Thursday, September 29, 2011

Order, Chaos and Change

One of the questions this week in the parallel guide of our year 1 EfM text is to consider the relationship of order and chaos, whether their relationship is mutually exclusive or whether they are opposite parts of the same whole, what their benefits are and what deficits they produce. The context of the question is the creation story of the Priestly writer of Gen 1:1-2:4

Chaos is defined as a disordered mass, confusion or lack of regular arrangement. People often define their lives as pure chaos when things seem out of control, messy, unpredictable and disordered. it’s not a comfortable state for most people although the bedrooms of teenagers (and some adults) seem to at least partially contradict that generality. Chaos leads to misunderstanding, lack of boundaries, unpredictability and loss of control, both self-control and control of others as well as the world about them. The friction comes when every person decides what, for them, are the rules and give no thought or or care to rules and boundaries others might have. There is no interest in harmony or organized group living. Power is the only goal.

Order, on the other hand, is where everything has a place and everything is in that proper place. There is structure and neatness, and there are very few surprises. Order is what most people (anarchists excepted, perhaps) strive to maintain in their lives by control of themselves and their environments. They know what is expected of them, they know where the boundaries of proper behavior and thought are, and, for the most part, they obey the rules that keep the society moving smoothly.
In Taoism, balance is expressed by yin and yang, equal parts of black and white but each having a dot of one color laid on the other to show that neither one can be considered purely one color or the other. It is a combination of the two, equal in size and intensity but opposite in character and hue.

In the P creation story, the waters represented chaos. Large bodies of water such as the ancient peoples knew were unpredictable places. One minute they would be smooth as glass and reflecting the color of the bright blue sky while in the next minute they could be angry, gray, foaming with whitecaps and very, very dangerous to anyone caught out in a small boat or raft. God's separation of the waters with dry land represented bringing order out of chaos. The ground almost never moved (well, they did have the occasional earthquake which was unsettling and destructive) but the shakes only lasted a short while before they subsided and the ground became firm once again.

In the story of creation, every action has an opposite reaction. While the formless void was totally dark, God created "light" which balanced it. The waters below were separated from the waters above and so "waters" and "sky" came to be. Then God separated the waters by putting dry land between them and so there was "earth"  and "seas". Barren land became carpeted with grass and shaded with trees, decorated with flowers and fruitful with grains. The light and the dark found their opposites with the creation of the sun and the moon. Animals were made to wander the earth and to burrow beneath it, birds to fly above it, fish and great mammals to swim in the oceans and rivers. The final creation was of humanity -- male and female -- which, like all the rest of Gods' creation was balanced so that not one thing overwhelmed the rest.  God had created the world, and so, to balance the work, God rested for a day, contemplating what had been created and pronouncing it "good" and "very good."

One final balance was to be introduced later in Genesis, though, and that balance came through two trees which the man and woman were forbidden to touch. One tree was labeled "The Tree of Good and Evil," the fruit of which was alleged to contain the wisdom of God in knowing what was wise and right and what was foolish and wrong. To balance it, the tree had a companion in the garden, the "Tree of Life" which, by the rule of balance, had the unstated name of its opposite, death. To Adam and Eve,  had they not tasted the fruit of the first tree, they would never have known the true meaning of the second.

Without some chaotic moments, growth and change would not really ever need to take place. Everything would hum along, there would be no reason for conflict because everybody agreed with everybody else, and the earth would continue to turn on its axis. That isn't how life goes, though. Rules change when conflicts arise, discussion arises when questions come up, fights break out when perceptions differ, and even the earth stretches and contracts causing earthquakes and landslides. Chaos is painful but, without it, we would never be challenged in our life, our decisions, our learning or our faith.

And that's the way I think God planned it all along -- maybe as a contingency plan, but a plan nonetheless.

Of course, to quote MadPriest, "I could be wrong."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Irritating Saint

One of the commemorations today is that of Margery Kempe, an Englishwoman of the late 14th through perhaps the mid-15th centuries, the specific dates being unknown. Her life and spiritual journey is recorded in what is probably the first autobiography in English. She was, perhaps, herself an illiterate, but her faithful confessor exposed her to writings of saints and mystics and recorded her own words and journeys. She certainly lived a far-from-normal life as a woman of her time and place, beyond that of wife, homemaker and mother. She traveled widely through England and even as far as Jerusalem and Rome. Her book records almost everything in terms of her spiritual growth and experience, a true spiritual autobiography written by one privy to all her stories and confessions and, at whose hand, her story comes down to us as an example of a mystic who was also a very strange woman in a number of ways.

I read the Book of Margery Kempe sometime early in 2002 and, I must say, there were lots of times I was ready to throw the thing against the wall. Margery, for all her spiritual devotion, drove me crazy. Being raised Southern Baptist, the concept of such piety in relation to images and practices and their veneration was totally alien and, to some extent, a challenge to my thinking. What truly drove me bonkers was, frankly, how her piety was often expressed. Gentle tears I could go with, but wailing and wild sobbing and copious tears that often went on for some time and just as often disturbed others at mass or who wished a quiet time in a chapel or church grated on my nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. She cried at the sight or sound of just about anything that even remotely reminded her of something holy, especially the suffering of Jesus on the cross. It reached the point where she broke down even at the sight of a small child who would remind her of Jesus. I wonder, did she ever do this at the sight of any of her fourteen children? 

This morning I was contemplating Margery and what impact she had in my brief exposure to her life and piety.  Even after nearly a decade, I still remember her crying more than just about everything except her visit with Julian of Norwich which, as I remember, featured her giving as much advice as receiving it. The accounts of her sobs, sighs, and surely enough tears to float  a medium-sized boat, irked me and made me wish she'd just left those out. But she couldn't; they were an integral part of her and how she expressed her faith.

Then it occurred to me, possibly my problem with Margery's tears and cries was due simply to envy, in a sense. As a child I cried enough that Mama often told me that if I didn't stop I'd get something to cry about.  If I cried it had to be in private, in my room or the bathroom, from which I could only emerge when the tears were gone. I learned not to cry. I occasionally shed a tear when things build up over a period of time and finally reach the breaking point, but one, maybe two minutes of sparse tears is it for perhaps the next five years or so. The idea of crying copiously at hearing words or seeing an image or visiting a sacred place is alien to me and I confess I wonder what it would be like. I don't cry at times people seem to expect and I guess it makes me look rather hard-hearted. It's not that I don't feel things, it's that I just can't express them as others do or think I should.

This morning I look at Margery differently than I have before. Now I can look at her piety as a gift, not as an irritant. I can admire her strength and adventurousness and not get sidetracked with her irritation factor. I can wish I had such devotion to God and to Jesus even if I can't quite get there with Mary and certainly can't get there with tears such as she shed. I can't put Margery on a pedestal but I can certainly try to put her on a small platform in the regard of my heart and mind. Perhaps I need to go back and revisit her book, this time with an eye more to what message God can send me through her life and words than the distraction of what seem to me to be "crying jags." 

Margery must now be a mystic of value, not a very irritating saint. Maybe she can teach me to unblock my own tears -- but in moderation, please?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 24 - To Be or Not to Be

[B]ut obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God. - 1 Cor. 7:19c-24 (NRSV)

Sometimes I wish Paul had had a crystal ball -- or less of a legal background. Only a lawyer (ecclesiastical or otherwise) would try to think of every possible angle of an issue and then try to list them in such a way that there was little or no wiggle room left for change. Had he had a crystal ball, he might have seen the untold human misery that those words have caused. But he wrote to his time and his culture (and also to the culture he sought to reach through evangelism).

Paul had good motives; he was using an analogy of physical states that would be immediately understandable to those reading his words. To the slaves it gave hope that even though they were slaves now, they would be free in Christ. To their masters, it spoke to the fact that they may be free now but they would be slaves to Christ. The hard part was that of "remaining in the condition" that they found themselves because, of course, God called them to that station anad there they should remain as evidence of their dedication to the care and obedience to God.

"Remaining in the condition," however, goes against nature in a sense. Nature changes, never remaining static although the changes are often miniscule and almost invisible. Tall mountains gain or lose fractions of an inch a year due to upthrust or weathering. People grow old, unless accident or illness intervenes and ends that life prematurely. Spring moves inexorably through summer and toward fall. Aggressive ants take over colonies of non-aggressive ones and produce more aggressive colonies. We learn that many species are far more intelligent and resourceful than we ever thought possible. Whether the word "evolution" is accepted or shunned, it expresses the concept that change happens, and nothing really remains statically in the "condition" in which it first found itself.

There's really nothing wrong with change except that sometimes it is hard to accept it. It's hard to be comfortable and then find that something has changed and it's not so comfortable any more. It took a long time but people finally came to believe that slavery is wrong, yet it still exists in places and in different situations than we read about in the history books. Change still needs to happen.

Paul didn't have a crystal ball to tell him when the parousia was going to happen; Jesus had said that some of his generation would not taste death until the second coming had come about so Paul wasn't taking any chances. I wonder if he felt like some of the prognosticators these days who predict the end of the world only to have to admit they had miscalculated so while they thought it was going to be today it is really scheduled for the third Thursday in July two years from now.

The second coming hasn't happened yet. Jesus didn't know when it was going to be and neither do we. Meanwhile do we just sit and contemplate our navels or do we go to work to make the world a better place and ourselves better people while we wait? That in itself would represent change, change for the positive.

And isn't that what Jesus' message was about, not "remaining in the condition" but rather making change happen for ourselves, for others and for the world?

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Cafe on Saturday, September 24, 2011.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cat Dancing

Cats. They own nothing yet they own everything. They pay their way with twining themselves around ankles, purring when curled up next to or being stroked by someone they wish to curl up next to or be stroked by, they take meals presented at regular intervals and expect litterboxes to be cleaned equally regularly. Their idea of "helping with the housework" is giving themselves a bath after they eat, chasing flies and bugs, and making sure that there are adequate clumps of cat-hair scattered about to ensure that the whole place has to be mowed to keep the dust kittens down to a bare minimum. Still, they "own" their favorite places to sleep, a personal bowl at dinner and a place to scratch.

That last thing is often a source of disagreement between the kids and me. My idea of a place to scratch is the scratching posts and, in the spirit of compromise, the raffia runners on the floor of the hall and bathroom and the one on top of the washer/dryer. THEIR idea, however, includes all of mine plus occasionally my already-tattered wing chair, the side of my mattress, and, in Gandhi's case, the metal door to the outside that is next to one of the litterboxes.

I broke down and bought a new scratching post this week. They're expensive, so I don't often have the extra funds to buy a replacement when the one in the house gets shredded and, worse yet, tufts of carpeting are scattered all over the floor, necessitating yet another mowing session with my faithful Oreck. This week, though, I hauled their old standby out the front door, to the puzzled expressions on the faces of all four. Phoebe was especially perplexed, as the top of the cat tree I had just taken out was the last step before she could access the top of the corner cupboard from which she can survey her whole kingdom and hopefully escape from the boys' rambunctiousness when it gets to be too much. The new one was brought in and placed in the same spot the old one had stood, and, within three minutes, three boys were swarming over it like flies on a hunk of meat. Phoebe held off for at least another five before jumping down from the corner cabinet onto the top bed of the tree and thence to the cedar chest and finally the floor. So far, so good.

It took a whole 15 hours for the ribbon and raffia "toy" hanging from one of the beds to be totally eradicated and scattered all over the floor. All that remains of it now is just a chain hanging down with a plastic header that kept it all together. At least the carpeting is still intact.

This morning I sat at my desk writing, accompanied by Sama and Domi who seem to relish the cool feel of the glass top and who stretch out far enough that there's no room for books or much of anything else on the desktop. Phoebe, of course, was in her spot on top of the corner cupboard and Gandhi, well, he was being weird. He was in the middle bed of the cat tree, reaching around the pole connecting the "stories" together, dragging himself out of the bed, around the back of the pole (whereupon his ample posterior hung out in space), then slithering back into the bed he'd just left. He did this several times -- the catly equivalent of a dance, I guess. He seemed to really enjoy it and didn't seem too put off when I laughed (although I covered it by petting and laughing in the direction of his brothers on the desk). It was so unlike Gandhi that I had to laugh; imagine, a cat pole dancing.  After three or four repetitions, he finally settled down to rest up from his endeavors. I guess that reminds me that (1) dignity isn't everything and sometimes precisely what one needs to do is temporarily lose that dignity and just plain do something that feels like fun, and (2) never pass up a chance to take a nap after exerting oneself.

Sounds like a better idea than doing dishes or mowing floors.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Re-Examining and Relearning

Another year of EfM has begun and, as has proven true in every other year, it promises to be an interesting and informative one.

One of the first things we share in our groups is our spiritual autobiographies. EfM has four years and each year has a different format for doing spiritual autobiographies. Each year it is possible to take the same stories and see them in different ways to produce new insights. Another amazing thing is that I can hear another person's SA for several years and still find new things about them that I didn't know before.

Doing a spiritual autobiography is like peeling an onion: there are the thin and thick parts. In writing my SAs over the past 6 years, it has taken  a long time to take off more than just the very thinnest layer. It was a question of trust and also one of feeling comfortable enough inside myself to actually choose to open up layers that had been so carefully hidden. It's a process, but it's a process that can't be rushed. Sometimes I just don't have the courage to tell my story; I guess I'm afraid of being judged as a whiner (I've been accused of that before but never in EfM, thank God) or a total underachiever. Self-image is so important, and self-talk, especially when it repeats negatives that I have heard from others, seems to have engraved itself on my being as if it were carved in stone. Part of doing the SA is to open those parts up, look at them, find where God truly was at that time and who were God-bearers for me when I could not be for myself.

The focus of the SA is revisiting the past and re-imaging it, looking at it through different lenses. I find that sometimes, looking through the lens of long-elapsed time, the view I thought I had has turned into something else, something that I can now either re-interpret in a more healthy way or even dismiss altogether as no longer needed or even pertinent. Answering questions about a personal experience,  a world event that had an impact on me, describing a holy place or describing someone who was a God-bearer force me to sift through memories and see what stays in the sieve and which slides through. Even then, from one day to the next, the answers might be different, depending on how my mind is working at the time or what has gone on in my life that colors it. I may find that in retrospect I wish I had responded to a situation differently but I made a choice at that time that cannot be changed. How I use the experience of that choice makes it or breaks it -- whether it is something from which I learned or something I repeated as if hoping the results would be different that next time.

This morning, reading over what I wrote, it feels like I've just been given an insight that I didn't have before. It feels as if doing my SA is no different than going into a doctor's office to get the results of tests taken some time before. All this time I have been waiting for answers, whether from an outside professional or an inside professional (after all, who should know me better than me myself?). It just has to happen at the right time, when all the facts are in, the values measured, the scans interpreted. In the course of preparing and presenting my SA, it gives input and from that I should gain insight into what being me really is about and why. Even after the doctor gives me a diagnosis and suggestions for where to go from here, I still have to process what it all means and come to my own conclusions or accommodations. I have to sit with whatever it is for a while in order for it to start to make sense.

I think now that I have to sit a bit longer with my SA. I'm the doctor here, and while I'm not looking for a diagnosis, I am looking more insight, possible healing, and perhaps pointers to a different way of both looking at and doing my life. It's a matter of  re-examining, relearning and refocusing -- and sometimes waiting for the pro to interpret the results.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.-- Psalm 104:25-34 (NRSV)

"The all-powerful and unutterable God, who was before ages but did not have a beginning nor will ever have an end, formed every creature in a wonderful manner with the creative power of willing and then placed every creature in a wondrous manner." - First Part, Vision 6:1*

I can't read the part about the "the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it" without smiling. My vision is that of a great three-masted clipper with sails fully set, dolphins riding the bow wave and a great whale sounding nearby. I'm sure that wouldn't have been Hildegard's vision as clipper ships hadn't been invented yet although sailing vessels certainly had. And my "vision" certainly doesn't qualify to be in the same category of Hildegard's either. Mine is merely an image while hers had greater import. Still, whether "formed to sport in it" or " a wondrous manner," I still see the flukes of the whale and the splash it creates.

But the Psalmist also speaks of "creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great." I wonder how he knew of all the things? Did the Psalmist live by the water? Did he know how to fish? Did he see the octopus and the skate, the tuna, goby and grouper?

What the Psalmist didn't know is that while God provides food for the sea creatures as he does the land creatures, man has upset the balance that was present in creation, and many species that were once plentiful in the great waters are now extinct or reaching extinction. Has God turned his eyes from the innocent and taken their breath away? It doesn't seem like the God I know.

I haven't read all of Hildegard's writings so I don't know whether she addressed a world so full of greed and selfishness that it causes the deaths of creatures placed by God in their proper places. I do think she would include something like this as part of the rebellion against God, the sin that caused Lucifer to fall from heaven and the unrighteous to find themselves in the same predicament as the rich man who refused the beggar Lazarus even the crumbs from his table (Luke 16:19-21).
May there never be a world without a leviathan sporting in the deep waters or dolphins riding bow waves. May there always be fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, brachids, and all the variety of life the Psalmist (and Hildegard) could never imagine. May humanity wake up to the diversity of life that extends so far beyond the species of homo sapiens.

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. - Cecil Frances Humphries-Alexander

*Hozeski, Bruce, trans., Hildegard of Bingen's Scivias, (1986, paperback ed.) Santa Fe NM: Bear & Company Inc., p. 68

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Cafe on September 17, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 10 - Letters

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -- Phil. 4:1-7 (NRSV)

There's something about reading through old letters and cards. They bring up so many memories of experiences and conversations long past that I'd forgotten. Yet those memories become fresh again in my mind when something happens, like reading those old letters. To anybody else the card from M might be amusing but in the context of an old friendship, it has a bit of hilarity that makes me laugh every time I see it or think of it. Stuff in the letters tell stories that bring back the sights, sounds, even smells and tastes of things we did together. Those memories are important to me, especially those from those with whom I will never share another memory.

The trouble with letters and cards, though, is that they only reflect one side of the story. The ones that mean so much to me will mean just about nothing to my son when the time comes for him to clean out what I haven't been able to throw away. Names may be familiar, places might be, but beyond that, zip. The context has been lost. Even one generation away from another can make the difference between being on the inside of the joke and being left wondering why others are laughing. That's sort of how I feel about Paul's letters. I can understand part of it but most of it just sort of goes over my head.

From this part of the passage, I figure there's something going on between Syntyche and Euodia. It sounds sort of serious--but what? Paul admits that they have worked with him and need to come to agreement on something. Somehow it sounds more important than whether to use the linen tablecloth or the red-checkered plastic one, the good china and silver or Chinet and plastic forks, roast beef or pulled-pork barbecue. What is interesting to me, though, is the idea that women and men worked together in Paul's group. Paul acknowledged this, ascribing to them and others a place in the "book of life" for helping to spread the gospel in an often hostile environment. At any rate, Paul must have felt enough regard for them and their work to want Syntyche and Euodia to be able to work together as a team. He couldn't be there in person to help heal the situation so he actually asked another co-worker to help mediate between them. I wonder if the problem ever got solved?

I wonder too why so many have a problem with women being co-workers in ministry outside of Sunday School teachers, church-cleaners and organizers of Vacation Bible School and children's pageants. I mean, if Paul could acknowledge their role as co-workers, what's the deal? Why base a theology of exclusion on a few verses from some Pauline letters while verses from other Pauline letters reference women, calling them by name and acknowledge their gifts, dedication and service. Context is everything, and we don't have CNN or MSNBC to give us a clear (or even slanted) view of current events. So who (or which) are we to believe? Will the real Paul please stand up?

It would be fascinating to know what the behind-the-scenes story was. It feels like such unfinished business, but Paul says what he needs to say and then proceeds to the conclusion and benediction. It's frustrating, but that's what we have to live with.

I guess there is a benefit to old letters, even if some of it does keep us guessing about what it was really all about, who the players were and what their roles were. I doubt my old letters will have any such questions asked about them, much less after nearly 2ooo years. Heck, I doubt that after one year anyone will care. But then, I'm not Paul, and I'm not an evangelist working in the field, building congregations and communities of faith in far-off places and with a dedicated cadre of co-workers, male AND female. And context IS everything.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Cafe on Saturday, September 10, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chicken today, feathers tomorrow

I went to my annual mentor training/recertification seminar a couple of weekends ago. It runs from 2pm on Thursday afternoon until 2pm (or perhaps a bit earlier) on Saturday. I always enjoy it; it is the one day I don't go to the office on a regular work day and besides, for almost 3 days someone else cooks and washes the dishes!

We meet at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, a tranquil and beautiful place. It's a  great place to do training, very conducive to the often intense work we do but also a place where laughter is seldom out of place.

One of the great parts of training is, as I mentioned, not having to cook or clean up afterwards for the better part of three days. The boys are good, willing to try to clean up my plates, but they don't much care for pepper, vinegar-y things or onions (which isn't good for them anyway) so usually I just do it myself and let them forage for a dropped crumb or two on the desk where I usually take my meals. The week before training I didn't really want to buy too many groceries, preferring to wait until I got back just in case the power went out or something.  As a result I more or less ate out of the freezer. One thing I seem to have a plethora of is chicken, breasts I buy in bulk from the local market and chop in half before tucking in the freezer. I like chicken although I usually don't fry it the way we used to have it back home. My little Foreman grill works just fine.

The week before I went to Scottsdale I had chicken three times, each time grilled with onion and mushrooms with a different marinade, served over similarly flavored rice. It was good, I enjoyed it, but I looked forward to the always good and plentiful food at the Renewal Center.

I checked in on Thursday, went through the afternoon session and headed with my classmates for dinner. There was the lovely bowl of greens and toppings of all kinds for salad although the dressing choices were limited to Italian and Ranch. There were potatoes and bread and the main dish -- chicken cordon bleu with mornay sauce. It was good, but it was the fourth time I'd had chicken that week so I didn't enjoy it as much as I might have. But what the heck, I hadn't had to cook it, after all.

Saturday breakfast was lovely -- scrambled eggs, fruit, sausage, toast, hash browns -- one just like I like but seldom do at home because it messes up so many dishes.  We worked all morning and then went to lunch.  More salad with lots of toppings and the same two dressings, refried beans, spanish rice -- and chicken enchiladas. I'm not the world's greatest fan of Mexican food but I was hungry and what the heck, I hadn't had to cook it or clean up after it. Still, chicken 5 days out of 7 was getting a bit much. Luckily, dinner was something else, I don't even remember what, but it was good.

Saturday morning breakfast had pancakes, bacon, fruit, and other goodies. I could really get spoiled with meals like that.  We worked all morning again and then went to our final meal together for this session. Lovely salad fixings, same two dressings, rice, veggies --- and oriental orange chicken. It was good, it was filling, and I hadn't had to cook it or clean up after it but it was still chicken. Didn't just taste like chicken, it was chicken.

I got home at mid-afternoon and the boys were glad to see me even though I had been home every night during the seminar. I fed them their shredded beef and eventually decided it was time for dinner. I hadn't stopped at the store so I was left to root through the freezer for something which turned out to be ---- drumroll ----- chicken nuggets! Where was the beef I thought I had?  Or the tv dinner of mac and cheese or lasagne?  Alas, the boys must have eaten them becuase they were gone (ok, I vaguely remember having them the week before and had not replaced them from the store).  All in all, I had chicken in some form seven times in seven days. I did check in the mirror to make sure I wasn't growing feathers.

It's been two weeks and I am getting ready to fix my dinner. The boys have had their evening meal (shredded chicken-- which they will eat almost any time you offer it to them) and I'm ready to cook my own.  Since I'm cooking and having to clean up, it's a simple meal with as little fuss as possible:  flavored rice, seasoned green beans and, yes, chicken grilled on the Foreman with onions and 'shrooms with some kind of seasoning.

I have this mad urge to go scratch in the dirt and cluck. I wonder what the neighbors would say?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Belated Wishes for a Lady

I missed a birthday of someone important a few months ago. Well, someone important to me. Probably 99.999% of the world may never have heard her name, but to those who know her, she is a person of great importance.

I met her probably 25 years ago or so and immediately was drawn to her. She was a woman with a presence, an air about her that exuded calm and poise. She was lovely to look at, graceful in her movements, intelligent and honest in her conversations, and always more interested in listening than talking. She didn't want to be the center of attention, the one everybody relied on to get things done, or the head of any group or organization. She had the self-awareness to feel comfortable in her own skin, knowing where her skills and interests lay, and the wisdom to keep focused on those things even when others very much wanted her to go in a different direction.

She was and is a woman of many talents. She sang in the choir, she took tap dancing lessons, she worked the daily crossword puzzle -- the hard one. She learned to paint and created works of art that were as individual as they were aesthetically pleasing. She passed that talent along to one of her daughters -- but the creativity she possessed was shared with all three of the girls in different ways. They are all beautiful, talented, and close to the mother who fostered their interests and supported them as they grew and blossomed.

She is a wife par excellence, supportive, present, forgiving, doing the expected things with grace and charm. Her husband, a great guy and very intelligent himself, said that the best decision he ever made was to ask her to marry him. I think that without her, he could not have succeeded in his chosen professions as he has done. She was the calming force to his restlessness and drive. They complimented each other and, while I'm sure there were problems as there are in almost every marriage, there was never any outward signs of them. She is devoted to her family as they are devoted to her. She is the glue, just enough to hold the family together, never so much that it overwhelms or stifles the dynamics of the individuals in it. That in itself is a gift of great worth.

I've had so many wonderful conversations with her. She is an intelligent, well-read woman with a wide range of interests and an ability to talk about any number of subjects. She has traveled to Europe and Russia with her husband and to an archaeological dig in the Far East with her daughter. She was as at home in a tent on the tundra as in a fine hotel in Paris or London. I think she was born knowing which fork to use when and how to make both cooking and eating an aesthetic experience. And oh, that lady can cook! I never knew how good clam chowder could be until I had hers, and that was only one of her specialties.

She is also a woman of great faith. She doesn't talk about it a lot, but it is there. She is one who preaches with her actions just as her husband does with his words. There is no pretense; what you see is what you get. She doesn't bring God up all that often, but she doesn't need to. It's sort of obvious that she and God have a pretty special relationship.

I'm sure she's no saint, although I have never heard anyone say anything negative about her, something so unusual as to be utterly remarkable. In fact, a number of her friends and admirers think she could be canonized right now and the communion of Saints would be the richer for it. She'd probably pooh-pooh the idea, but I wonder if she really realizes how influential and how loved she is. I hope she does, but I think her natural modesty and reticence would quickly put aside any notions that she was anything really unusual or special.

Happy belated birthday, Bettie. Thank you for the years of friendship and example you've given me. It's a gift I treasure. Thank you for sharing your home, your family, your stories, your time -- and your cat. Thank you for making me smile at the remembering of the times I shared with you. I'm looking forward to a more timely set of birthday wishes next year at this time.

September 3 - Advisers

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him; and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.’ He said to them, ‘Go away for three days, then come again to me.’ So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’ They answered him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.’ But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, ‘What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, “Lighten the yoke that your father put on us”?’ The young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us”; thus you should say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” ’

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the third day, as the king had said, ‘Come to me again on the third day.’ The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, ‘My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’ So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfil his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,‘What share do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, O David.’ So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

Then all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone
. --1 Kings 12:1-20

Life isn't always a bed of roses or a yellow brick road. Trouble comes, and often the right way to handle it doesn't immediately jump up and down and say, "Pick me! Pick me!" It would be lovely if it did, but the next best thing is consulting someone about which way to proceed. Of course, picking the right person to ask is half the job. Dr. Phil might be good with relationship difficulties and Suze Orman would be a better choice for financial ones, but my personal doctor would be more in the know for my medical problems and a trusted friend for just about everything up to and including all or none of the above. Unfortunately for Rehoboam, he picked the wrong set of advisers.

Advisers can get you in trouble. How many presidents, congressmen, military leaders and the like have come to grief because they followed the advice of advisers who had a dog in the hunt apart from their job of giving professional and unbiased advice on a problem? At any rate, listening to the wrong ones, as Rehoboam did, can spell doom. It's one thing to have buddies and pals, but contemporaries sometimes lack the experience and acquired wisdom of those who have been around the block a few more times. And aged advisers can sometimes be a bit blind to the way the world has changed since their knowledge was acquired. Sometimes the middle is the best choice.

When advice is needed, sometimes it's hard to know who to ask. Are they impartial or very much planted with both feet firmly on one side of an issue or another? Are they advising on what they would choose or do or what options I might have? Are they offering something that seems very alluring but which might have a harpoon behind it? Have they been through something similar and can speak to what it is they are advising with some sense of authority?

Individuals, leaders, countries, communions, confederations, churches, parties, and just about any one or any thing that can be thought of needs advice at times. The other day I needed advice on whether to do some home repairs now, before the problem got worse, or wait until something else breaks and then do it. I asked three friends whom I trust and each advised doing it now. It isn't often that I get such consensus, but I was grateful for their assistance in making my decision easier. And, ultimately, it is my decision to make. I hope that the decisions made by Congress regarding the budget mess was based on listening to wise advisers and not unwise ones, although while waiting for that frog to jump, I have to wonder if it was/is going to land in water or in wet concrete. Only time will tell if they made the right decision.

Rehoboam listened to the wrong set of advisers and it cost him dearly. Perhaps had he been a little less partisan in his listening things might have turned out very differently for him -- and his family, country and history in general. There are times when a firm hand is needed, but, like Mama always said, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Too bad Mama wasn't there to advise Rehoboam -- but somehow I doubt he would have listened to her any more than to the advisers who recommended the same course but in different terms. He listened and he made the choice. Too bad he chose wrong.

But then, Rehoboam was a vinegar-y kind of guy, it seems.