Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day After Christmas?

December 26, 2010

Dear Friends,

Each year at Christmas a friend identifies herself as a direct descendent of Scrooge. Her favorite carol (she says) is a musical gem that she herself composed. The lyrics consist of multiple repetitions of, “Bah humbug on Christmas Day”, sung with operatic fervor in a key much too high for her alto voice.

This year she expanded the lyrics to include several verses of “Double Bah Humbug on the day after Christmas,” to be sung preferably, as she noted, “in high C.”

“What's this 'day after Christmas' business?” I asked her.

“It's trash and clutter, empty boxes, packing peanuts all over the carpet, and the fridge filled with leftover food nobody wants to eat,” she said with a grin. Then she added, with a smile that carried more sober thought than joke, “Most of all, I hate those orphan bows and scraps of ribbon lying around looking forlorn and useless.”

We laughed but we were talking about a serious truth.

Christmas can be a heart–bruising marathon, and the day after Christmas no joke at all. Even cynics and consumer–watchful realists can find Christmas a surprisingly tricky experience to manage.

Unrecognized and unwelcomed longings filter through the music; unmet expectations hide in the implicit promise of beribboned packages. Distracted with tinsel and lights we may not hear our dim wordless hope: “This year– this year, maybe it will all come true. That dream– that dream, that relationship I have longed for – this year maybe it will all come true.”

Then comes the day after Christmas.

Annoying as the debris left by our consumer excesses may be, the trigger for serious “day after” holiday blues is ourselves. We wake up on the day after Christmas to find that we are – all of us – just who we were the day before Christmas.

Imperfect families have remained imperfect. No seasonal magic seduced unloving hearts to love, or prompted selfish hearts to generosity. No spirit of the season altered the acid of criticism into acceptance and grace.

We are who we were, with old uncertainties and ambivalences, with the same frustrating mix of love and selfishness, of greed and generosities.

When we realize this, we feel foolish and embarrassed. We feel childish for having permitted ourselves –even for a instant– to wish for magic to change us. On the day after Christmas we remind ourselves sternly that we are adults who no longer listen for the sound of reindeer on the roof.

But at this point it is easy to substitute one error for another. Longing for change is not the problem.

It is the great good news of Advent that change has come– a great change that makes more change yet to come now possible.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the change we long for is not a simple package. The slow difficult movement away from self–absorption toward concern for others, from brittle inauthenticity to painful imperfect reality requires more than wishful thinking.

The promise of change lies at the heart of the season. This promise is rooted in mystery, however; not in magic. Transformation that lasts grows from relationship with the Person whose birthday the season celebrates.

They called that baby “Immanuel,” (God with us). Because of Him, we can celebrate Christmas and the day after Christmas lifelong.

How are you marking the days after Christmas in your life?

Grateful with you for the only trustworthy source of change.

See you next week.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Change in Bethlehem


Dec. 19, 2010

Advent greetings, friends,

A word about change from Madeleine l’Engle:

The Bethlehem Explosion

The chemistry lab at school
was in an old greenhouse
surrounded by ancient live oaks
garnished with Spanish moss.

The experiment I remember best
was pouring a quart of clear fluid
into a glass jar, and dropping into it,
grain by grain, salt-sized crystals,
until they layered
like white sand on the floor of the jar.

One more grain—and suddenly—
water and crystal burst
into a living, moving pattern,
a silent, quietly violent explosion.
The teacher told us that only when
we supersaturated the solution,
would come the precipitation.

The little town
was like the glass jar in our lab.
One by one they came, grain by grain,
all those of the house of David,
like grains of sand to be counted.

The inn was full. When Joseph knocked,
His wife was already in labour; there was no room
Even for compassion. Until the barn was offered.
That was the precipitating factor. A child was born,
and the pattern changed forever, the cosmos
shaken with that silent explosion.

Madeleine l’Engle,
From A Cry Like a Bell

Where do you see evidence of that “silent explosion” in your life?

Still living into that cosmos changing event,


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Praise sorrows?


December 12, 2010

Dear friends,

We have thought together about the ways in which gratitude functions as a change agent. I discovered this idea expressed in a different and thought-provoking form in Anterooms, Richard Wilbur’s new collection of poetry.

The fourth poem in the collection is titled “Psalm.” The first of its five stanzas reads:

Give thanks for all things
On the plucked lute, and likewise
The harp of ten strings.

The concluding stanza:

Then in grave relief
Praise too our sorrows on the
Cello of shared grief.

Think about this change: stripped of narcissistic individualism, our sorrows are also to be praised, voiced through the “cello of shared grief.”

There is something powerfully moving in this image: my personal grief heard first as an unaccompanied strident solo, then mellowed and muted into one of many voices in the dark rich sound of the “cello of shared grief.”

Do you view sorrow as a solitary activity?

Comforted tonight to know my sorrow is not mine alone; I rest, hearing the night music of shared grief.

See you next week.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Batteries not included

December 5, 2010

Dear friends,

People in stores and shopping malls demonstrate interesting behaviors, many of which appear much the same from year to year. However, each year the advertising ploys designed to capture the interest (and money) of these potential customers change. While the goal (to sell) remains the same, the method of attracting attention changes--novelty to catch the potential buyer's eye, then the "new carrot" to encourage sales. Exposed to this process, the wise customer continues, however, to read the fine print. "Let the buyer beware," may be old advice, but it remains good advice none the less. Besides, the fine print is often quite interesting.

This year I've been struck by the increasing numbers of toy boxes (both for adult toys and toys for children) on which the cover of the box pictures the toy it contains in action, performing some amazing feat flawlessly, effortlessly. The small print, however, advises: batteries not included.

At first, when I thought about that particular fine print, the whole process seemed odd somehow. There seemed some measure of absurdity in presenting an object as valuable enough to buy while, at the same time, the seller advises (albeit in small letters) that the object is useless unless the buyer supplies the necessary energy to enable it to function.

On second thought, I found myself thinking about change (surprised?) and the way in which our willingness to supply the necessary energy is an essential component. Some things in life as in toy stores simply aren't designed to work unless we supply the batteries.

Somewhere in a book I read as a child there was a story of a shepherd who heard the angels sing, but argued with his fellow shepherds when they decided to go into Bethlehem to see if indeed there was a baby in the manger as the angels had told them. This shepherd said something like this: "It's cold, and I'm tired, and you are silly to go all that distance in the dark to see a baby. Go if you want to be so silly, but I'm staying here and sleeping. You'll be sorry tomorrow when it's time to move the sheep. You'll wish you too had gone to bed."

In the story, of course, it was the shepherd who stayed behind that became forever regretful. As I remember it, the story closed with the shepherd, now old, telling his grandson sadly, "It was not too far to the village. I could have walked there. I don't know now why I didn't go."

Immanuel born--God come to be with us--God to be seen in human form in Bethlehem barn!!!

Advent now as then offers us the excitement of discovery and new knowledge of God. While in God's generosity the option is freely offered, the energy to enter into the process remains our choice. The opportunity for change is there--however, the potential participant should be advised: energy needed: batteries are not supplied.

Where are you investing your energy this Advent season?

Risking with you the wise tiredness from walking once more to see that Baby's face.
See you next week.


PS The five interviews I did with Haddon Robinson and Alice Mathews on RBC will be aired Dec. 27-30. You can find your local radio stations that will carry these by contacting Katy Pent at Discovery House Publishers. Will try to give you a direct link to RBC Ministries next week. I found Haddon and Alice to be delightful hosts, and insightful about More Than An Aspirin. No author can ask for more than that. Hope you will listen in.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Signal-noise distinction

November 18, 2010

Dear friends,

This week I have been thinking about change in the context of response to stimulus. What are the factors that lead people to change? And, to bring the question home, how aware am I of those factors that influence change in me, the therapist, the woman, the practicing Christian?

As I often do, I began thinking by looking at my environment. Everywhere I looked I found advertisements for not-to-be-resisted “bargains” that would become available on Black Friday. What, I wondered, were the carefully placed “carrots” in these advertisements that were designed to change savers into spenders, to change “satisfied with what I have” into “have to have more”? Some “carrots” were easy to spot; others were less obvious, more subtle, more indirect and seductive.

I was reminded again that discernment is a learned skill. It is not easy to distinguish the real ore from “fool’s gold,” the valuable from the merely expensive, classic innovation from the temporary fashion of the moment, the “elegance and parsimony” of truth from the convoluted syllogisms of logic.

In the language of communication theory, we have to learn to distinguish the signal from the noise in which it is embedded.

On this first Sunday of Advent, I am challenged again by the old story that is ever new to me. Mary and Joseph went to register in response to Caesar’s edict, but they went to Bethlehem because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David. It must have been difficult—very difficult—to hear the signal “You are my chosen people,” in the noise of Rome’s “You hold life itself only at Caesar’s pleasure and power.” It must have been nearly impossible to hear God’s signal “Immanuel!!!” in the noise of that helpless baby’s cry (it came, you remember, from a Jewish peasant’s infant born in a barn). So far as we know, it was only the shepherds—simple rural folk, minding their flocks in the dark—that heard that angel chorus, and saw for a blinding moment those incredible, terrifying beings who had come from heaven itself to signal Messiah’s earthly birth.

Distinguishing signal from noise has never been easy, then or now.

In this harried holiday season, what God-signal are you seeking to distinguish from the noise of the world around us?

Seeking with you to hear the only signal that, in the end, really counts.

See you next week.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Boundaries on consumption anyone?

November 21, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

It seems to me that Thanksgiving produces an odd combination of behavioral absurdity and good advice. Who can argue against a day dedicated to deliberate focused gratitude? But who can explain the logic of our culturally crafted absurdity of linking gratitude with an orgy-level of consumption? What is logical about celebrating the life-sustaining gift of food by eating too much? How does it make sense to follow this over-the-top consumption with a day in which gratitude for goods and materials is marked by a head-long rush into a massive shopping binge? Eating too much seems to me an odd way to be thankful for food; buying more "stuff" seems an equally odd way to be thankful for what we have.

Now having elected myself the Blogging Thanksgiving Scrooge, a note, the usual these days, about change.

Gratitude, rightly considered, is a conscious deliberate attitude of thankfulness. When gratitude is accompanied by an emotionally logical recognition of the object for which we choose to be grateful, such thankfulness can be--almost always is--a powerful change agent. We tend to respond joyfully to those things for which we are grateful.

Had an interesting lesson this week in regard to this kind of change.

One fine afternoon I devised an adventure for myself and my walking stick, but before the adventure ended I had to cross what was for me some difficult terrain. A young woman came running up behind me as I was making my last assault on some Mt. Everest type stairs; she waited patiently until I had labored my way to the top. Then, seeing that I had safely arrived, she ran in graceful easy strength to the top of the stairs without taking a second breath. When she reached me, she stopped a moment to speak.

"Isn't it wonderful to be able to walk?" she said. Then, with a gracious smile she added, "You're doing rather well," and was off, but the breath of her gratitude changed me.

I had unwisely taken the long way around the lake, and navigating the Mt. Everest type stairs that climbed to the walkway over the dam had been a consequence of that decision. But somehow, my weariness and my impatience with my slow progress began to evaporate. I thought, "It is wonderful to be able to walk. I am grateful--so grateful--to be walking this beautiful autumn day." And in a way I cannot explain I began to feel joyful--joyful about my sturdy shoes, aware joyfully of my beautiful stick that kept me steady, joyfully conscious that in the long cycle of my life I had been granted one more light-filled autumn day and the strength both to go adventuring and to find my tired way home.

It seems to me that gratitude and awareness, not consumption, are the precursors to joy. What do you think?

See you next week.

Seeking with you a more Kingdom-focused life,


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Limitations on change?

November 14, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

When I sat down to write, I discovered that my head was still occupied with change and the self-talk issue we thought about last week.

Our culture teaches us the idea that we can become whatever we think--or dream--we can be. Last week's blog left us watching Aldonza in the Broadway version becoming the Lady Dulcinea. This successful play show-cases the power of self-talk in the terms of our cultural narrative--we can become whatever we think, or dream.

My desire to have an additional word about the Aldonza-Dulcinea transformation stems from the confusing combination of truth and error in this picture. What we tell ourselves changes us--no doubt. There is no question about the power of self-talk to elicit change. However, there is another question to consider: Is there something that we humans cannot talk ourselves into?

Oddly enough, the answer appears to be yes--we cannot talk ourselves into true goodness. In a recent blog we talked about the human impulse to break the speed limit. We noted that we can indeed talk ourselves into law-abiding behaviors by self talk that reminds us that if the patrolman sees us we are in big trouble. But we also noted, with some amusement, that this change is temporary--over the hill, around the curve and across the bridge, the obedience to the speed limit vanishes. Self-coerced change is often disappointingly transitory as most unsuccessful dieters know. Law conforming behavior, we discover, can be produced without an accompanying change that makes the heart embrace the Law as good. Honest employees can become embezzlers given opportunity. In life, unlike Broadway, we can learn to behave in ways that earn social approval without changing the dark impulses of our hearts.

It is change at this deep level of the heart that God works toward. It is God's insistence upon changed hearts that led to the intense debates between Jesus and the "good people" of his culture. They were shocked and offended to be told that their good behavior was not enough. The limitations of self-talk to provide this level of heart change led Jesus to tell Nicodemus, gifted teacher and faithful practitioner of the Law, that he must be born again.

The "born again" phrase in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus has been widely lifted out of context and misused. As a result, in our culture at large "born again" often serves as a code word for an unattractive fundamentalist mentality and a rigid rule-oriented pattern of religious life that is widely ridiculed. This is not at all what Jesus was talking about with Nicodemus.

In reality Jesus was looking with Nicodemus at the limits of self-talk, even using the words of Torah, to produce the depth of change that God desires. Nicodemus, properly using the language of the Law, had produced in himself good behavior that was publicly apparent. Jesus did not question either Nicodemus's knowledge of the Law or his good behavior. What startled and confused Nicodemus was Jesus' insistence that Nicodemus needed something more than more good thinking--he needed a new life, a life produced by the Spirit.

The Aldonza/ Dulcinea transformation has a seductive fairy-tale quality that makes wonderful theater but a totally unreliable principle by which to live.

Sorry, folks, it's not that easy.

How can we change beyond the limits of self talk?

See you next week,


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Impossible dreams?

November 8, 2010

Dear friends,

This week I have thought about change--no change!! (Smiles.) Actually, what I have been considering is the complex power of language to evoke change in behavior.

While wondering about this, I talked briefly today with friends about Don Quixote. You may remember that in Cervantes's tale Don Quixote accompanied by his faithful servant Sancho Panza set out as a knight errant determined to right the wrongs he met in a suffering world. The story is a great one, and worth reading at a number of levels.

The issue of language and change was not a major theme of Cervantes, but the story provides material for thought about this none-the-less. One incident occurs in the infamous confrontation of Don Quixote with the windmills. Don Quixote identified the windmills as giants. He then rode furiously into battle with them only to be unceremoniously knocked off his horse. There was little appreciable damage done to the windmills, but Don Quixote was much the worse for the adventure. At another point, Don Quixote identified a flock of sheep as an army. Despite his good intentions, his confrontation with the sheep (army) was little more successful than his confrontation with the windmills (giants).

The limits of language to evoke change seem quite apparent: windmills remained windmills, and sheep remained sheep. Don Quixote, however, acquired numerous dents in his armor and bruises both to his body and pride as a result of his linguistic adventures. Change resulted as injury to the one whose deception about reality was reflected in the misuse of language.

In the novel, Aldonza was a neighboring farm woman whom Don Quixote dubbed the Lady Dulcinea in whose honor Quixote was undertaking his quest. In the text, Aldonza does not herself become aware of this alleged new identity.

However, when Cervantes's novel was made into a Broadway musical, The Man of La Mancha, the script recast Aldonza as a maid in the inn, who first angrily rejected the identity Quixote had ascribed to her, then began to believe it with transforming yet tragic consequences.

It is interesting to consider the adaptations incorporated into the romanticized rewriting of Cervantes's novel that made it successful as modern theater, but perhaps most interesting (at least in the context of the relationship between language and change) is the development of Aldonza as Dulcinea. To change the name is to change the identity, according to the Man of La Mancha script.

I wonder: if I condemn myself, do I make myself a guilty person? if I believe that I can persevere do I make myself resilient? What was the force of language that shaped Aldonza into Dulcinea? Is it significant that this change as it occurred in the Broadway production is absent from the novel? What meaning should we assign to Cervantes's decision in the novel to keep Alzonza ignorant of her assigned exalted identity? If Aldonza had known she was "Dulcinea" in name would she have become "Dulcinea" in character?

John the Apostle thought about language and change. He wrote: "See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God: and so we are. . . . we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we shall be like him. . . . And everyone who thus hopes.. . purifies himself. . . " [1 John 3:1-3].

What name do you give yourself in your private inner world? Who do you say that you are?

Thinking with you about the way self-talk shapes identity and evokes behavior.

See you next week.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Coerced change?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dear friends,

I have been thinking this week about one way in which behavior, attitudes and beliefs change in the context of coercion.

In the present culture in which people are encouraged to “do their own thing,” it is considered a serious violation of individual freedom to compel anyone to do anything. Nevertheless, despite its bad reputation, on occasion coercion appears to bring about desirable change in relatively short order. This seductive “short cut” between coercion and change is a fascinating one. It occurs in ordinary life events although we may be too distracted to identify what we see.

On a recent road trip I travelled several hours on a two lane highway through rolling hill-covered countryside that made assured clear passing lanes short and, to frustrated travelers, very far between.

As the miles (and time) crept by, the risks being taken by impatient drivers increased noticeably; distance between vehicles shortened while bursts of speed and abrupt braking increased as people attempted with increasing frequency to pass in the no passing zones.

Then a change came. Speed slowed dramatically; distance between vehicles lengthened. Efforts to pass in no passing zones ceased entirely.

“What is happening to traffic?” I asked.

My friend who was driving smiled. “I can’t see yet, but my guess is that somewhere ahead of us someone has spotted a highway patrolman.”

Sure enough, as we crested the next hill we too could see a patrol car parked carefully off the highway at the edge of an intersecting country road. As we passed we could see the patrolman sitting peacefully, watching the crowded two-lane traffic moving carefully with commendable attention to speed limits and the no passing zones.

Simply by sitting quietly in his visibly marked patrol car, the patrolman had evoked major visible positive change—increased safety, decreased risk of injury or death. He had, in effect, “made” a group of irritable, law-breaking drivers into model citizens. No passing in the no passing zones under his watchful supervision.

“That’s the command presence of the Law,” my friend smiled as we drove past, “but let’s see how long this improvement lasts.”

As you have likely guessed, this changed behavior lasted through six hills and the crossing of a narrow country bridge. The change continued only until drivers judged the police radar had become unreliable and the patrolman’s vision had become blocked by woods and hills and a long slow curve in the road. Once through the curve and across the bridge, to no one’s surprise, the driver’s speed resumed, and attempted passing in the no passing zone became once more the norm.

I’ve been thinking lately about Paul’s letter to the Roman church, and his careful analysis of the relationship of the law to change in human behavior. I was intrigued by this “road” demonstration in part because it demonstrated Paul’s argument that Law (even Torah) could not produce the change in human behavior that God desires. Paul’s argument, played out on that winding two-lane road, was that the Law demonstrates both human willingness to break the Law, and, ultimately, human inability to keep the Law. Only when the human heart is changed, Paul argued, does lasting change emerge in behavior.

The Law is good, Paul argued; but gaining that kind of human heart change required more than the gift of Torah , to God’s great cost.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17 RSV

The problem is, of course, that the “new” does not translate immediately into behavior that is perfect and unchangeable. Change comes, but this new life is worked out in the “already but not yet” of driving winding country roads.

Thinking with you about the necessity for change that is greater than rule deep.

See you next week.


Coerced change?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Unchosen? Think again.

October 24, 2010

Hello, Friends,

I have been thinking this week about one pattern of change that sometimes results from the human experience of being unchosen.

Being unchosen happens in life with painful regularity. In the sanctuary of my office, I listen as wounded survivors remember: unchosen as a child ("They wished I'd never been born and told me so."); unchosen by peers(no friends, no date for the prom). Then, as an adult, unchosen for promotion, unchosen for friendship, for parenthood, unchosen for participation in the world of work and play inhabited by the beautiful 'chosen' ones; unchosen for parental approval, unchosen for the cherished role of wife; unchosen sexually as husband--people who, judged from outer appearance, are making their life journey successfully, but who inwardly view themselves as unchosen at a hundred human points of hunger for love, respect, and affirmation.

Most of us can recount at least one experience of "unchoosing" that has left a legacy of shame and remembered pain. However, we are often less aware of the ways in which such moments of "unchoosing" shape our present sense of ourselves, and alter the risks and relationships we presently choose.

Without conscious awareness, we sometimes begin to structure our lives protectively. We are "out of town" the week of the class reunion. We are "not interested" in submitting a proposal in a competitive bid for grant money. We are "too busy" to participate in a grassroots neighborhood organization.

We position ourselves quietly and carefully. We take few chances that expose us to the possibility of further "unchoosing." Better to be out of town and miss the renewal of relationships than risk becoming the unchosen wallflower at the class reunion. Better to appear disinterested than to author a proposal not chosen by the review committee. Safer to limit community participation than risk the embarrassment of never being considered a candidate for office.

Such protective actions are seldom obvious, and their consequences rarely acknowledged. We do not often count the cost of lost opportunities in relationships and creativity that result from our effort to protect ourselves. Learning to think productively about old injuries and our resulting efforts to stay safe is not an easy task.

However, for those of us who incorporate our faith as a foundational part of our emotional well-being, there is a paradoxical place from which we can begin the journey toward healing. We can face our "unchoseness" straightforwardly and place it in the amazing context of our being chosen as God's loved one. The emotional meaning of those experiences in which we were NOT chosen, however painful and real they may remain, are changed when placed in the perspective that, just as we were--and as we are--God choses us in Christ, and indeed, has done so since before the foundation of the world. [Eph.1:3-4]

A client who had struggled with many painful issues of rejection in her life came to view God's choice of her as one of the foundational truths of her identity. When she terminated her work with me, she brought me a gift, a lframed piece of needlepoint that continues to hang near my desk. It reads:

He called me.
Humanly speaking
it was no extravaganza;
earth scarcely noticed.

Yet, I've been told
that beyond the galaxies
a fanfare broke out
when I said "Yes" to Him
and took His name.

-Author unknown

Feeling unchosen? It often helps to think again seeing yourself from the perspective of God's choice of you.

Thinking with you about the meaning His choice gives our lives.

See you next week,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The habit of hurt

October 17, 2010

Dear friends,

This week has given me reason to think about habits of hurt.

The occasion arose out of a conversation with a friend about Sam, a promising young horse in her riding stable. Sam had been injured while excitedly exiting from the trailer at a horse show.

"Was he badly hurt?" I asked.

"No," my friend answered. "He acquired a nasty-looking scrape and a mild sprain, but he's fine now."

"Is he back to his old tricks again?" I asked. (Sam in his short life has already acquired a reputation for the escapades into which his curiosity and inquisitiveness frequently lead him.)

"Well, no," my friend said, then added with a smile, "He still favors that leg a bit. His leg's OK, but Sam doesn't believe yet that it's well."

Later, sitting peaceably at home in my 'thinking chair,' Sam came into my mind. In my mind's eye, I could see him standing at the corral fence, his bay coat shining in the autumn sunlight, his ears pricked forward alertly to take in the fascinating world that surrounded him. But in my mind, Sam, when he moved, now moved tentatively, bearing most of his weight on only three legs.

Watching this picture in my mind, I wondered if we humans do not at times behave more like Sam than we would care to admit. Without question, there are times when we experience some severe scrapes and sprains in life, injuries that are quite painful, but are not fatal--we do recover. Nevertheless, we humans, like Sam, can develop a chronic emotional limp not because of an old injury but because we do not recognize (or trust) healing when it comes.

Have made a note to myself this week (with copy to God) to check out any chronic emotional limping I may be doing. I have an uncomfortable sense that like Sam it is possible for me to remember a hurt that was then in a way that keeps me from enjoying and trusting the healing that is now.

How is the change from 'then' to 'now' being lived out in your life? Notice any habits rooted in hurt?

Thinking with you about embracing the challenge of change that healing brings.

See you next week.



Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Tyranny of Attention

October 17, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

Recently my friend L. was scheduled for an out-of-town trip. She called shortly before she left, confirmed her departure time, and added that she would stop by on her way out of town and leave some chicken salad in the refrigerator. Knowing that I was scheduled at a luncheon meeting at the time she planned to stop, I wrote her a note, put her name on the envelope, and taped it to the refrigerator door. I assumed she would see the note and pick it up when she put the salad in the 'frig.

As I had anticipated, the excellent chicken salad was in the refrigerator when I returned home. The note, however, somewhat to my surprise, was still taped to the refrigerator door, unopened.

I realized what had happened, and smiled to myself. My friend who has a powerful ability to focus narrowly on the task at hand had been concentrating on her "get out of town" check-list. That list included, "Leave left-over chicken salad at Gay's" but did not include "Pick up note from Gay." She saw what she viewed as relevant to her task--Gay's house, refrigerator, chicken salad. Other things, while present, simply did not appear on her radar.

After some thought, I left the note taped to the door of the refrigerator. A week or so later, now back in town, L. and another friend came for dinner. The three of us smiled about the note, still on the refrigerator door, and discussed the way our minds can sometimes bend in "blind" obedience to a task our wills have set. At such times, in complex ways, we often see only what we have assigned ourselves to see.

After shared good food, we discussed a fine book we jointly had been reading. We were surprised when we realized what time it was.

"It's time for me to gather myself together and go home," L. said, and promptly did so. She carried dishes to the kitchen, gave each of us hugs, retrieved her purse, gathered up her tote bag along with a number of bulky parcels, and efficiently, no help needed, got herself out the door, into her car and started for home.

Later while turning off kitchen lights I walked by the refrigerator and laughed aloud. There stuck in place on the refrigerator door, was the note, much discussed but still "unseen" while posted in plain sight.

One of the ways we change our environment lies in the instructions we give ourselves about the things to which we are to pay attention.

I found myself wondering how often God had posted a note for me, and I had left it "unseen" and unread simply because I didn't expect to hear from God.

This week I have made myself an assignment: to see epiphanies--glimpses of God at work in His kingdom, in others, and in my own life, doing that which God has promised to do. We are not alone--God has assured us of his loving, generous presence. I think, however, that I grow in capacity to respond to God's presence in relationship to the instructions I give my eyes: See God, and worship Him.

What--or whom--do you plan to see this week?

Thinking with you about the unsuspected tyranny of attention.

See you next week,


Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Raspberry Blog, Number Two

October 3, 2010

Good evening, friends,

In last week's blog I introduced you to a wild mountain raspberry that made me think. This week I have done some more thinking about that persistent raspberry, and have decided to use "The Raspberry Blog, Number Two," as a title for this week's time together.

I realize there is risk in this. I know that readers who were not overly fond of last week's raspberry may not be up for a second helping. Nevertheless, I want to give this cheeky little raspberry a second look.

Initially, sleepy as I was, I believe my thinking was correct--it is indeed the work of both the mountains and the raspberry to be about their God assigned tasks of being mountains and being a raspberry in ways that image God.

But what does that nifty little theological phrase mean in everyday terms?

Image God by being a perfect mountain? Being a perfect raspberry? But who could define "perfect" mountain or "perfect" raspberry if that were the case? And how could we know that the "perfectness" of God was God's point of existence for the mountain or the raspberry? After all, there are other aspects about God in addition to His perfectness that merit knowing. I quickly abandoned the "be perfect" approach to the mountain/raspberry matter; nothing of practical value appeared to lie down that path.

However, as I revisited in my mind God's teaching moment with me there on the mountain, I glimpsed something that was practical indeed.

When you remember where it was, this raspberry, clinging to the edge of a mountain road in Wyoming in late September, I think you'll agree, this was a cheeky raspberry. I can see it yet, an impudent little bit of glowing red cupped in my hand--a raspberry!! and having the nerve to be a raspberry in a difficult and unlikely place at the edge of winter. So far as I could tell, this raspberry wasn't worrying about the coming snow; it wasn't complaining about the wind, or the rocks--it just kept busy being a raspberry. So far as I could tell, this raspberry lost no time comparing its small self unfavorably to the massive granite walls around it, or to the deep mysterious depths of the glacier lake below us. That raspberry went about its business of being a raspberry, knowing out of its unconscious essence that being a raspberry was both its calling and God's glory, and that, therefore, being a raspberry was enough.

Are you practicing with resilient courage your God-imaging task of "blooming where you're planted?" God's kingdom is always in need of more raspberries.

Thinking with you what it means to persist contentedly as a part of God's creation where I have been placed.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sept 26, 2010

Dear Friends,

This past week has been filled with adventure. I spent several days with friends enjoying conversation, laughter, and good food while exploring parts of the Wyoming world.

One evening enroute home from a trip to the mountains, we stopped in a pullout. While stopping was a calm sensible act on the driver’s part, from my passenger perspective on the cliff side of the road I confess I felt a momentary wish for a parachute! Safely parked, however, I got over my qualms, and the three of us got out of the car, and stood together on the shoulder of that small space of ground looking down.

The valley stretching miles below us was bracketed by the massive Wind River Range on the east, and on the far west by the Tetons that formed a black jagged horizon against the late afternoon sky. We were looking down on a deep glacier lake already darkening with the shadows of the mountains that surrounded it. Our human smallness seemed the clearest thing about our identity in that immense world of wind and endless grass with its high sky and granite boundaries. We sensed too the briefness of our human existence measured against the massive mountains around us. We understood as well that the beauty that touched us in changing shape and shadow and color lay beyond the limits of our human language.

Then, as we turned to go, I saw a small bush clinging fiercely to the edge of the cliff.

“Is that some kind of mountain rose?” I asked my hostess, noticing the shape of the leaves.

“Let me see if I can find a rose hip,” she said, and reached into the bush. “Look here!” she exclaimed, and held out her hand, cupping in her palm a tiny red berry about the size of the nail on my small finger.

“It’s a wild raspberry,” I said surprised, examining it. “Well, so it is,” we agreed as the three of us passed that small bit of transitory life from hand to hand.

Later that night, drowsy but not yet asleep in my warm bed, my mind revisited both that resilient raspberry and the towering cliffs that form the Wind River Range.

“I think that today I recognized God’s shadow in two places,” I reported to myself, “—the raspberry and the rock.” I looked again at the picture in my mind of the mountains behind the lake, and of the tiny wild raspberry cupped in C.’s palm. I concluded drowsily, “They both are assigned to image You,” and drifted off.

Then, just before sleep silenced thinking completely, my eyes suddenly came wide open. Belatedly, I realized that my summary had omitted an important aspect of the rock/raspberry matter.

Awake now, I added, “God, You know that imaging business we were talking about—well, I get it—rock and raspberry and me, too. I understand—me, too.”

Thinking with you about what present Kingdom work looks like for mountains, for raspberries, and for you and me.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weeds This Time

Sept 19, 2010

Dear Friends,

The house project continues to provide thinking moments. Last week it was the lamps. This week it was the weeds.

A gifted friend (C.) who makes beautiful floral arrangements wrote that she would be in town briefly, and suggested that we have dinner together. She added casually that if I would gather some new and interesting weeds she would come early and make a new arrangement I could use on the piano or on the glass sofa table.

“Do I need to get all ‘new’ materials?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” C. answered, “—just some new interesting weeds and we’ll use them with some of the old arrangement you liked. The combination in that gold vase will look fine, and very different.”

The week developed into a non-stop round of activities with little time for weed-gathering. I shared my dilemma with my friend, L.

“Weeds?” asked another friend (L.) in a puzzled voice. “You mean you want weed weeds—weeds like those that grow in fields and fence rows?”

“Yep,” I said, “that’s exactly what I want.”

“Well, I’ll get some for you when I walk the dogs. What do I look for?”

“Weeds,” I said, “Look for some that are beautiful and have interesting shapes.”

A few days later, L. stopped by.

“I left some weeds in the garage,” she said, then added in a very doubtful tone, “but I don’t know about the big one I put on the floor. It’s—well, it’s odd, and it’s dark and heavy. I’ll take it and put it in the trash if you want me to. I can’t imagine how C. would ever use that.”

“No,” I said. “Just leave it all—let C. decide what will fit into what she has in mind.”

Later, visiting the weed harvest in the garage, I had my own doubts. That particular weed specimen that L. had left on the floor was big and heavy, and it looked dark and wild and somewhat ugly lying on the gray cement of the garage floor.

Shortly after C. arrived we went to inspect the weed supply in the garage.

“Oh, look!” C. said with delight. “Oh, look at this!! It’s heavy, and dark, and tall—just perfect for the center. The grasses and the golden rod and this stuff here—I don’t know its name is—it’s just beautiful, and together this is going to be wonderful. Wait and see.”

When C. was finished, the transformation of the weeds was visually astonishing. The specimen that L. had left alone on the dark cement garage floor assumed a dramatically different appearance when surrounded by the deep rust seed stalks of the dock weed, and the gold furry heads of foxtail. The slender stems of the curly willow looked oddly at home against the solid unbending strength of the dark centerpiece. Together with the wheat in the gold glass vase, all the weeds “belonged”, including the green, half-opened milkweed pods with their shining touch of silk.

“Hmm,” said L. when she saw the finished product. “Looks a lot different that it did on the garage floor.” Indeed.

N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope argues (persuasively, I think) for an organic continuity between this earth and the New Heaven and Earth that John describes in Revelation, and a parallel continuity between who we are, who we are becoming, and the person we will some day be. It is the mystery of the already-but-not-yet of the resurrection. I thought about this later as I sat in my favorite chair and watched the evening light alter the shapes and shades of color in C’s arrangement.

That centerpiece, casting its dark straight silhouette against the gold wall, was surrounded by wild goldenrod, nameless grass, rusty untidy red seed stalks combined with the gossamer silk of half-opened milkweed pod—weeds, all of them, just weeds, creatures of the earth from which they had sprung, shaped by wind and rain and sun throughout their brief attachment to this earth. They were weeds still, although now severed from the field in which they had first known life, and placed into a gold vase, their new position and companions assigned by C.’s gifted eye,. Yet—there was something profoundly different, a transformation, if you will that found them now paradoxically both what they always had been but now reshaped into a beauty only C. could imagine when they were weeds in the fence row, then cut and left lying on the garage floor.

John was thinking about this process of change when he wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (I John 3:2-3 RSV)

Be hopeful. The garage floor does not have the last word.

Grow with courage—you’re not alone.

See you next week.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The lamp adventure

September 12, 2010

Dear Friends,

My thinking this week has grown out of my adventure with lamps.

Arranging for sufficient light is an important part of making a room functional and comfortable. I thought about this as I began to put my house back together after the great painting episode. Common sense suggested that lamps be placed to provide adequate light in task-specific locations (by the piano, by the chair where I read, for example). The light is the important thing, I thought, and apart from their utilitarian function, I assigned lamps themselves a relatively minor significance in the house project.

Not so.

There was that lamp that hung over the dining room table—the black wrought iron one with odd looking little mini-shades. Plenty of light—but all the men and half the women who have eaten at that table have sooner or later hit their heads on that lamp. And it looked—well, that lamp looked downright peculiar seen against the new gold walls.

And then there was the lamp on the table by the loveseat. Plenty of light—it incorporated a hundred watt bulb. It had an attractive base, but by the end of the first week of reconstruction, I could see that that table and that lamp were never going to make a good fit. The table refused to grow any (it was small by any standard), and the tall lamp refused to shrink, so the two made a Mutt-and-Jeff combination that looked—well, they looked a bit like thrift store orphans when viewed alongside the new loveseat.

And then there was the problem posed by my much loved pair of Aynsley china lamps. The Pembroke pattern and the chaste white elegant shades continued to give me great visual joy. They provided more than sufficient light in the space by the china cabinet where I had placed them. However—and you may not be surprised—I soon lived into the truth that I had underestimated the power of the red accent wall in the dining room. After about two weeks I conceded: those lamps and the red wall, both beautiful, both loved, simply didn’t fit. Change was necessary. H-m-m-m.

As you know, I am teaching about change in the context of Christian spiritual formation, and the lamp adventure sparked some thinking along this line.

As Christians, we understand that through the indwelling Spirit it is the light of Christ that shines through us—His light, His life, through us. The lamp does not make the light. Paul was emphatic about this—Christ in us, Paul wrote, our hope of glory.

Don’t be conformed to this world, Paul warned those early Christians, yet at the same time he urged them to live in such a way that their lives in Christ were attractive to the world around them.

One part of spiritual formation is the Spirit’s work to increase those responses in us that enable others to see what Jesus was actually like—compassionate, loving and kind. This requires our cooperation. Another part of our spiritual formation is the Spirit’s work to enable us to live along side people in a way that encourages life-changing relationships. Similarly, this too requires our cooperation.

My lamps—bless them—had no choice. They are what they are. Not so for me in the way I through the Spirit reflect the Christ light I have been given. I remember singing energetically as a child in Sunday School: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine.” Today, thinking of my lamp adventure and the challenge of change in myself, I added: “Spirit God, shape me to shine with a beauty and grace-to-fit-in that draws others to Your light.”

What kind of a lamp are you providing for the Light in your life?

With you on the everyday journey.



Sunday, September 5, 2010

Knowing What We See

September 5, 2010
Dear Friends,

I was meeting a friend for lunch and arrived early. While waiting I overheard two women sitting near me talking with animation and an easily audible volume. One was recounting an event that she had recently experienced.

"I wouldn't have believed it unless I had seen it with my own eyes," she concluded emphatically.

Being incurably curious about people, I considered going over to the woman and asking her if she believed that her eyes were in every instance a reliable guide to truth--it appeared to me she had embraced a highly questionable epistomology without thinking the matter through. On second thought, being even more highly interested in keeping the public peace (particularly since at that moment I was part of this specific public), I remained at the table where the hostess had seated me, and sensibly minded my own business.

While waiting, however, I did continue to wonder if it had ever occurred to that woman to question what she saw, or to wonder if the meaning she had assigned to what she thought she had seen was truth. At this point, my friend arrived and my attention turned to the joy of time and conversation with her, and the pleasure of the fine food we were served.

Late afternoon when I had finished with clients, however, the issue returned in an interesting and surprisingly beautiful form.

There is a bank of three large windows at the west end of my living room. The window coverings include sheers that cast a rusty red glow when the afternoon sun comes through them. The sofa in front of the windows is a comfortable sort, and I lay down for a brief rest and the joy of watching the changing shadows in the angles of the walls and ceiling as the light changed and night began to move in.

The walls in this room have been recently painted what is to me a lovely shade of gold. To my fascinated eyes, however, the walls I now saw had become a rich salmon-tinted rose. A portion of the ceiling that had appeared its proper Aztec White when I left for lunch, was now touched by a pied and dappled patch of red and green that reached from the dining room arch to the kitchen door.

Remembering the woman's comment, I said to myself with a smile, "The paint on my walls has changed! I have seen it with my own eyes so I am sure I can believe it."

I did see an beautiful, luminous rose covering on my living room walls. The ceiling was patterned with moving patches of red and green. I saw this--I am sure that I did. I am less sure, however, that what I saw means that the paint changed.

There is the matter of those sheers to be taken into account. And there is also the Tiffany lamp through which the afternoon sunlight reached obliquely for that ceiling space.

Change comes. When change comes, we do not automatically understand the change we see. If seeing becomes believing without pause for question, we can find ourselves at odds with reality, and adrift from truth. Jesus did not seem to think that the seeing and hearing that matter are automatic or easy. He reminded his followers that those who had eyes needed to choose to see, and those with ears needed to choose to hear. One of the purposes for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus added comfortingly, was to make this seeing and hearing possible.

If you are interested in thinking about change, and how change occurs in the process of spiritual development, join our class at First Presbyterian Church, Golden, CO, beginning September 12 at 10:30. Call 303.279.3968 for further information.

See you next week.



Sunday, August 29, 2010


August 29, 2010

Dear friends,

I had the pleasure today of going to brunch with friends after church. We ate in the dining room of an historic old hotel in a small foothills town. We were seated by a wide unshaded window that overlooked a mountain stream lined by ancient cottonwoods. The cream for my coffee was served in a miniature glass bottle shaped exactly like the old glass milkbottles that the milkman once delivered door to door in slower days.

My friends (young by my standards) laughed at my delight in that cream bottle, and their amusement added greatly to my joy. It was one of those "thin" moments when perspective is broadened so that for an instant we experience life more deeply and more clearly in all directions. The present reached back behind us and pulled the past forward in the high old ceilings in the dining room, in the old hammered silver pattern of the new stainless steel spoon with which I stirred cream into my coffee. That small cream bottle was new but its shape was a replica of an old pattern; it was both same and different. We were laughing together, eating together in a place where others had laughed and eaten before us, and where others would replace us and laugh and eat other breakfasts in a world in which things both stay the same and change.

The Greeks reminded us that we cannot walk in the same water twice; I thought of that as I watched the mountain stream tumble in noisy energy through the ancient rocks below us. And I noticed too that the old cottonwood outside our window was already showing a branch of yellow leaves against the late August sky. The past is always present, we know, but it is also true that the present is in one sense already past. While we laughed and talked and drank excellent coffee, I looked often at the cream "milk" bottle bridging past and present. It was, I decided, a small utilitarian icon.

I found it an altogether satisfying lunch in every way. I know, however, that if I go again it will be both the same and different, as will I.

I'm thinking about change these days for many reasons. Pressing among these reasons is a class
I'm teaching this fall centered around the topic of change in the context of our faith. How does "spiritual formation" actually work in real life? How does choosing to be a Christian change us? Is change automatic? How does spiritual change and change related to time and aging differ? How are they alike? What is the significance of choice in the process of change?

And how are you thinking about change in your life?

If you're interested in thinking with others, please join us. The class will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 17707 West 16th Avenue, Golden, CO, beginning at 10:30, Sept. 12. Call 303-279-5591 for additional information.

See you next week.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 15, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

A friend came to visit and read my blog about the picture I saw of the hands full of money.

She wondered if it was an advertisement for a nail salon. She "heard" the unverbalized message as saying this: "Ladies, if you want your hands full of money, pay us to make your nails look like this." She titled the picture, "Bait."

One reader titled the picture, "The Harlot," and "heard" the unverbalized message as demonstration of unwise choices of lesser values.

After mulling the image over in my mind, I finally titled it "Illusion." The money was counterfeit, the nails fake, and the perfection of the woman's hands the result of a brush (camel's hair or air); no human hand I've ever seen looks that perfect.

Most of you know the old cliche that says "A picture is worth a thousand words." H-m-m-. Maybe.

Look what's happening here. One stationary image (all right--I'll grant you that it is a picture you have through words, but that doesn't nullify my point). Already we have three different titles carrying three very different ideas, any one of which might well require a thousand words to explain that one picture. In one sense, this stands the old cliche on its head: one picture requires a thousand words for understanding.

I'm proposing a cliche for the ditigal world:

A picture requires a thousand words to explain--no image is unambiguous.

What do you think?

See you next week.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

Thank you for your comments last week. It has been fun as well as helpful to think your thinking with you. Send more!!

My friend [aka The Ditigal Semanarian] came to visit. She brought laughter, good food, and a feast of ideas. We talked often (and sometimes late) about the ways in which ideas are conveyed through images in the present world of digitalized information. A picture in a book does not convey information in the same ways as does an image on a screen, we agreed, then wondered: How does the rapid flow of images across a screen impact differently our human processes of knowing?

Wannabe armchair philosophers that we are, we revisited Descarte's idea ["I think, therefore I am"]. We considered the possibility of revising it for this present age into something like, "I visually process images, therefore I am." We thought about the ways in which we humans make meaning and asked ourselves, "How do we make truth from the images we visually absorb?"

On our last evening together we considered another question: can any image be declared to have intrinsic 'goodness' or 'badness'? If so, what forms the foundation for an 'ethic of the eye'?

My friend returned to teaching, and I resumed the undramatic routine of my days. Then while the afterglow of our conversations still lingered in the back of my mind, I had a startling experience. I saw a picture--a picture on an unmoving wall, not a screen.

The picture hung slightly left of center and several degrees lower than the viewer's eye might have anticipated. This artfully chosen imbalance made the wall itself an extension of the canvas, a large unbordered empty space within which the picture aggressively held its small framed place.

While the space the picture occupied initially caught my attention, it was the content of the picture--the static image it held--that stopped me in stride.

It was an image of a woman's hands, extended gracefully as though she held a spray of flowers. What she held, however, was a spray of money, an enormous bundle of thousand-dollar bills that had begun to unroll making a half-formed bouquet in her hands. The viewer's eyes were drawn simultaneously to the money (a fortune held casually in those slender fingers) and the nails on those fingers--they were long, fashionably square-cut, and varnished a fierce, fire-engine, in-your-face red.

The image was untitled.

In the time since I first saw it, I occasionally revisit that image in the gallery of my mind. I still have yet to give it a title.

What do you think? What title would you give it? What truth does the image give you to see and know?

See you next week.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

August 1, 2010

Good afternoon, Friends,

This week the painters came as scheduled and painted my kitchen, living room, dining
room and the stairs.

The light, the shadows and the angles in these rooms are different now. It is true that walls have not moved, and the stairs wind up to my study as always. Nevertheless, the paint with which the painter covered the walls last week has changed the way in which I see them.

But I wonder. Many of you know the idea of "Writing on my wall." You use this phrase when you talk about the Facebook space of your life. In another sense, however, I think the painter taught me something about writing on the larger spaces of my life this week.

I need from time to time to risk conscious change. I need to write on the wall of my life something new that helps me see differently those things I live with every day. When it is finished, this kind of painting lets me see my world and the people in it in new and challenging

And, sitting here in my kitchen, I am glad the rooms of my life can be beautiful even when my choice of color may not be perfect to the artist's eye.

See you next week.

Go with God,


Sunday, June 20, 2010

What about Habit?

June 20, 2010

Hello, friends,

My grandfather would say from time to time, "What you are doing is speaking so loudly I can't hear what you say." At such moments, his tone of voice indicated no question as to the priority in significance he was assigning my behavior.

If we want people to hear us--both our verbal and nonverbal communication--we must speak from a platform shaped by congruence between saying and doing accompanied by an earned credibility.

I wonder: is the untimate significance of what we do determined by this complex congruence with who we are, and the resulting credibility (or lack of it)?

Aristotle wrote, "We are what we repeatedly do."

Considering the doing/being dichtomy in this way can produce some sober self-assessment. However, with due respect for the great philosopher, I'm still not convinced that the relationship between the two can be stated this simply. I'm even less convinced that this idea, at least as Aristotle phrased it, provides hope or incentive for change.

What do you think?



Sunday, June 13, 2010


June 13, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

The time in the mountains was filled with wonderful things--watching the clouds drift up the valley lower than the craggy mountain peaks that towered above them; a contented elk chewing his cud in the shade of some aspen; the rushing flood of the Big Thompson River only inches beneath the bridge; the scent and taste of coffee in the early morning chill; the laughter, food and stories shared with friends, the sense of the goodness of God's creation and the urgent need for our careful stewardship of all that God has given--I was grateful for each hour, and came home with slow reluctance.

We talked about the being/doing question, and laughed at the ways in which at times our individual "doing" seemed like a sturdy reliable (and, admittedly, amusing) shadow of who each of us was. More seriously, we agreed as we were packing to leave that it had been a nurturing, productive time at a level difficult to describe. Who we were together made what we did together assume a weight of meaning beyond the activity itself. We did what we did because of who we were; yet, what we did was in one sense only a shadow of who we were--the life together we had shared was certainly more than a sum total of what we had done.

I have a chronic distrust of the dualism that unconsciously creeps into our thinking from our Greek ancestors. How useful is the being/doing dichotomy in understanding ourselves and our life journey?



Sunday, June 6, 2010

Naming the impact?

June 6, 2010

Dear friends,

Am spending some time in the mountains with friends this week resting, thinking, talking.

Plan to take Stafford's poem with me along with N.T. Wright's book on the resurrection, Surprised by Hope. You might rightfully think that I am planning time to do nothing. And yet-

When I write next week, how will who I am carry the impact of these days of being with others? And--sobering question-- how will the being of others be altered by my being who I am and becoming in their company?

In the ending couplet of the poem, Stafford alludes to both the hidden current of the river and the stillness of the river held in ice. He then concludes abruptly:

"What the river says, that is what I say."

A student once said irritably, "What Stafford said and the river said was the same, all right--nothing." While I understood this particular student's frustration , I didn't agree. Do you? Is there nothing to say when we are asked about the significance of who we are in the context of what we have done? Rephrase Stafford's last line in the sturdy everyday language we might use while drinking tea on the porch.

In case you wonder, I do think there are other things worth thinking about in addition to Stafford's poem. I plan to go to some of those other places soon.



Sunday, May 30, 2010


May 30, 2010

Good evening, friends,

This week I have continued to think about Stafford's haunting lines in "Ask Me":
". . . ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my

I have revisited too the way Stafford enters time and life cycle into the question: Ask me, Stafford insists, ask me when the river is in ice. Like you, Lori, I find the image of the frozen ice motionless above the moving hidden current a powerful one.

Stafford (like you, Mark) raises the issue of impact as well. He does this in the context of relationships he has had: others have tried to help or to hurt, he recalls. Then: "Ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made."

What if we phrased the question in this way: "Ask me whether relationships I have had (have) are my life." Are the relationships we form the doing that tells us who we are?

Thinking with you,


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blog 3 May 23, 2010

Dear friends,

We left each other last week thinking about the question, "Is what I have done my life?"
Some of you looked up William Stafford's poem "Ask Me" and considered the question in the context of the total poem. You discovered, I'm sure, that Stafford has a great deal more to say (and ask) than the original question suggests when left standing alone as I quoted it.

Others of you answered "Yes" or "No," responding in our opening dialogues in the either/or format of the question as Staford initially framed it.

Thank you--all of you--for your responses. We have a fine beginning.

Today I want to begin by thinking about the issue from a slightly different angle. In doing this I hope to clarify without simplifying the depth and density of Stafford's writing. I want then to move on to the additional thorny issue that underlies Stafford's initial question.

The question that Stafford invites us to consider is a pivotal one in the context of personal identity. Are being and doing synonymous? If who I am and what I do are not the same, then what is the relationship between the two? What if, as Stafford's question makes plain, the doing includes mistakes? Where then does my value lie? How does my doing poorly (i.e., mistakes, and deliberately wrong choices) impact my being who I am?

Ask me about this, Stafford invites, but ask me when the river is in ice.

Some of you with a strong gift of common sense and practicality may be frowning. How, you wonder, does a river in ice come into this question of doing and being? Others of you may have sensed something of Stafford's oblique drift of meaning. You may have heard him saying (Hubbard paraphrase), "Ask me about the meaning of mistakes I have made in terms of who I am, and ask me when I am living in a winter season in my life."

And so, this week once again: Is what I do who I am? How does my doing poorly (i.e., mistakes, and deliberately chosen wrong) impact who I am? But this week, the question with an added turn--if I am living in a winter season of life, will my answer be shaped by that winter as well?

And for those of us who take our faith journey seriously, what difference has the doing and being of that itinerant rabbi Jesus made in the answers it is possible for us to give?

See you on screen this week, I trust, giving the hard questions your careful thought,


P.S. "Ask Me" can be found in the following collection:
William Stafford, "Ask Me," p. 126 in The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford." Edited and with an introduction by Robert Bly. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.

P.S.2-- I'm sorry that the response process has been a bit difficult. Hope to include an instructural paragraph next week that will make the procedure easier. I want to know what you're thinking. Blessings,

Dear friends,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thinking about the bottom line

May 16, 2010
Hello, friends,

We were having lunch and discussing my birthday. My friend asked, “So—what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

“Good things,” I answered cheerfully. While only partly true, my answer was the best I could manage at the moment in the noisy restaurant.

It was later as I sat thinking, watching afternoon shadows play silently across my desk that I remembered the opening lines of William Stafford’s poem, “Ask Me.”

Sometime when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.

Is what I have done my life?

Did Abraham ask that question when he remembered how Sarah’s knowing eyes met his, then turned away as he stammered, “No, man, no wife—she’s just my sister.”

Did Moses wonder when alone in the empty desert he remembered the blood, and the surprised eyes of the soldier dying at his feet?

Did Paul, that chief of sinners, see again in troubled dreams the faces of the children when smelling the stench and blood of the arena they turned still singing toward their certain death?

We cannot know.

But we know that Paul, traveling to Damascus, had a confrontation with the risen Christ that taught him to place his life—all of it—into a new context. Years later, writing to the church at Rome, Paul said, “I’m absolutely convinced that. . . nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (The Message, p. 323).

Is what I have done my life?
When I reach my bottom line, I think that the answer depends on what I have done with what God in Christ has done for me.

See you next week.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Looking for Epiphanies

Good evening, friends,

Many of you have given gentle encouragement to me to begin a blog on my website. Now that I've taken this step, I trust that along with continuing encouragement you'll also provide practical suggestions for improvement as I learn.

Both will be needed. At this stage of beginning, writing (blogging?) carries little sense of participation in a communication process. The physical reality of sitting alone, looking into a computer screen and typing words into a silent screen seems more like a game of language solitaire than communication.

I do not yet have a clear understanding of the word "blog", either its history or its grammar, nor its current proper use. At this stage, I think of "blog" both as a noun (something I read) and a verb (something I do). Correct? My plan at this beginning stage is to post weekly a small comment (a blog?) on something I've been reading or a question I've been thinking about.

I thought today about Luke's story of the people walking along the road to Emmaus talking sadly about Friday's events in Jerusalem. As they walked, the risen Jesus joined them, and entered into their conversation. Although they did not recognize him at first, later, as they broke bread together, Luke says that their eyes were opened, and they knew him.

Perhaps through the Spirit He will sometimes join us, travelers on this cyber road. And perhaps He will permit us to sometimes sense His presence as we blog.

Looking with you for epiphanies,

Grace (Gay)