Wednesday, June 29, 2011

summer thinkin' - about friends

The worth of a true friend is beyond counting. Half a dessert is much better than a whole dessert if you can share it with someone who is really and honestly a friend. Sometimes we tell our stories to a friend just so we can hear ourselves think, and sometimes it is so we can remember that we are more than most people imagine. A friend holds the mystery of us in delicate balance with the obnoxious pieces of us. A friend laughs with us when we have a moment of (usually abysmal) self discovery. A friend revels in our successes because they know we would die if we didn't catch the ball sometimes. A friend worries when they haven't heard from us for a while. They get us out of jams we have put ourselves in and come to our picnics with baskets full.

I have some friends like this. Not dozens of them, but some. You know who you are. I am sitting on my porch tonight thinking about you, friend. Thinking about how you don't get angry or disappointed in me even when I am disappointed in myself. Thinking about how you bring all your strength into my situations and make me look good. Thinking about whether or not you will help me fix my curtains.

I have made a pie. If a friend came by I would share some. I would forget my attempts (feeble at best) to become willowy and eat and laugh and we would both feel good. The problem with friends is that you are not here to share my pie. So I will have to eat it all on your behalf. But it won't be near so good.

Monday, June 27, 2011

summer thinkin' - on grammas

My two oldest granddaughters are with me this week. They are beautiful, funny, and very very messy. Oh, and always hungry.

On Saturday I came across an old leather journal belonging to my gramma Iva (dad's mom) whose name I share. Gramma Iva was not all that accessible to me. I remember a few experiences I had with her. She was a southern woman with nails filed to a point, and a bit of lace in the V of her dresses. Her immaculate home smelled of old wood. I spent one overnight with her and grampa alone. It was very special. I remember her standing me in front of her and tsk tsking my hair, which stood up in all directions. She muttered something about my mother not getting me a decent haircut and decided she would cut my bangs. What she didn't take into account was a wild 'cow lick' ... and the result was not quite an improvement. But I liked it. I liked her cutting my bangs. It is a vivid memory.

When my gramma died my mom gave me two of her possessions. One is a tea cup that I still treasure - very old and fragile, covered in gold. And her 'journal.' I was disappointed to find the journal was really just her recipes... and I put it away. Yesterday I found the journal in a box of family 'stuff'. The leather is stamped 1933. I sat on the floor and carefully moved through every page and note to see if there was something of my gramma in it. I discovered that like me she was pretty random. There are alphabetical divides but she doesn't seem to have used them all the time. Scraps and bits of paper are stuffed here and there with many recipes repeated on several notes. Many of the recipes have names attached, all prefaced by "Mrs." Mrs. Iris Riddle. Mrs. Eugene Platt. And a lot of canning recipes: grape juice, which my mom used to make (I wonder if she learned from my gramma); pickled cucumbers and beets; canned chicken; etc. She has a lot of recipes for desserts and now that I think of it, we always had a good dessert when we ate at her table.

Once a year my gramma and mom would plan a picnic at Niagara Falls, Ontario. We would drive the hour to the falls and on the grass (that is now an amusement park) we would spread blankets and containers of food. The meal was a happy feast - unlimited amounts of fried chicken, jello salad, potato salad, buns and iced tea poured from a huge plastic jug, and squares. The adults would sit on the blankets and talk and laugh the afternoon away and us six kids would throw a ball and chase butterflies and roll down the grassy hills, staining our clothes. At the end of the afternoon all the left overs were pulled out and we ravenously emptied the containers. For one marvelous day my family was happy.

I worked through the recipes on Saturday, thinking about this woman who made sweets for her husband, who wrote details down carefully and didn't organize her recipes alphabetically, but rather named them by the friend who gave them to her. She doodled in long lines that look like lace, much as I do. She watched her spinster daughter marry and divorce, buried her husband and struggled (I think) to accept the farmer's daughter her son married, not to mention the rambunctious half dozen children who followed like a parade of unruly dogs behind him.

I found one sheet on which she had absent mindedly written her whole name out a couple times. Iva May Christie. Iva May Christie. I put the scrap on the window sill, chose a recipe from the journal and laid it beside her scrawled names: coconut, chocolate squares. Then, measuring carefully I made her dessert.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer thinkin' - on sexting

Two magazines arrived at our home this week, both introducing the question of what constitutes infidelity. We know about sexual affairs and affairs of the heart ... do we now have to include e-affairs? What are the limits? What boundaries need to be drawn.

I have friends, lots of friends, in these confusing places. Please note that I am not judging my friends, just reporting what I see. I have friends who have started sexual affairs by reconnecting with old flames online. I have friends who are currently deriving all their emotional satisfaction from online conversations with (also married) persons of the opposite sex. I have friends who are reconnecting with old flames and who are defensive of their actions as being innocent and energizing, and who feel it is a violation of their personal freedom to be expected by a spouse not to continue on with the renewed and renewing friendship. These and other online experiences are not rare, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Because I know the people involved I can tell you they are not bad people but real people in complex situations. What are the lines? What are the ethics of social media? I too, have talked with old friends online. I too, have had conversations online that I felt went too far too fast.

Today I was reading a book on monastic life and I think I have a nugget to offer to the discussion. Interesting that this little paragraph triggered the discussion on sexting.

The discussion is about enduring one's cell... a small personal living space, containing and representing the limited life of a monastic vowed person. The cell is a teacher, forcing a brother to confront himself - his temptations, his fantasies, his longings.

"You have to promise yourself to yourself and to your actual environment, as if you were settling a proposal of marriage. You have to 'espouse' reality rather than unreality, the actual limits of where and who you are rather than the world of magic in which anything can happen if I want it to. The fantasy world is one in which I am not promised/espoused, to my body, and my history - with all that this entails about my family, my work, my literal physical surroundings, the people I must live with, the language I must speak and so on. [Staying in your cell] is, I supposed, a rather startling intensification of the command to love yourself in the right way."

Then, about the temptations of Christ as symbolic of His temptations to escape reality ... "Satan wants Jesus to join him in the world where cause and effect don't matter, the world of magic; Jesus refuses, determined to stay in the desert with its hunger and boredom, to stay in the human world with its conflict and risk. He refuses to compel and manipulate people into faith because it can only be the act of a person, and persons do not live in the magic world."

Could it be that there is real wisdom for us here in the monastic tradition? Could it be that the issue is not about boundaries, how far can we legitimately go? That the issue is about fidelity to ourselves? That when we enter into a fantasy world, one that we can claim does not connect with our real life and is therefore without judgment, we are losing our very selves. Can we imagine espousing ourselves to reality? Yes, it is the way of unmet hungers and maybe boredom, but it is also the way of being a person.

Monday, June 20, 2011

looking for ugly

This is an email conversation between a few women - after we watched this short video:

Sigh. I was Ichthus this past week and heard a popular youth speaker (in fact, he has his own ministry, travels and speak to youth groups and parents - an 'expert') and he talked in simplistic terms about what was wrong with our daughters and our sons. He was a brilliant comedian, but his material on human formation was painfully thin and misguided. When he talked about girls he said that girls need to have someone who values them. Yes. I agree. But then he took the "Captivating" theory and talked only about girls needing to be feel pretty. That they need someone to say they are pretty and women can't tell them that because 'all women hate their bodies.' He gave a rather funny and poignant monologue on how women 'look for ugly' on themselves - and it is true as it relates to body image. But he didn't take it any further than that and in fact, said that men are responsible to help girls know they are pretty. SIGH He talked about how a good man must think of all the little girls around him as their nieces and "help them know they are pretty." (apparently all the 'good' men will be going to jail...just saying....)

Anyway, one other thing he said is this (almost a quote), "All the girls are, like, We want equal rights!!! (he said this in a squeaky voice) ... well, where is THAT getting us?"

You know, this makes me so sad. If my connections of thoughtful mature women heard this they would be very upset - and it would further dismiss the Christian voice as unworthy of a place at the table. But everyone LOVED his talk ... they ate it up because it was funny and well, easy.

Just an illustration of how far we are off on this whole woman's thing. I think if we are talking about women we must talk about our bodies - we are bodily in every way - even in our spirituality, but what can we say that is more than that?


That was profound, and oh, so true. One of the women in Book Club was telling us about her daughter. A few years ago ---- was tall, slender, an A-plus student, athletic, responsible, kind, lots of friends. But, of course, her first worry was, "Mom, Am I pretty?" Her mother, a scientist and teacher at an elite private school was sickened to discover that her daughter, despite all the mother's best effort, still wondered if she was pretty and still worried about it.

---- is now 23, almost finished her first degree, has a boyfriend and many accomplishments. She is not conventionally pretty, but she is accomplished in many ways and will be one of life's movers and shakers. I hope she doesn't still worry about her face.

I am 49 and a half, and I still want to be pretty.


I don't know anybody who doesn't want to be attractive. Women have vastly different ideas about what attractive means, but every culture has some measure of beauty.Think of National Geographic and the women with rings on their necks, or weird tattoos, or huge butts. Think of the pasty-faced geisha. Every group has a way to measure female attractiveness. So, as warped and sick as our culture is, I think it goes much deeper than that. Either our desire is innate and God-given, or it is the result of the fall. What do you think?


Just this morning before I reluctantly rolled out of bed, I prayed for something to move me, to give me food for thought, to inspire change, growth. This is also the daily battle I live with my preteen who is beginning to develop and struggling with the changes in her body. She is amazingly talented, but all of that pales in comparision to the messages of society, to be thin, pretty, desirable. She never feels "enough". Can you imagine the power and beauty of women if we could all "wear joy"!

Yes - I wish we could find the crack - a way we could break this thing open. There must be something we are missing. Do we have anything to say about this?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dr Phil and me

I have a way to measure my parenting decisions. I imagine myself on Dr.Phil and tell the audience what I am doing. If Dr.Phil leans back in his chair and looks at the audience and they all laugh, I know I am slightly nuts.Then he leans forward and tells me off.

Before you scorn this idea, let me illustrate. (These are fictional events,of course, to protect the innocent.)

Me: My son can't move away from home. It's too hard for kids to make it on their own these days.
Dr. Phil: How old is your son?
Me: 43.
Dr. Phil leans back and looks at audience.

Me: I am so tired. My 5 year old stays up late. He just won't go to bed early enough for me.
Dr. Phil: What time do you need to go to bed?
Me: Well, I want to be in bed by ll:00.
Dr. Phil leans back and looks at audience.
(laughter) works. It is hard being an adult all by yourself. But if you can imagine yourself on prime time TV in front of a hard nosed psychologist and an audience, well, you get some perspective.

Just saying.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

empty nest?

I am having a big time these days watching adolescent birds. You can spot one by its scruffy feathers - half grown sprouts of bed head. And how they behave. Aggressive, losing their balance and falling off a perch, harassing an adult bird, making screeching landings like a drunken pilot on a first flight.

Leaving home is like that. My youngest son is leaving home tomorrow. Again. For real. Maybe. He has outgrown his bedhead. He lands pretty much on his feet. He can still harass the adults. So tomorrow he is off to a nice one bedroom with balcony and fireplace.

I have, thus, declared Wednesday to be 'naked night' at the Elliott's. This is what one does when the last kid leaves home. You might not know about this if you have young ones, but one day you will also have your naked night. Naked night is the evening mom and dad have dinner together, naked. They lay about on the couch, naked. They watch tv, naked. They putz in the garden, well, naked under their clothes.

The real reason for this is to frighten the departing offspring. They must have a terrifying imagine in their minds or they will certainly return. At any hour of the day or night. But definitely NOT on naked night.

Monday, June 13, 2011

clumsy stewards of our lives

Richard Rohr uses that term, "clumsy stewards" to describe how many people manage and tend to their inner selves. I know he is right about me. I most certainly am a clumsy steward of my own self. But the other side of that confession is the radiant idea that I AM the steward of myself! Clumsy or not, being a participant in my own formation is a gift and a grace I seldom remember to feel grateful for.

We are active participants in our own formation, but we are not alone in this endeavor. Scientific investigations into brain function have made enormous strides in recent years. To put it simply, it has been proven that human brains need other human brains to develop and mature. A baby's brain cannot develop properly without a nurturer's brain, expressed through eyes and face and mimicked motions regularly in attendance. All through life we continue to be formed by other persons and how we interact with them and our environment. We are formed by interaction and participation.

A person is not a machine, programmed toward a limited scope of life options. Nor is a person simply an animal. Animals function mainly on instinct. Human persons are formed. We are formed by others interactions with us and formed through our own participation with those interactions. And all of us are clumsy in this process. We hurt each other. Disappoint each other. We miss cues of love and invitation. We walk past opportunities for friendship, sleep through meaningful moments and step on beauty because we don't see it. And yet, we are dependent on these interactive moments of formation for our very life force.

Christians make much of affirming that matter was created, in the beginning. Creation implies a creator, which is the crux of the debate, of course. But think about this in terms of formation. A creator means that there is a "Person" involved in the idea of human persons. When designing human persons could it be that this Person intended to be an integral part of the formation of human persons through interaction - acting upon and receiving bubbling, honest, sometimes joyful and sometimes troubling responses?

A formational understanding of the human person says something about what we call prayer. Prayer is interaction and formation. Prayer is meant to be a real and sometimes rollicking act of giving and receiving. And prayer is meant to be honest to what we are. Prayer must be planted in reality, and our own self is the closest reality we know. Prayer is not 'out there' - it is 'in here!'

We are clumsy stewards of our lives, and clumsy makers of prayer. We interact thoughtlessly with others and with God. Maybe the first steps toward being better stewards of ourselves is to welcome God and others into honest interaction with us, interaction that is not self protective or controlling.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Eden on earth

We plan together to create spaces for the ego to sing and dance. We parade around in our regalia, we cast honors and prance in new clothes. We work together to create spaces for our wills to march forward. We join in a cause, determine to solve a problem and clean the kitchen. We consort and commiserate to allow our emotions to join in a song or a lament. We toast and laugh at a wedding, weep over the dead cat and wink at a victory. But where can the soul come out to whisper it's quiet secrets? What kind of spaces can we carve out to be safe enough, gentle and not manipulative, alive with joy and love where a soul can dare show itself for a couple of minutes. I want to find that place. It would be such a relief. And I don't think it is as hard as it is simply rare. Here is a story from my daughter's day where someone did that ...

It happened while i was hard at work being a banker. a regular customer pulled up to the drive through to cash a check, and as i sent the drawer out to her and said my hello's through the microphone, she smiled at me, twirling a stem of jasmine in her fingers. she gently dropped it in and said, "you have to smell this!" so i drew the drawer in and held the fragrant white blossoms up to my nose while she endorsed her check, and for a moment we traded places. i was outside in the hot carolina air, breathing in jasmine and grass, and she was ensconced in the business of money and signatures. i traded back her jasmine for the check and the spell was broken - but it lingered in my smile and in the lightness i felt at being passed the small gift of summer's fragrance.

Inviting the soul is as simple as this. The risk to share something beautiful and natural across the steel barrier of business and finance gave my daughter a moment of soul that changed her day for a moment. That is how the soul emerges. One tiny poke of the head out of the bushes and then a rustle of leaves and it is gone.