Saturday, November 23, 2013


I’ve been feeling as if I’ve been undergoing some sort of internal metamorphosis of late, and for some reason was drawn to re-read Kafka’s short story by the same name. I last read this as a senior in high school. Thirty-five years, and a good bit of life experience, lends quite the fresh perspective.

I read the story as an 18-year old as part of an assignment to compare it to Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych. I may, yet, have to revisit that tome, as well. But as for the present, I’d like to use (my new favorite term of late) “fresh eyes” to examine Kafka’s work. After a disagreement – more emotional than substantive – with a dear friend earlier in the week on the value of a self-help book, it occurs to me today that one of the things that make great literature just that is its ability to continue to speak to us through different times and different readings. With no attempt at self-help, great literature simply speaks, and the reader uses his or her own filter to listen.

As an 18-year old, I suspect I probably focused superficially on Gregor’s death and casual disregard by his family. As a 53-year old, struggling with bouts of emotional self-doubt, poor self-image, and an intense need to be “seen” and accepted for who I am at my core, my filter in the re-read was somewhat different.

Gregor’s transformation into a cockroach or beetle of epic proportions gave him “fresh eyes” as to how his family viewed him. When he became unable to provide for them unquestioningly, his attractiveness and needs were suddenly suspect. They responded to his “change” with shock and a feeble attempt to meet his most basic needs.  It appeared, however, that this response was in the dim hope that he would become his “old self” again, meeting their needs, and placing few, if any, demands on them to return the favor. Even his sister grows weary of her early sensitivity in caring for him, as she becomes more self-sufficient. As their hope for resolution of this calamity wanes, so does their resentment of, and disgust for, Gregor increase.

Even in his most awkward state, Gregor attempts to negate his own discomfort by protecting his family from their own. He hides his unsightliness under the couch, and further, under the drape of a sheet, lest their fear and disgust be intensified. How many of us hide our “unpleasantness” from those around us out of a misguided concern for protection, comfort giving, or some other high minded virtue designed to keep others happy, content, and properly cared for?

The bedroom, the closet, the couch – too many of us withdraw into these for the sake of others, at risk of losing ourselves. A friend shared a Parker Palmer quote with me the other day – “Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self.” I’m going to continue to do the hard work addressing my own personal demons and learning to live with myself. If you need company to do the same, come out from under the couch and join me, and perhaps we can accomplish what Gregor found impossible, and try to pick the apple off of one another’s backs.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Whose Self is it, Anyway?

Jesus had his 40 days in the wilderness.  Cindy is having her 40 hours at the Wilderness Club at Big Cedar.  Granted, my 40 hours doesn’t even knock on the door of being Spartan, but somehow, I think we are accomplishing something similar and sacred. I’m trying to renew/find my sense of self. It seems to have gotten lost – at least a part of it – somewhere along my way. So my little retreat, however indulgent, has been an attempt to regain some of that, to find a sense of wholeness that I’ve been missing. And what good little Christian girl wouldn’t then make the leap to “oh no, I’m not being very selfless” to sabotage her wilderness retreat?

For those of us who have grown up in the Christian tradition, we have been pommelled with the importance of selflessness – of being Christ-like – of being the only Jesus some people will ever see. I have tried to do this in my own life, but I’m starting to raise some questions with God on this topic. And before anyone goes all “she’s second guessing God!” on me, bear in mind that I think God kind of enjoys having a “real” conversation with us – hashing these things out – us being honest – being authentic. What’s the point of being otherwise with God? Not like you are going to be able to hide anything . . . ask Mother Teresa. But I digress.

There have been times in my life when I have spent more time in church than I have my own home, so I’ve had quite the opportunity to observe the trappings and trippings of Christianity in action. I’ve watched a lot of people – in the name of Jesus – neglect their families, their friends, and themselves to give their time and energy selflessly to the church. They don’t question, they don’t say no, they just do. Until there is nothing left to give – to anyone, even to God.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not denigrating those who have made sacrifices and devoted their lives to serving God.  I know that is part of the gig.  I get it. But in our human frailty, I fear we go overboard, out of context, out of God’s intent on the big Selfless Ship (where there are no lifeboats).

I’m just not sure the word, selfless, is such a good word. If God made us who we are, if our “self” is God given, does he/she really want us to give up our “self” to be more to others? Is not being my best self – mein besseres ich – going to honor God more and enable me to relate in the best/better way to others? This is the chat I want to have with God. I think it’s the chat Mother Teresa wanted to have as she dealt with her doubts for so many years. It didn’t keep her from being the only Jesus some people would ever see. She devoted her life to a cause, but she did not give up the essence of her selfhood. That part was essential to her having something to give to the people she served. As I think about it, the only entity to whom we can give our self is the one who created it in the first place. And the Creator is going to triage and give it right back so we can become our besseres ich.

If we give up our self, what is left to give to anyone else?

Saturday, November 09, 2013


Traveling down the highway yesterday in my new “merlot” Honda Accord, Norah Jones warming up the sound system and keeping me company, I felt like I was on my way to my own little freedom haven as I headed toward Big Cedar on a crisp, sunny November day.

Car packed with comfy clothes, reading and writing material, 3 Tabak dolce cigars, 1 bottle of Tuaca, and a stash of cheese curds and snacks picked up at my regular stop – the Osceola Cheese Factory – in Osceola, population 916 – Sa – LUTE!

I haven’t been this excited to get away in a very, very long time.  A beautiful setting, solitude, and the no of all nothing.

Since the split, I have been blessed with the company of friends, making sure I’m all right, keeping me company and providing a sounding board for my struggle, and I have enjoyed all of those moments. But I’ve realized I simply needed to escape every thing and every one – if only for a couple of days.  So I put the “fleece” out there when my Saturday obligation was cancelled earlier in the week.  I started checking the timeshare reservation search engine several times a day, hoping for a check-in opening on Friday.  Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday kept appearing, but no Friday. I have to be back for a rehearsal Sunday evening, so it just had to be a Friday/Saturday night stay.  Tuesday morning and mid-day – still nothing.  Tuesday evening – bazinga.  There it was.  And I almost hesitated.  Are you kidding?! The hesitation was momentary – I kicked the nudge from The Sisters of Perpetual Responsibility to the curb, and clicked the “book it” button.  Done.  Freedom.  Escape. Solitude in my future. The chance, as my friend Donna puts it, to “be alone with my words.”

And here I am on Saturday morning – stretched out under a quilt on the couch, balcony overlooking Table Rock lake, gazing out at the trees changing their clothes for winter, and sipping a cup of mighty fine coffee, MacBook on my lap. I’m not sure fall gets much better than this.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Unintentional Guest Blog on Love & Hell

For my close friends who know the path I'm currently traveling, I think these words by Thomas Merton need no explanation.

In fact, if you discover any kind of love that satiates you, it is not the end for which you were created. Any act that can cease to be a joy is not the end of your existence. If you grow tired of a love that you thought was the love of God, be persuaded that what you are tired of was never pure love, but either some act ordered to that love or else something without order altogether.

The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satiated with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness; ultimately, it is hell.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


. . . the clean, unselfish love that does not live 
on what it gets but on what it gives; 
a love that increases by pouring itself out for others, 
that grows by self-sacrifice 
and becomes mighty by throwing itself away.
~ Thomas Merton 

Dear TM,

In my very recent life I would have read your words, nodding my head in wholehearted agreement, and continued to strive to reach the nirvana of selflessness. And I realize your living of the contemplative life logically brings you to this conclusion. It is noble and admirable and, as you say, the "perfection of love." But contemplate and answer this:

What of those who live IN the world who have less time for contemplation and prayer, and who attempt to carry these thoughts to their self-sacrificing extreme, striving for that perfection? What is to happen to them when they "pour out for others" at such a level that they have nothing left of their "self" to "throw away?" I think in your contemplative life where renewal of self is part of your daily practice, you may forget that the self must be continually replenished and renewed if it is to be able to have anything to offer anyone else. Otherwise, like the anorexic whose body begins to feed on itself because there is nothing left to consume, one becomes an empty shell with very little to offer.

Pour out yourself for me, Thomas, and contemplate that.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Withdrawing versus Escaping

They have not come to the monastery to escape 
from the realities of life but to find those realities: 
they have felt the terrible insufficiency of life in a civilization 
that is entirely dedicated to the pursuit of shadows. 
~ Thomas Merton

At various times throughout my life, I have felt the desire to escape for a few days or weeks to a monastery or cloister. I knew I didn't want to go some place where an elevated entity was going to provide inspiration and answers; rather, I craved a place of solitude, apart from all other distractions, where I could look inside myself and listen only for the voice of God. "Escape" was often the word I used, but I think, perhaps, that "withdraw" is the more accurate term. I should clarify - I have never actually followed through on this "escape."

I became reacquainted with Thomas Merton in a little book (Mornings with Thomas Merton) I picked up at the infamous Women's Retreat mentioned in an earlier post (Days of Wine and Sticker Roses). And this morning I felt compelled to renew that acquaintance with him yet again. 

I find myself in one of those places in my life where the need to withdraw from the pursuit of shadows is strong. I don't envision myself heading off to a cloister anytime soon, and certainly not a (read in hushed tones) Women's Retreat. Nevertheless, I am going to seek some time to withdraw in the cloister of my own little home. The Frau and I have gone our separate ways, and while I find this to be a most right decision, I'm not just bounding off into the future with a carefree Tigger-like spring in my step. I'm going to need some withdrawal time, not to escape from the realities of life but to find those realities . . .  I will share my journey as I am able.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Summer Reads - My Reviews from Goodreads

Every Broken Trust: A MysteryEvery Broken Trust: A Mystery by Linda Rodriguez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Linda Rodriguez' second Skeet Bannion novel accomplished what I had hoped.  While I enjoyed the first novel, Every Broken Trust offers greater depth of plot, more satisfying development of the characters, and drew me even more intimately into the story.  The city of Brewster grows, along with the characters, and fulfills its own role in the story which is satisfyingly full of plot twists, flawed individuals, and suspense.  As a resident in the Kansas City metro, an alumna of a liberal arts college in a KC suburb, and a former college professor, I enjoyed both the geographical and occupational setting of the novel, and appreciate the way Rodriguez connects both the urban and suburban parts of the story.  Every Last Secret, the first novel in the series, was well written and enjoyable, but I finished Every Broken Trust feeling a much stronger bond with Skeet, Brian, and their cohorts, a stronger sense of place with Brewster and Chouteau University, and looking forward with greater anticipation to the third novel in the series. I am hopeful that some peripheral, but strong, characters that were introduced - namely the US Attorney heading a human trafficking task force and Skeet's grandmother - will take on more prominent roles in third book.

Cover of SnowCover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cover of Snow does not read like a "first novel."  Milchman weaves one of the most intricate and suspenseful stories I have read in recent months. Her command of language is descriptive and engaging, without being pandering or distracting.  I found myself drawn into the story from the very first paragraph, and my brain darted in many directions as I sought to solve the mystery along with the protagonist. Cover of Snow is intelligent and challenging, yet still a fast read. Its readability does not diminish the clever and suspenseful way in which it is written.  Set in winter in the Adirondacks of upper New York, the mystery surrounding the suicide of a local policeman will keep you guessing until the very end.  My only criticism is that I didn't think much of the main character. She seems woefully unaware of and/or uninterested in rather crucial details of her husband's life until after he has died. One begins to wonder why she feels much sense of loss at all, except that it makes her rather quick attraction to the local newspaper reporter a bit more explainable.  I generally would prefer to like the protagonist of the story.  I didn't in this case.  And it is this element that gives away that this is a first novel.  Yet I still very much enjoyed exploring the many secrets kept by the people of this small town, and this is a credit to the author.

View all my reviews

Family – Redefined

My father used to quote Proverbs 18:24 – A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. (King James Version).  He usually did this, however, in conjunction with preparation for the annual summer youth choir tour, emphasizing the first phrase in his humorous attempt at giving a biblical foundation as to why we should make sure to use deodorant and bathe regularly while traveling.  I will confess that I found it funny as a 14-16 year old.

My preoccupation with this scripture has reawakened in my early fifties, and it has become the second phrase that captures my attention these days. Reexamine it in a couple of more modern translations:

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one's nearest kin. (New Revised Standard)

Friends can destroy one another, but a loving friend can stick closer than family (God's Word Translation)

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family (The Message)

I just spent the last few days with friends that are as much my family as the family I claim by genetic association. I become increasingly aware that my life, my future, and my plans include these dear people. Clarification – my spouse and I have no children, our nuclear families are small and getting smaller, and our circle of "family-friends" are in similar situations. Perhaps this is, in some respect, the 21st century response to worries about end-of-life matters that were heretofore the concerns of one's biological family and children. Not perhaps. It is. At least in one respect. We often discuss (or at least infer) that we will be available to one another to care for each other's aging needs when that time arrives. But it is more than that. Much more.

We love each other like family. We "stick close" to one another – sometimes in better ways than our families are able.  We are family. No topics are off the table for discussion. We communicate with an openness that respects one another's feelings, but also respects the person with a loving honesty. We have history with one another, and try very hard to make sure our significant others are privy to that history so they feel included in the family. We laugh, and cry, together. And we often laugh as we cry. I can't imagine my world without these people. Beyond my life with the Frau, my world is most complete when I am able to share our lives with them. 

They are my Friends – "First Responders" – Family.

Stick close.    

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thoughts Under The DOMA

“Hey Cindy! We want to invite you guys over on Friday.  We’re having a group of people over and want to include you and Gayle.”

“Sounds great!  What can we bring?”

“Not a thing.  Just yourselves.  We just love you two!”

* * *

“Come on in! Glad you could make it.  Dinner is almost ready.  Ok, everyone, listen up. We don’t have enough china and steaks for everyone.  So, all the straight couples are going to eat in the dining room.  Cindy & Gayle – we have one other gay couple coming, and we thought you guys could eat in the kitchen at that table.  Help yourself to paper plates, and there are some hamburgers and chips on the counter. If you need cheese or other condiments, they should be in the fridge.  We are SO glad you could come – we just love you guys!”

* * *

Ridiculous isn’t it.  Imagine inviting your friends over and making some of them sit at “the kids’” table, or in the kitchen, serving them something less than what the other guests are eating because you just didn’t have enough for everyone. And expecting them to believe you when you tell them they are just as important to you as your other friends who get to sit at the same table as the hosts and have the full meal.

We have visited a couple of “welcoming and affirming” churches the past few weeks, and I begin to see more and more why this is such an important identifier for the LGBT community.  I have been blessed to be a part of some congregations who have been very welcoming and loving to me, but they have not been able, yet, to take that next step toward being openly affirming. It seems to say - Our straight members can have their unions celebrated and blessed by their church family, but not everyone would “understand” if we offered this to same sex couples in our family. It’s not legal in our state, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.  

And why do I want to be “blessed” by a church that for centuries hasn’t seemed to want to recognize my existence? I  want to share this with my church family because I love these people, too; we share the same journey in seeking to know our Creator’s purpose for our lives; we share many of one another’s struggles; and I want to fully share one another’s life celebrations.  I prefer not to have to tip toe gingerly around some topics. Marriage has been the topic of the day thanks to the Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA.  But churches need to realize that marriages (or blessing unions) is not the only “affirming” issue on the table. If a gay couple adopts a child together, would you be willing to celebrate with them in a baptism/dedication of that child? (And if so, are you prepared to explain to the child as he or she grows in the church why you could not bless the union of his/her parents?). If one of the partners should die, are you willing to gather around them and acknowledge the partner’s loss that is left behind as you would any other member losing a spouse? DOMA is important, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.   

To be openly affirming, in my mind, means that I get to sit at the “adult” table.  The china and the steak and the wine are not withheld from me because I’m “too young” or just not “quite” a full-fledged member of the group.  It’s a bit like saying, “We love you guys! But please don’t ask for more than we are prepared to give. You’ve done without this long – let’s not rock the boat and risk offending anyone. YOU understand, right?”