Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Leaping into the new

Did you know we are having a “leap second” on New Year’s Eve 2008?

I’m not sure it’s going to make the last few hours of the year and all its deadlines any easier, but I vote we jump on the anomaly and take sort of a Sadie Hawkin’s approach to New Year’s Resolutions. You know, turn everything upside down and inside out, like having the girls invite the boys to the dance.

I’ll offer my own not-your-mother’s list of resolutions:

1) I will not promise to meet every deadline someone waves in my face like a red cape in front of a bull.
2) At the end of every day I will try to remember to think about at least one thing I did right instead of all the things I could have done better.
3) I will try to make enough space in my life to let friends, and maybe even strangers, help me from time to time.
4) I’ll stop worrying that the housekeeping police are going to discover what God already knows – that I am not a neat and tidy person.

But the biggest trick of all will be remembering on bad days and good that I am In and beloved by God, list or no list.

That Christmas Star still shines. Maybe this is the year we will let it light our path all year to getting out of our own way and being more than we ever thought we could be.

Blessings to all of you and yours for a wonderful and unexpected 2009 . . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Starlight in a midwinter sky

Latitude: 31° 42', North. Longitude: 35° 12', East ... Bethlehem

Latitude: 34°North, Longitude: 118° West . . . . Los Angeles

Imagine this: Long nights where life is sunshine oriented; sudden cold in a desert that doesn’t usually get cold; way too much to do to get ready for a season of travel; and not enough money to make any of it any easier.

Kind of depressing, isn't it? Sounds a little like the weeks a lot of us are living through right now.

But imagine the whole thing with no electricity – no city lights, no holiday trees or decorations, no cause for cheer. Just the deep, dark bleak midwinter.

And suddenly, for no apparent reason, a huge bright light in the nighttime sky. What, oh what, could this mean? An omen for yet another disaster? More dead? More unemployed? Imagine the sheer terror of this pervasive uncontrollable thing that no one could really understand. . . .

A brave few believed the angels they thought they heard, telling them the light was a star of hope. And they ventured on their way to find a baby boy – nothing but a little baby. No proof this child could or would do a thing for them . . . . just faith in the voices they thought they heard and the sights they thought they saw.

And these faithful brought gifts – their music, bits of their spices, their love. And look at how well things turned out, for them and for us.

As we share our music, our spices, and our love in these short, dark, and dreary days, let’s relish every minute of the party we are invited to share now and throughout the year to come. No cold, no rain can dampen the joy of the gift we are all given with the birth of this Baby Boy.

Party hardy and wonder at the abiding warmth!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thanks, Penelope

For putting this up for all to enjoy. And I whole-heartedly back your good wishes for everyone this holiday season. We throw around a phrase - "Happy Holidays". Here's a little thought; What could you do for yourself that would make today a Happy Holiday? I just added whipped cream to my Peppermint Mocha Twist! I am feeling the cheer NOW, I tell ya! Hope you can do the same.

See you Sunday.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The holy wholly holey mess of humanity

One of my favorite movies is The Philadelphia Story and my favorite line in it is Katherine Hepburn’s: “I am such an unholy mess of a girl.” It’s a breakthrough moment for a woman who has spent all of her life aspiring to perfection only to fail at being a human being.

I think of that moment so often during our Sundays together. Jimmy and Quinton remind us over and over again, in one way or another, that we have to accept – maybe even luxuriate in – our imperfection and incompleteness. It is what makes us human, what bring us together. Some argue it is the source of the greatest of human achievements.

But right now, in this season of so much stress for the world, and so much desire to make things the best they can possibly be for our family and friends, it’s all too easy to be exhausted by all that is less than perfect.

I plead guilty as charged: at this season I feel like a hamster on the proverbial wheel, covered as it may be by garland and tinsel. Every meeting has too many words; every task takes too long; every list seems to have a new item every time I look at the paper it’s written on. I am such an unholy mess of a girl – but I’ll bet I look and sound a lot more like the Mad Hatter than I do like Katherine Hepburn!

So I think maybe now is a good time to make some Old Year’s Resolutions. For example, maybe it would be good to try to do simple things like taking time actually to taste one of the holiday treats everyone has put out to share with friends and neighbors, or stopping to listen to one really good song of the season. Whatever it takes to remember the best of the season and not be overwhelmed by the worst.

And to remember as well how blessed we all are to have found ourselves in a community where we understand it is our imperfection that make us human and interesting and fun. Where, as someone said at the wonderful Thunderado party Sunday night at Ford’s Filling Station, “Sassy is a very good thing.”

Whatever your schedule brings for the rest of the year, here’s wishing you a very excellent Christmas and a very sassy New Year.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The joy of noise

TE4-6274: my first phone. Well, my parents’ phone when I first remember having a phone – and I am told that I made it mine pretty much all afternoon, every afternoon. I would sit in the high-back chair in the living room corner with my little feet turned up at the edge of the seat, with the clunky black rotary phone on my lap. Talking to Mrs. McGuillacutty, my very best (imaginary) friend.

I grew up in a household of talkers. So much so that the nurse at the school where I went to junior high once sent my mother into gales of mirth by saying to her that “Mr. Roeder must be very quiet,” thinking that there must not be much room for him to be heard among the Roeders she knew. Mr. Roeder wasn’t at all quiet: he was a Federal Prosecutor with a courtroom-loud voice and a lot of opinions.

As you might guess, I made Mrs. McGuillacutty’s acquaintance because I did NOT live in a household of listeners. . . . . and, like most of us, I really needed to be heard.

Mrs. McGuillacutty did her job well, and I learned to frame and communicate my very best 4-year-old ideas, and not to be afraid to speak them. But she didn’t provide me much perspective: She didn’t offer me her own ideas or ask me tough questions. Living amongst talkers, I did figure out that those other ideas existed; but I didn’t know how to fit them together with mine.

And this is why I so cherish being a part of a community of talkers: nothing forces me to pick up an idea and turn it over, to examine it from another perspective, in quite the way running headlong into somebody else’s idea about the same thing or a related thing does.

I love listening to y’all; as Jimmy said Sunday, whether I agree with you or not. I try to listen to God, too. But the older I get the more profoundly I suspect it’s often God speaking through y’all, and the best worship I can do is to listen seriously and deeply. Even when I don’t agree.

Maybe mostly when I don’t agree.

Speak up. Speak out. Your voices are the moisture and warmth I need to make my bread rise . . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One foot in front of the other

Perhaps some of you have noticed: I'm a bit of an action junkie. Not a high-speed adrenaline type action junkie, but a when-the-going-gets-tough-find-something-to-do type junkie. What’s this about? I’m not sure I’ll ever ferret out the existential “why,” but I thought I'd share some of what I have figured out:

1) Making little goals that I can accomplish feels much better than wallowing in my inability to accomplish something else.

2) Focusing my energy on something I can do keeps me from fussing about what I can’t.

3) Not spending energy on fussing leaves me open to recognize when a better response to the original thing comes along . . . .

I sometimes think we don’t walk enough. Not because of the health benefits, though they are surely valuable, but because it’s the best way I know to remember that most things progress one step at a time.

When we are doing things that don’t have such clearly delineated “steps,” I think we forget and think that the problem lies in the giant leap we are failing to make.

Such leaps happen, but not very often – and even then, understanding what they mean and what to do with, or about, them may take centuries: Newton had his apple but it took the Wright Brothers to learn to fly!

Walking the Labyrinth is a wonderful exercise . . . . It’s the longest possible path from point A to point B, and when you can slow yourself down to do it really one step at a time, it is also wonderfully meditative.

A lot, I think, like life – and probably even faith.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Our ever-present visitor

When I was in college, I lived across the country from my parents. We weren’t quite so casual about air travel then as now, so I had a bunch of long-time family friends I had adopted as “surrogate families” whom I could visit – for laundry, for holidays, or just to stay in touch with something familiar.

One of those families was Jewish and observed many of the Orthodox traditions. I learned a lot from them, and the wonderful quiet of weekend Sabbaths I spent with them. I also spent a lot of time there that wasn’t Sabbath time – and since their holidays and festivals were often not on my calendar, I never really knew when I would arrive in time for one.

I loved the way they welcomed me, no matter how bad my timing. And I especially loved a tradition I learned one time when I arrived early enough to help Claire prepare. She asked me to set the table, and no matter how I counted her guest list, it was one short of the number of table settings she had given me. I thought it was lovely that they prepared for an extra guest so none of us would ever feel intrusive.

I was not entirely correct in my understanding of the gesture, she told me. The table setting was not for the uninvited guest who might appear at the door – though he or she would also be welcomed. The extra place was set in hope that Elijah would appear for the celebration.

I don’t remember what feast it was, but I do remember the tradition. And I think it’s a tradition we can adapt, even if we don’t actually put out an extra set of silverware and wine glasses.

In the midst of all the mixed joy and turmoil this holiday brings, I think I will try to remember – and to celebrate – that we do have an unseen guest at the table: No matter how fun or how difficult each of us may find the party, God wouldn’t miss it and is right there with us, sharing every moment.

I think that’s worth a toast, don’t you?

And my thanks to all of you for reminding me . . . .

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense

For as long as I can remember, the hardest question for me has always been “How could God let this happen?” The question has been hurled at me in accusing tones by people who really mean ‘if this god you believe in really existed, this wouldn’t happen.’ But it is also a question I find it hard not to ask myself when I hear about great evils or great disasters. After all, I don’t really think that God meant for 600 people to lose their homes and everything they own this past weekend, any more than I think God meant for the residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward to be further impoverished and displaced by Katrina.

As much as I am reminded of the fire’s devastation by the smell of smoke in my living room and the taste of ash in my mouth, I am startled into an awareness of other aspects of God’s presence when I watch the grandeur of the sun setting over the ocean, through the ashen sky. One of the great ironies of Creation is that there is no more magnificent sunset than when the air surrounding it is filthy.

What does this tell me about God and God’s presence in the world? I can only guess – and my guesses are no better than yours – but I think the contradictions are meant to be stunning. To stun us into alertness. Perhaps to remember that there but for the grace of God go I, this time. But perhaps even more importantly, to ask what we are called to do to bring a moment of beauty into a messy and ambiguous Creation. What can we do to help those displaced by the disaster? What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen this way again? What can we do for the friend or colleague who finds in every less-than-perfect moment a reason not to believe in hope or joy or possibility?

Some days I think I just have to forego the satisfying articulate explanation and try to do what little I can to make some tiny corner of the world a little better for someone who may have every reason to rail against God. It may not be entirely comfortable for either one of us, but maybe it can move both of us a step away from despair.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Keys, clues, and seeing the invisible

Jimmy talking about “breakfast for dinner” got me thinking about Green Eggs and Ham. Why that so stuck in my mind sitting at the Jazz Bakery wasn’t quite so clear to me . . . .

Last week I had been thinking about that trompe l'oeil picture that looks like white space with black borders to some, a fancy champagne goblet to others, and two human profiles to yet others. Most people who look at the picture and see only an abstraction can see either of the patterns quickly if it is pointed out to them. On the other hand, for most people who see either the goblet or the profiles, it takes real concentration to see it the other way. That’s especially true if they keep staring at it. It seems to be much easier to make the change if you close the book or otherwise walk away from the picture and come back to it later.

Somehow all of this felt related to me as I drove home Sunday afternoon, but I did have to ask myself: What could trompe l’oile possibly have to do with Green Eggs and Ham?

Step back, look away, and presto change-o Aha! Boxes. The connection is the ways we put things in Boxes. And it’s so often the Boxes that tell us what to see and what to think about it. What we like, what we long for, what we fear. We can be such creatures of habit that we see only what we expect to see, whether it’s there or not.

And for some of us – or maybe for all of us, some of the time – what we expect seems to be what we fear. Like our avatar in Green Eggs and Ham, we avoid and postpone for fear of what we don’t know. . . . With thanks to Dr. Seuss:

You do not like them. So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may. Try them and you may, I say.

If you let me be, I will try them.
You will see.

I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!

* * *

I do so like Green eggs and ham!
Thank you! Thank you!

The miracle comes in driving over the mountain and seeing the sun sparkling on the ocean when we procrastinated because we thought we might see clouds.

I don’t know about you, but so much of what's on my mind is always left over from yesterday or due tomorrow that I think I actually forget a basic fact of life: Today is its own new day. That it is attached to yesterday or tomorrow is a burden I have learned to put on it. And to weight it down with all that baggage is to miss all of the new things it brings, all of its possibilities . . . .

When will I learn always to remember to wonder if the monkey on my back actually may be the angel on my shoulder? Or perhaps even more importantly (at least for me): When will I learn to act as if the monkey on my back may actually be the angel on my shoulder?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Just Do It!!!

After hearing Jimmy's sermon and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, I was racking my brain trying to figure out when I could get to the beach. The beach is where I feel the happiest and most at peace, not to mention closest to God. I plotted and planned and tried to squeeze it into my week.

When Monday came, anything that could go wrong did, and then some. I was late, trying to get out the door to work, when my nanny called in sick. My whole day was thrown off and I was thinking of how to entertain a two year old.

Suddenly I thought of Jimmy. Shane had invited him to go surfing, on a perfect day, but he was too busy "fussing". He decided to go anyway. In my fussy state I made the best decision in the world. I put my son in the car and headed to Malibu.

The whole way there I wondered if I was making the wrong decision. Was it going to be overcast and cold? Would my son be bored and want to go home? Was the drive too long?

When I got off at the Las Virgenes exit on the 101, the weather was gorgeous. Then I saw it. As I drove over the canyon I saw view of the ocean with the sun reflecting a clear blue sky. My heart was so happy. My mood completely changed, there would be no fussing today. Just the ocean, me and my son.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Next Little Thing

So here we are, challenged this week to spend time in our very own personal field of wildflowers, to reach out and let God embrace us. In the words of my long-time favorite book, “I think I can; I think I can: I think I can. . . . .”

But I have to admit it: this is no easy day to be open to a soothing or strengthening embrace. Everybody out there is working hard to remind us that each of us can make a difference. I remind myself, of course, that the difference I can help make is in the World and not the Kingdom.

But maybe not . . . . Maybe the real difference we can each make is not in our vote, but in our voting – in our willingness to do our very best to care enough to bring our Eyes for the Kingdom to living in the World, one little action at a time.

It’s so easy to think about – to long to achieve – the grand gesture, the Next Big Thing that captures broad attention. But most of us don’t live there. We live here, where our lives touch a relative handful of other lives. But each of those lives matter, and each time we touch them it counts.

Maybe today, instead of failing at the challenge to get away, I should just let myself succeed at doing my best to reach out and touch with the best of me – to be a tiny little Kingdom light in that long line of things to do that comes with living in the World.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Botox for the Soul

Maybe your mother did this too: every time I wrinkled my forehead in worry, or frowned in irritation, she’d say to me “You better be careful or your face is going to get stuck like that.” Of course I told her she was being ridiculous.

But I’ve noticed recently that she wasn’t being ridiculous at all – only it’s my soul that gets stuck there, not my face.

A couple of weeks ago, during the discussion period, Jimmy re-translated something Peterson had translated as “tunnel vision” to “squinty-eyed.” At the time, I wasn’t quite sure why he made that change, but I have begun to notice in the weeks since that the things that used to happen to my face when I was nine still happen, and I do occasionally feel myself get literally squinty-eyed.

Now, I have to tell you that I think this is not an entirely bad thing. I have also noticed when I get “wide-eyed” with wonder or amazement or amusement, my eyes do, literally, open wide. Although some probably dismiss that habit as a not-entirely-appropriate adult characteristic, it’s mostly fine by me.

But even better is how these two things can work together: When I can slow down enough to feel myself get squinty-eyed, I have noticed that I can also make my eyes open wide. And the change that happens to the rest of me is pretty miraculous:

Physically, worry slips toward wonder. . . .

Of course, it doesn’t happen if I don’t stop and pay attention.

So I’ve decided this a great time to listen, finally, to another of my mother’s annoying adages. “Stop; take ten deep breaths; and then decide.”

It’s probably too late to cure the crow’s feet on my face; but I bet it’ll do a lot to smooth and soothe my soul!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Eyes of Wonder - and Where are my Glasses?!

Sometime this afternoon, a client of mine began to rip through a pile of boxes he has not yet unpacked, urgently looking for a Mickey Mouse mouse pad. In a flash of insight having nothing to do with the project I was working on, I suddenly understood why Mickey Mouse rose to such fame during the depression.

I’m not much of a cartoon follower, but I find there is a lot of comfort in good books written for kids. I found my way to the early Harry Potters that way – though I find myself avoiding the infamously dark last installment at the moment. Instead, a boy I met on an airplane introduced me to a series about Percy Jackson and The Olympians (as in Greek gods, now lodged in the invisible 600th floor of the Empire State Building). Written for 9- to 12-year-olds, the books are a little Harry Potterish, but more action-oriented and a little shinier. Well plotted, well written, and solid on the Greek mythology; but mostly I just like spending time with Percy and his friends. Creative, determined, courageous – everything I like to be reminded is possible in the midst of turmoil.

Do you have a secret non-pharma anti-depressant? A movie you sneak off to watch yet again? A song you just have to sing in the car to get you ready for work? A never-miss hiking trail? A fragrance that transports you to a perfect moment?

What do you do to remind yourself to wonder instead of worry? I’m thinking this is a really good time to make a list and hang it someplace it will be visible every day . . . .

The Key to Today

Here's a piece of wisdom from another spiritual masterpiece: the Big Book.

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."

Thursday, October 9, 2008


This is a great resource! Can't wait to see what happens next!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Between times in tough times

It was not quite noon Monday when the sound of fear was so loud all around me that I realized I had to grasp consciously for that great Sunday Thad's feeling. By Wednesday, I knew exactly what a colleague meant when he said "my neck hurts from staying calm in the middle of all this craziness." Mine, too; and I'm so aware that it hurts much less because I have a few colleagues around with whom I can have that kind of conversation.

I realize not all of us do. No matter how we feel, we have to keep moving forward and help the people whom we love and who otherwise count on us. Maybe we are comfortable sharing our concerns and fears and pain with them; maybe not. Maybe we have created for ourselves places to go, or things to do that remind us that we are Loved, that we can be part of creating and building hope in the world; maybe not.

But no matter how we cope, we all have moments when we need each other. Our great "y'all."

There are lots of ways we can probably think of being with and for one another in this tough time. But we thought we would start by making a place we can come to on the web and find one another without a lot of the noise that is making its way onto the blogosphere in this season of such tension.

As is our habit, all are welcome. We will moderate comments only to make sure that ads and the truly inappropriate don't find their way in.

We're trying to create community here. Bring your needs or your hopes; your tears or your hugs. And let's see if we can help each other keep our Eyes on the Kingdom.