Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Do you remember that one specific time when someone said something that made life much more complicated? In my youth, I had always heard that homeless people were lazy, because in America, we have lots of choices that we can make in order for us to buy homes, have traditional families, always have a job ... the big bootstrap was wrapped tightly around my brain. College history taught this to me as well. How many times did I hear about the achievers like Ben Franklin, Wilma Rudolph, Lewis & Clark, the Rockefellers, the Presidents, the Inventors, the Poets, the Astronauts? If these people made a mark then so can'st you, was preached cheerfully to me. As an idealist by nature, I loved it. And, for the most part, it's a good, inspirational message to the youth. However, now I realize that it promotes a certain disdain for those on the underbelly of society who have not risen, but sunk. (Btw, there's a book by Theodore Dalrymple which I want to read on this topic called "Life At the Bottom." Anyone recommend it?) So, my moment of complexity arrived when a college friend and I saw a begging man. It was a first for me, and I automatically muttered something about him needing to just get a job. The typical non-compassionate response. My wealthy 71 year old uncle still retorts with this. Fortunately, my friend couldn't let that pass and gave me a compassionate perspective; he listed all of the possibilities that might be preventing this man from being like me or other successful others; he listed all the reasons why Christ would not reject him for being on the bottom of the social rung. Basically, I was stopped and stunned by my ignorance on the matter. In the same way, I am reading mind-opening material in Jim Wallis' book in which he espouses a political stance which incorporates an "integral link between personal ethics and social justice." This means to me that a person should be able to be conservative on issues like marriage, child rearing, entertainment values, pro-life, etc, but still have a viable political option which takes care of the other things that we're given stewardship for as Christians: poverty issues, environmental, peacemaking, race equality, a non-special interest group (or corporate) agenda, fair and quality education. The latter issues in particular are why I couldn't vote for Bush. He didn't convince me that he would take care of these, and with tax cuts for the wealthy, and with war without UN approval, and the disapproval of multiple national church leaders .... Yet, the Democrates "had nothing to offer the American people as an alternative..." says Wallis. This is why I couldn't vote for Kerry. Wallis talks about an option which allows the full Christian agenda to be addressed, not just particle pieces. It's a blended agenda which comes from people with "strong moral conviction and [longings] for a political commitment that reflects them." Well, well, I agree, but the road is still muddy right now. Life becomes more complex, and, daresay, more full of compassionate implications and responsibilities. Hmmmm... I'm reading on with open, yet critical mind...... We'll see.
A friend of mine has recently heard the word "autistic" applied to her three year old son. We met for coffee this morning, and her life, jampacked with molecular microbiology study, needs no other pressures. I felt heavy for her, like the last thing that she would want in life is to have a child who struggles so. We discussed this sadly, with her eyes brimming.

However, a couple of hours later, Cody and I were on the city trail. I ran, and he biked. He'd pedal furiously ahead and then turn around, and yell, "C'mon, Mom!" A lone woman walker looked back at me, smiling, and said, "What is he, your personal trainer?!" I'd pick up my pace and when I passed him, I'd raise my hands, swinging them up in victory like an Armstrong. That just made him "embarrassed" but determined and he'd pedal furiously on. It was great fun; we were laughing a lot. When we got to the lake, we sat at a bench and stared up at the clouds, smiling big, when Cody perceived, "A chicken showing off its butt!"

We laughed quite a lot in the heat-busting cool that's swept graciously into our area.

Later, I thought, even with "diagnosis", even with not being able to fit into square schooling pegs, even with somewhat aggressive behavior, Cody is still a fun, wonderful kid. I just need to make sure that my friend knows that regardless of what the professionals say; we're still gifted. Our kids are still gifted. The clouds formulate our hope, as we, different or alike, gaze up at them and understand their language.

Thank you, God, for clouds and gifts.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

My husband said that I looked cute in my torquoise shirt and shoes and matching earrings and shortish jean shorts. He reached over and kissed me a lot today. In the marital day-to-day, I've noticed an alternating flow of tension (over housework), relaxation (with reading material, or television, or movies), tension (over children), and relaxation again (now, while he is watching a movie, working on files for tomorrow, and I am writing, reading, waiting on the teenager).

The times of tension kill me. I'm not good at being accepting of his stress. Don't I know by now that he needs to have it, needs to let it burn and sputter out, that he has a right to it? Often, I want to interfere as the peacemaker -- as the peacemaker to my own sense of quiet comfort.

Earlier today, I took my long bike ride and stopped and sat by a lake. There I prayed specifically about my wifehood because at times it seems a bit fuzzy and full of gazes elsewhere. I have a husband who still grabs me and thinks of me as beautiful; no one is better for me than him. So, again, I send this relationship upwards so that it can float down recognized for the beautiful dream it is. Please make it yours, Father.

Here's an interesting quote about it too ...........>

"Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes, in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to." J.R.R. Tolkien.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Conventional wisdom suggests that the antidote to religious fundamentalism is more secularism. But that is a very big mistake. The best response to bad religion is better religion, not secularism. ...
Southern slave masters gave their captives the Bilbe to keep their eyes trained on heaven, instead of their plight on earth. But in the Bible those same slaves found Moses and Jesus, who became the foundations for their liberation struggle. We must always acknowledge that our religious traditions can be both a cause for oppression and an inspiration for liberation. Religious arguments have fostered terrible sectarian division, hatred, and violence, but faith has also helped to set people free. We must be honest about both. In the very same traditions that have been used to sanction injustice are found the seeds of justice, peace, and freedom. Those of us from religious communities must be the first to be critical ofour own traditions when they are used to foster more conflict and violence while, at the same time, holding out the prophetic possibilities in every one of our religious faiths....
Faith often leads us to assert the vital religious commitments that fundamentalists often leave out, namely compassion, social justice, peacemaking, humility, tolerance, and even democracy as a religious commitment. Jim Wallis, God's Politics, pg 67.
Another quote for the day about teenagers ...

"Our culture's reduction of adolescence to issues surrounding sexual maturation and social life has done a terrible disservice to our young peole. And insofar as young people, their parents, educators, and churches have brought into this reduced definition, we have made the task of growing into maturity much more difficult than it needs to be. A friend of ours (a recent college graduate) taught a class in 'teen issues' at a summer camp for affluent high school students last summer. At the end of the class, she asked for their evaluation. One courageous boy complained: 'This was meant to be a class in 'teen issues,' but all we talked about was sex! I am struggling with a lot of other issues -- intellectual, political, economic, religious, vocational -- that I'm going to have to make decisions about in the next few years. Aren't they teen issues? I was hoping to get some help with those!'"

From Critique, a Publication of Ransom Fellowship: Who Invented Adolescence? by Mardi Keyes

Reminds me (and I've been thinking about this all morning) of some of what Wallis says about moving faith from that which is privatize (at times focusing on the area of sexual purity) to public (that which lights into other areas besides just our own self-occupation). Private faith is good, yet it's not all there is to faith; it should naturally move outward into other concerns of life. Still pondering on this idea and application.....

Anyway, I love the above quote. My daughter hates our church's youth group because it seems like all they talk about is purity issues. I remember my brain too, when young, not finding much stimulus, or encouragement, in church. Then, I went off to college where I was a bit unprepared, naive, weak to the challenge. Everything, both secular and religious, seemed to be mostly concerned with what I did with my body (or what others did to it). The secular sexualization became mirrored in religious admonishment. I remember feeling lots of shame about something that was good, in due time, something that I hadn't even experienced yet. And, when I did, I was almost suicidal with guilt. Admonishment, correction, guidance is important in these ares, yes, but faith shouldn't be reduced to simply how-to avoid sexual shame. One focuses, then, on the sin. And, as Paul says, then we do it.

Well, just thinking this morning about some of these things.
Have a super day!

Friday, July 22, 2005

I love the late nights, all alone, a quiet humming in the house, my books everywhere, the t.v. turned off. Soon, however, I'll need to get some sleep before parental duties begin tomorrow.

I was up early, going to coffee with a friend who completely forgot about our appointment. I sat uncomfortably at the restaurant waiting for her, staring at my black liquid, overhearing snippets of conversation, clicks on computer keys, rips from the bean grinder. I pulled out the book that I had brought to show her, and, one hour later, I finished it, with thoughts of happiness for my own private date. I began to think about scheduling this type of thing on a regular basis. Being alone takes getting used to, however, I feel the need to practice it more. Often lately, I've reached out for others, needing response, needing affirmation, needing, needing. And, God ... He hasn't been as important if I honestly take a look at relational time focus.

My forced reading of the morning talked about longings and how they pull constantly. The author talked about the role of Jesus, and how He wants to rescue us from our unhealthy patterns of desire, which lead to disappointment, a feeling of being empty, a reliance on others to take care of us. I can be susceptible to these patterns for sure.

Just recently, in fact, I asked a new friend for some distance. After becoming quickly acquainted on the Europe trip, sharing many levels of wonderful conversation, we tried to transplant it here. However, I felt uncomfortable for many valid reasons, namely conscience and obligation, and told him that we needed to go about our own lives more: he with his girlfriend and me with my husband, allowing them to be our rightful and primary listeners. (My husband knows about all of this.)

It was hard, though. No one knows more than Jesus himself how much I enjoy good conversation with smart, decent people. However, the need mixed with longing made me wary and ready for adjustment.

My (Jewish) friend was only a block away at another coffeehouse by himself this morning. Yet, I stayed and read about what Jesus thought was best for me. I enjoyed my time, my date, the warmth I felt inside of secret knowledge, admitted by appropriate and intimate means, by grace.

Sure, I still wonder at times, "What's the big deal about faith?" Others seem to be okay without it. Yet, I know inside that I've been touched and inflamed by the intangible Tangible. It'd be hard to forget about, tough to eradicate -- He's strong-willed, you know, a creator of what drifts toward himself.

Well, I'm quite tired now, ready for sleep. It has been a good week.

Good night.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

This appears to be a quote month. All else inside of me is being expressed in other ways than here for now; I'm so glad people have written to give voice to what is delightful in their expression. I just sort-of semi started (w/o clear intention on finishing) Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms.

I love how he talks about the poetic Parallelism in this book, and how he says:

"It is (according to one's point of view) either a wonderful piece of luck or a wise provision of God's that poetry which was to be turned into all languages should have as its chief formal characteristic one that does not disappear (as metre does) in translation."

And then, best of all, a few lines down, he says ....

"We may, if we like, see in this an exclusively practical and didatic purpose; by giving to truths which are infinitely worth remembering this rhythmic and incantatory expression, He made them almost impossible to forget. I like to suspect more. It seems to me appropriate, almost inevitable, that when that great Imagination which in the beginning, for Its own delight and for the delight of men and angels and (in their proper mode) of beasts, had invented and formed the whole world of Nature, submitted to express Itself in human speech, that speech should sometimes be poetry. For poetry too is a little incarnation, giving body to what had been before invisible and inaudible."


May these poetic words of soothing bring peace to our world, despite the bombs, despite the wounds.

Thank you, Great Express-er.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"How do we live a faith whose social manifestation is compassion and whose public expression is justice?"

God is Personal, but never private. And the Bible reveals a very public God. But in an age of private spiritualities, the voice of a public God can scarcely be heard. Private religion avoids the public consequences of faith. In particular, affluent countries and churches breed private disciples, perhaps because the applications of faith to public life could become quickly challenging and troubling.

....Dare we search for the politics of God? It's much easier to just use God to justify our politics.

....What were their [prophets, Jesus] subjects [of politics]? Quite secular topics really -- land, labor, capital, wages, debt, taxes, equity, fairness, courts, prisons, immigrants, other races and peoples, economic divisions, social justice, war and peace -- the stuff of politics.

....And whom were the prophets often speaking for? Most often, the dispossessed, widows and orphans (poor single moms), the hungry, the homeless, the helpless, the least, last, and lost.

An incident in my church left an indelible impression about the private versus public meaning of faith and permanently altered my own life's direction....One day in my home church, I was arguing withone of the leaders about racism and the things I was learning in inner-city Detroit. I will never forget what he said to me, "Christianity has nothing to do with racism; that is a political issue, and our faith is pesonal."

I came to the heartfelt conclusion that : God is personal, but never private. .... Denying the public God is a denial of bibilical faith itself, a rejection of the prohphets, the apostles, and Jesus himself. Exclusively private faith degenerates into a narrow religion, excessively preoccupied with individual and sexual morality while almost oblivious to the bibilical demands for public justice. In the end, private faith becomes a merely cultural religion providing the assurance of righteousness for people just like us.

Whether conservative or liberal Christians, or members of ofther faith groups, or just spiritual seekers, we are all guilty of succumbing to a diminished religiosity that is characterized by privatized belief systems, devoid of the prophetic and social witness of Jesus and the prophets -- ultimately, nothing more than 'small-s' spirituality that is really only ad hoc wish fulfillment or a collection of little self-help techniques we use to take the edge off our materialistic rat-race lives.

What is needed is nothig less than a renovation of our souls and the soul of our politics.

When religion is relegated merely to the private sphere, it becomes vulnerable to the charge of being 'soft' and therefore irrelevant to public life.

Bringing the personal God into the public arena is at the heart of the prophet's message and will transform both our religion and our politics.

I stand convicted, guilty of abdicating responsibility in the political life due to resignation and focus on my own comfort. I've had the inner desires to make a difference; this has beat strongly inside me at times. I've always known the throb of mercy and compassion, yet I've constantly been frustrated within the strident political voices which seem more to be about power and greed than true social or Christian concern for others. I admit I've used these voices as an excuse, a barrier to doing much of anything for those who always appear in my mind needing help, grace, a light from Christ. And, so a book was given to me which helps my feelings of being torn about my responsibilities and what one can do in the prevailing societal climate. It's called "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It" by Jim Wallis. Wow, quite amazing so far. Perhaps I will get out of the privatized version of faith that makes it all about me (or those in my comfortable faith and social life).

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The teacher waved me down as I pulled away from the two week summer enrichment program at a nearby private school.
"How can I help him best?" she asked immediately. "Yesterday, he didn't listen, bounced off the walls, and then I figured out from your note on the medical form that he has Asperger's."
I disclosed anxiously, furtively, and last minute yesterday prior to dropping him off. I saw the paragraph which stated that unruly kids would be sent home and money would be forfeited, so I scrawled a few words about "autism spectrum disorder" and left him behind. It wasn't to pull the hood over anyone's eyes.
Often, I just want to see if he will pass through undetected, like Asperger's is a mislabel, like Cody is growing out of it. Like we can all breathe easier that life will be less challenging.
She named it, though, and had 'another Asperger's before' in prior teaching.
Again, I'll be reaching soon for the books that help me understand my own reactions and disappointments, his own frustrations and thwarted desires, the strain in our marriage due to working through these issues (another strain would be revealed w/o this, though).
I want to strain these "problems" and perceive their elemental blessings. I hear the cliche that everyone states: "It's all how you look at things that determine whether they're curses or blessings." It's hard to believe that they have real, pressing 24 hour issues on their plates. Yet, I know there's good to be found, we do find it occassionally, I don't want it to pass by unharvested. He's an awesome kid who just happens to have this sickness.
God be with us and others who fight in the fog. The search continues for clarity.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Hooray for the red, white, blue. It's the fourth of July, and I'm grateful to be home safely in America. We returned earlier from the mother-in-law's farm where she jumped up to heat up food, pour me water, retrieve a cucumber, throw a book about vinegar remedies under my nose, find matches for our family firework's display. She runs me ragged, makes me feel old; however, it was exceedingly nice to be taken care of by a mother. I am blessed.

So, home. I'm finally making rightful adjustments from the Europe trip. However it took the following to emotionally set me right again:

1) sleep
2) intense prayerful journaling
3) unload of unhappiness on a couple of friends
4) resolution of hope with a couple of friends
5) reparation talks with my husband
6) blueberry pie baking
7) church friend hugging and hand squeezing
8) an outstanding sermon
9) an intent of personal and marital counseling

It's just that the Europe trip set off something larger inside of me that left me unsettled in intense longing for more adventure, less responsibility, more variety, less of the same. I'm ashamed to admit this because I work very hard at focusing on my good, my space. Yet some things trip me hard, and I lament where I am and who I've become. I become wrapped in longing and restlessness once more.

However, the trip in itself was wonderful and dreamy. I have wanted to go to Europe for over 20 years (French minor, English major, come on now) and because of circumstances, put the desire on a shelf, minimizing it. I wondered how finally I would find Europe, given maturity, distance, realism. Well, I found it to be amazing and wonderful, a sensory bonanza. From boating down the Seine and seeing the sunset over Notre Dame to floating down the Rhine through the wine valley, our group ooohed and ahhh-ed during perfect lovely excursions like these through our two week journey.

For example, Lake Lucerne in Switzerland was incredible, beyond description. I walked by the lake, finding some rare alone time, and just soaked in the beauty of the water, mountains, flowers, clear air. When I sat on a bench to think, a hatted old German/Swiss man toddled up to sit by me; we tried to speak but couldn't, so we sat there together, amazed, full, having travelled. Momentary life companions.

Paris: bakeries, baguettes, les chiens. The Eiffel Tower sparkles initially at sunset to the cheer of the people who worship it. I worshipped it for a while, amazed at how it punctures space, stands tall, proud, beautiful, welcoming to the climber, the lover. The Arc de Triumphe at night, wow. Looking below at the Champs Elysees's lights, I wanted a proposal to be whispered in my ear. It was all exceeding romantic and lovely and breathtaking, even though a monument to war. When we walked through the cobbled courtyard at Versailles, I marvelled at how I walked in the steps of those vain ambitious courtiers whose grumblings forecasted the later events at the Bastille (which we walked below on another jaunt). It amazed me to see buildings still standing from long ago centuries. It struck me how modern my own world is. I felt like life would continue still, despite terrorism threats, despite rumors of the second coming. I guess I felt a surge of humanistic pride of certainty in our life forms. A bit illusionary, I know. Yet Europeans probably live more fully with this than we do. Helps to explain a difference in worldview.

Amsterdam with its bikes and canals surprised me. We stayed in Harlem, and one morning, another woman and I walked 10 minutes (pass sex and cannabis shops) to stare up at Corrie ten Boom's home. I was filled with awe and imagined Corrie organizing girl groups in that same neighborhood or being captured by the German soldiers who finally crashed in to destroy her family. I was there, a part of it, walking on the same bricks. I touched as much as I could for transference. Amazing.

Those were some of the 'place' highlights of the trip; I mention nothing now of the relational highlights made on the trip which were also jewels, yet filled my restless nature with longing afterwards. I had to journal lots (and still must) to know what constitutes my center, my core. These journals helped me cry out and be found once more and comforted. How could I ever stray from his blessedness? I would tear myself up to find him again if I ever dared to forfeit Christ as my stay. I'm too unreliable for anything more, I know this more now. To the breast I go, repining restlessness. I can only be rooted in the identity of his divinity.

So, Europe was both amazing and troubling. My perspective has changed. Life has become both pluripotent and static. I'm still needing more clarification to not be vague. I'm limbo-living a bit at the moment.

But, it's good to be back and to be alive. I'm grateful for all of it.

Take care,