questions Verkouw and his leadership team are asking. In the meantime, like the roll of thunder overhead, he knows that the decision by the denomination to open ordination to gay clergy in monogamous relationships will affect his congregation (though no congregation is mandated to hire gay clergy).
"My contention is that this should not be a church-dividing, because ... it will take time to sense what this really means," said Verkouw. Surveying partisans on both sides, he said "it's always a test of diversity to see how much intolerance you can tolerate."
Meanwhile, the pastor seems thoughtful but not too anxious about the challenges facing the congregation locally or denominationally. His dream for Grace Church is that people will come, not because they were necessarily born Lutherans but because there is something "irresistible, winsome, and deep enough about the Christian message to sustain their interest," he added.
"I'm an optimist -- part of the cycle in a long-term pastorate is inevitable conflict. "
While many clergy do burn out, he said, "my approach is not to be one of those statistics."

dimanche, août 01, 2010

One big happy family

I'm probably going to be writing about our family reunion now and then for months to come.

There were so many angles, so much tradition and richness and history that came together in a Glenmoore yard with the heat ebbing from the day, that I haven't really even begun to process it.

And, I can hear one of my multiple historian cousins say to me, who is to say that your point of view is accurate?

So let me say it before anybody else -- my perpective might not be that of the other 55 or so participants.

But boy, it was a bonnie affair.

I had convened the clan for reasons that relate directly to my own place on the family tree. With the exception of my sister, my family of origin is dead. I have always had warm feelings for all of my cousins, even the ones who were family memories from childhood. But as time went by, I have more and more felt the lack of an extended family.

My mother, and before that my grandmother were previous clan gatherers -- my great aunt Jennie the original Jackson family historiographer.

Knowing that all of these wonderful folks were out there -- and that there was no Hatfield-McCoy blood feud keeping us in enemy camps -- it seemed crystal clear that we needed a place and a time, and the reason would be evident.

Send out a casual email, and they would arrive, after multiple twists and turns, in pastoral Glenmoore. The invitation seemed easy -- and I figured the details would eventually spool themselves out.

And so, indeed, they did arrive, from Oregon and Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Truro, Massachusetts, Maine, and Birmingham, Alabama.

We were gifted with a wonderful group of octogenarians, and one amazing nonogenarian. Seeing her hold court at breakfast this morning was a reminder of the blessing of good genes.

And then there were the children, teenagers, and young adults -- the "Facebook" friends who communicate via texting, messaging, and gaming. They eventually drifted off to discover each other.

We know we were Jacksons. And that we were proud to claim our heritage. But we hadn't had the chance to do it together. And, tout suite, we have a network, ties that bind -- a family for the twenty-first century.

And I am so grateful. Amazed. And awed.

Thankful, also, that the dead skunk, and vulture didn't reveal themselves on the back lawn until this morning.

jeudi, juillet 29, 2010

Knowing what I don't know

It's almost time to get up -- I slept late this morning. And it's time for Inky to have a bite to eat. His routine (if it's not humiliating for them to say that cats do anything as normal as a routine) is to move from the foot of the bed, sit down next to me, and start vocalizing until I give in and move to the closet where I keep his food.

Today, however, he jumps on my stomach, kneads a few seconds (the guy is an efficient kneader) and closes his eyes. Like, purring, he could stay there for hours.

I don't know why, of all mornings, he decided to climb on my stomach. Perhaps he needed a little time close to the mammal he may think of as "mom." No one really know why cats purr, but his little black and white body reverbrates. And I'm not sure whether he's hungry, or could stay here for the rest of the day.

Probably not. But that's about all I can say, based on previous experience.

This past weekend a friend of mine drove with me down to Gettyburg. After a few hours hiking around, we decided to do a ghost tour after dinner. Gettyburg is allegedly one of the most haunted locations in the U.S., for obvious reasons.

Some of the stories seemed more convincing in the dark.

But do I know whether spectres exist? Of course not. I just know I don't want to see one, whether it's part of my imagination or no. At Pennsylvania Hall, the guide said that two women saw a field hospital, with a surgeon amputating --- and beckoning them to help him out?
And then there is the movie "Crash" which I just saw yesterday -- the white folk, like me, pissed me off through the whole movie.
And yeah, I know what some of the other groups did was bad (the only really virtuous person was Latino) but what the white guys did was much worse.
That being said, I wonder -- what would the movie look like from the perspective of a black friend? Another white friend?
Did the director want us to come out critical mostly of the white attorney, and gosh, his incredibly bitchy wife?
It seems that the more I experience the more ignorant I feel.
How about you?

Pennsylvania Hall pic is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

lundi, juillet 26, 2010

A little time off

I'm off to hang out with my friend TH in Princeton, NJ today -- a chance to get a little physical distance on the past week.

I find I can't write about what has happened yet -- it's too raw, too painful. What a counselor pal of mine calls "secondary trauma", which apparently happens often to counselors, medical staff and people of the cloth.

We'll hike around, talk religion and politics (he's a much higher breed of journalist than I am), drink a little wine, and maybe have some vittles to go with that...

And perhaps I'll hear about his family in Paris, and other "stuff".

Princeton was my home for a number of years while I was young and more sane than I am now. I can't wait to see it again, in the company of someone who has been all around the world, seen more than I ever can, and hasn't been there yet!

mardi, juillet 20, 2010


We just have to get through the service today.

Please continue to hold us in prayer.

We can't bear this alone -- particularly, his parents.

Not to mention all of his relatives, and friends, and those who loved him.

For, you see, they love him still.

samedi, juillet 17, 2010


Yesterday came the call no pastor ever, ever wants to get.

A one-car accident. Two teens dead. One critically injured.

And in a little town, every one knows every one else. Last night parishioners told me of talk in the grocery store, neighbor to neighbor -- even the man who owns the filling station and went to get the car is connected to our parish.

We are plunged into mourning.

These are the details. The journey doesn't have any markers, except for the absolute certainty of grief.

Please pray for the parents of these babies.

And if you have a moment, pray for all -- our church, our town, our faith, as we walk in darkness together -- not even ready, yet, for the light.

vendredi, juillet 16, 2010


I told him I wouldn't write about the specifics on the blog, and I won't. Not that he deserves mercy.

But I'm a little worried. I'm losing my general air of skeptical distance.

Instead, I feel nauseated. Mostly, it's because I thought he was an honorable person -- until he turned out to be something else.

And I wonder, if most guys wouldn't do what these opportunists do -- if they thought they could get away with behaving like foxes in heat.

Another proposition issued -- and rejected. What's the harm?

Well, try being on the receiving end -- for years. It doesn't matter of they have letters after their last name. Who cares if they send you emails replete with typos, or freaking gilt-edged Hallmark cards.

The end result is the same -- the sense that they want to use you -- for one purpose only, and then move on.

If it had happened once, it might be mildly amusing. But there seems to be a trend.

It feels degrading -- disgusting. And, frankly, infuriating.

I know a lot of decent men, kind men -- mostly, they are married. Of course, that doesn't mean that all married men treat their spouses well. Or that it's better to be married and unhappy.

And I know these propositions speak more about the guys than about me.

But I must admit that the tide of murk that drips onto my computer screen has an effect on my self-esteem -- while the men who administer this punishment go blithely, and ignorantly, on their way.

lundi, juillet 12, 2010

The courage to say "no"

It's a good thing that I have friends in real life.

Friends to debate the ethics of capitalism (if such a thing exists) with over a beer or a hot fudge sundae.

Buds to walk with on those mornings when we can see our exhalations mist the chilly air.

Pals to climb along the rocks in the tropical humidity of midsummer.

Middle-aged moms and dads, writers and sextons, seniors and thirty-somethings who laugh at me and hold my hand and sometimes @#!*% me off.

Because if I had come inexperienced and innocent to this world of online relationships, friendships, potential romances and business ventures, I might think that they only needed the touch of reality to melt like an ice cream cone does in your hand on a summer's evening.

Saying "no" to someone you have met briefly in real life -- saying that you don't see a future for friendship or business association -- takes courage.

Possibly, the person on other end of email or phone call may argue with you.

Perhaps they may insult you.

Maybe they won't get it, and it will take a while.

But I keep remembering, whether I have met the person or not, that their emotions aren't "virtual."

And, perhaps most important of all, whether they are down on their luck, or grapple with mental illness, or aren't attractive to you personally, people aren't disposable.

I suspect that those who find it hard to say "no thank you" or to face conflict, or to work something through in real life also find it difficult online. It certainly is harder. But I still (knowing that sometimes I fail) believe it's worth the attempt.

If you can't say "no," then your "yes" becomes a rather cheap knockoff in a world in which authenticity is the rarest jewel of all.

If they aren't getting it?

Pick up the darned phone -- I'm pretty sure that communication is what Edison invented it for.

vendredi, juillet 09, 2010

Fireflies and sunset

Having had some time in a city this afternoon, I needed to play hookie at home tonight.

Yes, I have work to do -- a book review to write (once I finish the book), and a sermon for Sunday morning.

But this week has been intense -- a welter of emotions, projections, fantasies. The sky and the grass, the children playing baseball by the school and the wildflowers waist high by the side of the road, called me, and I didn't even want to resist.

A couple walked by me as I strode, the wife chatting animatedly to her husband (I assume it was her husband, but I suppose he could have been her lover -- or her cousin). Halfway down the hill under the dusky old trees, I broke into a run. I couldn't help myself.

Down by Springton, the creek shone clear, the light of the sunset shining on the farm fields. Isn't it fascinating how dusk can sometimes echo sunrise?

Up I jogged past the house we thought we might purchase, past the one store we have in town, between the two Victorian houses in the village, the graveyard, the park -- the children playing tennis as the summer light disappeared for the night. A deer and I had a staring contest -- I am not always sure that they are going to cede the path to us.

Then down our lane to the house. Watering the plants outside, I took a moment to be grateful for this knowing -- beyond words.

Then inside -- renewed.

I have the feeling...somebody's watching me (you)

Recently I had an extremely unpleasant conversation with someone online.

If conversation it could be called.

Given that this is a relatively public forum, I'm not able to go into the details. I will tell you that I'd said again and again to this man that I preferred meeting him face to face, rather than trying to communicate through emails.

No nuance. No super ego! And multiple possibilities for malcommunicating.

After our ongoing miscommunication culminated in a general rending of my character and what he perceived as my behavior, he alluded to the fact that he had "seen me online" somewhere -- and felt that made a lie out of what I had told him. Regardless of the fact that what I had attempted to tell him wasn't what he heard.

And, to be honest, that really does creep me out. It's not that I have something to hide (would that I had so many fascinating secrets), but that I have (as have many of you in various contexts, like Facebook) allowed my privacy to be violated in the interests of disclosure.

Of course, most of the times, this kind of disclosure (chatting with your pals online or sharing links) is quite innocent -- and will have no troublesome consequences. It's only when a contact goes south that you have the feeling that someone has his or her eye glued to the spyglass. That someone might be an individual, an ad sponsor, or a corporation...or even, possibly, the government.

And it is in times like this that I wonder -- what part of myself have I surrendered?

What about you?

mercredi, juillet 07, 2010

I'm back

My apologies for having been so intermittent about posting recently. Summer has upended our schedules around here, leading to some confusion.

In addition, I've started a new program in counseling which demands attending classes and homework, and talking to other students who could be my children. Guess what? They are really sweet, and they don't call me mom.

I wanted to plug a new venture I have joined as a blogger, a California-based series of connected blogs entitled SMARTLY --- but I can't figure out the feed yet, so you will have to wait to access it here. But I am not quite medieval -- here's the link.

At any rate, I'll try to be a more faithful, consistent blogger -- once I figure out what I forgot to do yesterday-- and take the cat off the stove.

samedi, juillet 03, 2010

Talkin about your generation?

As the upheaval of cultural change sweeps through the American church, one of the groups most affected, and most on the forefront of change, is the so-called "Millennial Generation."
Also known as Generation Y, this cohort of younger people is posing significant challenges to the faith practices, if not the theological foundations, of older generations.
Few are better positioned to have their finger on the pulse of this questing group of young people than the president of Eastern University, David Black.
Its main campus situated in the suburban greenery of St. Davids, the 4,000-student undergraduate and graduate school also has satellite colleges and centers in urban Philadelphia, West Virginia and in various countries around the world. Affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA since its founding, the university has a tradition of teaching rooted in faith, reason and justice.
What characterizes this new generation?
Bright, but probably not as well-read as previous generations, and living in a time dominated by technology, millenials are more introspective and reflective, not willing to embrace uncritically what they have been taught about God and what it means to know and follow God, Black said.
"What they see in those of us who most readily identify as Christian appears to them to be the most readily mean-spirited," Black said.
From the perspective of some younger Christians, "we reduce something as profound as the love of God to something that is more political and cultural than formational and spiritual."
Yet Black doesn't cast this generational divide in personal terms.
"I think most of us (older Christians) have tried to honorably and prayerfully live up to what we understand the Gospel to be. It's just a statement by them that what we have given them doesn't intersect with their own autobiographies, and that they are seeking for a new way to express what they believe."
Drawn to nondenominational churches and more liturgical settings (like Anglicanism), the evangelical millenials that Black shepherds find themselves at home in churches exploring new ways of worship and in settings that hearken back to some very old ones, he said.
As other commentators have noted, millenials do not seem to have the investment in the battles over human sexuality issues that have so preoccupied their elders.
"They aren't going to get exercised over these things" said Black, who characterized that generation as relational, nonjudgmental and able to find goodness in people they get to know personally.
In rejecting the strong connection between politics and Christianity often embraced by their elders, many (but not all) younger Christians also are rejecting, he said, a Christian viewpoint that "wraps itself in the American flag."
But that doesn't mean that this cohort is missing a social conscience. In fact, they are deeply concerned about global problems like the degradation of the environment, sexual trafficking and the plight of oppressed peoples, Black said.
In addition, his students find themselves disillusioned with a market-driven culture and question the integrity of a system in which there is such a gulf between the "haves" and the "have-nots," Black said.
At Eastern, faculty are addressing the concerns of millenials by teaching spiritual formation, justice and critical thinking — providing a safe place to ask questions, but being clear about what they believe, he commented.
Given the environmental, spiritual and cultural difficulties that may confront young adults, is Black optimistic?
"I believe that this generation is preparing itself psychologically and culturally to live with less than their parent's generation. It's going to be more difficult. They have to be more creative, more courageous and less materialistic."
Black, known as a sometimes bold innovator himself, believes that God is faithfully preparing his young students for what lies ahead of them.
"What I celebrate is that, rather than rejecting the church in a difficult time, they are deepening their search for the things of God in the penumbral (partially shadowed) regions of the church.
(I should disclose that a few years back I worked for Palmer Theological Seminary, an Eastern University graduate school.)

lundi, juin 28, 2010

After the storm

I don't know that anyone expected the violence.

Last Thursday, I had just said goodbye to a younger friend when the skies began to darken.

Oh, a thunderstorm, I thought -- forgetting, of course, to check to see if we had left any windows open.

Then the winds began -- shaking the trees, sending plant containers across our grass, and leaves dancing through the windy air onto the lawn.

I called my ex husband, hoping to establish some kind of human contact. After leaving a message, I got ahold of the grandmother of neighbors, staying at their home while they were on a cruise.

But it wasn't until I got outside and saw that a tree had come down in the back that I realized the tempest might have been more than a bad thunderstorm. And it was only after that, driving around a town where poles and wires swayed tipsily across lanes, that I realized this was more than your average storm.

Some of my neighbors have generators -- it is perhaps a mark of my citified mindset that I don't have one -- yet. Nor do I have a chainsaw.

Imagine me with a chainsaw? Right.

There was mildly wry excitement in the fact that we made the newspapers, little Glenmoore being a storm epicenter. Talk of 90 mile an hour winds is thin gruel when you can't flush a toilet or water your crops.

It took us till Sunday to get our power back. Some neighborhoods here still don't have it. And they predict storms this afternoon -- better get out and mown the leave strewn lawn.

mardi, juin 22, 2010

Parry...and thrust

Recently, as have many of us, I've been forced to grapple with the question: why, exactly, are we in Afghanistan?

Oh yes, of fight the Taliban and go after Al Quaeda.

After thousands of Afghan civilians have died, and the toll on our own soldiers increases almost each day, it seems fair to ask: are we accomplishing our mission?

And beyond that -- do Americans really support this war?

My mind went back to quite a different war a few days ago -- one which must have appeared also as if it would go on until every young man was killed.

It had taken me almost a year to look for the weapon we had packed last August when we moved furniture out of my dad's home for the last time.

As I noted here last year, we had no idea why dad had a bayonet. Stuck in the back of his office closet, it may have been left by a previous owner.

And if Mr. C hadn't pestered me to look for it, I would have been happy to wait another six months or so to unpack it.

After all, my sister wanted to destroy it. But I argued that we should keep it, that its historic value trumped the fact that it was constructed only to butcher.

She and her boyfriend had wrapped it in so much cloth that it took quite a while to unwrap it and see the blade shining through the leather.

Personally, I didn't think it had lost it's power to terrorize. As we looked at the hilt, we could make out the date: 1861, the city: Hartford, Connecticut. We think that the manufacturer was one Collins & Co -- but an appraiser will have to let us know.

I have no desire to make money off the bayonet, but I do want to know some of the history around its manufacturing before we give it to a museum -- if they want it. We'll not know if it was passed on to someone by a father, or a grandfather or a widow who wanted their child to remember what it was like to fight and perhaps die for the cause of national unity.

Apparently bayonets rarely killed -- the guns got the enemy first.

The bayonet lies safe in a closet at the house of a friend -- awaiting that time when we will surrender this part of our history, and hand it over to become, much more appropriately, part fo the history of our nation.

Wikimedia Commons Picture

vendredi, juin 18, 2010

That's me in the corner....

When a guy checks you out online (and he's not a 74 year old named Fred) and he's good looking, even in a kind of scholarly way, well, it's my duty to return the favor. It's a pretty low-commitment way of revealing mild interest -- and opens the door to a potential conversation.

So today I did. I liked his profile -- he seemed smart, well-informed, had a sensitive side, and didn't appear to take himself too seriously.

I wrote him, commenting on something he had said in his profile (why has subtle flirting gone the way of Regency romance?). He wrote me back.

And then it came up, as it often does with intelligent men. That religion thang.

I looked at your profile, he told me, and I thought you were cute (he might be the first guy who ever called this Amazon cute) -- but you seemed a little too religious for me. Your subsequent emails seemed to contradict this impression, so perhaps we can continue to talk. Tell me one thing I haven't learned from your profile.

Of course, I told him about the bondage parties. (Not my bondage parties, silly). And the threesomes (yours, not mine). And my alternative lifestyle friend, of whom I still am fond.

But I couldn't help sighing. Again, someone who probably considers himself enlightened dismisses (or is tempted to dismiss) a woman who is upfront about the fact that she, indeed, believes something.

I have a feeling this wouldn't be a sticking point in California, where Christianity competes with New Age philosophies and Eastern religions. Or in the South, which is still a stronghold of conservative Christianity.

I'm not a big fan of Christians who moan about being persecuted here in the United
States. And I understand that the association of evangelical Christianity with politics under George Bush probably made a lot of liberal people angry.

It just made me recall, as though I need to, that anti-religious prejudice is alive and well among the intelligentsia.

I keep hoping that I'll meet a guy who is open enough to believe that you can have faith and think for yourself.

But apparently in liberal America, as we can see in churches that continually attempt to make faith palatable by making it reasonable, you can only have one at a time.

My writing pal hasn't given up on me, though. And I haven't thrown him to the wolves, either.

But I've already used my best bondage story. Anybody willing to loan me another?

vendredi, juin 11, 2010

This is your mind. This is your mind online...

Do you ever worry that perhaps your child is being rewired by all the time he or she spends glued to the computer, on the cell, or playing games on their Ipod?

Do you ever stop, in between texting and reading and talking, to think about the effect all of this stimuli could be having on you?

Well, pop on over to Philly Moms and state your case, whatever that might be, on the heated debate over whether electronica can indeed reshape the neurons in our brains.

Don't get distracted and forget now!

mardi, juin 08, 2010

Forgiveness in E Flat

I've had occasion this week to ponder what it means to forgive.

Not I've suffered terribly -- one wasted evening does not a drama make. Just a few blog posts.
And perhaps I'm a bit less willing to reach out, a bit more suspicious with other guys for now -- expecting that they will turn on me. So the hurt is real. But to be fair, I can't lay the weight of that disillusionment on one man.

Yet it makes sense to move on -- wish the guy well and hope that we both learned something. I think I was saved some pain.

But what of the boys who left my son in tears tonight at the Little League playoffs, blaming him for missing some catches in the outfield in a game marred with poor pitching, errors, and some really juvenile fielding?

That's going to take a little longer.

I know people who thrive on a sense that they have been wronged. Endless slights...daggers between the shoulders, and a world bent on hurting them.

They can make lists, itemize, ritualize...and make life hellish for friend and bystander.

We forgive, in part, so we can move onwards.

Free ourselves by letting go of our anger against the other who has wronged us.

Start afresh.

We forgive, it seems to me, to unchain us to show compassion, and concern, and even love, with a deeper freedom.

A freedom which perhaps we all crave, whether we confess it, or no. Yearn for that inner unleashing, but still sometimes choose to wear the manacles around our hands, our feet, our souls.

Have you had to practice forgiveness recently?

How deep was the wound?

Do you truly feel like you have put the injury behind you?

dimanche, juin 06, 2010

When you stand...and when you fold

What causes you to feel shame?

Or, to put it more directly, is it ever appropriate to feel shame -- as opposed to remorse?

I don't feel shame a lot anymore. But when I do, I recognize the historic roots of that shame.

I have paid a price for walking a different road than many of those with whom I would ordinarily find commonality. I wear the mantle of the outsider, as a convert, a liturgical bridgebuilder, a journalist.

And in this I'm not that different from immigrants, and those who transition from one economic class to another, or folks who, for one reason or another, have been compelled to step outside the bounds of the conventions that generally make it easier for us to move in and out of friendships and romances.

For some reason, even when I was younger, my insecurity would focus on my looks -- the guys at PTS who only wanted to date blonds, the fellow Anglican who told me he liked "All American girls." And it's true, that in a seminary full of WASP Presbyterians, I stood out.

Call me a late bloomer, but in my thirties, I began to appreciate that it was OK to look a wee bit, well, exotic.

Thank goodness for the assurance that is one of the better things about getting older.

But, as we all know, it's what inside that counts -- counts more and more as we age.

And on that score, I have a feeling that perhaps a little more remorse might be in order.

When I shoot from the lip. When I lapse into my drama queen routine. When I don't see the consequences...

Remorse can prompt change. As a friend reminded me yesterday, with a bracing "Are you kidding?" shame can mess with your mind. It is a dead end street, a boulevard of broken dreams.

But remorse...the ability to feel what someone else felt, to walk with them a few steps, to see that inadvertantly or not you have damaged him or her...well, that may be the beginning of healing -- for both parties. For a community. Even for our despoiled earth.

Can you tell the difference?

samedi, juin 05, 2010

The humili-date

Have you ever had an after-date headache? One that settles into the back of your neck, and wends it way around your teeth?

I've had one since last night. And even trying not to think about the dinner, which I am avoiding by means of reading and ice cream and running, doesn't seem to take the pain away.

I have learned, in the course of more than a few years of dating in the interstices of raising children, not to let my guard down.

That is because, in general, I haven't talked to a lot of guys who have encouraged me to want to be that open with them. I've found, sadly, that wry is the best mode of analysis for the ongoing thrum of emails, telephone conversations, and now and then meetings.

But over the past few weeks, I found that there was a chink in my worldlywise armor. When I checked his profile out after he looked at mine, I liked what I saw. He lived a state over from me. He was also a writer -- and he makes his kid his first priority, as I do.

The two hitches? He was a good deal younger -- and he lives more than two hours from Glenmoore. Two issues that I kept bringing up.

Our telephone conversations went well -- he told me that he was comparing the other women he met to me. Flattering. Kind of sweet. Although I didn't talk about him to my friends, I allowed myself, wonder. Be uncynical.

I won't even describe what happened last night, when we finally met up on neutral territory. Let's just say that it was one of the more profoundly humiliating moments of my dating career -- and a moment for him, when he figured out that he doesn't want to date significantly older women who live more than a few hours away.

Only the way he did it reminded me of the rhyme my kids would hurl at one another: "U-g-l-y, you ain't got no alibi, you ugly!" And, I'm ashamed to say, it hurt. It doesn't matter what the truth is when revulsion is looking out in someone else's eyes.

I thought that I could avoid such scenarios by being scrupulously honest in the way I present myself online. Recent pictures. My real age. The family complexities that keep me where I am, and happy most of the time.

But apparently even those measures aren't enough to stave off the humili-date. And the headache. And the brick to the castle walls that I add -- to protect myself, just a wee bit better, the next time.

And not unhappy, today, to be solitary - except for the headache, the pain and the memory.

jeudi, juin 03, 2010

From scratch

I'm not a "from scratch" kind of person.

I have friends who find creation relaxing -- and many of them are really quite good at it.

Some knit blankets for older folks and babies.

Some needlepoint, their suburban homes decorated with exquisite tapestries.

Others come home from draining days at the office and enter happily into the alchemy of the kitchen, transforming yeast and flour into bread, carrots and broth into soup, their dining rooms fragrant with cumin and ginger and garlic.

Give me a container garden, and the odds are pretty good I won't kill it. My sauteed pak choy, however, was greeted by my son with the announcement that he had terrible stomach pains.

And I can't recall ever actually using anything that I needled.

But now that our house is a wink and a nod away from being sold, we may have to start from scratch.

I hadn't thought about working with an architect to build a sustainable home until a couple of days ago.

But we haven't found the house that we want at this point -- and the young couple who is probably buying our home want to settle in August.

I have to be honest. It's a scary prospect, starting from scratch.

It means temporary housing, probably an apartment, so that the children can attend the same schools. Packing, unpacking and then doing it once more. More stress. Contractors.

And yet the possibility to be a part of constructing a home that won't have a negative effect on our environment is tremendously appealing. A home that has our fingerprints on it. A home that reflects our ideals.

Maybe, as we gather our belongings and get ready to be gypsies again, the close to perfect house will present itself...but in the meantime....I'm excited.

And scared.Did I mention scared?

lundi, mai 31, 2010

One great lie

This past weekend I spent part of Saturday swimming in the past -- a past more than ninety years gone. Wrestling with the right tone for a Memorial Day homily, I took a time capsule back to read the World War I poets.

Start out with Rupert Brooke's "The Great Lover" -- and you may end up in some pretty sad places. Wilfrid Owen, maybe the finest of the British World War I poets, dead seven days before the war ended. The gorgeous poet Brooke died earlier, of an infected mosquito bite, in 1915. And then there was Siegfried Sassoon, who survived to write about the horrors of war, as did his fellow countryman Robert Graves.

But let's not even talk of poets. Let's try to remember a whole generation of young men and many women lost in England, France -- and Germany. Hatred sowed in the Balkans and bitter fruits in places like Italy.

As a teen who read the writing of novelists like R.F. Delderfield, and saw the BBC adaption of the life of the anti-war activist Vera Brittain (adapted from her book "Testament of Youth"), I became intrigued and horrified by the context in which War War I took place.

But it doesn't have to be that war -- choose your war.

It seems a bit traitrous to say that, in this nation in which so many glorify the patriotism of the hand-folded over the shirt, the pledge recited as it has been since childhood, that I am anti-war.

That dooesn't mean I'm a total pacifist.

In my judgment, which does not need to be yours, there have been, with the recent exception of World War II, very few where the potential for evil on the other side outweighed the terrible cost in terms of human lives.

Even now, in Iraq, families are torn asunder because a citizen with an incendiary device decides to blow themselves up and take as many innocent lives with them as possible.

And yet we continue, those of us who have never experienced it, to exalt it -- the brother and sisterhood of the trenches. Patriotism is cheap unless and until one is truly ready and able to serve -- not to send others.

But do we give the same honor to our veterans once they are back with wounds that show -- and wounds the naked eye can't see? Do we give them counseling and access to medicine and the good care they need to readjust to civilian life?

When we talk about the ecstasy of combat, it might be well to recall the words with which Owen ends one of his most famous poems, titled Dulce and Et Decorum Est:

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, My friend, you would not tell with such high zest1 To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

It is no honor to our veterans to tell ourselves that terrible untruth.

Let us tell the truth about how awful war can be -- and then weigh whether the fighting is worth the agony.