Lenses

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about the lenses through which I view life.  I suspect these are natural reflections for one moving into the third third: How do I see, why, and do I want to make changes?  They are also an outgrowth of the current political climate in America, as we try to make sense of the reality that people whom we love and admire espouse views and understandings so different from ours.

My own lenses, in no particular order:

Life is filled with injustices that we are called to address.

Life is difficult and chaotic, and also elegant and dazzling.

Faith is a matter of both deep darkness and glorious light, depending.

Hospitality is very good; nationalism is very bad.

My own personal life is mostly a function of astounding privilege.

Maybe I’ll write about these.  In no particular order.

 

 

 

 

Raising White Kids ~ Book Review

raising white kids cover

It’s a terrific book!

Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America (2017) by Jennifer Harvey address a challenging topic in a conversational, easy-to read manner that, despite its accessibility, delves deeply into issues that many of those of us who are white struggle to recognize, let alone explore and respond to in ways that are open, just, and productive.

Full disclosure: I’m white; everyone in my biological family of origin  is white; I grew up in a family that purported to be “color-blind”; I live in a racially and culturally diverse city in which, nevertheless, all of my good friends are white.  My children’s significant others and my future grandson are individuals of color, so the issues raised by this book are of more than passing or even committed-as-a-progressive interest to me.  Three of the four congregations I have served have been made up almost entirely of white people and located in white rural or suburban areas, so these issues are also important to me as someone charged with pastoring churches and proclaiming the gospel.

This book isn’t, of course, about me or my family or my churches, at least not entirely, but it addresses families and groups a lot like ours: not intentionally racist; well-meaning; hopeful; perturbed by racial injustice but not doing much, if anything, about it; and not even sure when we are offensive in casual conversation or actions we don’t think much about.

I’ll offer a couple of nuggets that I’ve found helpful:

After discussing the harm generated by “color-blind” parenting, the author presents a couple of scenarios in which a young white child comments, loudly and publicly, about the racial appearances of strangers.  How might parents react, other than with embarrassment and a quick move away from the scene?  The books offers practical suggestions along with clear explanations of the logic and sensibility behind them, ideas that can be put into practice immediately.

Another important section of the book discusses the development of white racial identity: how those of us who are white become aware of what that means in our culture, and how we resist the implications, struggle to come to terms with them, and finally, see ourselves and others more fully.  At a workshop a year ago in which participants were charged to identify which element of our identities and backgrounds has been most significant in our lives, I concluded that race has been the most significant in mine — moreso than gender, or age, or education, or income, or religion, because of all the things I haven’t had to think about because I’m white.  I plan to re-read this section of the book very carefully, several times over.

Each chapter of this highly readable book ends with a blocked-in list of Takeaways, helpful for personal or group reflection, and a section of Resources and the Endnotes provide additional material to aid in a  deeper exploration of this critical topic.

And I’m here to help!  Abingdon Press sent me two copies of this book for review purposes, with no commitment on my part to provide a positive review.  (And you all know, I don’t always do that!) Today I’m happy to do so, and to offer to send a free copy after a drawing of names from requests in the comments.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

 

Judywhoknows

A friend just published a post, on another topic entirely, in which she quotes a song from Judy Collins’s album, Who Knows Where the Time Goes?  My friend’s post is about a memory significant to Lent.  She dredged up some memories for me as well.

It’s the fall of my junior year in boarding school in western Massachusetts.  I am “campused” (like being grounded, boarding school style), due to an unfortunate encounter with a teacher who discovered a friend and me visiting the boys’ school five miles away in the middle of the night the previous spring.  Thus I spend a lot of time on my own, gliding around my dorm room or sprawled on  my bed, listening to music, when my friends are away – which means that 50 years later (FIFTY ?!?!) I will still know all those songs by heart.  At sixteen, I have loooong brown hair with red and gold highlights, a romance going very badly, and a stack of English papers to write, having largely given up on Algebra II.

I do not know that some thirty years later, I will have a son who will be a high school senior and living in the same dorm, with the same view of the mountains stretching before him.  I do not know that, like Judy Collins’ son, mine will die of suicide only a few years later, and that her music and those memories will all be wound into one ball of yarn, forever unraveling.

I still like the music, though.

Preaching Politics

Facebook ~ yes; preaching, no.  Friends, yes ~ congregants, no.

That’s been my general approach to political commentary.  On Facebook, I post news articles and, often, my own opinions thereon.  I don’t think that my outlook is lost on my congregation ~ I speak and pray often enough about those who suffer or are disenfranchised ~ but I don’t go all out political.  I’ve been told, and I’m pretty sure that it’s true, that the folks in the pews hold views across the political spectrum, and while I’d like to persuade some of them to move further to the left, that’s not my job in the pulpit.  On FB, I don’t usually feel the same constraints.   I also read posts by friends and family who disagree with me.  I don’t follow their logic! ~ but I read them.  Usually without responding.  Their pages, their posts, their views.  I don’t feel inclined to take up their space with argument.  (They don’t always extend the same courtesy to me.)  Harder, for me anyway, to listen to folks in the church with whom I disagree without reacting.

In the last church I served, after a couple of months, people began to thank me for bringing contemporary concerns into the prayers.  (I did hear of one gentleman who was angry that I had not prayed for a matter he deemed of concern ~ which I would have, actually, had I known about it but, as so often happens, he told other people, and not me.)  But I didn’t push things very far.  When we held a service of music and prayer for the city the day before the Republican Convention opened in Cleveland, we kept it strictly nonpartisan.

Last Sunday, however, I was done with caution and impartiality in the pulpit.  Just done.  Angry at what the American infatuation with guns had wrought.  Disgusted by cowardly politicians raking it in from the NRA.  Devastated on behalf of parents whose lives have been forever altered in a vicious and brutal way.  And inspired by the young people of Parkland FL.

So my sermon on God’s promises of reconciliation through Noah, for the healing and rebuilding of all of creation throughout the Bible, became a sermon on laying down weapons of destruction.  I mentioned AR15s specifically.  I mentioned Emma Gonzalez, specifically.  I said NO to criticizing young people and NO to wringing our hands and saying “there’s nothing we can do,” and YES to the Kingdom of God among us.  And told them about specific ways of taking action.

I wasn’t preaching to the choir, as  would have been in my home church.  A few people thanked me for giving voice to their own thoughts.  Many more were silent, and I’m sure that at least a few of those were critical ~ but not to my face, not yet.

To my astonishment, our secretary asked me to publicize means of communicating with our state and federal representatives.  So we’ll put that information out next week.

There are hundreds, thousands, of pastors more articulate and powerful than I am in preaching what the Spirit tells me is the real good news ~ God’s passionate love for all of creation ~ and political ways of moving on that news.  I write this for all of us somewhere in the middle, trying to figure out how to live with integrity without creating a resistance that prevents people from hearing us.

It’s hard to know when you’re hitting the right balance, and when you’re simply wimping out.

Stuff

As Quiet Husband and I contemplate The Third Third of our lives, it is profoundly apparent that we are Stymied By Stuff.

We have been married nearly 44 years, have lived in the same house for 34 of those years, have raised three children and cared for a menagerie here, have replaced two bathrooms and a backyard space, and have filled three floors, three attics, and a full basement with Stuff.

We have read and dreamed about downsizing, and looked at smaller houses and condos, but before we can do anything about those fantasies, we have to evict the Stuff.  I have, of course, read about Kondo-ing, other decluttering methods, the spirituality of de-cluttering — all of the authors amateurs, I have to say.  Marie Kondo, for instance, recommends starting with something that does not spark an emotional response — books, for instance.  Ha ha ha.  Repeat.  Ha ha ha. She has a limited understanding of the bond some of us enjoy with our books!

I have reluctantly accepted, per the counsel of friends who were once in a similar situation, that this is at least a two-year project, one which I commenced yesterday.

Phase One: Locate photos in one place.  I have chosen the second floor linen closet.  If they don’t all fit there, then there are too many. Yesterday I began to clean out the bottom of four shelves to make a space.

Plastic bins of medicines; random picture frames; even more random snapshots; some supplies which must have come from some surgery I have mercifully forgotten about; an old jewlery box containing actual jewelry plus the 1.5 letters which constitute the only handwritten communications my mother left behind, an early ultrasound of my boys, and some other stuf f through which I have yet to sift.  Result: Two bags of trash, a clear-er space, and that jewelry box still to be addressed.

It took me an hour.  Maybe I need to modify my expectations from two years to ten.

 

 

 

Healthy Aging

boots desert

It seems to have happened quickly, but my children pointed out last week that I have probably been making minor adjustments for a long time.  Sadly, they are correct.

I have been walking downstairs (unless the stairs are very short ones!) sideways ever since recovering from the ankle I broke four years ago, and it’s apparent that that particular style has nothing to do with my ankle and everything to do with my knees.

An inveterate walker, I have blithely taken off days and weeks with increasing frequency in the last year.

We took a family vacation to the California desert last week, and I abandoned two of our hikes altogether when they  involved steep ascents without any shade in sight, moved slowly on others, and fell asleep most nights before 9:00.

Some weird thing has happened to one of my knees, and they both hurt all the time.

Yikes!  I have become an old woman.

I have no plans to give up walking and hiking, so this is going to have to be the Year of Healthy Aging.  Better food, more exercise, lower weight, less stress.

 

Photo: Valley of Fire NV

 

The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 4

Eclipse Day!

Judi was actually up until about 5:00 am working.  When I arose a couple of hours later, she was sound asleep ~ in our Murphy bed!  She said that she’d always wanted to sleep in one so . .  dream come true.

I headed out for a beautiful morning beach walk.  The St. Lawrence River has widened to the point where the northern shore is invisible.  Birds: black-backed gulls, cormorants, and gannets in the distance.  Crab breakfast for gulls.  The pink flowers we would see everywhere.  I made a cairn for Josh.

q matane beachQ matane crabQ matane flowersQ matane cairnQ Matane river

I felt fine until we began loading the car and I reached upward to put now-dry tents back into the roof storage container.  My first hint that I might have done some serious damage with that fall the previous morning.

Lots of driving that day as we proceeded from Matane to Gaspe’.  A delicious lunch at a roadside cafe’, where the chef/niece of owner sent me off with a bag of ice for my invisibly bruised ribs.

Q cafe east of Matane

I had not realized that the eclipse would be partially visible in the peninsula.  When the time came, it seemed a bit hazy, and the river darkened from blue to gray.  Most obvious sign?  The gannets vanished, and the gulls and cormorants moved in toward and to the beach.  Twenty minutes later, they were all airborne again!

Q cormorant

As we drove on, the landscape began to change, and so did our conversation.   Sixty-four years have brought challenges we could not have imagined in our dorms all those years ago.  I think we’ve handled them pretty well.

Q coastQ mountains

We reached the town of Gaspe’ in the early evening, settled into our hotel  ~ home for the next three nights ~ and went out to a restaurant we enjoyed so much that we would return the next evening.

gaspe restauant

By bedtime, I was hurting, but highly motivated for the next day’s gannet trip and promise of sunshine.  I turned down all suggestions of waiting a day, and went to sleep on my back ~ not a good sign!

 

Glass Houses (Book Review Interlude)

[***Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Suicide by Jumping, Drug Addiction***]glass houses

I don’t recall when I started reading the Inspector Gamache mysteries ~ although Amazon says that I purchased the first one three years ago, and a month later had finished four.  Number 13 arrived last week-end, and a couple of days ago I re-read the last 100 pages, much more slowly and deliberately than I had a few nights earlier.  (Louise Penny is a master as describing intense encounters between criminals and their pursuers, and I had flown through the ending the first time around.)

At first, I didn’t care for this book. Louise Penny frequently makes use of sentence fragments in her writing, but in this novel she has reached a new extreme.  I was frequently distracted by the short, broken phrases, and wondered whether they reflected the sad and harsh reality of her own life.  Her beloved husband had died of Alzheimer’s during the writing, something she had discussed in her online newsletter and reflects upon at the end of the book.  But as I continued to read, the sentence structure seemed to become one with the broken world of the Surete’, the court system, and the drug trade whose stories coalesce into this one.

I don’t want to give anything away to either longtime Gamache fans or newbies, so I will make only two points.  First, the plot line does indeed center on the opiate trade, and thus address a contemporary crisis.  It does so in broad strokes, in the exploration of new characters, and in details of the lives of old favorites.  It is possible that, if you have had to deal with drug addiction in your own circles, this book might prove a difficult read.

Second, like nearly everyone else, I want to extol the character development at which Louise Penny is so brilliant.  I have started re-reading the first novel in anticipation of a book club discussion and, while I had forgotten many things, I knew that in Glass Houses I was reading about people who have grown and gained in strength and dignity over a period of several years.

As an aside, many of the books focus on the traumas and tragedies experienced by one or two characters other than Monsieur and Madame Gamache.  In this one, Ruth Zardo, perhaps my least favorite of the Three Pines residents, comes to the fore for a bit, and I fell in love with her.  As is so often the case, it’s the ones who most irritate us who turn out to be most like us in past trauma and lifetime response.  The woman prays for Satan ~ how wonderful is that?

Finally, it is an added pleasure to read these mysteries just after having spent time in Quebec.  (I re-read two others, out of any order, while we were traveling.)   Every time we came across a Surete’ du Quebec sign, I nearly jumper with joy, anticipating that I would encounter Chief Inspector Gamache at the next stop!

 

The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 3

Sunday: A day of altered plans.

First there was the Whoop!  Yikes! Thump!

That was me, arms full of sopping wet tent and fly, distracted by conversation, slipping on the slick wooden tent platform and, as far as I can tell from the consequences, hitting my rear several times on the way down and toppling over to slam chest-first into a rock, or maybe more than one rock, on the ground.  A week later, the bruises on my bottom and legs are healing, and I can finally lie, for a bit, on my left side.  I probably do have actually cracked or broken ribs; I have my annual physical in another ten days, so maybe I’ll find out.

But it didn’t seem so bad at first, so off we went, further east along the coast of the St. Lawrence River.  First stop: a small island ~ a short boat ride and a hike on a spot somewhat famous for shipwrecks and for a hermit who dwelt there for forty years.  (I felt fine.)

Q island 1

q island 2q island 3

q island shipwreckq island hermit

Then, as we would almost every day, we kept driving, and came across small villages in which churches with towering steeples loomed above the sea.  Had we photographed them all, we would still be on Monday!

q church 1

Our conversation continued to focus on Northfield.  Gratitude for what we gained there, despite the frustrations and pain of those years:  The music.  The impossible academic standards.  The sheer physical beauty of the campus.  The regret over the merger of the boys’ and girls’ schools, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but ultimately led to the closure of our campus.  The dismay we felt at the fate of many of the women teachers, who with the merger lost the place they called home.

Meanwhile, Judi was beginning to stress over a work proposal she had promised to submit by Monday evening.  Our plan . . .  my plan, I should say . . . involved a 20-mile drive deep into the forest to a wilderness campsite.  Judi’s involved a desk, a laptop, and a Wi-Fi connection.  I was getting  a little achy, and there was obviously no way that she could enjoy a remote campsite with that project looming overhead, so we reconnoitered, and headed for Matane.

What a fabulous change in plans!  The town of Matane is charming, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at La Fabrique, a microbrewery recommended by our boat guide that morning. Judi was full of compliments for the ways in which the town has arranged its public spaces to facilitate walking and community gathering.

le fabrique

But even better: our hotel, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, which by this point was beginning to look like the ocean.  Very contemporary, inside and out.  Filled with families.  We didn’t visit the restaurant, but I enjoyed the indoor hot tub and pool area while Judi got to work, I didn’t at all mind sinking myself into a hotel bed rather than clambering into a tent, and the view from our balcony was spectacular.  I am a Riotel convert!

q riotel outsideq riotel barq riotel view

 

 

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