Monday, December 22, 2008

Strengths & Weaknesses

The last day of school I got home early enough to catch a few minutes of Oprah. I think I may be glad I missed most of the show, but just caught the first few minutes. It has given me several days to have some original thoughts about the topic, and possibly saved me from being disappointed at the direction actually taken on the show. Regardless, it served as a thought provoking trigger.

As I remember it, the show first featured several women who seem overcome with their lives as they are - largely due to family, jobs, and the combination thereof. The guest was going to guide them to some place of sanity, I think, but here is the part that got me before I left to go to the store . . . He said that most people misinterpret their strengths and weaknesses because they are defining "strength" and "weakness" incorrectly. We tend to think that our strengths are those things we do well, and weaknesses are those things at which we basically suck. Wrong! says our guest. A strength is something that actually strengthens you, and a weakness is something that - you guessed it - weakens you. You may be good at it, but doing it weakens you. It reminds me of the Myers-Briggs introvert vs. extrovert. Introverts aren't necessarily shy, and can appear to others to be very extroverted (I'm one of those introverts incognito), but it is in being alone that an introvert is able to "recharge" and become energized. Whereas the extrovert needs to be in a crowd of people to regain their energy.

So . . . back to our Oprah guest (and I'm sorry I didn't watch it long enough to catch his name or his book that I'm sure he has written, but check out her webiste, and I'm sure we can discover that easily enough). His recommendation was that people track their activities for a period of time, carrying green cards and red cards with them. Anytime you completed an activity that left you feeling weaker, you were to write it on the red card; stronger, and you wrote it on the green card. Theoretically, at the end of this period of time, you would be able to identify more clearly those things which strengthened and weakened you (and make appropriate changes if possible).

It has prompted a lot of thought for me. A year or so ago I determined that "just because I can, doesn't mean that I should." And that has proven to be a wise avenue. I think it ties in with this new concept. So often we take on (or are asked to take on) things because folks know we can do it - and do it well. And we feel we should because it must be a strength if we can do it so well, right? Then why do these things tap our energy and deprive us of the real joy and energy we feel in completing something that truly strengthens us?

The Frau and I usually have breakfast out on Saturday mornings, and it is often a good time for philosophical discussion. This was our focus this week and I think we are both trying to dig deeper to identify what really strengthens us at this point in our lives. She even suggested taking it a step further and identifying what you would do if you only had a year left to live. Clearly, we would want to choose those things that would strengthen us most in that year. We both really like our jobs. We're both good at our jobs. Neither of us would continue in our jobs if we had a year left to live. Interesting . . .

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Getting Away . . .

Just a few pictures of how I enjoyed my birthday back in November - escaping to a cabin in Branson. The fall colors and turtles were my favorite gifts.

Talk About Diversity

The politicos are all in an uproar today over Obama's selection of Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Community Church) to lead the invocation at his inauguration. It would appear that folks think Warren shouldn't receive this "honor" because his socially conservative views on abortion, same-sex marriage, are DIFFERENT than those of the President-Elect. Apparently, I and other gays & lesbians are supposed to feel "spritually assualted" by this selection. If you've read this blog at all, you know how I feel about same-sex marriage, and I think abortion is a very difficult and complex issue. But I've also read some of Rick Warren's book, and he does have some good things to say - our differences on some issues notwithstanding.

Paint me red and call me a barn (I don't know that this quirky saying fits, but I think it's cute and wish to use it anyway), but in my younger days it was OK to be friends and have discussions with folks and agree to disagree. In fact, when I look back on any growth I have experienced in my life - intellectually or spiritually - it was from an outgrowth of wrestling with conflicting/DIFFERENT ideas. Rarely did I experience any growth or gain any sort of empathy with an opposing viewpoint by sitting around and listening only to those folks who agree with me.

Perhaps the selection of Warren is a political move on Obama's part to garner some support from the conservative right, but looking at his cabinet picks thus far, I don't think so. I think he understands that in order to make the best decisions for this country, he needs to surround himself with competent, experienced people, many of whom will not be afraid to disagree with him. I'm glad he isn't surrounding himself with "yes" men and women, but with those who are capable of standing up to the leader of the free world and saying "no, here's another perspective." And I think he plans to listen to them. At the end of the day, he may not agree with them, but he will hear them out.

I have some dear friends and family who don't agree with me on every subject, and they won't be surprised to learn that I don't always agree with them. That doesn't stop debate, and intellectual/spiritual discourse. Our failure to agree does not lessen my respect and/or love for them. Our discussions keep me grounded, my perspectives balanced, and my sensitivity to other perspectives open and thoughtful.

I don't agree with Rick Warren on a lot of issues. In fact, there are some that we downright would never come to agreement on. But I respect his convictions, I think he offers much good in what he says, and backs that up with a great deal of integrity (my understanding is he takes no profits from the sale of his book). I think God is big enough to love us both in spite of our differences. And I don't feel "spiritually assaulted" by his offering a prayer on behalf of our country at this momentous occasion. And maybe, just maybe, that is why the President-Elect selected him - as a lesson to us all that part of the "Change" he hopes to bring us is a renewed commitment to allow everyone in this country to be different without being damned.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Power of One

My alma mater has nicknamed their annual fundraising drive The Power of One. It's catchy, and has stuck with me, though not so much for the reason they intended.

A choral colleague shared with me over the weekend her great consternation that one of her students in her top choir was quitting on Friday. He told her he thought she was too tough, her expectations were too high, and she didn't encourage them enough. She tried to talk with him about it, acknowledged that she had no plans to lower her expectations, but that perhaps she could be a bit more positive in affirming the group. She attempted a genuine dialogue, and he cut her off saying that his mind was made up. This normally strong, assertive friend spent most of Friday evening crying about it - wondering what she could have said or done differently to change his mind. I reminded her that she has over 200 students in her program who are staying in the program, and to not neglect appreciating them because of one disgruntled young man who probably just doesn't "get it" - or want it. Then I commented, "Isn't it ironic that most of our students have no idea that we will spend hours investing our emotional energies worrying about the one kid who thinks we are too heartless and callous to care whether they are there or not? Often to the neglect of all our other students who value our efforts?"

Ah, yes. The Power of One.
Greeting Cards You Wish You Could Find

Ever have those occasions when you need/have to buy a card for someone, but the real sentiment you want to express just doesn't exist? Take mothers for instance. The Frau was out to buy a birthday card for her mom, knew she would appreciate one of the more "mushy" variety, yet didn't want to express a sentiment she didn't feel. She was sharing her quandary ("I don't want to buy one that says You've always been there for me . . .), and I commented that what she needed was one that said:

Mom . . .
You've always been there . . .
For my sister,
For the grandkids,
For the dog,
For the Soroptomists,
For your church,
For the neighbors,
And I'm sure you love me, too.
Happy Birthday.

Then we found ourselves chuckling that she always "bonds" with my 90 year old grandmother as they discuss the types of "protection" they use for their occasional bladder instability. I said, "There's another card we need":

I love those special times we share . . .
We can count on incontinence to bring us together.

Feel free to add your own.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Here I sit, preparing to go to the annual city tree lighting ceremony where the choir kids will sing their cold little hearts out for 15 minutes or so in the requisite parade of city choirs. As often happens, there is a new custodian cleaning the choir room today. She's a nice older lady of Hispanic descent. She just came back to my office to ask me what the word "involvement" meant and how to pronounce it correctly. She showed me that she had seen the word on a poster in the classroom that connects different words to the various letters in the word "CHOIR". I explained what involvement meant as best I could - equating it to participation in the classroom activities. She seemed happy to understand, then asked me to make sure she was pronouncing the other words correctly - Cooperation, Harmony, Opportunity, Involvement, Responsibility. She even wrote the word - "involvement" - on a piece of paper that was destined for the trash. I wanted to say to her, "Lady, you 'get it.' You aren't just mechanically doing your job. You are truly involved in your environment and in taking responsible advantage of the opportunity to broaden the knowledge of your surroundings." That poster has been hanging in the choir room for two or three years now. She's the first person to acknowledge she has really seen it. We never know who we are teaching - or who is teaching us. I think that's kind of neat.
Glass Castle - the Lecture

In some far earlier blog, I raved about my "find" of Jeannette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle. Last month I discovered, somewhat by accident, that she would be giving a free lecture as a part of the Humanities Lecture Series at KU. As luck would have it, my evening was free and I got a prime seat - middle center. I was as enamored by Walls in person, as I was by her book, and managed to scratch out a few of the more quotable quotes. I can't guarantee that I recall her words exactly, but I think they are close. I pass them on for anyone who needs an extra "pearl" for the day.

"In protecting children from obstacles, we may deprive them of the gift of learning to navigate those obstacles."

In reaction to her observation of a friend she envied for his food and heat, whose father hit him on the head for drawing, she commented:
"We might not have had food, and we might not have had heat, but my parents would never have made fun of my dreams."

Regarding her shame growing up and her need to write the memoir . . .
"Secrets are like vampires. They can suck the life out of you, but they only exist in the dark."

"Don't be ashamed of your scars. Scars are a sign that you survived."

Her mom's comment when Jeannette questioned how she could have had a "good day" because she fell off a horse. . .
"Anyone can ride a horse. It's knowing how to fall off that's the real talent."

Throughout, she reaffirmed that she learned how to dream from her dad, and learned to be optimistic from her mom.

My favorite - After she got her first big journalism job, she was constantly afraid people would find out about her past and did her best to hide it. One of her co-workers, who had grown up quite privileged and went to private schools, asked if she would like to join her on an Outward Bound experience. She said she didn't know what it was, and asked the girl about it. The girl replied, well you spend several weeks roughing it in the wild, no plumbing, no electricity, foraging for your own food . . . She looked at her and thought, "The first 17 years of my life were an Outward Bound experience." She could hardly wait to call her brother and tell him, "You won't believe this, but rich people actually PAY to suffer!"

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Puppinator - aka "Snuff Doggy Dog"

The birds went absolutely crazy outside the office window this morning. A whole bunch of them. I thought it must be some sort of bizarre mating ritual, or a fight among the blue jays. Arnie was outside, but his involvement didn't even cross my mind as the area of the yard by the office is blocked off to his roaming at the moment. Or so I thought.

Awhile later, I realized I'd left the kid outside and should probably bring him in. I noticed that the temporary "blockade" to the aforementioned area of the backyard was ajar and he was way too quiet. As I peered around the corner, I saw the little assassin with a bird (dead) in his mouth. He put it down as soon as he saw me (unlike his deceased brother, Max, would have done) and came trotting into the main yard. He looked entirely too smug, however, with a tiny feather attached to his lower lip (reminded me of the old Sylvester the Cat cartoons, just after he's chomped down on Tweety Bird). I don't know if the kid actually managed to catch and kill the bird, or if the bird was a young'un on a training mission and had an unfortunate encounter with the fence. Regardless, the other birds were not happy with Arnie.

I brought him in - he appeared entirely too proud of himself - and went to the store. When I got back, he went outside again, and the birds started their angry chatter. Without thinking, I yelled out the back door, "Arnie! Inside! The birds don't like you. You're a murderer."

The things we say to our kids. He appears to be completely unscarred by the comment . . .

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hide and Seek

I hereby confess a guilty pleasure (and semi-aerobic activity). I frequently find myself playing hide and seek with the dog. For those of you who remember Max, this was his favorite game, and was MUCH more aerobic than playing with the Puppinator (aka Arnie). Arnie is still a novice, and seems to be not quite sure whether he should be having fun or be scared. When he's scared, he piddles, so I try not to press the issue. He's only 3-1/2, and Max romped with me well into his 15th year, so there's still hope for a bit more fun in our frolic. Dear God above, I hope I'm not the only fool who does this with their 4-legged child . . . Natey?!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Class, But No Grass

We have been undergoing a rather massive landscaping project in our back yard. The end result is/will be worth waiting for, but it has seriously impeded my normal summer routine. Normalcy when school ends doubles as post traumatic school therapy and involves much planting and yard work. Not everyone enjoys this, but I do. Well . . . we've had rather an overabundance of rain here in the midwest, and this not only delayed the start of this project, but also the completion of same. While the landscapers began the Tuesday after Memorial Day,

they only completed the project this past Wednesday. I feel better now that it's done, and perhaps overcompensated with some rather back-breaking labor in the back yard for the past four days, but I will say that I FINALLY, on June 23, feel like summer has actually begun (even though it's actually almost half over for me). And please don't give me the summer solstice crap. I start back to school on August 11, so that just doesn't fly with me. In my few remaining days, I shall water and pray for the little blades of grass to emerge, so I can truly reclaim my yard, and the Puppinator can stop receiving almost daily baths and hose-downs.
Call Me Sucker . . .

I started a Facebook page. My Space never did a thing for me, and ostensibly, I only did this so I could better communicate with my choir students (even the tiki torch ruffians) and choir officers. I'm finding it scarily addictive. There are actually other ADULTS on it. It's really easy to catch up with folks you haven't seen in ages - you know, the ones you are interested in how they are doing, but you probably won't develop some deep reconnection with, but you can see they are alive, have kids of the 2 or 4 legged variety, developed a sense of humor (or lost it) since last you saw them, etc. And it really is easier for me to stay in touch with my students. This is the practical reason that is supposed to make me feel better about neglecting my blog for the more superficial Face Book (or My Face, as the Frau tends to call it).
Out of Control?

I had a stupid dream a week or so ago. Can't seem to shake it, so I'll share it here in hopes of purging it from my pea brain. The gist of it is . . . and this is really stupid, so be forewarned . . . I was in class with a bunch of my choir guys. They would not cooperate - had to ask them each individually to stand up to rehearse, etc. The next thing I know they are in a back room (instead of in rehearsal) playing lacrosse with my tiki torches. I do not know WHY the tiki torches were at school, so do not ask. I asked them to stop. They said, "Oh Doc, why not - we won't hurt anything." At which point I proceeded to cry, sob actually, and picked up the phone to call the principal and tell him I was totally incapable of controlling my class. Sobbing to the point that I was making whimpering noises in my sleep, and the Frau had to (mercifully) wake me from my torture. Any interpreters out there? By the way, I've never played lacrosse in my life, and don't know the first rule about it (except that I think you are NOT supposed to play it with tiki torches).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eschatology, "Second Comings," & Goings
I've been thinking a lot about eschatology lately. Largely, as a result of a book study at church on a little tome entitled, 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You: (But Can't, Because He Needs the Job) by Oliver Thomas. The last chapter is "How Does it All End?" and there's much erudite discourse on the very symbolic nature of the writings in Daniel and Revelation - the main sources of most eschatological discussion. [I know this because the very worst class of my seminary career was a course in eschatology. The professor wrote the book, and I'm sure is a very nice person, but I was so mired in boredom that I fervently prayed for the second coming of Christ to occur and take one of us away from it all . . . I didn't even mind if I was the one left behind, for even a premillenialist tribulation would have been preferable to this class. But I digress.] The result of the line of thought in Thomas' book is essentially amillenialist - which is where I find myself these days. It resolves all those silly notions of whether or not Barack is the Anti-Christ, much less the Democratic nominee for President. The church chat caused me to broaden my thought process further regarding the "second coming" of Christ (previous seminary class notwithstanding). I've been letting the thoughts simmer for about a week, and I find I'm liking the sauce better and better.

If the revelatory language is symbolic . . . and Christ is to reign for 1000 years in His second coming . . . and the Bible says that for God, "a day is as a thousand years" . . . and we will know "neither the day nor the hour" when Christ comes again . . ., then is it not possible that:

Christ's second coming is perpetual, constant, daily, and hourly, as Christians live out the Gospel in their lives? And as such, are WE not the second coming of Christ?

Could not the tribulation be when Christians cease to be a part of their world and withdraw into their own cliques to the exclusion of some in the world?

If I'm on the right track, then the second coming should be happening all around us, all the time. And "the temple" is being rebuilt in a lot of "new Jerusalems" - my church, for one - and maybe/hopefully yours. And I'm pretty sure at a little church in Austin, Texas where my almost former pastor is journeying to help them share the second coming of Christ in their community. And while for me, that "going" may feel a little like being "left behind," the truth is that I've experienced multiple "second comings" in the past nine months as a result of his leadership, a good bit of clarity, and gained a new church home. Can't hardly call that a tribulation.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Kid Stuff"

The wise guys
tell me
that Christmas
is Kid Stuff...
Maybe they've got
something there --

Two thousand years ago
three wise guys
chased a star
across a continent
to bring
frankincense and myrrh
to a Kid
born in a manger
with an idea in his head...

And as the bombs
all over the world
the real wise guys
that we've all
got to go chasing stars
again in the hope
that we can get back
some of that
Kid Stuff
born two thousand years ago --

Frank Horne
December, 1942

I know - even Epiphany has past - but this entry was one I was pondering during the Christmas season, and it continues to ring true, even as the bells toll for Christmas past. I have loved this poem since I read it as a freshman in high school. I even memorized it. You would have thought I wouldn't have spent the last 32 years attributing it to e. e. cummings. I wondered why I could never find it in any cummings compilation - for THIRTY-TWO years (the dang poem was MEMORIZED). Sometimes, I am a slow learner. I was just so sure . . . Just as Bush and many Republicans are "sure" that we should remain in Iraq. That kind of certainty can lead down some fairly murky paths.

Now for the political twist. I think Hilary is a truly brilliant woman. I think she can run the country, and if she is the Democratic candidate for president, I will vote for her and feel quite comfortable. However . . . while I haven't finished Obama's "Audacity of Hope," I can't help feeling that this young man is also brilliant - if less experienced. And that perhaps, just perhaps, the greatest strength he brings to the political table is "kid stuff" and the "audacity" to chase some stars. He's my choice, and I hope to have the opportunity to give him my vote.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Good Reads

I'm hooked on Who'dve thunk it? A social networking site of sorts that I actually consult on a regular basis. Recommended by friend Nathan, I'm loving this online option of tracking what my friends are reading, letting them in on my favorite books, and reading and writing some reviews. The reviews are more than just recommendations, as they are also often the stimulus for a chat about the book. I can't seem to find time to join a local book club, yet this site offers the luxury of being in a virtual online bookclub with friends who don't live nearby. And it's always neat to get a new twist on a book you liked (or didn't) by reading what one of your friends thought about the same tome. It is also a great way to keep track of books you want to read sometime, but either can't afford or don't have the time at the moment. I can't recall how many books I've spotted in Borders that I "intended" to buy sometime, then forgot all about. This way I can track them, remember them, and maybe even see what friends thought of them, before I forget them! I'm adding the link to my blog - so check it out.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

And the Teacher Becomes the Student . . .

The Frau and I went to an organizational meeting of the Interfaith Hospitality Network at church earlier this week. We almost didn't go, but the Frau is on a related committee at church, and I went along to be supportive (and in hopes it might soften her up a bit in how she feels about the homeless.) As always seems to happen, when I most want someone else to "learn something" (I feel) they need to know, I come away with a few lessons learned myself.

This organization has existed since 1986, and is a simple, yet brilliant, approach to meeting the needs of the homeless - primarily families and children. We gained some definition over our own running conflict when we discuss the homeless. The Frau is usually visualizing the chronically homeless, as I play devil's advocate for those that I visualize - the ones helped by this network - loosely defined as people who have made bad decisions at the worst possible time. I couldn't stop thinking about the book, The Glass Castle (see my earlier blog on this great find), and the kids that get stuck in the middle of all this. The Interfaith Hospitality Network seems to address this very issue, and has been doing it successfully for over 20 years. A day facility is established, providing these people with an address and phone number while they look for more permanent housing and employment, counseling and social work help is available, assistance at saving their earnings (if they do have some kind of employement) toward a downpayment on a new apartment or house is provided, and churches in town provide one week of evening meals, lodging and breakfasts on a rotational schedule. It is volunteer intensive, but the costs are minimal. We were both sold on the program when we left, had signed up to be on the steering committee to begin the process of implementing the program in our city, and I suspect some hefty fodder for blogging to come up as the project (and our involvement) evolves.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Indulging the Inner Child

Well, the Frau and I bought those iPhones last week. My inner child has been alternately playing and jumping for joy. Thus, the lack of "bloggage." Now the external adult must get back to work . . . :-)