Thursday, December 27, 2007
Beau was over 12.5 years old. We picked him up when he was 12 weeks old in Asheville, NC, where my mom had picked him out of a litter of 8 squirming, roly-poly puppies. She picked him, in part, because he had a tiny black spot on his head, and it was the only way to tell him from the other 7 yellow fur balls. I've said many times since then that God put that black spot there so Mom would choose him. He was the perfect pet for us.
Beau was humble and gentle without being scared or shy. He was exuberant, happy, and loving. He was the quintessential golden. He also "yodeled." That always surprised people! From the earliest age, Beau understood children and that he needed to be gentle with them. Even as a puppy he never nipped or jumped up on our then 18 month old daughter. He obeyed her when she would order him in her best toddler-talk to go into his kennel. He'd patiently go inside, sit down and wait for her to let him out again; although usually she went in with him!
Several times when our youngest child was just a toddler we found Beau sit patiently in front of an open container of dog food waiting for her to feed him one piece at a time. He never tried to go through her to get to the food. About that time we also took a sweet picture of 2 year old Lydia sitting on top of Beau brushing his head with a doll brush.
Beau was never territorial, and willingly put up with a long line of dogs invading his space. A friend of mine used to drop her dog off daily while she was at work. We inherited another golden for several years, and finally we were given a terrier-mix puppy. Beau put up with being a life-sized chew toy for the puppy (named Cookie). Cookie literally used his ears for tug-of-war. From the very beginning he would lay down so she could "wrestle" with him, something that continued for the rest of his life. (Beau was about 64 lbs and Cookie is 14 lbs.)
Beau also loved people. Everybody. He was one of the few dogs I've known who seemed to think going to the groomer's or the vet's was a treat. He seemed to think any kind of attention, even shots and ear cleanings, were a form of love and affection. And no matter how painful the procedure, he never had to be restrained beyond someone holding his head. He was always full of trust and obedience.
The last thing I said to Beau was this: "You got it right, buddy. Thank you."
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Flannery O'Connor's Religious Vision
Flannery O’Connor died during the Second Vatican Council, while the bishops were writing anew what she had always known: that the church is the body of Christ, the people of God; that laypeople are its flesh and blood; and that the clergy and religious orders are its servant-leaders. While O’Connor was a supreme artist in fiction, she was also a particularly valuable witness to the Catholic Church and its leaders in this country, especially as she appears in her collected letters, The Habit of Being, edited by Sally Fitzgerald (1979). Hers is the testimony of a watchful, honest, faith-filled and eloquent layperson; and she had much to say about the experience of living the faith within the Catholic Church, especially in a society and a culture that had marginalized genuine Christian faith and practice.
Our present age has been described as one in which people place a high value on spirituality and a low value on religion, especially organized religion. Of particular interest, then, is O’Connor’s thinking about the experience of church, of the assembly of believers. She valued the church highly and observed it acutely, warts and all. If the church made life endurable, it also provided much that had to be endured. “You have to suffer as much from the church as for it,” she once wrote. “The only thing that makes the church endurable is that somehow it is the body of Christ, and on this we are fed.” She went on to explain why we suffer from the church: “The operation of the church is entirely set up for the sake of the sinner, which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.” God is as patient with the entire church as he is with each lost sheep, and many of us Catholics have very little patience with either.
The church is made up of imperfect pilgrims on a long, difficult journey, and O’Connor described them well: “The Catholic Church is composed of those who accept what she teaches, whether they are good or bad, and there is constant struggle through the help of the sacraments to be good.” In “Choruses from the ‘Rock,’” T. S. Eliot says that modern people do not like the church because “she is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.” (Think of issues like abortion, euthanasia, welfare reform, capital punishment and more.) O’Connor might have appreciated Eliot’s remark.
The Human Element
Within the visible church, the Holy Spirit is constantly acting in the lives of its members, individually and collectively. Thus, the church cannot be accurately judged or evaluated by what her critics observe externally. O’Connor pointed this out to one of her friends:
You judge [the church] strictly by its human element, by unimaginative and half-dead Catholics who would be startled to know the nature of what they defend by formula. The miracle is that the Church’s dogma is kept pure both by and from such people. Nature is not prodigal of genius and the church makes do with what nature gives her. At the age of 11, you encounter some old priest who calls you a heretic for inquiring about evolution; at about the same time Père Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., is in China discovering Peking man.
The “human element” in the church was a frequent target of O’Connor’s wit, as when she proposed this motto for the Catholic press of her day: “We guarantee to corrupt nothing but your taste.” More seriously, she quoted St. Augustine’s advice to the “wheat” in the church not to leave the threshing floor of life before the harvest is complete, just because there is so much of that disgusting chaff around! In this connection, she slyly suggested what the difficulty may be for more sensitive Catholics (referring to one young woman in particular): “She probably sees more stupidity and vulgarity than she does sin and these are harder to put up with than sin, harder on the nerves.”
Meanwhile, the world goes on judging the church in utilitarian fashion, using the same standard it would apply to the Rotary or the Kiwanis. O’Connor challenged this ap-proach, writing that “any Catholic or Protestant is defenseless before those who judge his religion by how well its members live up to it or are able to explain it.” The surface is easy to judge, she was saying, but not the interior operations of the Holy Spirit. She illustrated this principle with a touching reference to the vocation of Catholic priests, whom she often found to be overworked and unimaginative:
It is easy for any child to find out the faults in the sermon on his way home from church every Sunday. It is impossible to find out the hidden love that makes a man, in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his lack of strength, give up his life to the service of God’s people, however bumblingly he may go about it.
While O’Connor defended her church against superficial and unfair judgments, she was neither a whitewasher nor a fatalist, and she was an implacable foe of complacency. She believed that the church must struggle toward greater virtue as surely as each of its members. She wrote quite forcefully in this regard: “It’s our business to change the external faults of the church—the vulgarity, the lack of scholarship, the lack of intellectual honesty—wherever we find them and however we can.”
Flaws in the Church
Here are three examples of faults in the church that O’Connor criticized and wished to see corrected. I think they are in order of increasing severity.
First, she condemned smugness as the great Catholic sin. Now, 45 years later, perhaps something else would head her list; but smugness would probably still be listed. Referring to the German priest and author Romano Guardini, she wrote about smugness: “I find it in myself and I don’t dislike it any less. One reason Guardini is a relief to read is that he has nothing of it. With a few exceptions the American clergy, when it takes to the pen, brings this particular sin with it in full force.” About 20 years ago a bumper sticker appeared that read: “If you feel God is far away, guess who moved?” If O’Connor had lived to see one of those signs on a Georgia road, I like to think that she would have skewered the sentiment as very smug, even as she chuckled at the rampant vulgarity of bumper-sticker theology.
Related to smugness is glibness, which she described as “the great danger in answering people’s questions about religion.” Again, a sense of mystery will give the Christian apologist a sense of humility: if I am convinced that I have the truth about God, I am much more likely to be obnoxious about it than if I am convinced that God’s truth has me.
O’Connor expressed impatience with the kind of Catholicism—and Catholic fiction—that kept everything nice, shallow, cute and safe. She described what she called “A nice vapid-Catholic distrust of finding God in action of any range and depth. This is not the kind of Catholicism that has saved me so many years in learning to write, but then this is not Catholicism at all.” Genuine Catholicism, she felt, must be as radical and demanding as its founder’s teaching.
Still another Catholic fault O’Connor described is, I believe, an evergreen reality in the church: a Jansenistic disdain for human weakness and struggle and distrust of questions, speculations and discussions of any depth. Of the pseudo-faith of such persons she said:
I know what you mean about being repulsed by the church when you have only the Mechanical-Jansenist Catholic to judge it by. I think that the reason such Catholics are so repulsive is that they don’t really have faith but a kind of false certainty. They operate by the slide rule and the Church for them is not the body of Christ but the poor man’s insurance system. It’s never hard for them to believe because actually they never think about it. Faith has to take in all the other possibilities it can.
In considering such people’s self-righteous judgments of others, she made an acute observation: “Conviction without experience makes for harshness.” By contrast, Christians who have struggled with their demons are better equipped to show compassion toward others.
Religion Into Therapy
O’Connor had a deep distaste and contempt for modern, sanitized, “empty” religion. Because she embraced an imaginative vision of religion as the mystery of God’s saving action intersecting with all that is earthly, O’Connor remarked to one correspondent: “All around you today you will find people accepting ‘religion’ that has been rid of its religious elements.” Elsewhere she described this development in more detail:
One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention.
The issue of religion bled dry of its content is featured in what is probably the most famous story told about O’Connor. As a very young and unknown writer, she was visiting New York and was taken to a party at the home of Mary McCarthy, ex-Catholic and ex-believer, a sophisticated and accomplished novelist, essayist and critic. What follows is O’Connor’s description of the encounter:
We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing in such company for me to say.... Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward the morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most “portable” person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” That was all the defense I was capable of.
In The Life You Save May Be Your Own (2003), Paul Elie writes of this exchange, “The closing remark is the most famous of all O’Connor’s remarks, an economical swipe at the reductive, liberalizing view of religion.”
O’Connor even locates one important moment in the development of this religious trend in this country. With some amusement she recalls a talk she gave at a college: “I told them that when Emerson decided in 1832 that he could no longer celebrate the Lord’s Supper unless the bread and wine were removed, that an important step in the vaporization of religion in America had taken place.”
‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’
For some readers one of the most surprising, even jarring, features of O’Connor’s fiction is its consistently comic character, even as the stories and novels pursue such serious themes of faith and grace. Elie describes an experience the author had when visiting the Cloisters, a museum of medieval art in Fort Tryon Park in New York City: “She was ‘greatly taken’ with a wooden statue on display in one of the chapels. ‘It was the Virgin holding the Christ child and both were laughing; not smiling, laughing.’” He concludes: “It was a piece to emulate as well as admire; like her own work, it was religious and comic at the same time.”
The betrayal of religion is downright diabolical in O’Connor’s view, and so it is portrayed in her fiction. For her, the crucial choice facing each of us is between the “lost” life with Christ and the worldly “saved” life without him. Thus, the most fiendish of temptations is to offer a saved, worldly life, but to offer it under the guise of being generically “Christian,” though with no Christ content whatsoever.
In this connection Elie describes a type of character that appears over and over again in O’Connor’s stories: “the middle-aged busybody who knows exactly what she thinks, who sees all and understands nothing.” One example is the character of Mrs. May in the story “Greenleaf.” At one point Mrs. May comes upon Mrs. Greenleaf in the woods, murmuring over and over again, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” O’Connor wrote: “Mrs. May winced. She thought the word, Jesus, should be kept inside the church building, like other words inside the bedroom. She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true.”
O’Connor had much to say about living together as church in the midst of modern culture, but finally we should turn to one simple statement she made about herself: “I write because I write well.” Nearly 45 years after her death, believers and unbelievers alike agree with her more than ever. She wrote well. But there is so much more than that to be said of her. One point will suffice here: How wonderfully different Flannery O’Connor was from Mrs. May. She thought that the name of Jesus, the reality of Jesus, belonged everywhere, indeed was everywhere. Regarding the Christian faith, Flannery O’Connor was the polar opposite of Mrs. May, because she, of course, believed all of it was true.
The betrayal of religion is downright diabolical in O’Connor’s view. The crucial choice is between the ‘lost’ life with Christ and the worldly ‘saved’ life without him.
Most Rev. George H. Niederauer is the archbishop of San Francisco. This article is an adapted excerpt from his Lane Center Lecture, delivered Sept. 28, 2007, at the University of San Francisco.
For more on Flannery O"Conner, read this archived article she wrote for America in 1957. The Church and the Catholic Writer
Monday, December 10, 2007
The whole interview is worth reading (in fact the book looks worth reading), but this part caught my attention:
JW: You note in your book that you slowly realized that the Religious Right leaders you were helping to gain power were not necessarily conservatives at all in the old sense of the word. They were anti-American religious revolutionaries.
FS: I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around. The other thing I began to understand is that in dismissing the whole culture as decadent, in dismissing the public school movement as godless, in talking about anybody who opposed them as evil, the Religious Right was only a mirror image of the New Left. Thus, the Religious Right and the New Left are really two sides of the same coin. What gets left out is a basic discussion about the United States and the reality of living here, the freedoms we enjoy and the benefits of a pluralistic culture where people are not crushing each other over beliefs. This gets lost. Thus, the kind of harshness you see in left and right-wing blogs today, for instance, such as it’s red state, blue state America, I just got sick of it. In other words, the Religious Right was as negative and anti-American as anybody I ever talked to on the Left. So the people we had coming through L’Abri in the late sixties and early seventies bashing the United States in a knee-jerk way over the Vietnam War was exactly the same kind of thing that you would hear in a different way from Falwell and Dobson and these other people.
I have yet to read the book, but I'm looking forward to reading more about Frank Schaeffer's look at truth, honesty and how the Religious Right has co-opted the public representation of faith in America.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Another year has come and almost gone. As I look back over my year, I wanted to share the ups and downs with my family and friends. So fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Hannah will graduate May 10 from North Carolina State University with a bachelor's degree in history. On May 17th she will marry Erik, and spend a week long honeymoon in Charleston, SC. When she returns she will put into practice all the practical knowledge she's gained in school. She only needs to learn, "Do you want fries with that?" in Spanish and she'll be set for life!
The wedding will be a simple affair, not only because the happy couple doesn't want a large to-do, but also because they haven't made any wedding plans yet. All we know for sure is the date and the presider (and the participants). I figure they'll be married when they leave for their honeymoon, and I choose not to worry about the rest.
Luke is now attending the local community college working toward an Associates Degree in computer networking. So far, so good. He's not driving yet, and he still doesn't have a job, but, hey, he's got a nice girlfriend!
Thomas has broken the home school mode and is now enrolled in a public charter school for 11th grade. He's making friends, making good grades, and generally being productive. What a guy!
Both boys are active in Youth Group and volunteering at church. They also spend something like 40 hours a week playing video games. Physical exercise consists of walking up the stairs to get another soda. Along with my future son-in-law, Erik, they are what I affectionately call my cave dwellers. My "family room" consists of 3 desk top computers, a widescreen HD TV, a smaller 27" TV, a PS, a PS2, two xBoxes, and an avalanche of video games. I toss food down there occasionally on weekends.
I still home school the girls, Rebekah 14, and Lydia 10, although I have to admit I outsource a lot. Rebekah takes writing, science, geography, and Spanish with other teachers/classes. Lydia does art, literature, and science in enrichment classes.
The theme of this year with the girls is music. The sing in two groups each, plus take piano lessons. I still have some control over their schedules, so they probably only play video games 20 hours a week. Less for Lydia since she still actually likes to play with friends.
So how do we spend Quality Time??? MMORPGing! (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) Or playing Halo III together! A family that parties together, lives longer... at least in the virtual realm of World of Warcraft! We used to eat dinner together, but that was before two computers showed up on my dining room table and never left. No room for food, only computers and school books. Now if we want to talk to one another we use email, or perhaps voice chat if we're playing the same game. I used to IM, but I couldn't keep up, so I still yell down the steps when I need to talk to someone. They think I'm a dinosaur.
When I do find myself in the same room with one or more of the kids, they are still free with the hugs. Plus, now that they are all virtuoso's on Guitar Hero, they are in-the-know about classic rock music! Any 10 year old that recognizes Heart and knows who Eric Clapton is okay in my book!! ;-)
Oh yeah, and did I mention Will joined the Catholic Church this year??
Merry Christmas to all you "alternative" families out there. Families with real live kids and lots to celebrate even if no one won a Nobel Prize this year. :-)
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Peter Chattaway interviews Philip Pullman
I'll post my own thoughts soon.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
We had a great afternoon, ate plenty of great food, played games, and talked, talked, talked. The kids from teens down went to a local park after dinner and played Ultimate Frisbee. I'm afraid the adults were too full to move that much!
And if being blessed by one family isn't enough, we received a second invitation from another family. Wow! How blessed can we be?
I'm thankful for many, many things this year, but right now friends and family are at the top of the list.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my online friends, as well. You brighten my days!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
For years I've thought a great deal about understanding vs tolerance, but lately I am simply not so sure it's as "easy" as opening your mind to new ideas and not prejudging. Perhaps I am being really nit-picky about the definition of understanding and tolerance, but I also see how really, really difficult it is in practice, even if it seems possible in theory.
Sometimes I feel we have it really backwards. I think it is much easier to tolerate than to understand. I do not understand a lesbian or gay person's position. It is fathomless to me. I can tolerate and I can treat the person with respect, but I don't understand. I may respect a friend who leaves her faith behind, but I don't understand it. I may see the steps she took, read the books she read, and ask a million questions, but in the end, since I am not making the same decision, I am not truly understanding her or her reasons. I can "tolerate," I can "agree to disagree," I can love, but I cannot understand.
So I guess I'm saying it is possible to understand the process, or someone's position, to better understand a line of reasoning, or the foundation behind actions and life decisions. But I do not think that is the same thing as truly understanding a person or another position.
I also don't know how much tolerance there is when two positions are diametrically opposed to one another. I won't stop fighting to end abortion on demand. I don't care how much I respect or "understand" the reasons people have for being pro-choice, but I think they are wrong and I'll keep trying to change the system if I can't change their minds. That's just one issue. When it goes on and on, I see no way people with truly divergent positions can tolerate each other forever. It's like a law of physics- two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. One will have to move before the other gets there. Someone has to give ground because two opposing views cannot occupy the same space at the same time. We can't have abortion on demand and ban abortion. We can't tolerate gay marriages and ban gay marriages. Etc., etc.
So, yes, I can better understand a position other than my own. And I strive to. But I am less sure that understanding leads to tolerance because 1) I don't think true understanding is possible while holding divergent positions and 2) true tolerance isn't possible in the long run.
What I'm getting at is slippery, even to me.
I'll use the example that came up in my life recently: Rollings saying Dumbledore is gay. I was accused of intolerance because I was upset by Rowlings' "revelations." I was told that "Hate the sin, love the sinner" is a hopeless failure because I am hating something integral to a person, their gayness. "How would you feel if people said they liked you but hated Christ, or Christianity? How would you feel if people felt like the should protect their children from you and your ideas?"
Well, huh! That would stink. (But guess what, I think that's happening all over the country, as evidenced by the recent Barna report on how negatively Christianity and Christians are perceived.)
The point I'm trying to make is, I can't be "tolerant" the way these people want me to be. Tolerance means acceptance. Tolerance means I allow them to continue to influence public opinion while I keep mine to myself. And tolerance will always mean that, because tolerance means leaving people alone to live their life they way they want.
I can't do that and neither can they. They aren't tolerant of my beliefs or my right to live my life as I want to, which includes speaking out against placing homosexual relationships on par with heterosexual ones for marriage and child raising.
So the bottom line is, no matter how much we like and respect each other, no matter how much we try to understand, we cannot "tolerate" each other forever. We hold mutually exclusive ideas. To truly tolerate a position you are opposed to, you have to avoid discussing it. You have to avoid it, period. Because real engagement with an idea will mean the differences in opinion will surface, and someone, or everyone, will be labeled "intolerant."
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Of course, there are certain songs that put me back to a very particular place and time. Like "I Shot the Sheriff" by Clapton. I was working with my best friend as a waitress at a restaurant that served mainly pizza and sandwiches. It was called The Chat and Chew. I kid you not. Much of the time I worked there, Clapton's song was on the charts, and it was playing on the jukebox several times and hour. It's a good song to work to, with a lively beat and catchy tune. The problem is, thinking about that job makes me think of many other things going on around that time that I'd rather not remember. Like my friend, who moved out to California and lost touch.
That's the whole problem with these music-driven memories. You can't control them. They take you back whether you want to go or not, and they take you to the whole time period, warts and all.
It was a song that spurred my Gallop Down Memory Lane last week, for example. While I loved thinking about Rightpot and being an exercise rider, I don't want to remember other things from that summer. In fact, I don't seem to be able to think about my racing days without more pain and regrets than fondness. It's a shame, too, because I loved the horses. It had been my life's dream to work full time in some aspect of the horse world. The horses were great. The circumstances were not.
Part of the pain associated with the memories are nostalgic. To be young, strong, fit, and on a horse again! To have the illusion of freedom in my life and choices. To have that carelessness that youth has, taking it all for granted. Thinking you'll never really be older and grayer. Or perhaps simply not thinking about it at all. Because who at 2o can understand what it is to be 40, or 50, or 60? But a 50 year old like myself can remember what it was like to be 20. Yes, some of the pain is simply the desire for what is gone- youth, energy, and abandon.
But most of the discomfort in the memories is not what I want back, but what I wish I'd never experienced to begin with. Along with the supposed freedom of youth comes the choices one lives to regret, the failings one wishes to forever erase. Alongside the joy at being young, healthy, and doing something I loved, were four years of a dysfunctional marriage, betrayal, anger, revenge, and regret. It's not just what was done to me that I want to forget, but what I did to others as I lashed back, sought comfort, gave up, and finally left.
For 25 years I've mainly pushed the memories back while I've focused on my wonderful husband and family. Along with the bad memories, I've had to push the good ones back, as well. Yet as Trisha Yearwood put it, the song remembers when.
But that's just a lot of water
Underneath a bridge I burned
And there's no use in backtrackin'
Around corners I have turned
Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when
So now I'm walking, and galloping, down memory lane, and it's a mixed bag of emotions. I guess in part I'm showing a sort of pathetic mid-life yearning for youth. But also, I'm just doing what we all do- trying to learn how to grow old gracefully. For me that means facing down a few demons and coming to grips with the forward march of time.
Monday, November 5, 2007
As I approached the shed row, I saw the hotwalker (a person who walks the horse around the shed row, either after they exercise or when the horse is getting a day off, like after a race) walking a beautiful bay colt I didn't recognize. As I was waiting for my first mount, I asked the assistant trainer, Steve, about the new colt. It seems they had bought him in a $15000 claiming race the afternoon before off of a mass market stable run by King Leatherbury.
(Note: A claiming race is a race where you enter your horse for a specific dollar amount, and anyone who meets certain criteria (different tracks have different rules about who is eligible to claim) can put the amount of the claim into an account with the horseman's bookkeeper and claim (buy) your horse. The idea behind claiming races is to keep people honest. That way owners run their horses against other horses of equal value.)
My first question was, "Will I get him?" He was gorgeous and feisty, dancing around the shed row, and I really wanted to be his exercise rider. My second question was, "What's his name?"
Well, his name was Rightpot, and I talked them into letting me handle him. The trainer was skeptical at first because Rightpot had a reputation as a handful on the track. But I convinced them that what he needed was a lady's touch.
I wasn't just blowing smoke. I knew the way most of Leatherbury's boys rode. They stood straight up in the irons and hauled on the horse's mouth. In my opinion, that's how riders with little talent were able to ride a wide variety of horses without having to get to know them individually. Leatherbury was a master at the claiming game and had 100 horses or more stabled at Delaware Park that summer. With high turnover and high numbers, his exercise riders didn't have the chance to get to know their mounts.
I found several of Leatherbury's boys in the cafeteria later and asked about Rightpot. The one who rode Rightpot was there, and he told me the horse pulled hard and lugged out (tried to run toward the outside of the track). "Be sure you use a ring bit on him! You'll pull anything else right through his mouth trying to keep him straight."
I went back to my own barn and dug out my favorite bit, a full cheek snaffle. The full cheek snaffle is not typically a racing bit. It's used more for hunters. But I knew that with the long side pieces there was no way it'd get pulled through Rightpot's mouth.
Rightpot and I got to know each other over the next few days. I had a totally different riding style than Leatherbury's boys. I tended to ride low over the horse's back, crossing the reins and bracing them against the top of the horse's neck. That way, the horse was pulling against himself more than me. He quickly became a favorite of mine, and his whole attitude towards life changed. The new bit, the training style, and I'd like to think the rider, all worked together to help Rightpot relax and enjoy his gallops instead of fighting constantly.
Two or three weeks later I was in the grandstands on another beautiful summer day, this time in the afternoon. From there we all gathered to watch Rightpot win his first allowance race. (An allowance is a race in which a horse is entered according to eligibility conditions, usually the number of races it has won or money it has earned. Allowance races are a level above claiming races but a level below stakes races.) I cashed in a modest bet on him, but I was mostly just proud to know I was part of it. Part of helping Rightpot not only to win, but to enjoy himself doing it.
Rightpot went on to run well in a variety of allowance races that summer, and I had fun riding him for his morning workouts. That fall, his trainer left for a Maryland track and I stayed locally to work on a training farm. I worked at Penn State RaceTrack some that fall and winter, but never went full time on a track again. By the next spring I was divorced and starting life over again. But I remember. I remember the rhythm of the horse's strides, the feeling of the rough reins and the prickly mane on my hands. And the sounds, hooves thudding on the track, the snorts of breath making a kind of popping sound, the squeak of the small leather saddle, my own breath or my words of encouragement and correction. I remember the smells. The warm smell of horse and sweat, the smell of leather, manure, and the dirt track.
I never saw Rightpot again, but when I close my eyes and remember the racetrack, he's usually the horse I'm riding.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
My water broke just after midnight on Dec 26, 1987. We left our 2 yr old daughter in the capable hands of a family friend, and trekked through the unseasonably warm, rainy night to the hospital. Our doctor met us there in the emergency room. He was a GP, back when some GP's still delivered babies. He was a kind and gentle man.
All the excitement started to fade as he checked me. After a while he said he was ordering an ultrasound. "I don't know if the baby is head first. I think I feel hair, but I don't feel the skull." I laid there, and Will held my hand. We were quiet. While the technician was doing the ultrasound, he asked me a few questions, but one question has remained in my memory because of the way it made my heart freeze. "I understand you have a healthy child at home?"
Yes, we had a healthy child at home. This question was the first real understanding that we didn't have a healthy child in utero.
The technician and the doctor left, obviously consulting on the findings. I started to cry and told my husband "I guess we'll be doing this again." An odd thing to say, I know.
About 10 minutes later our doctor returned. He didn't have the poker face down. His eyes were red and he was struggling somewhat to keep his composure.
"The baby has some major problems. He has a fully developed brain, but no skull. His lungs are not fully developed, and his heart is not formed correctly. He cannot survive. The baby is going to die."
The next 6 or 7 hours are a bit of a blur. My labor was weak so they started me on pitocin. Not fun. I asked for an epidural, thinking I was not emotionally capable of going through labor knowing my child would die after birth. But this was a holiday night and there was only one anesthesiologist at the hospital, and he was busy in the emergency room with a car wreck. I would do this on my own, and in retrospect, I'm glad I did. I remember watching TV, there was a horse show on ESPN. I love horses and I watched them gracefully circle the ring taking impossibly high fences for over an hour, losing myself in their rhythm and motion.
Toward dawn we started the phone calls, even as I labored toward the final hour or so. My mom, my best friend, our elder. "Mom, the baby isn't going to make it." "Susan, the baby isn't going to make it." "Please pray for strength."
As I moved into transition, an ultrasound technition arrived to do a high definition ultrasound of the baby. Looking back later I had to laugh at the absurdity of it. I laid on my back enduring the worst labor pains so he could get a good image of a sick baby that would be here in an hour or less. He could have waited and just looked at the baby itself! But, of course, I was in a teaching hospital. I shouldn't be surprised. And Will and I weren't in any shape to question.
At the end of the ultrasound the anesthesiologist came in. I shook my head, looked at my doctor and said, "I have to push!" Isaac William made his very short debut a few minutes later. He moved very little. The nurse and doctor were in tears. My nurse was Catholic and asked permission to baptize Isaac. I said yes. We all needed comfort, and I wouldn't deny her that. Anyway, I've always like that we baptized him, Isaac William G., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Isaac died in my arms after only 10 minutes or so. Our doctor prayed for all of use. God was there in that room. Isaac stayed with us for almost an hour. And then we said good-bye.
We allowed the hospital to take tissue for research. Isaac was diagnosed with "Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Perinatal Lethal Form." We found out later during genetic counseling that it was most likely a dominant new mutation and there was little or no chance we'd have another child with the disorder. Since I am a biologist with an emphasis in genetics, I actually understood what the counselors were telling us.
But I jump ahead of the story. Since I had just delivered a baby, they sent me to the maternity ward. Not a good move. I could hear them wheeling the babies to the other mothers. I asked to go home. The hardest thing I've ever done is leave that hospital without my baby.
We didn't have a funeral or a memorial service for Isaac. It was the day after Christmas, and I remember thinking, "This will be so hard on everybody, trying to change plans to come for a funeral." I didn't even know where to begin, and we had almost no money. But I regret that decision.
Oh, I don't mope about it. But I now know the importance of the dead to the living. Other people besides Will and I needed to meet and say goodbye to Isaac. If I'd known then what I know now...
So I dedicate this to the memory of my son, Isaac William. Born and reborn December 26, 1987. As I look over my five surviving children, I still see the gap where you should be. My visitor from heaven.
VISITOR FROM HEAVEN - 1993
A visitor from Heaven
If only for a while
A gift of love to be returned
We think of you and smile
A visitor from Heaven
Accompanied by grace
Reminding of a better love
And of a better place
With aching hearts and empty arms
We send you with a name
It hurts so much to let you go
But we’re so glad you came
We’re so glad you came
A visitor from Heaven
If only for a day
We thank Him for the time He gave
And now it’s time to say
We trust you to the Father’s love
And to His tender care
Held in the everlasting arms
And we’re so glad you’re there
We’re so glad you’re there
With breaking hearts and open hands
We send you with a name
It hurts so much to let you go
But we’re so glad you came
We’re so glad you came
Monday, October 29, 2007
I recommend it.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The Last Word
The folly of multitasking
Our cell phones and computers had us convinced we could do five things at once. But neuroscience, says novelist Walter Kirn, is now finding that the mental gymnastics required actually dumbs us down.In the Midwestern town where I grew up (a town so small that the phone line on our block was a “party line” well into the 1960s), there were two skinny brothers in their 30s who built a car that could drive into the river and become a fishing boat. My pals and I thought the car-boat was a wonder. A thing that did one thing but also did another thing—especially the opposite thing, but at least an unrelated thing—was our idea of a great invention and a bold stride toward the future. Where we got this idea, I’ll never know, but it caused us to envision a world-tocome teeming with crossbred, hyphenated machines. Refrigerator–TV sets. Dishwasher– air conditioners. Table saw– popcorn poppers. Camera-radios.
With that last dumb idea, we were getting close to something, as I’ve noted every time I’ve dropped or fumbled my cell phone and snapped a picture of a wall or the middle button of my shirt. Impressive. Ingenious. Yet juvenile. Arbitrary. And why a substandard camera, anyway? Why not an excellent electric razor? Because (I told myself at the cell phone store in the winter of 2003, as I handled a feature-laden upgrade that my new contract entitled me to purchase at a deep discount that also included a rebate) there may come a moment on a plane or in a subway station or at a mall when I and the other able-bodied males will be forced to subdue a terrorist, and my color snapshot of his trussed-up body will make the front page of USA Today and appear at the left shoulder of all the superstars of cable news.
While I waited for my date with citizenjournalist destiny, I took a lot of self-portraits in my Toyota and forwarded them to a girlfriend in Colorado, who reciprocated from her Jeep. Neither one of us almost died. For months. But then, one night on a snowy two-lane highway, while I was crossing Wyoming to see my girl’s real face, my phone made its chirpy you-have-a-picture noise, and I glanced down in its direction while also, apparently, swerving off the pavement and sailing over a steep embankment toward a barbed-wire fence.
It was interesting to me—in retrospect, after having done some reading about the frenzied activity of the multitasking brain—how late in the process my prefrontal cortex, where our cognitive switchboards hide, changed its focus from the silly phone (Where did it go? Did it slip between the seats? I wonder if this new photo is a nude shot or if it’s another one from the topless series that seemed like such a breakthrough a month ago but now I’m getting sick of) to the important matter of a steel fence post sliding spear-like across my hood. The laminated windshield glass must have been high quality; the point of the post bounced off it, leaving only a starshaped surface crack. But I was still barreling toward sagebrush, and who knew what rocks and boulders lay in wait.
Five minutes later, I’d driven out of the field and gunned it back up the embankment onto the highway and was proceeding south, heart slowing some, satellite radio tuned to a soft-rock channel called the Heart, which was playing lots of soothing Céline Dion.
“I just had an accident trying to see your picture.”
“Will you get here in time to take me out to dinner?”
“I almost died.”
“Well, you sound fine.”
“Fine’s not a sound.”
I never forgave her for that detachment. I never forgave myself for buying a camera phone. We all remember the promises. The slogans. They were all about freedom, liberation. Supposedly we were in handcuffs and wanted out of them. The key that dangled in front of us was a microchip. “Where do you want to go today?” asked Microsoft in a mid-1990s ad campaign. The suggestion was that there were endless destinations—some geographic, some social, some intellectual—that you could reach in milliseconds by loading the right devices with the right software. It was further insinuated that where you went was purely up to you, not your spouse, your boss, your kids, or your government.
Autonomy through automation. This was the embryonic fallacy that grew up into the monster of multitasking. Human freedom, as classically defined (to think and act and choose with minimal interference by outside powers), was not a product that firms like Microsoft could offer, but they recast it as something they could provide. A product for which they could raise the demand by refining its features, upping its speed, restyling its appearance, and linking it up with all the other products that promised freedom, too, but had replaced it with three inferior substitutes that they could market in its name: Efficiency, convenience, and mobility.
For proof that these bundled minor virtues don’t amount to freedom but are, instead, a formula for a period of mounting frenzy climaxing with a lapse into fatigue, consider that “Where do you want to go today?” was really manipulative advice, not an open question. “Go somewhere now,” it strongly recommended, then go somewhere else tomorrow, but always go, go, go—and with our help. But did any rebel reply, “Nowhere. I like it fine right here”? Did anyone boldly ask, “What business is it of yours?” Was anyone brave enough to say, “Frankly, I want to go back to bed”?
Maybe a few of us. Not enough of us. Everyone else was going places, it seemed, and either we started going places, too— especially to those places that weren’t places (another word they’d redefined) but were just pictures or documents or videos or boxes on screens where strangers conversed by typing—or else we’d be nowhere (a location once known as “here”) doing nothing (an activity formerly labeled “living”). What a waste this would be. What a waste of our new freedom. Our freedom to stay busy at all hours, at the task—and then the many tasks, and ultimately the multitask—of trying to be free. It isn’t working, it never has worked.
The scientists know this too, and they think they know why. Through a variety of experiments, many using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity, they’ve torn the mask off multitasking and revealed its true face, which is blank and pale and drawn. Multitasking messes with the brain in several ways. At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.
What does this mean in practice? Consider a recent experiment at UCLA, where researchers asked a group of 20- somethings to sort index cards in two trials, once in silence and once while simultaneously listening for specific tones in a series of randomly presented sounds. The subjects’ brains coped with the additional task by shifting responsibility from the hippocampus—which stores and recalls information—to the striatum, which takes care of rote, repetitive activities. Thanks to this switch, the subjects managed to sort the cards just as well with the musical distraction— but they had a much harder time remembering what, exactly, they’d been sorting once the experiment was over.
Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.
The next generation, presumably, is the hardest-hit. They’re the ones way out there on the cutting edge of the multitasking revolution, texting and instant messaging each other while they download music to their iPod and update their Facebook page and complete a homework assignment and keep an eye on the episode of The Hills flickering on a nearby television. (A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of students in grades seven through 12 report consuming some other form of media while watching television; 58 percent multitask while reading; 62 percent while using the computer; and 63 percent while listening to music. “I get bored if it’s not all going at once,” said a 17-year-old quoted in the study.)
They’re the ones whose still-maturing brains are being shaped to process information rather than understand or even remember it. This is the great irony of multitasking— that its overall goal, getting more done in less time, turns out to be chimerical. In reality, multitasking slows our thinking. It forces us to chop competing tasks into pieces, set them in different piles, then hunt for the pile we’re interested in, pick up its pieces, review the rules for putting the pieces back together, and then attempt to do so, often quite awkwardly. (Fact: A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing.)
Productive? Efficient? More like running up and down a beach repairing a row of sand castles as the tide comes rolling in and the rain comes pouring down. Multitasking, a definition: “The attempt by human beings to operate like computers, often done with the assistance of computers.” It begins by giving us more tasks to do, making each task harder to do, and dimming the mental powers required to do them. It finishes by making us forget exactly how on earth we did them (assuming we didn’t give up, or “multiquit”), which makes them harder to do again.
After the near-fatal consequences of my 2003 decision to buy a phone with a feature I didn’t need, life went on—and rather rapidly, since multitasking eats up time in the name of saving time, rushing you through your two-year contract cycle and returning you to the company store with a suspicion that you didn’t accomplish all you hoped to after your last optimistic, euphoric visit.
“Which of the ones that offer rebates don’t have cameras in them?”
“The decent models all do. The best ones now have video capabilities. You can shoot little movies.” I
wanted to ask, Of what? Oncoming barbed wire? I shook my head. I was turning down whiz-bang features for the first time. “I’ll take the fat little free one,” I told the salesman.
“The thing’s inert. It does nothing. It’s a pet rock.”
I informed him that I was old enough to have actually owned a pet rock once and that I missed it.
From a longer essay that appears in November’s The Atlantic Monthly. © 2007 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
October 18, 2007
Willow Creek Repents?
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”
If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.
In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”
Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.
Does this mark the end of Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.
Posted by UrL on October 18, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Anyway, back to the parents', and probably students, attitude. There is the prevailing attitude in our culture that "choice" is God. We can't do anyting to limit anyone's choices in life. That seems to be the primary sin of our society. Don't tie me down, don't fence me in and whatever you do, don't limit my choices. Never mind that more choices don't make us happier. Never mind that more choices actually cause greater stress and lower contentment with our eventual decision. Never mind that great choice for me may mean major inconvenience, or worse, for someone else. As long as you don't limit me, I'm supposedly happy. (Read The Paradox of Choice for more information on how more choices don't make things better.)
I was so disappointed to see these quotes by the parents wanting people to work overtime so their child can apply to dozens of schools. What happened to teaching our children to be considerate of others? What happened to self control, putting others before ourselves? And what happened to growing up? The reality is, it's not all about YOU, child. These parents are fostering entitlement mentality in a major way.
This mentality pervades relationships, work situations, marriages, faith communities and more. Don't tell me what to do. Don't limit my choices. Don't make me decide. And if I do decide, then I want all decisions to be reversible. Don't even hint that there is anything permanent here. Permanence limits my choices.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
I think I'll just go with the feeling. I'm sure in a few days I'll be ready to jump back into the fray, reading and thinking about "the issues" again. But right now, I'm going to read my book, watch TV, read to my daughter, and generally enjoy (finally!!) the fall-like weather we're having!
Monday, October 8, 2007
Is Harvard a charity?
Most donations go to institutions that serve the rich; they shouldn't be fully tax-deductible.
By Robert B. Reich
October 1, 2007
This year's charitable donations are expected to total more than $200 billion, a record. But a big portion of this impressive sum -- especially from the wealthy, who have the most to donate -- is going to culture palaces: to the operas, art museums, symphonies and theaters where the wealthy spend much of their leisure time. It's also being donated to the universities they attended and expect their children to attend, perhaps with the added inducement of knowing that these schools often practice a kind of affirmative action for "legacies."
I'm all in favor of supporting the arts and our universities, but let's face it: These aren't really charitable contributions. They're often investments in the lifestyles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have too. They're also investments in prestige -- especially if they result in the family name being engraved on the new wing of an art museum or symphony hall.
It's their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely. Charitable donations to just about any not-for-profit are deductible from income taxes. This year, for instance, the U.S. Treasury will be receiving about $40 billion less than it would if the tax code didn't allow for charitable deductions. (That's about the same amount the government now spends on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is what remains of welfare.) Like all tax deductions, this gap has to be filled by other tax revenues or by spending cuts, or else it just adds to the deficit.
I see why a contribution to, say, the Salvation Army should be eligible for a charitable deduction. It helps the poor. But why, exactly, should a contribution to the already extraordinarily wealthy Guggenheim Museum or to Harvard University (which already has an endowment of more than $30 billion)?
Awhile ago, New York's Lincoln Center had a gala supported by the charitable contributions of hedge-fund industry leaders, some of whom take home $1 billion a year. I may be missing something, but this doesn't strike me as charity. Poor New Yorkers rarely attend concerts at Lincoln Center.
It turns out that only an estimated 10% of all charitable deductions are directed at the poor. So here's a modest proposal. At a time when the number of needy continues to rise, when government doesn't have the money to do what's necessary for them and when America's very rich are richer than ever, we should revise the tax code: Focus the charitable deduction on real charities.
If the donation goes to an institution or agency set up to help the poor, the donor gets a full deduction. If the donation goes somewhere else -- to an art palace, a university, a symphony or any other nonprofit -- the donor gets to deduct only half of the contribution.
Robert B. Reich, author of "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life," was secretary of Labor under President Clinton.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
I can't help but wonder where this mindset came from. Is it nature or nurture? Or both? Did homeschooling contribute to it along with a natural tendency towards complacency? Would putting him in school have sparked a competitive streak?
I was reflecting on those questions this evening and it caused me to think back over my years in school. And I realized something. I was fiercely competitive in many ways, but never really in school. In public school I was often competitive with specific people. In other words, I didn't so much care about my grades as I cared about beating one or two specific people. In college, when the competition seemed more anonymous, my grades actually fell. I only received high marks in "cake" courses (usually courses where my natural gregariousness was an asset, like philosophy) or in my major classes. I got good grades in my major classes because I was engrossed in the material. I loved it so I learned it. But English, chemistry, and math? B's and C's were fine with me.
Thomas doesn't appear to be competitive about much outside of video games. But within the video games, he is very competitive and he takes it very seriously. Someday, perhaps, Thomas will find something else in life he is as interested in as video games. Or else he'll find a way to translate his video gaming into a life.
So now I'm not so worried about his complacency over a B in Algebra 2. He cares enough to do his homework promptly and go to class prepared. That's a huge improvement over the past few years. I have a feeling that this will be a trend.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
As I drove home from taking my son to class today I thought again of our present conundrum. He needs a job so he can afford insurance and perhaps save for a cheap car, but he needs a driver's license and access to a car so he can get a job, which requires getting insurance before he gets a job, which we can't afford right now. And that's just my oldest son. I also have a 16 year old son in the same boat, no driver's license, no insurance, no car, no money, no job. In fact, neither of them practice driving because the only car home during the days is my full-size Ford passenger van. We call it Moby Van. I love it but it can be intimidating as a first car. Plus I need it, so the boys can't drive it to work or school even if they did had their license and insurance, which they don't...because they don't have anything to drive. Are you getting this?
Parenting involves a myriad of decisions and choices, and each alternative has it's own fan club complete with scientific research, anecdotal evidence, personal testimonies, and dire predictions about what will happen if you don't choose correctly. Educational options are the same. Even when settled on a course of action, like homeschooling, the choices aren't over. Classical? Unschooling? Traditional? Charlotte Mason? Relaxed? Eclectic? To outsource or not? And then the branching goes on. Which math curriculum? Which science is "the best?" Is Latin essential? What about life skill?
And we won't even get started on the dizzying array of choices for faith and religious belief. Passionate, well-spoken people write volumes defending their point of view. Again, as with parenting, they cite research and history, they quote experts, and share testimonies. But there are passionate, educated, well-spoken people on almost every side of every issue. I find myself in the middle thinking I just don't have the capacity to figure it out. I hold a few foundational beliefs, and try to go from there. But it's more difficult than it sounds.
Several books I've read this year have touched on the these problems. Most notably, Mediated, The Paradox of Choice, and Blink. Though all quite different, they had a synergistic effect on me. We are overwhelmed by information and alternatives, and we are virtually unaware of how we process information and make choices. We don't know when snap judgments are not only good but vital, and when they can be catastrophic. We don't understand how we are reacting to our information-saturated, mediated, orchestrated, "unreal/real," sound-bite world.
A few well-marked paths would be great. A few certified letters from God pointing the way. A child born with a complete instruction manual attached, specific to that one-of-a-kind make and model. An educational alternative that is clearly superior. I don't want much.
I gotta go now. I need to think about dinner, which means I have to push aside all the feelings of inadequacy there..what I'm buying, how I cook it, and what it's doing to my family's health. Blinkers on.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Okay, so now I've just deleted everything I wrote for this post as well, except for that little bit up there.... Really I have no mind these days.. it's gone to Tahiti. I wish I'd gone with it.
How am I spending my time? Reading blogs...lots of blogs. Most are linked here on the sidebar, but a few I haven't added yet. I'll try to do that today. I'm also watching TV on DVD. Right now I'm working through the NCIS series while I await the arrival of season 3 of Numb3rs. My biggest dilemma right now is whether or not to go on and watch the new season of NCIS without first watching Season 3. Life is tough!
Anything else? Well, I spend a lot of time in the car, where I usually listen to classic rock. Except, of course, when the younger kids are int the car. It's not until you're belting out some song from your youth with kids in the car that you realize, "Wow! I didn't realize how inappropriate those lyrics were!" Sheesh. I'm going to bring my iPod from now on and listen to Teaching Company
lectures or audio books....or my classic rock, only with headphones on.
And, of course, I'm homeschooling the two girls. That usually take a bit of time each day. With my brain away it's a bit more work. Oh, and last night (Saturday) Will and I went to Tylers Tap Room for "Theology on Tap: Beer as a Spiritual Activity" or something like that. It was a thinly disguised excuse for drinking Trappist-brewed Belgian beer while discussing the finer points of hops and malt. Andrew, the liturgist and RCIA Inquiry director at St.Thomas More was the brains behind the operation. He brews beer at home and will use any excuse to promote the spiritual benefits of brewing and imbibing. Gotta love those Catholics. Not being a beer drinker, I sipped some good Australian shiraz and played designated driver. That way Will could feel guiltless about tasting all four brews offered. (Tasting, not drinking full bottles. But the samples were rather generous compared to wine tastings I've been to.) Tyler's seems to have food to match its beer. I look forward to returning and trying more.
Thanks for reading along. I think my brain is due to return from vacation soon. I'll keep you posted.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Have you ever noticed that the cars who cut in front of you are usually new and expensive? What's with that? I drive a 12 year old full-size van. Not only is my van bigger and heavier than those cars, it's worth a lot less.
Speaking of cars, why are the side mirrors on small cars so useless? The mirrors on my van let me back that behemoth into most parking spaces. But the side mirrors on my husband's little Toyota are literally useless for backing. You can't see the road behind you. I end up looking like an idiot every time I have to back that car into a parking spot. "Hey lady, did you order your license from Sears?" Grrrr.
I like to buy books that I never get around to reading...or that I get around to reading next year, or the year after. It's a sickness.
I have a nice video iPod I rarely use. Of course my daughter borrowed it to listen to a downloaded Teaching Company lecture series, so I didn't have it for a while. I need to get back in the habit since I spend so much time in the car.
We spend about $50 a month on cable and there's rarely anything worth watching. It's amazing. Why are we spending that money?
I'm currently reading Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light. I am getting tired of the editor's tendency to interpret everything M.Teresa was saying or going through. I would prefer just to read the letters with some background info and let them speak for themselves. I'm disappointed in the "spin control."
I don't generally wear jewelry. I wear my wedding ring and sometimes my diamond (long story about how rough I am on rings), a watch, and earrings. I love earrings. Some women feel undressed without make-up, I feel undressed without earrings. I actually get upset if I forget to put them in in the morning. I love whimsical earrings more than expensive ones. This summer my daughter made the sweetest dragonfly earrings for me. They look something like this, but they are light green, yellow, and purple, and they hang from their heads instead of their tails.
Friday, September 14, 2007
There's got to be a life lesson in there somewhere.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
..Human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process because it forces us to face our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery. When we are not afraid to enter our own center and to concentrate on the stirrings of our own soul, we come to know that being alive means being loved. this experience tells us we can only love because we are born out of love, that we can only give because our life is a gift and that we can only make others free because we are set free by him whose heart is greater than ours. When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear. Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding but inviting and liberating.
The minister who has come to terms with his own loneliness and is at home in his own house is a host who offers hospitality to his guests. He gives them a friendly space where they may feel free to come and go, to be close and distant, to rest and to play, to talk and be silent, to eat and to fast. The paradox is indeed that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space where the guest can find his own soul.
Why is this healing ministry? It is healing because it takes away the false illusion that wholeness can be given by one to another. It is healing because it does not take away the loneliness and pain of another, but invites him to recognize his loneliness on a level where it can be shared. Many people in this life suffer because they are anxiously searching for the man or woman, the event or encounter, which will take their loneliness away. But when they enter a house with real hospitality they soon see that their own wounds must be understood, not as a source of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of their own wounds....
A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away pain. Rather, he deepens the pain to a level where it can be shared."
..from The Wounded Healer
I'm not sure exactly what Nouwen is saying, but I keep coming back to this passage again and again. This part especially: When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear.
In another place Nouwen talks about our "center."
"A life without a lonely place, that is, a life without a quiet center easily becomes destructive. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than friends with whom we share the gift of life.
In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what we've been given.
In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness."
from Out of Solitude
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The experience left me thinking of what it's like moving to a new place, learning all the streets, finding out where the grocery store is and the mall. It also prompted memories. Memories of when I moved to North Carolina 25 years ago without knowing a soul. I was single, twenty-six and had been divorced about two years. I finished college after my divorce and was fortunate to find a job in my field during the recession of the early 80's. I moved into an apartment, started working for EPA, and learned my way around.
Today I remembered how it felt, driving alone on all the new streets, learning the look of the trees and the shape of the skyline, finding the laundromat, the dentist, the Jiffy Lube. I was starting over, completely, with nothing familiar. In the previous two years my marriage had ended, my best friend moved to California, I'd had to give up my horse, and my dog had died. My dad was terminally ill with cancer and he and my mom were moving to the mountains of NC. There was literally nothing left for me back in Delaware.
I am an extrovert, but my job involved a lot of quiet work, alone in a dark room looking through a microscope. I also spent my weekends alone, often walking the mall, looking and not buying because money was very tight. I did invest in a health club membership because I liked to be active. I usually worked 7:00 am to 3:30 pm, and then I went to the gym for a couple of hours. I did start meeting people, mainly from work, and I visited several churches.
A little over a year after moving to NC, I met a young man at a young adult Bible study. Three weeks later we were engaged, six months later we were married. Over twenty-three years and five kids later we still are. Funny how things work out.
The moment of reverse deja vu passed in just a few moments, but it was fun to walk down memory lane while my 18 yr old son slept in the seat next to me.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Friday, August 31, 2007
My 16 year old son is going to school for the first time. He's been homeschooled all his life, as have his siblings. It was his choice, but it has still been a stressful transition, even in a small charter school. Yesterday he came home from school sick with a cold and very tired. He gave me a hug in the kitchen, and then asked me to come sit with him on the sofa.
He sat down close to me, threw his legs across my lap as he stretched out and held one of my hands. We sat in silence for a long time, then he talked quietly about how he was doing, who he was meeting, and how he liked his classes. I teased him gently about the girls he was meeting, and we had a few smiles and laughs. But mainly, we sat close together, connected, quiet, and companionable. We were probably there for 20 or 30 minutes, before he got up to get a snack and start his homework.
When you hold that baby and toddler on your lap, you don't think much about the time when they are too big to fit, or they feel too awkward to "snuggle." It's natural for them to seek comfort in a more "acceptable" or "mature" ways as they get older. But I have to say, it's nice to know I can still make this tired, sick child feel better simply by being there.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Mother Teresa's Struggle
Pre-publication buzz about a book containing Mother Teresa's private writings, Come Be My Light, occasioned an unusually strong burst of media attention last week, including a cover story in Time and coverage on all the major networks. The big news was that the Albanian-born religious who devoted her life to caring for India's poorest and most wretched underwent a long period of spiritual doubt and torment. Beginning in 1948, the year the 38-year-old nun started the Missionaries of Charity, and lasting until her death in 1997, Teresa was haunted by the loss of God's sustaining presence in her life. Struggling through her doubts with various confessors, she learned to accept this painful condition as part of her Christian journey, as important in its own ways as the missionary work that she and other nuns in her order carried out.
At least as interesting as the revelation of Teresa's long spiritual drought have been the varied reactions to it. In addition to surprise and sympathy, many express even greater admiration for the woman who accomplished so much in God's name while feeling a spiritual deadness that drove her close to despair. But it is the reaction of the devout atheists that is perhaps most telling. In the Time article, Christopher Hitchens, a longtime critic of Mother Teresa (see his book Missionary Positions) who is now enjoying considerable celebrity for his no-holds-barred attack on religion, God Is Not Great, compares Teresa to the die-hard communists at the end of the Cold War: "There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance. They thought, 'Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I'm not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.' They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired."
To say this was Teresa, or any other believer who suffers what the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross first dubbed a dark night of the soul, is to trivialize the experience of faith beyond all recognition. While many believers have claimed to feel a steady inner presence of the divine throughout their lives, just as many others—and probably more—describe it as a journey or struggle with high, low, and even absolutely arid stretches. Except for those who claim that feeling God's redemptive power is a paramount proof of one's salvation—a criterion emphasized by some Protestants and particularly evangelicals—many lifelong believers have never experienced that felt confirmation of their faith.
For many, the reality of faith is best described by St. Paul: "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and often that "substance" is as elusive as the wind. Does that mean that their faith is founded on something as demonstrably flimsy as the communist ideal of the "end of history"? Or are the difficulty of faith, its changing and demanding character, and the fruits that it yields in acts of charity possibly the most powerful proof of its value beyond all merely worldly ideals?
Teresa's spiritual struggle may have been painfully long, but it was a struggle felt by most believers in an age of doubt and skepticism. In that sense, it was truly exemplary.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
Years ago I was challenged on this in the context of parenting. Did I parent out of fear? Were my parenting practices geared more toward control than training? That led to some soul searching, reading, praying and long discussions with people from all sides of the issue. My husband and I found we didn't like the way we'd parented, and we slowly made some major changes. Showing real respect for the likes, dislikes and wishes of our children was a good first step. We stopped assuming we knew what was best for them. We started opening our eyes to the fact that too much of our time was spent trying to protect them, and that desire to protect came from fear. We realized that there was only an illusion of control, anyway, so we might as well start living the reality and not buying into the illusion. How many parents are shocked to be the last to find out what their kids are up to? Too many. I learned (well, am learning...not there yet) to listen instead of talk. My "go-to" phrases now are... "Let me think about it." or "Give me a minute." Those phrases keep me from the knee-jerk reaction. Once the almost overpowering impulse to say No is passed, I ask for details and go from there. My kids are patient. They don't yell or press their point. They rarely argue with me. They wait and let me struggle through on my own and believe that reason will usually win. Over the past few years they've learned to trust. When I say No, they may be disappointed, but rarely mad. They know I have good reason.
I still worry way too much about my kids, their futures, their happiness, their grades. ;-) I still fight the urge to protect them- from others, from ideas, from their own mistakes. I spend some hours in quiet agony while they make bad choices I know they'll pay for, telling myself they'll learn valuable lessons from their mistakes. It isn't easy. I hate it, in fact. But I'm seeing benefits.
But fear as a motivator isn't confined to parenting. It drives job choices, clothing choices, housing choices and much, much, more. Fear closes our minds to new people, ideas, and adventures. Fear makes us refuse to question. This is especially true in areas of faith and religion, and it's reinforced by the hierarchy that tells us that to ask questions is a sign of apostasy.
For me, however, I've been much more driven by the fear within myself than the fear of what someone else will say or the fear of being rejected. I've been afraid of losing purpose and meaning in my life if I doubted or feared on faith issues. I've been afraid I'd lose faith, and therefore the thing that has given meaning to my life for 30 years. I'm still scared, but I want to move away from living behind fear to living the questions. Interestingly, since I've dared to ask the questions, I'm less fearful of the very thing that terrified me. I feel stronger, not weaker in my faith. I think that's because faith can't really be "protected." It has to be exercised and exposed in order to be strengthened. So I am, as it were, taking my faith out on walks to expose it to more variety.
BTW- fear of death is still a biggie with me. Anyone else have problems with the thought of their own mortality? I'd love to discuss it more sometime.