Friday, March 30, 2007

Happy Blogiversary To Me!

I don't usually have this much staying power ~ but, amazingly, I've been blogging for three years!

I feel as if I should say something profound about writing online, but all I really have to offer tonight is trivia. I started blogging with Midlife Matters (link in sidebar) as a weight-loss accountability kind of thing, but that enterprise quickly fell by the wayside as I began to explore the things in which I was actually interested. So . . . I weigh a little less, I'm about to make some major life changes (check back in mid-April), and life more or less goes on.

I used to quote Stevie Nicks all the time, and the words just become more true:

It took my love, and it took it down
climbed a mountain and I turned around
and I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
'til the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life...?

Well, I've been afraid of changin'
cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
~ children get older
~ I'm getting older too.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A No-Good, Terrible, Very Very Very Bad Day

If I were sixteen, I would throw myself down on the bed and listen to Timer and Eli (scroll down to listen) while the afternoon turned to night. And then I would go out and do something completely inappropriate.

This is the first time in a long time that I have wished I were sixteen so I could behave that way again.

A Little Shaky

Night before last I had an attack of some violent GI thing, the kind that keeps you up for hours and the next day produces aching ribs, a desperate need to change the bed and clean the toilet and the sink, and hours and hours of sleep. I staggered into work for a couple of hours to finish the last of the state standardized tests for two kids who were sick themselves last week, and then curled up in my clean sheets.

Today I am just Wiped Out. And a few pounds lighter. And a little concerned; that's the second time that has happened in six months. This time I skipped the visit to the ER, but I sure did miss that gigantic painkilling shot.

I actually had a number of miscellaneous things upon which to comment. But you know what? I'm too tired. I hope there isn't something going terribly wrong, but it seems that my usual systemmic response to stress has moved up several notches rather quickly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

People Reasons

Some time ago, one of my close friends launched into a diatribe against Catholic education. She's not Catholic herself, but her ex-husband is, and she had a lot to say about the damage inflicted upon him by ruler-wielding nuns.

After listening for a few minutes, I said, "You know, I went to a Catholic boarding school for three years (grade seven through nine) and I don't see that it did any damage."

Her eyes widened. "You did?" she said. "How can that be? I didn't know that! You've always seemed perfectly normal to me!"

"It may have been easier on a non-Catholic," I responded. "Not that I ever saw any nuns whacking people with rulers. But I had no buy-in to the faith they were pushing, so no doubt I felt less in the way of emotional pressure than a Catholic might have."

All by way of introducing the fourth reason I believe what I do: mentors. I would not have recognized most of them as such until recently; they were just people being who they are. But now I see that I have had some significant support in my Christian journey, much of it occurring long before I would have identified myself as a person of faith.


I've aready written about Sister Collette, the nun who taught my junior high religion class and presided over my first Seder after she concluded that all of us, including herself, were completely ignorant about the religions of the world and needed to investigate. To my list of school mentors I should add Mr. Smalley, my senior year teacher (at another religious boarding school) in religion and society. Thanks to him, we read Freud and Marx and Bonhoeffer and Frankl. But the most significant conversation I ever had with him had nothing to do with the course. As we walked through the snow toward class one dark winter morning, he inquired about my college choices and then berated me for provincialism, telling me in his southern drawl that we all needed to look beyond New England. (I later discovered that his B.A., M.Div., and Ph.D. were from Vanderbilt, Chapel Hill, and Duke, although not necessarily in that order. No wonder he was frustrated, probably by the snow as well as by the endess profusion of New England colleges.)

Both of them, Sister Collette and Mr. Smalley, offered a clear message, albeit one of example rather than exhortation: the world is full of all kinds of people, people who find God in all kinds of ways. Get out there and talk to them. The life of faith is one of expansive and bold questions; engage with it!

Religion played no part in my life for about ten years after my high school graduation. Fast forward to the Methodist minister who baptized me and welcomed my husband and me into church membership. I had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect, I am so grateful that our minister was, other than a brilliant and much-in-demand preacher, a warm and kind presence who, like every significant mentor in my life, refrained from imposing his views or beliefs and stood out of the way of the Spirit. If anyone had asked me what I was up to in my late twenties, the most I could have come up with was that I felt moved to make a public and official connection with a church. More questions, or an insistence upon anything beyond the most tepid of membership classes, and I would have been out of there in a flash.

As our family vacationed at Chautauqua each summer, I began to acquire a whole new list of mentors, some of whom I knew -- those individuals who taught various week long classes in journaling, for instance, some of whose names might be known to readers here -- and some of whom I didn't -- that long line of preachers who come to Chautauqua for a week at a time, as they have for more than a century. Chautauqua is where I first encountered Barbara Brown Taylor, the Episcopal priest who caused me to look up in astonishment and say, "That can be preaching?" At the time, she was still a parish priest in Georgia and it was my stepsister, one of her congregants, who had mentioned that their priest was some kind of preacher and that I would want to see whether she was at Chauatauqua when we were. I'm linking one of my favorite BBT sermons ever, although it's better in the listening. I don't think that my very, very, very favorite, preached at Chautuaqua maybe five years ago, is online anywhere.

The pastors in my present, Presbyterian, church, are astonishingly adept mentors. They are each tremendously gifted at the many tasks of ministry, but they are especially gifted in helping the rest of us to grow. Their leadership never insists upon their being front-and-center; although they usually are, they are eager to create space for everyone else in the church to do its work as well.

Creating space, space in which we are graced by encounter with God -- to my way of thinking, that is the most significant thing that a person can do in life. Some people do it as preachers, some as businesspeople, some as litugists, some as lawyers, some as neighbors, some as teachers. The person I know who does it the best of all is my spiritual director, the Jesuit who guided me through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and continues to help me with my life of prayer. It would be impossible to describe someone who, despite being possibly the busiest and most accomplished person I know, showed up at 8:00 am, the only time consistently convenient for me, one day a week, week after week, to listen carefully and to occcasionally ask, "What about this?" or to suggest a novel, or a movie, or an idea ~ each time nudging me just a little bit further into that encounter. If the invitation and context found in the words, "Come and see!" have any meaning for you ~ well, that describes the attitude and bearing of the person who has been my best mentor for the past couple of years.

This has been an interesting post to write. In the nature of blogging, it barely grazes the surface, but one point does leap out at me: everyone whom I count as a mentor in faith has been a person of gracious invitation, a space-maker. To the extent that there have been people in my life who have said, "This what you must believe," or, "This is how you must approach God," or "This is the only way," they have left no lasting impression. Well ~ a few have left negative impressions. But they are not people whom I would count as mentors. The people who have guided me and shared something of themselves have, it seems, always been people who have understood that their role is to create the space; God does all the rest.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It Makes Sense to Me

Some time ago, I started a series addressing the question of why I believe what I do. The writing emerged from a question from one of my students, a tenth-grade Orthodox Jewish boy who is eager to explore the world of faith. He and I still haven't had the conversation. I wish we had, because I got stuck after the second of my five-part answer, and the sorting of thoughts is generally helped by conversation. But, this being Lent, I've been pondering his question, and I'm going to get the ball rolling again, in a small kind of way.

Let me preface this by stating that my beliefs are fairly standard Christian ones, slanted liberal/progressive and Protestant. That means that I can say the Apostles' Creed without difficulty; that my reading of the Bible, while extensive, is not literalist; and that, for me, the church is an institution of vitality and inclusivity. In practice, I am a liturgical and musical traditionalist and, in spirituality, catholic with a little "c." Just so you know.

So here's the third part of the "why": Christianity makes sense to me. It makes sense to me that there is a god, and one god, and not a multitude of gods. It makes sense to me that God is known to us through the three persons of the Trinity ~ moreso one or another at one time or another. Christianity makes sense to me as an explanation for the magnificence of the created universe, and for the sense of presence and grace that flows through my life.

The person of Jesus Christ as God's self-expression and hope for ours makes complete sense to me. What could the God who loves us possibly do, in the face of who we are, other than come to us as one of us, as a companion and friend and guide, as someone who knows and suffers as we do? There is no other way for God to be that makes sense to me.

I am familiar, of course, with the arguments con. I teach in a Jewish school and am used to hearing the phrase, "Beware of false prophets." I have been studying Islam, and have read the Qur'an's warning to the people of the Book (that would be us) not to mistake the Son of Mary for other than a prophet, and to understand that God would never father a son. (God, in the Qur'an, as far as I can tell, is distinctively masculine.) I understand that both of the other monothesist religions view ours as verging (okay ~ more than verging) on the polytheistic, with our outrageous God in human form. It's the outrageousness of it, I suppose, that makes sense to me. For what would God be, if not so wild and creative and giving as to take on human form?

That question gives rise to the other argument, the one made by so many of my friends, the one I encounter so frequently from those who would, perhaps, identify themselves as post-Christian: it's all an elaborate fantasy or hoax; a fairy tale that cannot stand up to the horrors of the twentieth and now, the twenty-first, centuries; a childish farce in the face of Enlightenment brilliance. It is difficult, I will grant, to grasp the scandal of particularity that is Jesus Christ. Why would God do that? Why would God come in the form of a particular person in the context of a particular people at a particular time? Why wouldn't God be, somehow, more general ~ more universal ~ more helpful?

It makes sense to me that much of what happens in the Bible, and pretty much all of what happens with Jesus, is the opposite of what we would expect. A god who behaves as we do would not be anything more than a projection of our own psychology. A god who did not exude love where we cannot find our way; a god who did not undergird everything with the expansiveness of a love that we cannot comprehend, much less replicate; a god who was more clarity and less mystery ~ who would that be, other than a creation of our own? And a god who was not capable of human particularity, which is all that each of us is capable of ~ how could such a god be our companion and friend and saviour as well as our creator and the spirit that guides all?

This is, I will be the first to admit, a paltry description of whom I have found God to be. And that finding has not been without significant effort and some cost. But the discovery does, in a confusing and ironic and mysterious way, make complete sense to me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Springtime in Hyde Park

General Honors B.A.
The University of Chicago
March 2007


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Just a Few Observations

We're in the middle of state graduation testing for our tenth graders. I'm in charge of it. Makes for long and tedious days. (Today I asked one of the gentlemen to move to the other side of the room, since he had plopped himself down in the area carefully set aside for kids who need extra time and space in testing situations. For reasons unclear to me, he thought I expected him to take the table with him. He broke it.)

I'm also the yearbook advisor. For the first time in my four years on that job, the kids have oversold ad space. There were a couple of days there when I thought the seniors would come to blows. Now we are reorganizing the book. I wish the kids in charge of the theme pages would work half as hard as the kids in charge of the business end. We may have the first ever 100%-ads-0%-photos yearbook. Yep. Long and tedious days.

I've been invited to preach in April. Way cool. Long but not tedious days ahead.

Seems like a couple of months ago that a little tow-headed boy dragged chairs and hangars and blocks and who knows what else into a corner of the library and piled them all up and announced that he had created a Machine for Talking to the Stars.

Tonight he is nearly 6' tall and has a fuzzy red beard and spends his time with a beautiful-Phi-Bete-ballerina-archaeology-grad-student-to-be and is emailing me photos of apartments and condos in the Windy City. Apartments and condos he is considering renting. I hope he finds a place where he can see the stars, even though he isn't making communication technology anymore.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Yesterday morning I came home from church and wrote a short post designed to vent my spleen as anonymously as possible. I had had a committee meeting at 8:15 and a class to present at 9:30. Thanks to DST, it felt like both started an hour earlier than indicated by the clock, and people were functioning on little sleep -- many of us having endured restless nights wondering if clocks were set correctly and would go off on time.

I had spent a lot of time preparing for both meeting and class and made every effort to arrive well in advance. It was another person's delayed arrival that knocked everything off kilter, and by the end of the morning I was awash in self-pity. Objectively speaking, there was no reason for my overdone angst: all had gone well and many compliments had ensued. I was the only person who had had a completely different vision of the morning, so I was the only person who even suspected how much better it might have been.

Fast forward to Major Evening Event at which a colleague of mine was being honored for a decade of brilliant and caring work. Over and over again, speakers marvelled at her understated demeanor, her modesty, and her broad range of achievements.

Another colleague sat next to me and muttered angrily thoughout the evening. Similarly honored several years ago, she had been stung by an unfortunate oversight and, not only has she not forgotten it, she has been busy constructing an Everest-height scaffold of resentment. To that she has added any number of frustrations, and her general demeanor, of which she is completely unaware, is one of bitterness and resentment.

It was an experience to sit between those two women. One sees possibilities and good in all things, works tirelessly, and never draws attention to herself. The other always finds the splinter, never forgets to remind you of the hours she put in over the weekend, and somehow manages to deflect attention from even the most significant honoree of the year to herself.

Sorta put my morning and my reaction thereto into perspective.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Just Venting

I am going to remove this post soon. I just need to get some things out of my system.

I think that when several volunteers show up for a meeting at 8:15 on DST Sunday, meaning that when they show up it feels more like 7:15, the person paid to be there should make it before 8:50.

I think that when someone says "your Powerpoint is all set up [so that you can do the program on which you have spent hours and hours and so that the opening on which you have lavished such care will go just right]," that should not mean that three people who are in your audience will need to get up and spend the next 20 minutes getting it going.

I think that when people being groomed for leadership who readily admit that they are lacking in fundamental information have the opportunity, week after week, to obtain some of same information, they should show up on occasion.

I think that when people already in leadership help to plan a series of events, they should show up once in awhile, too.

I think that I myself am beyond criticism and therefore hope that no one I know is reading this.

Just one of those days.

Another "Old Florida" Postcard"

Someone asked for flamingos?

Bok Gardens in central Florida was one of my family's favorite destinations in the 1950s and 1960s for a
Singing Tower afternoon concert.

Mr. Bok was the influential editor of the Ladies' Home Journal at the forefront of the battle to convince women to turn their backs on hats fashionably decorated with feathers, feathers obtained at a high cost to their original owners. He was horrified to discover how many of his readers preferred the frivolity of fashion over concern for the welfare and conservation of birds.

His legacies include the preservation of some of Florida's lovelier residents and a magnificent park, where the carillon is still played daily.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Today I HAVE to pretty much write most of a paper I have delayed for days. That is to say, I still have to read 150 pages of material, and then figure out what to say, and THEN write a paper. It's very very dark outside ~ a big storm on the way ~ so it's a good day to hole up and work. But I'm not quite ready . . . and so . . . the internet calls . . . and see what I found!

Vero Beach, Florida, even though it has been overwhelmed by the trappings of wealth and the rampant development which is gobbling up Florida in ever larger chunks, still has a hold on my heart.

My first memories of Vero involve spending a week or two with my parents and grandparents at the Spindrift, a tiny motel-cottages establishment. I remember the ranch duplex we lived in the spring I spent in kindergarten, the tiny bungalow on Eugenia Lane in which we lived the year I attended first grade at Beachland Elementary School, and the house my father built for us that year . After my mother died, all plans for moving permanently to Vero were cancelled. We stayed in another motel for a couple of weeks when I was in third grade, and my brother and I with my grandparents in another set of cottages on the beach when I was in fourth grade and my father and Stepmother the First were off getting married.

Since my stepmother's first husband was from Vero and remained there, there were no more family trips to Vero. I didn't go back until I began spending my high school spring breaks with my grandparents, and then I went back every year until my grandfather died. The first real trip, one involving planes, on which we took our boys was the one to visit my grandparents when the babies were three months old and my grandfather was in the final month of his 80 years.

My grandparents are gone and so is the lovely little beach town that we knew, sucked up by golf courses and Mega McMansions and the brokerage firms that seem to occupy every corner. Those little babies will both graduate from college next week-end. It was a very long time ago that I was a little girl walking the dusty paths of what seemed to me a tropical paradise.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sobering Realities

This gentleman came and spoke to our students last night.

He is also the subject of an interview here.

Learn more here.

The image is one of several that can be found here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I went out with a group of friends Monday night to see Amazing Grace. It's an extraordinary movie, and I think we would all highly recommend it, even the one who said she usually hates historical movies and, I guess, would have chosen the Hugh Grant option. I'm afraid I forced the issue, because I was decidedly not in a Hugh Grant mood.

None of my friends asked why I was behaving so badly. (Perhaps I always behave that way? A sobering thought.) We are experiencing simultaneous situations of great joy and great heaviness of heart in our family at the moment. That simultaneous juxtaposition has been the defining feature of our family's existence for some time now. It can be wearing.

There is a fabulous article in last Sunday's Magazine about belief in God as a question of evolutionary process:

"Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?"

I happen to be confident in the truth of the final clause of the excerpt, but the whole article is fascinating.

I'm working on . . .

a request to people I don't know for something I don't have . . .

a Powerpoint and presentation on prayer . . .

a document with respect to the Presbyterian Church's ordination controversy . . .

a class paper on the book The Mantle of the Prophet, with which I desperately wish the President of the United States and his Secretary of State had familiarized themselves BEFORE treading eastward (and the book is about Islam and Iran ~ it's not too late, Mr. President and Madame Secretary!) . . .

our state's standardized graduation tests for 10th graders, which I have to ensure proceed without a hitch over the next two weeks . . .

the gutter and soffit disaster on the front of the house, for which the repair estimate went from $2500 to $5000 in, oh, the blink of an eye . . . .

Yes, it's definitely the middle of the week. In March, a month in which I should be in St. Augustine. I would have other things on which to focus there.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More Glass

A few days ago, I posted about the statues on one of the cemetery mausoleums, and a nice little discussion ensued, resolving little but offering some interesting information.

Then I began obsessing over stained glass, and decided to go back and peer inside the mausoleum with the Greeks to see whether it had a window on the far wall, too. Sure, enough -- and it seems that someone decided that the archangel Gabriel trumpeting Judgment Day was needed to balance the Golden Age of Athens.

Another hidden gem. Not too many people go behind this particular mausoleum, although they are always delighted when they do, as curving armchairs have been built into the concrete and overlook the deep ravine in the middle of the cemetery. It's a beautiful and serene place for an autumn meditation time. However, you can't see the window back there -- it's up high and covered by a heavy and dark grating. You have to go back to the front door to get a look at the colors and glass. It looks like a Tiffany piece to me; I will have to investigate further.

PS: To see more cemetery Tiffany designs, search "Tiffany" above where it says "Search blog."

Monday, March 05, 2007

My Favorite

I'm guessing from the dearth of comments that people think that taking photos of cemetery stained glass is sort of, well, weird.

I am always struck by the beauty I find hidden away there. Those two mausoleum windows? The mausoleums are way at the bottom of the hill in a fairly new and seldom visited part of the cemetery, well off the beaten path from the usual circle where you encounter runners and other visitors. I almost never see anyone down there. And yet there they are, two little nondescript buildings with windows in the back, covered by shrubbey. You have to walk right up to the doors and peer past the darkened tombs to see the artistry tucked inside the far walls.

I've written about the stone above before but, in honor of Lent, I'll do it again. For a long time I thought the "Pax" meant "Peace" and that the marker had been placed on a little hillside as a personal gift to me for those days when the sun shines through it at a perfect angle. Then one day I saw some family members there and went over to talk with them. "Pax," it turns out, refers to Mrs. Pax, who was a stained glass artist and aficionado of bonsai trees. She made this piece herself during her final months, and her family incorporated it into her gravestone. Her husband and daughter were visibly pleased to learn that someone appreciates it so much that she makes it a point to take frequent walks along the road below the hillside.

Such care that people put into the artistry that memorializes their loved ones, so seldom appreciated by anyone else.

(My personal plan for this cemetery involves an angel, HUGE glass wings, a Celtic cross, and an Irish blessing. My ashes will be out in the ocean, in a lake, and on a mountain, but I want to leave a gift for the cemetery walkers.)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lent ~

A couple of weeks ago I discovered some fairly contemporary mausoleums in the cemetery, with windows by, obviously, the same artist. I could see the windows sparkling in the sunlight, but I couldn't reach them across the snowdrifts.

Yesterday, trudging through the mud and water that remain of February's wintry weather, I was able to peer through the front doors and photograph the windows on the back walls. Click to enlarge and see the sparkle.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Expert Assistance Requested

Readers of this blog know that much of my walking takes place in a magnificent nearby cemetery.

These four statues grace the front of a rather large mausoleum and I need help identifying them. You can probably enlarge them with a click.

The furthest to the left carries a staff around which a snake (s?) entwines itself and seems to be topped off by wings ~ which I believe makes him Hermes to the Greeks, Mercury to the Romans, messenger of the gods The next carries a cornupcopia (Demeter ~ goddess of agriculture?), and the third, a vase. The fourth (to the immediate left), with his scroll, helmet, and thinker's pose, appears to me to be Moses.

Those of you claiming literacy in western classical and Biblical traditions, feel free to weigh in!

Cell Phones and Real Life

Three-and one-half years ago, when our sons went off to college and our daughter got her driving permit, I purchased a family cell phone plan. And phones, of course.

Windy City Son lost his within the first couple of weeks of freshmen orientation.

This is the same child who had to start the braces process ALL OVER because he lost three $125 retainers within the first couple of months after having his braces removed. ("Mom, I know I put it in my soccer bag . . .".) He was a learning experience unto himself for our young orthodontist, at whom I growled: "If you had told me that two years and hundreds of uninsured dollars of braces later, he would need to keep track of a retainer for several more years, I would have told you that the entire enterprise was hopeless." (To his credit, said orthodontist and good neighbor offered a significant discount on Braces Round II.)

Anyway, last summer I handed Windy City Son my old cell phone and suggested that he purchase a month-to-month plan, which he has occasionally done. (Much rolling of eyes from his brother, who pointed out, quite reasonably, that "Mom is willing to pay for unlimited service on the family phone plan ~ why don't you just take her up on it?"

Last night he acknowledged having lost that cell phone, too.

Two weeks from today, said child will graduate from college. We are going to the Windy City to watch and beam.

What do you think the chances are that he will make it to the ceremony?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

You Don't Know Who You Are. . .

. . . but if you're blogging on Typepad, my comments refuse to appear on your blog. Not that that is an earth-shattering piece of news. But just so you know.

I especially wanted my comment on the Chessie cat playing cards to appear on a certain
blog, because I used to be an attorney for Chessie Railroads and the Lovely Daughter's little stuffed Chessie cat still sits on one of my bedroom bookshelves and so, of course, I recognized Chessie immediately.

I wanted someone else to know that I did not mean to be rude and abrupt with respect to what I thought was a fascinating
series of posts, the focus of which just caught me off-balance at a bad moment. I had more to say, of course, but I guess I will have to say it on my own blog sometime.

And I had something to say about responding to the presence of God in our everyday lives in the context of another
discussion, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Obviously a comment so brilliant that its loss to posterity is a devastating one.

Well. If you are one of the authors referenced above and you happen to be reading this, now you know. I'll try again sometime, eventually, someday. I don't know whether the problem is with Blogger or Typepad or my own server, but I have pretty much lost patience with the glitches and barriers between me and my comments.