Saturday, December 20, 2008

Three Weeks In

Three weeks into my new job (lifestyle). The first week I was all aflounder, having no idea what I was doing or how to do anything. The second week I attained an idea of what my position called for: I began developing a training manual and course for new hires to our call center. I compiled all the VU, VUMC, VEC (VU Epidemiology Center), and department policies and job descriptions into modules and then began writing out specific plans for training people in interviewing techniques. I've made several Power Point presentations and edited and "tidied up" a few others that were in training files. I've begun working in partnership with one of my co-workers to develop a certification process to assure that new phone interviewers are properly trained and ready to contact respondents.

This is quite an exciting place to be. Basically, my new boss has said that our department is on the cusp of growing exponentially and for me to develop a training program for all the people we'll be hiring. I feel kind of daunted by this because I've never done any training or management in this field before but I've done a lot of research and have been on the receiving end of training many times and feel I have a clear enough idea of the "big picture" that I am making a good program.

Everyone in my department is very well educated. No one, outside my boss and her boss, knows that I have no formal schooling beyond high school. This is an Ivy League school; of course education is everything. I'm a little concerned about how people would respond to me if they learned that I am only self-educated. Yesterday, in researching interviewer training, I learned that the man who started NORC (my former employer at the University of Chicago) was uneducated. He was British and came to America to make his fortunes, doing door-to-door sales and then got into polling research and working with Roper and Gallup (the men who started those organizations). He conceived of an opinion research center that worked for the common people and got funding from major sources and support from universities to found what would become NORC. An inspiring "bootstraps" kind of story. I was happy to learn the story, although this was in the early part of last century when far fewer people had any higher education so I can't really apply it to anything in my life.

I am no longer car-free. I haven't ridden the bus in months. I'd go so far as to say I'm car-full, now. I have to drive about 10 miles a day. Carmac's school is one mile West of our house. I drop him off first and drive the 4 or so miles SE to work, dropping Zed off on the way. I park my car on the street next to Centennial Park and walk a couple of blocks to work. The weather has been rainstormy and very gloomy and chill lately. I really enjoy the walk, regardless of the weather. I wish I could leave for work earlier and park a little farther away so I could have a longer walk, but getting the boys to school on-time and not too early and then me to work on-time is a juggling act. And driving my scooter is not a possibility as I have to drop both boys off (unless we wanted to look like the photos one sees of Asian or Indian families of 3 or 4 or 5 all on a scooter). This is what I need:
I'm going to be saving all my checks for the next couple of months to buy a reliable car. To me, a car is a tool, nothing more; literally a vehicle to get me from point A to point B. I know I need something in which my three kids can ride comfortably with room for an extra kid or our dog. I need something very affordable. And I feel strongly that I want something fuel efficient and environmentally friendly (a relative concept, I know). I'm pretty sure I can't afford a hybrid. I'd love a vegetable oil biodiesel but I think it would be hard to find a reliable one that meets my specs. Generally, I enjoy researching things but I simply don't care anything about automobiles (scooters, motorcycles and autorickshaws, yes; cars, no) and feel overwhelmed by all the choices. I'm happy to learn from others and to take suggestions into consideration!

And where, I ask myself, is Spirit in my life right now? I know Spirit to be waiting patiently for me to get my head together and remember to become aware. God is not distant: I am. When life gets busy, immediate awareness of Spirit is the first thing I let go of; probably because I didn't have a very firm grasp in the first place. Thank God for grace.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Worry Night

I am not, by nature, a worrier. I have been blessed by the temperament which allows me to work on fixing problems which are within my control and letting go of all the other problems. I don't carry burdens around. I don't fret. I'm not one for floor pacing or nail biting.

I have a couple of friends and a mother who are worriers. They'll worry about most anything. If they speak with a stranger in a store check-out line and the stranger mentions she is having difficulty finding affordable trousers to fit her teen son, they'll worry about the stranger and her son. If they hear a news story about a child born on the other side of the world with a rare disease, they'll worry about the child, his parents, siblings, doctors and community. They carry burdens for family, friends, people they went to Elementary school with. They'll worry about things that other people insist are not problems. They'll worry about things that may someday become problems. They'll worry that they worry too much. They'll worry that other people don't worry enough.

As I said, I'm not like that. I own what is in my control and I am able to set down what is not. Except...about one night every six months or so: I call them worry nights. I have no prior indication when a worry night will come on; nothing presages a worry night and no particular thing seems to cause one, they just happen, like the weather (and another thing to not worry about: It's beyond my control so I don't worry). Last night was a worry night. I began by worrying about a potentially hurtful situation I may have inadvertently caused a loved one, which I can't mitigate. But the worry grew like fungus on a cold, damp wall. I worried about my job and my children. I worried about the old, junker car Hammy's parents have loaned me. I worried about the Nashville school system. I worried about the fact that I'd like to go to a fund-raiser at a school a friend teaches at but that I'll be too busy and tired to be able to go. I worried about having to work the day after Christmas and missing my in-laws' gathering and that they'll feel like I'm avoiding them. And then I moved on to the bigger world. I worried about pollution, about pedophiles, about genocide in Rwanda. I worried about things so far beyond my control as to almost, if they weren't so real and so horrifying, be laughable.

And now, on the sunrise of a new day, the worries have been worried and I can let go of them. The worry night is over and gone and I certainly won't worry about when the next one will visit me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Making Room for New

I watched the film "Outsourced" last night. It's a lightweight movie about a guy who's job is outsourced to India and who has to go to India to train his replacement and staff in order to keep a position with the company. He resents being there, develops intestinal distress, behaves imperialistically...yadda, yadda, yadda, transformation...falls in love with a woman and the country. It was pretty formulaic but still, not a bad movie. Carmac and Zed watched it with me and they both enjoyed it.

During the first half of the movie, the American guy is pretty unnerved by depictions of Kali. His soon-to-be love interest (not to give the plot away, or anything) finally explains that Kali is the god of change and that if you want change, you should pray to Kali to destroy something (which he does and then Kali does and they all live happily ever...).

It seems to me that it should take either great courage or great ignorance to pray for something to be destroyed. To know that something was so drastically ill-fitting in one's life that one was willing to allow for the total destruction of something in order to make room for the new. I know I have been at points in my life when I would willingly have placed myself in that position. The thing is, though, that one would not have any say-so over what would be destroyed. The old "be careful what you wish for" syndrome. Of course, change is gonna happen whether we're ready for it or not. And sometimes the lesson is to learn from the place you are that feels so ill fitting. Sometimes what has to change are our perceptions or assumptions. Sometimes what has to change is our unwillingness to accept things as they are. And sometimes, on rare occasions, things actually have to blow up in order to make room for the growth that needs to take place.

My intention for today is to be aware of letting go of what is no longer needed in order to make space for new growth.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Homeschooling No More: Moving on...

Today I am officially no longer, after 12 and a half years, a homeschooling mother. My youngest son was enrolled in Kindergarten today and, to my surprise, said he would like to start school tomorrow rather than December 1st as we'd been planning.

This huge lifestyle change has been brought about by a fantastic job that has fallen in my lap. I will be supervising staff doing medical research study phone interviewing at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. I'm being hired for a 90,000 cohort cancer epidemiology study but the department I'll be in will be growing and, as it expands, I'll be learning each study that we do so I can train and supervise staff for each one. It's a really exciting job for me with great potential for growth and opportunity to learn new things. And it pays well and Vandy benefits are the best (free MTA bus rides! Discount tickets to lots and lots of cultural events! Paid tuition for my children after five years of employment!!!).

How it all went down was this: The project I was doing for the other university ended and there was no work coming up in the foreseeable future. I'd started letting people know that I was kind of beginning to look for a new gig but I hadn't even really decided whether I wanted to work part-time or try to enroll in school (with what money, exactly?). A friend from Friends Meeting works at Vandy and sent me the job description for this job. I filled out the application. Two business days later I got a call from the woman who will be my boss, S___, asking when I can come in to interview. I met with her and the head of the department the next day at which time I was shown where my desk will be and introduced to some of my staff. S___ called a couple of days later to say that what I'm bring to the staff will be experience that they are lacking and so I will round them out. She said they want me, but it was up to human resources to do the background check and then make an offer. Apparently that felony for the palanquin hijacking didn't show up because HR made me an offer of MORE than was in the range of the original job posting. I go in tomorrow to sign my contract and then go through orientation on December 1 and 2. I'll start in my real job the following day.

I keep feeling like I should pinch myself to see if I'm awake. S___ homeschools her teenager and totally understood my spotty work history. My job-before-last was working with families of prisoners--Sara's husband is a probation officer. She's been aware of my former university's reputation for in research interviewing for a long time and so was really excited to have my experience join her team! I feel so validated! I'm quite sure that if I had a college degree I wouldn't have much trouble finding a job. Having no college, though, makes finding meaningful and decently paying work something of a miracle. And I feel a miracle has occurred. My office is on the eighth floor of the building that overlooks Centennial Park, for heaven's sake! A good friend, who homeschooled her children for years and who also now works at Vandy, called to check on me and said: "It's like you're a real adult now!" and I totally know what she means.

Bittersweet are beginnings as they signify, also, an ending. The ending of an era, a very powerful identity, a bond with my children. The beginning of seeing myself as an (dare I say) academic wage-earner. The beginning of having three children in public schools. The beginning of a new autonomy but a much tighter schedule and greater chaos. I am ready for these changes and I welcome them. I think it will be a little hard leaving my little one at school tomorrow (mitigated by the fact that next week is Thanksgiving break and all the kids will be home) but he's excited and so am I. Change is good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God Is Reigning

Jesus said, "God's reign is within you." That can be read the way we Quakers interpret it: Each and every one of us has "that of God" within us. Or, it can be read to mean "whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name there is love". Both interpretations work for me.
Jesus said, "The realm of God is now." He wasn't saying the kingdom of God is some pie-in-the-sky heavenly reward. He said NOW.
What does that mean? It means this is God's world. We are all children of God. We are all the body of Christ. God is among us, prompting us to do God's work. All we have to do is to become aware and alive to that reality.
What would it be like if we all lived as if we believed that? What would we do? (What would we not do?) How would the world be transformed? How would we, as individuals, be transformed? How would I live if I truly lived under the reign of God?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dark of the Moon--My Boy is an ACTOR!

I went to the opening of the play "Dark of the Moon" last night at Nashville School of the Arts. Declan has the lead in it. I was shocked at how good he is in it! My son is an actor...I mean, he can really act! He wasn't just reciting his lines, he was really delivering them with feeling. He's got presence and charisma. The first thing that happens in the first act is that the troupe of "witches" dances with "Witch-boy". Who knew my son could dance? He doesn't do anything fancy or elaborate but he moves with grace and makes the dancers look really good.
The play is a Romeo and Juliette type love story on a sort of cosmic good versus evil elemental level and is full of dark and fear-full emotions. Dec shows a good range, from tender love to dark anger and does it with real feeling and depth.
Today's Tennessean has an article promoting the play with a picture of Declan and his co-lead, Hanna. When they post the photo on-line, I'll add the image here.
I'm so proud of my son! I'm proud of him for doing so well but I'm also proud of him for being willing to challenge himself and move outside of what's easy and comfortable. Dec dancing! It was beautiful to me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

He's Six Years Old Today!

Today is my beloved youngest son's birthday. He's getting so big. I will post more about this soon but he will be enrolled in Kindergarten very soon, which will be a huge change for him. He can't wait! He's such an extrovert and has been very lonely being at home with only his mom for company.

Hammy has taken the day off of work and we're taking Carmac out for waffles for breakfast and then meeting some friends at the zoo (if the weather clears up). It's going to be a good, fun, C-centered day. We'll pick Zed up from school and come home to open presents.

Declan has the lead in the school play that opens tonight so I'll be going to that (mature themes so it's not appropriate for the birthday boy).

Tomorrow night, C has been invited to his first sleepover at his friend Makenna's house. He's going through a bit of separation anxiety at night so I've been invited to stay to and participate in a "mama sleepover" too. Should be fun!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jesus the Beacon

Last Sunday, for 2nd hour (adult ed for those of you who are not Quaker), we discussed the meaning of Jesus. I sat and listened to what others had to say. I am in the process of testing what I perceive to be leadings to speak in Meeting by not speaking when I get that impending feeling of agitation so I can learn to discern if it comes from me and my ego (and nerves) or if it is truly a message given me by Spirit. I felt a leading to speak but didn't. And then I got home from Meeting and finished the funny, lightweight novel I was reading (the first book in Jasper Fford's "Jack Spratt" series: The Big Over Easy) and picked up the next book in my library book pile which coincidentally happened to be The Gospel of Jesus by James M Robinson.

Any scholarship of the historical Jesus seems to get really convoluted by the fact that there are no original source documents in existence. The author refers to Q and Gospel of Thomas as well as the synoptic Gospels and John. I'm only on the second chapter but what I learned in the first chapter is that the earliest Christian "church" was divided between Jewish "Christians" and Gentile ones. The Jewish followers of Jesus recorded his words more and the Gentiles wrote more in narrative. The Gentile writings were the ones that were included in the biblical canon: the "legitimate" version of Jesus' message. I have to say that when I discovered the Gospel of Thomas and other Gnostic writings, it was like I was learning about Jesus with new eyes. What I read was so fresh and right I was really moved by the truth of it. When I couple that with the Aramaic and back to English translations of Jesus' words, his teachings come alive for me.

The Bible says we are made in God's image and I believe that. I believe we, each of us, is made in God's image and that each of us, in our own perfect way, has the potential to reflect God. Each of us has "that of God" within us. Many of us get glimpses of knowing that; most of us make choices that keep us totally removed from any awareness of the Light within. A few holy ones, though, are aware and alive to God's Light burning inside. Jesus was such a beacon. He was aware of his purpose in this life and took seriously his role as teacher and guide.

I was surprised that I enjoyed the movie The Matrix as I don't usually like Hollywood forms of entertainment. One of my sons made me sit down and watch it and the idea of illusion and deeper reality struck me. But I was disappointed that the movie was really only about the good guys versus the bad guy when the potential for spiritual lesson was so obvious to me.

I see God as the light, the energy (love) that runs through everything. Everything. Most of us only see, know, understand this world, what we can touch and see and experience physically. For us, this is it. Some people think they understand about heaven and hell but still, what happens here and now is all there is. But the way I see it is that God permeates and lives in everything and goes beyond what we know to be reality. Which is not to say that this world is illusion...more what I'm saying is that this world is very important and each of us has important lessons to learn here but this world is not all there is. The most important thing we have to learn is that God is All; God supports and undergirds everything there is: God is the foundation. I don't think there's any "moving on" until a soul learns that lesson. We're all One in God. Most of us are just struggling to remember God one bajillionth of the time. But Jesus knew. Jesus had that awareness of God in him and lived with God, reflecting God to this world, reminding us that God is with us always.

And the death and resurrection of Christ? Some people have a problem with the literal act of the resurrection--the miracle. If God is God (which, of course, God is), I imagine that the resurrection could and probably did literally take place. But, I think the significance of it is not that it "proves" the Divinity of Christ. I understand the death and resurrection of Jesus to be symbolic of how each of us must ultimately learn to "die to self" in order to live in God. Jesus said for his followers to "take up your cross and follow me". It's about learning to transcend ego attachment and letting God live through us. The salvation comes in really knowing that we all have that of God in us and living accordingly. Everything is God given; even, and especially, our egos. Salvation comes through learning that our ego is that which God gave us to use to reflect God; letting go of self in order to use self for God. I'm in the drivers seat and salvation is understanding that God is the navigator and without God, I don't have a clue where I'm going (although I'm usually quite positive I do).

Shit...I say this as if I had it all figured out. Like I said earlier: Many of us get glimpses. This world has a powerful pull. This action. This sensation. This thought. This moment. They're all spiderwebs trapping intention. They're all the mailman knocking at the Chihuahua's door. As I've written before, I believe that Grace is being able to start over as many times as necessary. I don't think God is counting how many times we fail. What I imagine is that God rejoices every time we begin anew, every time we get a glimpse and let it guide us, even if only for a moment.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Angel From Montgomery

I awoke with this John Prine song in my head this morning:

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child thats grown old
If dreams were lightning thunder was desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Chorus: Make me an angel that flies from montgomry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

When I was a young girl well, I had me a cowboy
He werent much to look at, just free rambling man
But that was a long time and no matter how I try
The years just flow by like a broken down dam.


Theres flies in the kitchen I can hear em there buzzing
And I aint done nothing since I woke up today.
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.


Monday, October 27, 2008

the A word

I am a Christian but I support a woman's right to have an abortion. I am a feminist but I am uncomfortable with abortion past quickening and opposed to third trimester abortion. I don't think abortion is a sin. I do think abortion has the potential to deeply wound individual women. I think safe and legal abortion is absolutely necessary. I also think a healthy society should do everything possible to prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

I have had five pregnancies (that I was aware of), only one of which was planned. Three of my pregnancies resulted in live births, two of them ended in first trimester miscarriages. I have never had an abortion.

I became sexually active at 16. I was in a committed, loving relationship with a responsible young man. If I had gotten pregnant as a teen, I probably would have chosen to have an abortion. The reason was real to me then but now seems ironic. If I had gotten pregnant when I was 16 or 17 I would have had an abortion because I wouldn't have wanted the shame or scandal of being a pregnant teenage girl in my community, particularly in my church. I heard people say really mean things about pregnant girls and I wouldn't have wanted to be the one talked about; I didn't think I could handle the weight of the scorn. Pretty funny, when you think about it, that the church community that spent so much energy telling me abortion is a sin was the very reason I would have had one. But I was lucky. My boyfriend and I took lots of chances, had lots of unprotected sex but we never became pregnant (I did loosely practice a form of Natural Family Planning that I read about in a book at the home of a Catholic family I babysat for). I don't really understand why we didn't but I'm grateful that I never had to make that life or death decision and I'm especially grateful I didn't "have" to get married at 16, which, of course, would have been the other option. I shudder when I think of who I would now be if I'd been forced to marry at 16.

When I got pregnant with my oldest child I was 24, newly divorced from my first husband, unemployed with no health insurance, without a home of my own, carless and in a very casual relationship. I was the poster-child for instability. But I knew in my heart and in my mind that I wanted my baby and that I could care for him; almost the instant I was aware that I was pregnant, I loved him deeply. I never really even considered having an abortion. I firmly believed that everything would work out fine because it HAD to work out fine, and it did. I got a nanny gig that would allow me to bring my baby to work with me, moved in with Hammy and even paid the midwife in total before the baby's birth. Although on paper I appeared to be unstable, I actually had good internal resources and a supportive community to help me.

However, just because having the baby was the right decision for me doesn't mean it would be a good choice for another woman.

There are many reasons why abortion should be legal. Mainly, though, no woman should ever be forced to birth and raise a child she does not want. And no child should ever grow up without being loved and cherished. I think abortion is far preferable to a child being emotionally or physically neglected or abused. I think it would damage a woman's spirit and/or psyche less to have an early stage abortion than to give birth to and raise a baby she resented and didn't love.

I guess my sorta belief in reincarnation partially allows for my acceptance of abortion. Our souls, the Light within each of us, is a part of Divine Energy. Here on Earth or wherever we're part of God. Sometimes an individual soul has a journey to make on this Earth that takes 80 or 90 years and sometimes the journey is only for a few days; whatever the length of the journey, we'll all reunited with the One again, ultimately. I think that if abortion is a sin, it's only a sin if the woman believes it is and allows the guilt of making the choice to come between her and God. Which is not to say that if a woman does not think abortion is a sin she should enter into it lightly. Abortion should always be a deep, heavy and very well supported decision.

I know people who feel very differently about this issue who's opinions I respect. I don't think I have the answer for everyone, only for myself, and even then it evolves. I don't think anyone should make decisions for other people but that each person should be trusted and supported to make the decisions that best meet their own needs.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nashville Friends Meeting Retreat

This weekend is the yearly Nashville Friends Meeting retreat. My feelings about it have waffled back and forth between really looking forward to it and feeling a good amount of stress over the planning of it but I think Diana and Linda have the planning under control and it will go well. I'm learning what a great and reliable person Diana is; she's an absolute pleasure to work with. Linda's more like me, she works in fits of enthusiasm. She's been sick and called last night to say she won't be able to go on the retreat because she has pneumonia in both lungs. I hate that she's worked so hard to get everything ready and won't be able to enjoy it but her body really needs total rest.

I'm taking my 3 boys plus Declan's girlfriend and one of Zed's best friends. Bonnie, Doug and Sophie are also teenagers who will be there. I'm going to get a cabin for all the young people and me to sleep in ala SAYF. I'm pretty sad that Finn won't have a peer but there will be lots of adults and teens to engage with him. I'm looking forward to being with this dynamic and truly wonderful group of young people! They interact with one another beautifully; they're respectful of one another and really loving. I think the weekend will be relaxing and unifying.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Liberal Christian Homeschoolers

I started a new googlegroup for liberal Christian homeschoolers yesterday. I've been part of an "inclusive" group for years. The people in the group are great but few are Christian and the atmosphere can be pretty hostile against fundamentalism which kind of bleeds over into all Christianity by name association. I'm needing to talk with others who follow the teachings of Jesus and who are learning to get in touch with Spirit. I feel really good that I've taken this step and reached out. I've already (virtually) met some interesting people and I can't wait to learn more with and from them!

I do wish I had a better term to use than Liberal Christian. The true meaning of liberal is accurate, but the word is so loaded full of connotations in our society that using that word sort of seems weighted. But I don't like defining myself by negatives, either: "non religious right Christian" or "non-fundamentalist Christian" or whatever. I am very open to suggestions for other words I can use.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Geography of Light

I'm listening to Carrie Newcomer's "Geography of Light" today. Her voice is like coming home. And her lyrics are like a guidepost showing the way. I've been a fan of hers since way back in her earliest days playing in Stone Soup. Even back then, when I was at my cynical best, the grace of her songs touched my heart. I was quite delighted, though not at all surprised, to learn a year or so ago, that she is a practicing Quaker.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On a Wing and a Prayer

Heidi and I will be co-leading the Growing In the Light today with the topic of prayer. We came upon the idea of making prayer beads so I went to Hobby Lobby last night and bought a buncha beads and bracelet elastic (I was out). The good news is that most of the beading supplies were half off. The bad new is that I went crazy and bought a bunch of beads to make gifts for Christmas, too and spent almost $60 total. Gulp.

We've never done a craft project for one of our GItL meetings so I'm not sure how this will go over but I think it will be received pretty well. Of course, I've waited until the very last minute to do the actual work (we leave for Meeting in 2 minutes and I just finished printing) but I feel OK about it. My main focus will be on intercessory prayer and praying without ceasing. I am using several books and have printed out quotes from each. I though we'd do a worship/sharing on the Queries at the end. Here's what I've copied:

From “Living In the Presence” by Tilden Edwards:

“The mind is a child of the Spirit, but it likes to run away from home.” -Gerald May

“The Latin root of our word prayer is precaria, “precarious.’”

From Catherine Whitmire’s book “Plain Living”:

To pray is to be vulnerably open to God’s unpredictable grace.-Patricia Loring

In prayer it is a matter of being present where we are.-Douglas Steere

My own belief is that outward circumstances are not often (I will not say never) directly altered as a result of prayer. That is to say, God is not always interfering with the working of the natural order….Prayer is not given to us to make life easy for us, or to coddle us, but to make us strong….We pray, not to change God’s will, but to bring our wills into correspondence with God’s.-William Littleboy

In prayer, the seeds of concern have a way of appearing. Often enough, a concern begins in a feeling of being personally liable, personally responsible, for someone or some event. With it there may come an intimation that one should do some little thing: speak to some person, make an inquiry into a certain situation, write a letter, send some money, send a book….But this seed is given us to follow, and if we do not follow it, we cannot expect to see what may grow from it. Seeds, not fruit, are given in prayer, but they are given for planting.-Douglas Steere

In…intercessory prayer there is a consciousness that your act of prayer enters into a great sweep of intercession that is already going on….William Temple, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking of his own practice of intercessory prayer, would say on this point, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I do not, they don’t.”…

How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward the One, who calls in the deeps of our souls….Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet glad surrender to the One who is within….Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.
-Thomas R. Kelly

From “Listening Spirituality” by Patricia Loring:

Pray as you can, not as you can’t.-Dom John Chapman

Certainly intercessory prayer is not to be undertaken lightly. We may say blithely, “I’ll pray for you.” If we do in fact pray with integrity, with our hearts rather than just our lips, we will probably not be able to remain in a light-hearted mode, separate from that for which we pray. Like any other prayer, to enter it in Spirit and in Truth, is to open ourselves to the incalculable ways of the divine, to invite the unexpected, to risk being changed or confronted with the necessity of change. Willingness for that to happen is a prerequisite.

One of the first of the costs of intercessory prayer is that we come face to face with the limitations of our understanding of the ways in which situations and events arise, come into being, interact and change. We must give over a measure of the security we derive from thinking we know something of how the world works. To truly hold someone or something in the Light requires acknowledging the limited understanding, perhaps even our desire to see clearly, in order to be open to the unknown future, bringing the needs of others with us.

From “Plain Living:
-What process do I use to listen and “pay attention to the deepest thing I know”?
-Do I pay attention to the “seeds of concern” for others that may come to me in prayer? Do I act on them?
-Do I look for the “coincidences” that happen when I pray?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

unemployment sucks

Well, dang. So, I'm unemployed again. We're broke. And Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile are playing next Tuesday. I love Edgar Meyer; he's
one of my all-time favorite musicians.
And, I
just learned that Billy Bragg released a CD
back in April that I now am dying to own. I'm crazy about Billy Bragg's music and his vision of the world.

Zoinkies. I'd better learn to live simply or simply learn to stop looking at music listings. Missing out on things that move me is kinda painful.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Turn that noise down!"

Exactly when did I get so old, I'd like to know. How did it happen? I still feel like me but now I'm an adult--I no longer have the opportunity to die before I grow old, not that I wanted to or anything, but it's always nice to have options.

Today, I had parent/teacher conferences at my two older boys' schools and heaven help me if I didn't relate better-for the first time in my life-to the teachers! Don't get me wrong: I still HATE school uniforms and think they are ridiculous and would happily support whichever young people would like to actively protest at the board of education against them. But...the chemistry teacher that my son railed against so loudly about on our way to the school: He's really nice. And Z's middleschool English teacher: I could see us being friends.

And this weekend, I was a Friendly Adult Presence (FAP) at the Southern Appalachia Young Friends (SAYF) retreat. I love being with the teens but had to actively work to remember the feelings and emotions of teen years (except the everpresent sexual tension, which I remember with great fondness). I happily sat and talked with the other adults. I slept in a room with several young women. At one point, another FAP came into the room to see if there was room on the floor for her sleeping bag. After she left, one of the girls-a very sweet but very blunt 13 year old, said "I hope this doesn't become the old geezer room". ME?! A GEEZER??? Ouch.

Except the music. Most folks my age and older have really lame taste in music. But then, most young folks listen to either really lame music or music that I've never heard of or music that hurts my brain. Ok, what I mean is that it's hard to find many people with similar taste in music to my own. So that I wouldn't have to listen to iPod playlists put together by disco aficionados or heavy metal enthusiasts, I brough my own stack of cds; music I thought the teens might enjoy: Violent Femmes, XTC, Talking Heads, Ani Defranco, Billy Bragg, the Replacements "Pleased to Meet Me". No one mutinied so I guess it was tolerable to them. Oh yeah, I did try to sneak in some Woody Guthrie which got made fun of and removed from the playlist in it's third track, but I think I did pretty well with the rest of my choices.

Rock on.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Extricating Myself from the Web

This may be incredibly obvious to y'all but it was a bit of a light-bulb thing for me:
I check my email frequently. Like, probably every two hours or so. I also read the headlines every 3-4 hours, do a crossword type word puzzle with breakfast and usually checkout what's going on at a couple of politically liberal websites and read new posts on a couple of blogs I follow closely (jeez, writing that makes it seem like I'm on-line a LOT which it doesn't feel like I am but then, when I'm conducting the social survey that I've done 4 times, one of the questions is how much TV people watch and invariably, people say "hardly any" when it turns out they usually watch at least 2 and oftentimes 4 hours a day! I feel tremendously superior because I don't watch TV at all-well, I have watched the debates but that's all. But now, seeing it in writing, I see that I waste as much time just in a different way). I'm an habitual multi-tasker; as I last posted, I get bored really quickly: I feel I need constant stimulation. One thing I've done for a long time is to have a game of "spider solitaire" going all the time on the computer so when I'm waiting for a website to load, I always click on the game to keep me occupied. I also often wind up playing to the end of the game and maybe another one each time I get off-line, thus wasting a great amount of time collectively. Yesterday, after I did my 30 seconds of actual meditation, I thought about how I can live my life as a prayer. Hmmmm. I thought about what it would take for me to make that leap and had the idea that I could just try to ask myself where God is in the moment, each time I have the momentary awareness of God. But, there's not really that much time in which I am aware. And I started thinking about what I do everyday-that makes me more aware of God's presence in my life and what makes me oblivious to God. The Chihuahua needing constant entertaining definitely keeps me heedless of God; you might say the Chihuahua is Satan, if you're inclined to think that way (which I'm not, although I do see my own ego and love of constant stimulation as being a major sin of mine). So, I thought that I'd do just one thing less to keep the Chihuahua entertained and, duh-the lightbulb, decided to try to live without spider solitaire for a day. And you know, although I found myself habitually opening it up, I was able to stop, close it and each time I did, I was also able to ask myself where God was in the action I was taking. Like, where is God in my response to this email? Where is God in me learning more things to dislike about Sarah Palan? Where is God in reading the blog of my dear friend who has cancer? Where is God in me playing this word game? It was a very centering practice. I did it again today, not to as good effect because I was really busy with work all day and very distracted by my schedule when I checked my emails (I actually wouldn't have checked email at all except that I'm in the middle of organizing a couple of group activities which I've messed the dates up on and am trying to get the mess I've made straightened out).

I've got four interviews to conduct before noon tomorrow, do a bunch of paperwork and then have to pack up my laptop and all my work project related stuff to take to FedEx and pack all my stuff and be to the meetinghouse by 4:00 tomorrow so I can drive a vanfull of teens to the SAYF retreat in Asheville for the weekend. It's gonna be CRAZY. The good thing is that D and Z are out of school tomorrow so they can help with Carmac. I'm not really in the frame of mind to go on a retreat; I've been running on Chihuahua adrenaline for the last week or so. I think, though, that the wonderful Quaker young people will demonstrate for me how to be in the moment. I love just sitting back and watching them interact with one another.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the Chihuahua in the Mirror

I've committed to my spiritual discipline for this coming year via my commitment to Growing In the Light spiritual formation group. Praying every day is one of my ways of drawing closer to God (duh). (ideally, all my thoughts and actions would be prayer). I generally try to spend several minutes in prayer each morning but lately, the Chihuahua has been getting into speed or something because I can not get her to stop yapping and running in circles. Monkey mind has nothing on this hyperactive little dog. Sheesh.
So, this morning I tried to pray and got distracted by this, that and everything else. And I thought, "this dog is running my life! I need to learn to tame the chihuahua". I've read about and studied on and done everything with meditation except to ever really learn to meditate. I think meditation is the best way to try to give the chihuahua some amount of discipline. I know that I can't clear my mind-there is no way I can not think or think of nothing. That whole "clouds across a sky" imagery gets too convoluted for me because first the cloud is a bunny then it morphs into a horse and then the chihuahua is off and yipping. I decided to breathe in four counts, breathe out four counts and focus on my breathing. Which I did for probably 2 or 3 minutes (which is GREAT for me, believe it or not) when I found my attention beginning to wander a bit. I pulled it back to "breath in, breath out" a couple of times..."breathe in, breathe out...what time is my first appointment this morning?...breathe in, breathe..did I just hear Carmac? What's he doing awake already? He needs more...breathe in, breathe out...breathe in, breathe, this is boring". ?!! Yes. I said boring. My mind being even remotely still for a moment I found to be boring. Wow. That is incredibly telling. I use the chihuahua to keep me entertained and occupied. I love my rapid-cycle mental acrobatics. I love running in circles and yapping at every passing whim; they stimulate me and keep me on my toes. I am Walter Mitty. I am the Incredible Mr. Limpett. I am not rooted in reality.

Obviously, I need to work on this. I will go think about it right now. Yip, yip, yip.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

There's a Light

I read an interview with John Records, who runs a shelter called COTS for homeless people in Petaluma, in the September issue of The Sun magazine. This quote by him really spoke to me:

It hurts sometimes to see people making what seem
like avoidable mistakes. I work with clients who have led terrible hard lives, and a few have a chip on their shoulder, but that attitude might be all that's left of their dignity and self-respect. I can understand that.
The prayer of Saint Francis is essential to my perspective:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is
darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

The amount of despair, darkness, and sadness in the world is just staggering. So regardless of whether you can help someone put his or her life back together, there is darkness you can light, despair to which you can offer hope. It doesn't really matter whether you think someone can be helped. It's great when it works out that way, but that's not necessarily why you do it.

"What Light" is a song by Wilco:

If you feel like singing a song

And you want other people to sing along

Then just sing what you feel

Don't let anyone say it's wrong

And if you're trying to paint a picture

But you're not sure which colors belong

Just paint what you see

Don't let anyone say it's wrong

And if you're strung out like a kite

Or stung awake in the night

It's alright to be frightened

When there's a light

What light

There's a light

What light

There's a light

White light

Inside of you

You think you might need somebody

To pick you up when you drag

Don't lose sight of yourself

Don't let anyone change you back

And if the whole world's singing your songs

And all you're paintings have been hung

Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on

And that's not wrong or right

But you can struggle with it all you like

You'll only get uptight

When there's a light

What light

There's a light

What light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

One light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

One light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

One light

There's a light

One light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

White light

Inside of you

There's a light

White light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

White light

There's a light

One light

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Spirit of Who Needs Plans

We started our second Nashville Friends Meeting's Growing In the Light spiritual formation group yesterday. We did an all-day retreat at the meetinghouse and will continue it until around 5:00 this afternoon with a break to participate in Meeting for Worship and then lunch. We're doing a lot of talking about spiritual practices and our own personal journeys. The main theme, this year, is that we're working through a series of exercises leading us to each write our own spiritual mission statement. I've been working on pulling this together for months and months so I'm actually pretty bored with the exercises but everyone else seems to be enjoying them and I do like the discussions about them.

Yesterday, I awoke with a headache and uncovered that I was actually pretty stressed about leading this GItL. Last year, Caroline and I worked together and it was our first time and so I felt less pressure to "perform". This year, Caroline couldn't do it and no one else volunteered to help, and of course, now that I've done it before I should know what I'm doing. Well, you know that I'm always flying by the seat of my pants (where in the world does that phrase come from? I must look it up sometime) and never really feel like I have a grip on what I'll be doing before I just plunge in (or take off, if it's a flying metaphor). In spite of that, I think yesterday went well. We had eight people and two others are to join us today; a variety of beliefs and life experiences within bounds of white, middle class and pretty well educated (we have 3 therapists in our group!). I do hope that one of these wonderful people steps up to offer to help me. I'm such a big idea person and I'm not very good with tasks. I just need someone to remind me of what I committed to do while it's still helpful to others to get it done.

I've got big-time chihuahua brain going on right now. I've actually been praying a lot but my prayers are mostly intercessory prayers for people I know and love who are having a hard time. I don't feel very close to Spirit, though I know Spirit is there: the distance is mine and not deliberate.

Flying By the Seat of One's Pants from

This is early aviation parlance. Aircraft
initially had few navigation aids and flying was
accomplished by means of the
pilot's judgment. The term emerged in the 1930s and was first widely used in reports of Douglas Corrigan's flight from the USA to Ireland in 1938.
That flight was reported in many US newspapers of the day, including this piece, entitled 'Corrigan Flies By The Seat Of His Pants', in The Edwardsville Intelligencer, 19th July 1938:
"Douglas Corrigan was described as an aviator
'who flies by the seat of his pants' today by a mechanic who helped him rejuvinate the plane which airport men have now nicknamed the 'Spirit of $69.90'. The old flying expression of 'flies by the seat of his trousers' was explained by Larry Conner, means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries."
Two days before this report Corrigan had submitted a flight
plan to fly from Brooklyn to California. He had previously had a plan for a trans-Atlantic flight rejected (presumably on the grounds that the 'Spirit of $69.90 wasn't considered up to the job). His subsequent 29 hour flight ended in Dublin, Ireland. He claimed that his compasses had failed. He didn't openly admit it but it was widely assumed that he had ignored the rejection of his
flight plan and deliberately flown east rather than west. He was thereafter known as 'Wrong Way Corrigan' and starred as himself in the 1938 movie The
Flying Irishman.
The 'old flying expression' quoted above (although it can't
have been very old in 1938) that refers to trousers rather than pants does
suggest that the phrase was originally British and crossed the Atlantic (the
right way) prior to becoming 'flies by the seat of one's pants'.

Wow! Wrong Way Corrigan is totally crushworthy! Who knew? He's cute and funny and wacky! Now I've got to run to the library and pick his movie up. Wheee!

(And didn't that just totally prove the chihuahua brain...)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lesson in Humility- Redux

Yeah boy, see how far I've come. I wrote about my increasing awareness of my own snobbery and class bias and then, in my very next blogpost, I used a term that I find incredibly offensive to describe someone who I felt to be "less than" me. I awoke this morning with the words ringing in my ears and feel a deep sense of shame to have used them. Nevermind the fact that many people have no problem with this term; it is terribly offensive on many levels to me and I used it anyway.
Here's what I wrote:
"His mother worked in the laundry room of the hospital.
She was (pardon the expression) "white trash": Old couch on the front porch, go out in public with holes in her clothes kind of poor. I really don't know how he got the ambition that he had but he wasn't like the rest of his family."
I was even aware enough of what I was doing as to "apologize" before writing it, in the "pardon my french" kind of way. How utterly hypocritical.
So, why did I do it? I was writing about my first boyfriend's mother. She never liked me and, frankly, she wasn't very likable (the entire year and a half that Steve and I dated, she referred to me as "what's her name"). I wrote about her using the words I've always used when thinking about her; words I grew up hearing: They're concise and descriptive. But I wasn't writing a novel. I was writing an essay in a spiritually oriented "journal". Golly, if I'm not going to live up to my highest self here, what hope is there for the rest of my life?
Again, I am terribly, terribly sorry to everyone I offended. I am ashamed of myself. Obviously, I've got a lot of work to do to unravel these awful prejudices I have about people and the words I use to describe and label them and myself.

This action of mine has made me revisit her with a clearer perspective than I've ever had. I see that she was probably very depressed and unhappy. She was trapped in an unpleasant job due to a lack of education and having three kids to support. My mom knew her in high school and told me years ago that she was crazy about Steve's dad. She got pregnant, they got married, had three kids and he left. Because he was an alcoholic (Irish Drunk was the name given to men like him-usually very happy but sometimes "black" angry), I imagine the years they were together were probably bad. She never really had anything that was hers. She never owned her life. She relied heavily, both emotionally and financially on her oldest son. She disliked me because I was taking him away from her. I understood that even when I was 15, but her rudeness was inexcusable to me. Now, I can see how closed she had to be, how judged she probably felt. I can see why she would dislike me (I was a perky know-it-all). She died about 10 years ago of a heart attack when she was in her late 50s. Her name was Ruth.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peaceful Warriors Training Camp

My previous post was about why I think military service holds appeal for many young people. In this post I'm going to write out my vision for a non-violent alternative to military service.

What I'd like to see is a peace activists training organization. It would combine elements of the military, the Highlander Center, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Civilian Public Service. It would operate much like military basic training: Recruits would live together in barracks with a drill instructor for a set amount of time, learning basic skills, discipline and regimentation. They would learn team building and trust in one another and in authority. They'd spend the first 6-8 weeks learning basic things such as woodworking, how to use tools, group cooking, and basic survival skills. They'd also do some amount of classwork learning about non-violent social action and studying conflict resolution from the personal to the global. They'd study the teachings of Gandhi and what the Highlander Center did; they'd learn about the Lunch Counter Sit-ins and other real examples of peace action. They'd also study self-defence through aikido or another non-aggressive method.

Next they would learn about current, active peace work throughout the world. They'd study about AFSC and Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Corps. They'd learn about all the kinds of opportunities for work there are and then they'd choose a field of study. The training camp would provide education to train the recruits in whatever area they wanted to pursue, possibly through a community college but maybe also with paid staff or volunteers. I envision areas of study such as medicine/first aid, firefighting/natural disaster management, community gardening/sustainable agriculture, teaching, water resources, sustainable energy, building/architecture, land reclamation/forestry, midwifery/family planning and the like.

During this time, they would be working and doing community service projects, spending time with local or regional non-profit agencies. During study breaks, they may travel to other areas to do internships or more intensive work.

I see this as a 1-2 year program. I think it would be good to consult with many cross-border and national agencies to learn exactly what skills would be valuable to them and try to structure the program to teach those skills.

The program would have to be privately funded, not taking any government money.

The recruits would be paid some amount for participating in the program and upon completion would earn something extra. In exchange, they would commit to X amount of service upon completion.

The recruits would also have to understand that they would submit to the authority of the program and give over their identity as "civilian" to that of "peace warrior" (in the way that a "hero's journey" makes one die to one's old nature and accept a new identity. The U.S. military is brilliant at enacting this rite of passage for recruits--one of the only powerful, active rites in our entire society.). The program would be hard and challenging and would not allow for the kind of dissension or questioning of authority that we so often see in the liberal community. In other words, if you trust the organization enough to want to take from it, you also make a real commitment to give and to follow the structure and rules.

The Appeal of Military Service

Jeanne, over in her blog "Social Class & Quakers", recently wrote about military recruiting and what alternatives Quakers have to offer. She brings up some very good points but, from my experience, misses some important points. She suggested that Quakers (and other peace churches) need to step up and offer scholarships to young working class and poor kids who have few other choices but to enlist in the military to earn money and/or job training. But the point that I think is missed is that a whole lot of those kids do not want to further their education. I was one of those kids. Without going into too much of my personal history, I had no direction when I was graduated from high school other than knowing that I did not want to go to college. My parents begged and pleaded and finally got me to agree to go to a school which was supposed to train me to be a travel agent (I've done about every kind of legitimate work there is but I've never worked as a travel agent). From about 4th grade on, I HATED school. I remember sitting in elementary school (probably during math class) literally counting the days until I would turn 16 and be able to drop out of school. Well, I made it to graduation but did not want to put myself into any position in which I had to feel like a dunce ever again. No thank you. I got a job managing a fast food restaurant and have been working my way up from entry level jobs ever since.

In high school, I took the ASVABs rather than the SAT or ACT, even though I wasn't really interested in the military. This was 1983 when there was still a good amount of stigma about women in the military (if I were graduating in the same position today, I probably would consider it). When I'd get the mailings from the Marines saying they were looking for a few good men, I'd think "who isn't?" and throw them in the trash.

I did have a couple of very close friends who enlisted. My first serious boyfriend was the quintessential guy I'm writing about here. He was full of common sense but not "book smarts". He didn't do well in school. He was incredibly responsible and a really good guy. He played drums and fixed cars and worked after school every day from age 14 on. His family was very poor. His father was an alcoholic who left his mother with three children and never paid child support. His mother worked in the laundry room of the hospital. She was (pardon the expression) "white trash": Old couch on the front porch, go out in public with holes in her clothes kind of poor. I really don't know how he got the ambition that he had but he wasn't like the rest of his family. He wanted to better himself and he saw the military as the best way to do that. He joined the Navy and gained discipline and learned how to repair airplanes. Being in the Navy was very important to him. He was proud of serving his country, of wearing the uniform. He was not a violent person. I can't imagine him ever hurting anyone. He was gentle and kind. I'm sure that he didn't really consider the possibility of having to be in a situation in which he might have to kill someone, although he was, I'm sure, very good at following orders and would have done so if commanded by superior officers. I don't know that if he'd been given a full scholarship to community college he'd have taken it because the Navy represented something more than just training for him. In part, it was escape from his home and family's reputation and expectations; escape from our small town, adventure. He did not have a strong male role model growing up; I think the Navy was, for him, a rite of passage, a way of learning to prove that he was a man. No community college or regular college would ever be able to offer that.

My dear cousin Stevey is another of the type of guy I'm trying to describe to you. Stevey is very intelligent but really quirky and odd. I haven't seen him in almost two decades but value him and love him deeply. He was raised by his mom and stepdad (who adopted him when he was 8). His family did animal rescues and always had a menagerie of dogs, cats and horses: His family's home was loving but extremely chaotic. Stevey never really fit in with the kids in school and got by just doing his own thing. His family had moved to California by the time we were in high school so I never talked with him about his decision to join the Air Force when he was graduated from high school but I imagine that he did because he wanted to travel and explore the world. He made a career of it and retired after 20 years. I think he found success in the structure and discipline of the military that he could never have had in civilian life. Again, he is a gentle, funny, kind person. I doubt he's ever deliberately hurt anyone in his whole life. He didn't join the Air Force from any aggro impulse or for macho reasons; he just needed direction and discipline.

And this leads me to my oldest kid, Declan. He's 17. He's intelligent, creative, funny. He's very liberal, mostly, but is a black and white thinker. He's drawn to strong-willed, alpha males for mentors and teachers (most of whom, Chuck Fager being the exception, have been very strongly libertarian in their political leanings). D is smart but is acting sooo dumb. I just got a call from his history teacher (whom D really respects) saying that Declan has failed his last three history tests and is failing history. Dec enjoys history. He "gets it" and is engaged by this teacher. He just doesn't bother to do his homework or to study. Hammy and I have talked and talked and talked to him. Over the last 2 1/2 years that he's been in school, at various times we've grounded him, met weekly with his teachers, talked to principals and counselors, said that this is his "path" and he needs to learn to take responsibility for his actions and whatever else we could think of. Nothing has made the slightest difference. He's in a school for the arts which he absolutely loves. His girlfriend is there as are all his friends. He's playing in a band. He's doing music for a movie and a cable tv show. He just auditioned for the lead in a play. He started the year on academic probation and will probably be kicked out when the end of semester report cards come out. But that hasn't changed his behavior or attitude toward his academic work.

So, what will happen to my boy when he is kicked out of this school? The only school he'll be able to go to is the one we're zoned for, the "Bloods vs Crips" school that he spent a year at and HATED. ROTC is the only extra on the school campus besides cosmetology. I can't see him going back to that school and being successful.

Lots of kids do dual enrollment at the community college but, frankly, if we can't trust him to maintain passing grades at a school he loves, I can't see paying money for him to go to another school. He's painting himself into a corner that he's too young, inexperienced and stubborn to see.

If I weren't a pacifist adamantly opposed to war, I'd push him toward the military. The discipline would be great for him. He'd be honored for his sharp mind and problem-solving ability, for his self-control and ability to lead others. I believe he would completely thrive in that atmosphere. But I could never encourage my beloved son to go into a situation in which he would learn to kill. I love him too much to want him to put himself in a institution in which dying for a false ideology is a real possibility.

So, what is left for him? Peace Corps doesn't want him. AFSC doesn't want him. I know of maybe a couple of non-profits like Plenty that might make use of him but hippies make him crazy (their ethos is kind of the opposite of disciplined) and I know he wouldn't want to go that route (although, when he flunks out of NSA, I think we'll probably strongly push him in that direction). What he needs is a very regimented, organized, structured "boot camp" type training program; something that helps him to grow and discover his potential to BE something. That's what the military is best at, from the perspective of this civilian--identifying and developing the potential of young, directionless adults. And that's exactly what Declan needs most.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What's Up? Lesson In Humility

I’ve been wanting to blog but I feel I need to catch up here with an update before I write about anything else.
School’s been back in session for a month. My oldest is at the arts magnet high school. For the first time in his life, my middle son is going to public school: He’s in 8th grade at the arts magnet middle school studying visual arts.
Carmac is 5, and so, a kindergartner. We are homeschooling. He has had a very tough time with all the changes. Hammy and I have been noticing him acting in ways that he had developed beyond, like not wanting to be alone in his room and being afraid of the dark. He misses Zed a lot during the day and, although he has always been really good at playing by himself, he’s lonely. I’ve been trying to keep him busy and have scheduled at least one extra activity with friends each week.
I’m still working but not for much longer. One of the projects ended a month or so ago. I’m just doing phone work on the other one, which was supposed to end the beginning of August. The project managers keep telling us 2 more weeks but we still need something like 700 more interviews done, so who knows. I’m putting in 10-15 hours a week on that now, mainly working 3-4 hours each morning. It’s easy and pleasant work.
I’m beginning to look for a new job. About a month ago, I learned that Nashville is not part of the national framing sample for any projects I would be eligible to work, so I will not have field work offered to me for at least 6 months. I can’t go that long without an income. I’d like to work for a non-profit. I really enjoyed when I worked as a volunteer coordinator at Reconciliation. I’m great at organizing people and networking. The darn lack of education, though, really gets in the way of how I am perceived by potential employers.
I’m not enrolled in school. I just couldn’t justify upsetting my entire family and our finances. I’m pretty frustrated but I have to honor the needs of everyone, not just my own. Seeing how Carmac is with the changes we are already experiencing, I’m glad I didn’t force my going to school on him, too. Although, he may be happier if he were to go to school.
We’re still mostly car-free but my in-laws did give us a very old, very rickety car to pick Zed up from school with (his school is a mile from our house but the only two roads to get to it are highways with no sidewalks, so he can’t walk. The bus takes kids from the school to downtown and then he’d have to catch the return bus for a roundtrip time of almost 2 hours). Carmac and I are still riding buses most of the time when we go out.

So, hmmmmm. As my friendlymama blog is ostensibly about my spiritual journey, I guess the question I’ll ask myself is: How goes my awareness of God in my life?

And my answer is: I’m finding my way back to my path. I give myself props for not immediately going into, what my friend Kit describes as, “ego attack” which happens when one’s sense of security is threatened. Thus far, and this may only be because I am still generating income, I have been able to remain open to ideas for future employment keeping God’s will for me fore in my mind: I know that I would most like “right-livelihood” work—work that’s good for God’s world (which is to say, everything) but I trust God will help me find the path the opportunities in which I can learn and serve best.

I am coming to terms with some further awareness of my own class prejudices. I’ve written how I come from a working class background. But, obviously, I have had great privilege from my parents, genetics and many other things. The fact that I am very verbal and read extensively has allowed me to “pass” as well educated for most of my adult life. Because of this, I’ve been able to get jobs that I otherwise wouldn’t have qualified for. With my ability to pass as a member of the educated middle-class (liberal), I’ve distanced myself emotionally from my working class roots. I was bemoaning the need to look for a new job recently and beginning to allow myself to go into an ego attack and said the thing I always say when I get in that uncomfortable, fear inducing place, “I’m going to wind up working at Taco Bell!”. Well, I said that and then I just stopped and thought about what I said and realized that I am a snob. Sheesh. Am I better than the people who work at Taco Bell? Smarter? No. I’m luckier. I was given parents who made sure I spoke proper English and provided me with lots of books and modeled socially acceptable behaviors and so I have better options.
Last weekend, Zed was invited by a new school chum to go to a water park. I drove him over to the boy’s house across town. He lives with his mom in a home which reminds me a lot of the house in which my aunt and bi-polar, alcoholic, illiterate uncle raised their three children: Very small duplexes, close together, small children and semi-feral dogs running wild, people sitting idle in yards, watching everything that goes on. When I pulled up, a neighbor was on the porch and asked if I was looking to rent side B. I bristled, thinking, “Doesn’t it look obvious that I don’t belong here?” but of course it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t, no matter where I work or how much money I make.
I met the boy’s mom. She’s about my age. She’s very nice and friendly and seems a kind and caring mother trying to raise her son the best she can. She works as a manager at McDonalds. She hasn’t had the luxury of the dental care that I have. As we talked, I could relate to her and her struggles and successes (when the kids were at the water park, she was on a date at the lake). I’m not better than her. I need to learn to stop judging myself as if I am. I do not deserve to make more money than her just because I am more articulate than her. We both should have the opportunities for education that would allow us employment that fulfills our need for dignity and financial stability.
So, I’ve had that little lesson in humility, again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I've lately begun to understand that all any of us really wants is to feel we belong; to feel inside a group; to feel included and accepted for who we truly are: To be known. I've been thinking about how we go about finding that sense of belonging or making it happen. Often it's done by creating some kind of boundary and saying that those on this side of the boundary are like me and accepted and those over there, the Other, are not accepted. The boundary can be pretty much anything. I grew up in a small town in which there were many ways of creating boundaries. There's the way it was done in Junior High school: I only want to hang with who's cool and I say who's cool. There's dividing by geography: City folks versus country folks. By accents: You sound like me so we're united. By ethnicity: My skin and hair look like your skin and hair so we're inside and everyone who doesn't look like us is out. There are plenty of ways of segregating people by monetary standards: I shop here/I live in this zip code/I drive this kind of car/my dad (husband) does this for a living/I went to school here/we vacation here/I (literally) belong to this club/etc. and people who do the same are OK with me. Where I live, and I suspect it's like this in some other parts of the country but perhaps not the whole country, religion and politics are a big divider: I vote this way and follow these rules and participate in these rituals as a means of worshipping my deity and those who believe differently are the Other.

Sometimes feeling inside is a good thing. I'm thinking about a couple sharing that feeling of "it's you and me against the world". Or being on a team and working together to create something is really a wonderful feeling. Our family has a lot of inside jokes that people who don't know us wouldn't understand and that bond us with one another; people who hang out with us often learn our jokes and we begin to feel they are part of the family and love them. We all need to belong.

Often, though, it seems, boundaries are created more from a feeling (real or imagined) of persecution: They are against us so we must declare loyalty and take up "arms" (actual weapons, words, attitudes, create laws, whatever). We feel threatened by the Other so we create boundaries that act like the walls of a castle with holes in walls not for a view or for sunlight but to lob artillery through.

What I'm coming to understand is that boundaries are the opposite of "the kingdom of heaven". Boundaries keep me apart and mistrustful. Seeing others as the Other keeps me from seeing "that of God" in them. I am not aware of Christ within me or within you when all I can see is how different we are from one another. Because, of course, when I see boundaries, I'm judging myself as well as judging the Other. Again, I think of Hector Black and his joyous, welcoming smile. When he walks up smiling, it's as if he has been longing to see you and is so happy to be with you again, even when you've never met. I imagine Jesus made people feel the same way.

I've been reading a lot about building community and picked up this book the last time I was at the library: "The Community of the Future". Last night I read an essay (by Margaret Wheatly and Myron Kellner-Rogers who run a nonprofit research foundation exploring new organizational forms and ideas) called "The Paradox and Promise of Community":

..."Rather than being self-protective walls, boundaries become the place of meeting and exchange. We usually think
of these edges as the means of defining separateness: what's inside and what's outside. But in living systems, boundaries are something quite different. They are the place where new relationships take form, an important place of exchange and growth as one individual chooses to respond to another. As connections proliferated and the system weaves itself into existence, it becomes difficult to
interpret boundaries as defenses, or even as markers of where one individual ends."
That's what I'm coming to learn: That we are all connected. We're all in this together. We're all one in God. When I create a boundary between myself and another, I'm cutting myself off from God. When I open myself to connecting with another, I'm opening myself to God. I give to God when I give of me to another.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Next Step?

I've figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I'm 43 years old and I'm finally ready to go to college and get a degree. All this time, I've known that having a degree would be a good thing, helpful to me, a good financial investment etc, etc, but I've been unwilling to spend the time and money when I realistically couldn't envision myself sticking with anything I started. But now, now I am ready. I want to get a degree in Urban Studies and create communities. I want to learn how to build buildings and all about zoning and codes and urban development policies. I want to design and make neighborhoods made up of people of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and standings. I want to build communities for people who value the Earth and want to live harmoniously with it and with each other in cities. I want to build SPICEland. For real.

The thing is though, that I'm working about 30 hours a week, Hammy's working his job and we're already just barely making it. Zed will be starting public school this year, so the older two are no longer at home during the day but Carmac is 5 and will begin homeschooling this Fall. Hammy is very concerned about the time and money that my going to school will cost. Right now, we're constantly juggling schedules and bills and the needs of 3 growing children and our marriage. How in the world can I even think of adding a full college course load to this crazy mix?

The kids all say "No!".

Hammy says, "Why not wait a year?". He wants us to spend a year digging ourselves out of debt and then enroll next Fall.

But, to me, this is an investment in our future and to think of waiting a year means a 4 year degree will take 5 years (or longer) to complete. I want to get started. And, who knows where we'll be or what will be happening in a year. His parents aren't in very good health; anything could happen with them that would prevent me taking this step. Or we have a household crisis. Or something could happen with one or another of the boy's schooling. Or something else. Or anything, everything else.

I feel I need to do this now. I'm ready. I ready to go into a classroom with a bunch of 18 year olds and study remedial math courses. I'm ready to work hard and be challenged and ask for help when I need it. I'm ready to teach my poor overworked/underused chihuahuabrain new tricks--and give it lots more to yap about.

I'm not one to wait patiently once I've made up my mind about something. I feel this is right. I feel CONVINCED that this is right. And, of course, if it's right now, it will still be right in a year. But in a year, it will be a year later and I'll still be in exactly the same place I am right now--no closer to meeting this goal.

I'd be either taking out student loans or we'd borrow against Hammy's 401k. Either way, we'll be going deeply further into debt, which freaks Hammy out. He's having difficulty seeing this as an investment. I think he's afraid this is a whim, although he's been too polite to actually say that. I think he's afraid I'll incur huge debt and won't follow through. I don't know how to get him to understand that I've never been willing to commit to college before because I wasn't ready but NOW I AM. He's afraid. I'm afraid. We're just reacting to what we know.

So, I'm holding this in the Light and believing that God will lead me where I'm supposed to go. It's hard, though, to get my ego out of the way, my desires and hopes and very strong will. It's hard, too, to balance what may be a leading with Hammy's needs. I respect him and don't want to bulldoze (as has so often been the case in so many instances in our marriage). I want to know that what I'm doing, either enrolling or not, is what I'm supposed to be doing; what's best or right.

I'm going to try to slow down while still taking steps toward enrolling. In rereading what I've just written, I see that I need to talk/think/plan less and listen more.

I welcome your insight.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hundertwasser-oh my goodness!!!

Hammy brought me home a book from one of his pubs, Prestel, called, "Harvesting Dreams: Hundertwasser for Kids" by Barbara Stieff. I'd never heard of Friedensreich Hundertwasser (which means "Peace-land Hundred-water) before yesterday but I am in awe of and in love with his work today. I have never before seen such beautiful, crazy, organic, life-affirming architecture! His buildings are a crazy-quilt of energy and enthusiasm and JOY! He loved people and nature and believed they could live harmoniously together and designed amazing places to live that honored people in nature. Here's a wonderful quote by him: "If man walks in nature's midst, then he is nature's guest and must learn to behave as a well-brought-up guest." and so he would design apartments which would have trees growing in them and verandas with grass and other plants. And he loved color and abhorred straight lines. He designed for me!

Look at this! It's so beautiful! It's alive, living, breathing! It looks about as close to heaven as I could ever imagine or want; forget streets paved with gold, I'll take roofs paved with grass!

"Priceless" Scooter

Hammy, Declan and I went to see Audrey Tautou in "Hors de Prix" ("Priceless"), a French farce in which a scooter plays a major role. I have not been able to find any photos of the scooter nor ascertain what kind it is. Audrey Tautou is still adorable, although quite the opposite character from "Amalie", and waaaay too skinny.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Odor du jour

More smells:

a bakery (yuuum)

a laundromat (get downy with it)

freshly mown grass
swamp grass
onion grass

Oh yeah...the smell of a marsh or swamp (I'm sure there's a difference in smells between them but I don't know them well enough to know).

Today, I had the disconcerting experience of seeing a mimosa tree, taking a big whiff as I drove past it and inhaling a nosefull of the stench of a rotting corpse (hopefully just roadkill. I didn't see what it was).

Each fast food restaurant has it's own, greasy, smell. Today, I particularly noticed a Long John Silvers and a KFC (which I could smell from a block away, although I may be more sensitized to that one because my first job was at a KFC and I don't think I'll ever be over it).

When I was a young teen, I used to love to walk around my neighborhood on summer evenings smelling the different smells from each house: Something cooking at one, laundry in a dryer at another, the smell of toothpaste at the house with 4 young children...