Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mass Hysteria

I just wrote this story to a friend in an email, and decided to tell it here, too. It has been a strange, strange Halloween.

When Monk announced that he wanted to dress up as President Bush this year, we laughed and thought it was a natural progression given his costumes over the past several years: Darth Maul, Darth Vader, the Devil, and President Bush.

But what we never expected was the way his costume would tap into some deep wells of hatred! Not only that, but it created what D referred to as the Mascot Effect. It was as if people immediately forgot that he was a human underneath the puffy coat and the big mask. As soon as the mask would go on, and this is no exaggeration, swarms of kids would immediately be drawn to him and start poking him, hitting him, pulling at him. I've never seen anything like it.

But there was definitely also a Burn-Him-in-Effigy Effect as well. One kid walked over and said, "Some night you're going to wake up and find me standing over your bed with a knife." But even adults (parents, not the teachers thank goodness) would come over to him and say things like, "Watch out! I'm going to punch you!" We had some deep-seated hatred going on.

I was glad that both D and I went to Monk's school parade. We flanked him and kept having to fend kids (and adults) off. Finally, Doug turned to me and said: "Now I know what we should have dressed as...secret service agents!"

There was a very sweet moment, though, when a little girl--not more that 2 1/2 I'm sure, was utterly enthralled with Monk. It was the positive mascot effect, as if he were a Disney character or something. Monk shook her hand, as if he were one of those characters. She was smitten! I caught the moment below:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bringing the Outside In

Yesterday was a frustrating one for me, for various reasons. Within about an hour of chapel beginning, I was probably at my most cranky point. But I headed over to chapel (later than I've done all semester), in order to prepare the space for our worship service.

After setting out the hymnals and preparing the communion table with the green cloth I use each week (never the same way twice, though), I felt overwhelmingly that I wanted to bring something in from the outside.

I walked out the door of the chapel and looked about me. I thought of maybe some branches off a tree, or some flowers I might find... then I saw a charlie-brown ginkgo tree just off to the side of the chapel. It had shed a number of its bright, gold leaves and they had blanketed the ground around it. I collected a good handful and put them by the bulletins (which I always set on a table at the entryway). I also put some more on the communion table on top of the green cloth and under the candle, already burning. But then I turned around and saw this long stretch of bright red carpet along the the aisle...

I went back out with a student. I took off my jacket and we started to fill my jacket with gold leaves. As we reentered the chapel, the president of the seminary looked at me curiously: "I saw you out there loading leaves in your jacket..."

I laughed. "Wait til you see what we do with them!"

Then we proceeded to strew them all along the aisle - from back to front. The bright gold against that deep red was something!

It was fun, then, to watch people come in and blink! The prayer of invocation we prayed together ended up asking God to help us see God in unexpected ways: in the strange and familiar. Then the sermon was on the feeling of "in-betweeness."

I thought about how the leaves made our space an in-between space: not outside, not inside. And Autumn being an in-between season: not Summer, not Winter but carrying us between the two. For me, the leaves began to generate meaning.

My favorite part was directly after the service, first the two of us who had brought in the leaves (and made the mess in the first place!) started collecting them into baskets. Then, little by little, more and more people--from the students to the dean--were down on our hands and knees collecting leaves! There was so much laughter and marveling going on down there on the floor of the chapel that it was certainly a continuation of the worship service from my perspective.

Part of my role as the director of chapel is to use the chapel experience to teach students. I've been trying to do this subtly, by showing the kinds of things that are possible in worship. At our community dinner afterwards, one of our students asked me about the leaves. She is Korean and still struggles to express herself in English, which made our conversation all the more beautiful to me. She asked me about the meaning of the leaves. I talked about the meaning I had found in them, but suggested that others might have made different meanings. She smiled, and said: "I liked it. They were beautiful!"

Another student admitted that she hadn't noticed the leaves at all until partway through the service. And she said she couldn't figure out then if they'd been there when she had walked in, or if someone had walked through as part of the service and scattered them, or if they'd been there every week and she simply had never noticed before! She was one of the ones who got down on the floor to pick up the leaves, laughing delightedly. It occurred to me that the leaves had called her into presence in worship in a way she had not expected. They were familiar things in an unfamiliar place--and they had caused her to notice. There is gift in that.

By the time the service was over, the frustrations of my day had melted away. My spirit had been able to come to a resting point. And I'd been reminded of the joy that can be found in community, especially a community that dares to worship together.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Giving Thanks for Simple Things

First, with prayers for all those who have been displaced from their homes due to fires, for those who are facing danger by seeking to contain the fires, for those who are grieving loss in its many forms.

Thanks to all who have encouraged us to go ahead and take this cruise. I think we're gonna do it! Looks like we'll be heading out in the spring, shortly after Easter. We'll celebrate Monk's 10th birthday in Ensenada, Mexico. Now, really, how cool is that? We're very excited about this grand adventure ahead.

More immediately, I'm scheduled to head back to the dentist today for (possibly) some major work to be done on my tooth that broke a few weeks ago. I say possibly because I got a letter from my insurance company which suggests this particular procedure may not be covered. Either that, or there was simply a technicality with the way the claim was filed. At any rate, it means a day chock full of some of the most unpleasant things I can imagine doing: dealing with an insurance company and going to the dentist. Nice.

In other news, I finally gave in on Monday and paid for Amazon Prime so that I can get "free" two-day shipping on my orders. The trick is whether or not it truly will be free; that is, if we buy enough books from Amazon (and Barnes & Noble, I guess) that we would have spent the $79 over a year anyway. Even I, as terrible with numbers as I am, have that much figured out.

Truth is, though, it's not so much about saving $$$ as it is about getting the books immediately. And I have found that often, once I am online looking for a title, it's because I need the book yesterday.

Speaking of which, my books did arrive yesterday (one day sooner, even, than expected). The first is for my dissertation. A book by Jurgen Habermas called (tantalizingly) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Say wha? Even so, I remain hopeful that by the time I get to the end of the book, I'll have some glimpse of what the heck that title means. :)

The second book is equally for my own prayer life as it is for work. (How joyous that the two can be that closely intertwined!) It's by Nan C. Merrill called Psalms for Praying: An Invitation for Wholeness. Merrill's project is a lovely one (although I freely recognize the dangers in it). She offers a translation of the Psalms that does not "other" enemies or nations, but draws them in and identifies them as internal enemies, whether fear, doubt, despair, lack of self worth, and so on. She also translates images of God primarily in terms of Love--calling God Love, Beloved, Compassionate One, Blessed Healer, Blees One, Listening Heart, etc.

One of the dangers, of course, is that a translation like this over-psychologizes the imagery in the Psalms. In some ways, the Psalms are transformed into nothing more than a sort of Jungian prayerbook. Another danger is that it clearly de-historicizes the Psalms, which commits a certain violence to the Hebrew/Christian texts--faiths that are deeply rooted in historical events.

But here's the thing: Merrill is not proposing her translation as a replacement of the more literal translations. And in that sense, I feel like the prayer book's dangers are mitigated considerably. And the benefits of these contemporary, accessible, and poetic images outweigh the dangers as I see them. I can't help but wonder what it might be like to grow up knowing God's name as Love, Beloved, and Compassionate One. I mean, really, what might the world look like if we knew this as God's name? Truth is, I open this book of Psalms and immediately experience it as a prayer book in a way I've never quite been able do with the traditional translations.

Anyway, enough talk about this, let me leave you with one of the Psalms. Here is Merrill's translation of Psalm 54.

Awaken me, O Blessed Healer with
your holy mercy,
that I might be free of fear.
Hear my prayer, O Holy One;
give ear to the words of
my mouth.

For nagging doubts assail me,
bringing loneliness and pain;
I remember not the Beloved, so
overwhelming are my fears.

Yet behold, You are my helper,
the upholder of my life.
With You I have the strength to
face my fears;
Your faithfulness will help me
transform them into love.

With boundless confidence, I
abandon myself into your Heart;
I give praise to your holy Name,
O Beloved,
with gratitude and joy.
For You deliver me from my illusions,
and, through Love, my heart
opens to Wisdom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Crazy Ideas are Afloat

So here's the thing. The wonderful and amazing RevGalBlogPals sent out word a few weeks ago that arrangements were being made for our first-ever RevGal Big Event. The matriarchs/board recommended the wildly unorthodox notion of taking a cruise together in the Spring! It was a creative way of gathering women from all over the world to a central location that was accessible by a major airport. And it was surprisingly affordable.

I have to say I never once imagined going on a cruise before, but when I checked into the details of the RevGals Big Event, I actually found it looked like a lot of fun. Unfortunately (though understandably), the RevGals decided that partners and kids wouldn't be invited to this particular event. So after giving it quite a bit of thought, I decided I just couldn't leave my guys at home while I went sailing off to Mexico. Most especially because it would be over Monk's tenth birthday. (That's double digits, baby!)

But a seed was planted. A bee was put in my bonnet. My imagination started running wild. And next thing I knew, I was sending away for cruise information for the three of us. Lately we've started to talk about taking a four-day (or so) cruise to Mexico during Monk's spring break (which is also, coincidentally, his birthday week). We'd leave from a Southern California port (not the RevGal New Orleans port).

I'm a little embarrassed by how fun I suddenly think this all sounds. It's not at all, not even remotely, connected to our simple lifestyle commitments of yesteryear. We don't live extravagantly by any means. Even so, despite our tiny apartment, we manage to pack in quite a few extras here and there. Still, a cruise?

But here's what appeals to me about it: being on the ocean (wow!), going to Mexico for the first time, traveling even while getting to stay in the same room each night (magic), meals included with the price (affordable), and doing something utterly different from what we've ever done before.

No decision has been made yet. I still need to research it all. :) But we'll see. Maybe...

Finding Perspective

On Saturday I went to watch Monk's hockey practice. Each week at practice they do a horrendous drill where they skate the length of the rink (back and forth) while the coach shouts, "Down!" then "Up!" With each command they drop to the ice then clamber back up again as quickly as possible. I guess it's supposed to help them learn how to get on their feet again if they take a spill during a game.

Granted, all exercise strikes me as dreadful, but this one in particular looks like utter punishment. I couldn't help but smile as I sat on the bleachers this Saturday. It occurred to me, no matter how bad a day I may have on occasion, I never have to do that. It was such beautiful little moment of perspective. I feel like now I always have something to be thankful for. :)

Yesterday wasn't a bad day, but it was a long one. Mondays always are: I get in to work by 9:30 a.m. and stay 'til 10 p.m. (Though last night it was closer to 10:30 before I headed out.) I spend the day preparing both for the Seminary chapel service at 6:00 as well as preparing to teach immediately after chapel from 7:00 to 9:30. The amount of energy that goes into each experience is tremendous--both draw on wells of spiritual intuition and empathy, not to mention intellectual challenge.

For the most part, I find that worship and teaching gift back energy more than they take, but on occasion they really zap me out of it. And last night was one of those. Even so, it is such a privilege to get to do this. The tired that hits me is a well-earned tired. And the thing is, I never have to do that drill.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Extreme Home Makeover

We live in a small, I mean, tiny apartment. And every now and then it becomes terribly evident that our stuff has surpassed our apartment's capacity to hold it. In a way it's a good thing to live in a place that has this sort of built-in alarm system that lets us know when we've accumulated too many things. But it also wears on us, I think. There is not much forgiveness to the space: everything is either picked up or it's a mess. No in-between.

Yesterday we couldn't take it anymore. And our efforts became concentrated in Monk's room. He's now 9 1/2 years old. And he had a lot of toys in his room that he has simply outgrown. Most of his playtime now is dedicated almost entirely to playing sports: hockey, football, and baseball. He plays a lot of these by himself in the afternoons. But he also throws a ball with his Dad every afternoon in the park across the street. (If you live in a tiny apartment, it always helps to have a park across the street!)

The three of us ruthlessly filled trash and recycling bags yesterday afternoon. I even cleared out old schoolwork he'd accumulated over the years, showing my anti-math bias by only keeping creative writing assignments. :) I went through Monk's dresser drawers and took out the clothes that no longer fit--a chore also long overdue. Included in that pile was an old Eagles jersey my brother gave Monk when he was only two years old. It was huge on him at the time, and somehow we managed to squeeze five years out of that jersey! But there is no way Monk would fit in it now. (That jersey isn't representative of the other clothes in his drawer, by the way. Everything else was sized between 6 and 8. I'm not that far behind.)

At the end of the day, I vacuumed in there. Including getting down on my hands and knees and using the attachment to vacuum along the edges of the room, floorboards we haven't seen in over a year! A deeply satisfying project.

The end result is that the room is cleaner, neater and better put together than I think it's ever been, even since we moved in. We've little-by-little divested of the excess toys (an embarrassment of riches for our only child). It's now a room that is pleasant to be in, a haven and a sanctuary.

Now if only the rest of the apartment felt that way, too!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Monday Morning

(1) There was much celebrating when the Phillies clinched the NL East championship yesterday afternoon for the first time since the magical 1993 season. That was the year D and I were married and we had bought each other partial season tickets (a set of four seats so we'd always go with friends). If you remember what the '92 Phillies were like, you'd know it was a giant leap of faith. If I'm not mistaken, they had finished in last place that year. But 1993 brought a new ragamuffin team out onto the field and we, along with the rest of the city, fell in love with them as they made their unbelievable journey to the World Series.

So the last time the Phils won the NL East, D and I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to drive up to Pittsburgh in order to see it happen. There were more Phillies fans there than Pirates fans for that game. And though nothing was guaranteed, they did indeed win the title that evening. It was enough great energy to fuel our eight-hour drive back home so we could go to work that morning. At every rest stop along the PA Turnpike, we would run into the same group of diehard fans who were on the same journey we were.

This time we celebrated the win from afar. But still managed to see it on D's computer. So wonderful to hear Harry Kalas call another championship game.

(2) All things baseball, D's fantasy team won his league's world series championship yesterday. And, in fact, Elliot also won his league's world series as well. So we broke out some champagne and sparkling lemonade and celebrated the boys. :)

(3) I dyed my hair yesterday afternoon for the first time in a while. I was tired of it's plain old browness and wanted a little more spunk to it. But not the spunk that comes from a $100 appointment at my hairdresser. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but have put it off because it meant giving up my gray hairs. I love my gray hair! I don't love the flat brown.

(4) A full day ahead preparing for chapel this evening and then class immediately after that. Most of the service is together, but I still need to fit it into bulletin format and make the copies. We will be celebrating communion for the first time, so new details for me to pay attention to. Still more firsts. A year of firsts, I suspect. At any rate, I need to be finished all that prep no later than noon to give myself a good, solid 4 or 5 hours to finish prepping for my part of the class tonight.

(5) Looks like we're planning a vacation to San Diego for Thanksgiving this year. I'll be down there anyway for the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting. So the guys are going to fly down on the last day of the meetings, we'll stay a few days, then drive back home together. This will be our first real vacation here, other than a couple days "housesitting" in Tahoe. It's been so long, I don't even know how to plan a vacation anymore. So if you live in the SoCal area, let me know if there are any places we ought to stay or visit!

(6) Oh, yeah. One more thing. Right after the Phillies won yesterday afternoon, I happened to cut my thumb on an aluminum foil take-out container. It was a pretty good cut and started bleeding right away. Monk, after making sure I was okay, joked: "Hey, Mom, you bleed red." Yes, indeed, I do. :)