Friday, June 13, 2008


After a month or so of daily countdowns, today we reached it: the last day of fourth grade for the Monk. How can this be so? And will we ever stop asking that?

Monk has had a great year this year. He seemed to fall into his groove with making new friends, taking things in stride, doing his homework without much complaint, growing more responsible. He had a couple projects in school that he really poured his heart into. Especially he worked hard on his Mission Project, in which he made the case that the California Mission system was largely responsible for the destruction of Native American cultures. He made a very sophisticated argument in his essay where he was able to recognize that although some of the intentions behind the Missions were good, in fact they had some very negative, unintentional consequences for Native Americans. For a fourth grader to be able to realize such complexity is pretty remarkable, in my (humble mom) opinion!

This was the year that Monk's parents saw way, way more closed bedroom doors than ever before. It used to be we couldn't get Monk to play in his room for anything: toys were always strewn around the living room floor when he was small! Now it seems we can't ever get him to come out of his room for more than an hour at a time. Of course, given that our apartment is roughly the size of a shoebox, we're never really far apart. :)

I have always seen the end of school years as opportunities to re-evaluate things. And I've been doing that these past couple weeks. Some of that I've been blogging about here and there--about looking for ways to live more faithfully in a broken world. But I'm also seeking ways, living as an academic, to be more embodied. Or, maybe put better, to pay attention to the fact that I am a body.

Having gotten sick at the end of May with a pretty serious (and painful) staph infection, I realized just how much the stress of these past few months had affected my immune system. And I saw that my ability to keep pushing on, no matter how stressful things are, while good for the short-term, is not a long-term, sustainable lifestyle.

This past week, inspired by PeripateticPolarBear, I decided that I wanted to start walking to work this summer. (I would have started earlier, but needed to recover my health first.) Although I haven't exercised for ages upon ages, I jumped right in this week and started walking the three miles to my office and back.

I made it a day and a half (9 miles in 24 hours) before I realized something pretty important. That is this: not exercising for twenty years is rooted in the same disrespect for one's body as jumping in and walking nine miles in 24 hours. I wanted to be able to do it all, every day, rather than understanding that I needed to gradually ramp up my expectations. It's a humbling thought, to be honest, that I can't just immediately begin walking 6 miles a day.

But realizing that I can't do it all, well, that seems to be the thing I must be working on these days.

I took a day off from walking on Wednesday, to let my aching muscles get their rest. And then yesterday, rather than walking to work, I went to the Bay and walked briskly for thirty minutes. And that felt great.

Gradual change feels so much more, what? tenuous? vulnerable? less likely to succeed? not dramatic enough? But I have an inkling that it is sustainable change in a way that drastic change is not.

Yes, this is what I want to try and pay attention to right now. Small things I can do, not trying to change everything all at once, looking for ways to live sustainably.

Oh, and as of 2:30 today, I am the Mom of a fifth grader.

Lord have mercy.

P.S. Oh! Speaking of changes! Much thanks to Mrs M for generously posting code for how to use a photo as a backdrop on blogger! And also thanks to my Brother, who edited the photo so that the sailboat could be seen in the left margin of the page, rather than in the center. He's so cool.

P.P.S. The picture here is the view I have when I take my half-hour walk. Yeah. Kinda nice.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Will Never Be Able to Do Enough...Even So... Part 2

Jesus started a global movement by paying attention to one person at a time.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

I Will Never Be Able to Do Enough...Even So

...I can do something.

These past few months I have been profoundly grieved at the worsening global food crisis which has emerged as a result of a perfect storm of global events. In recent days the the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been holding an emergency summit in Rome to address the current food crisis. Today they announced a significant increase in funding which will allow the hardest hit countries "to grow enough food for themselves in the coming planting seasons, as well as [help] them to achieve continuing food security through investment in agriculture and research."

Earlier today BBC News reported significant resistance to this plan at the Rome Summit from Latin American countries as they are apparently benefiting too much from the cultivation of crops for biofuel (not the sole cause of the global food crisis, but undoubtedly one element of the perfect storm).

I have felt overwhelmed by this global food crisis, especially once the catastrophes hit in Burma/Myanmar and China last month. All of these have been spinning around in my mind particularly in relation to the scripture from several Sundays ago in which we are reminded that God's eye is on the sparrow. It is so difficult for me, as a person of privilege who wants for nothing, to read that scripture of God's loving care for human beings even while unfathomable numbers of people are dying daily from hunger, catastrophically in natural disasters, and horrifically as a result of corrupt government practices.

In their 11th Hour Preacher Party for the Birds & Lilies week over at the RevGal's site, many of the preachers were focusing on the command Jesus issued for people not to worry. This was also what my own pastor focused on that Sunday in worship. I know it is a hugely important focus for our 21st century, North American context. But I found myself struggling with it in light of everything I've already mentioned here.

"I am wondering," I wrote in a comment on the RevGal site that day, "how I can better incarnate God's eyes and hands to help provide for others in an aching, suffering, starving world? I do worry: that I'm not doing enough and never can do enough."

Since articulating those words for the first time a few weeks ago, they have stayed with me like some kind of irritant, like sand in an oyster. I am letting it work on me and in me. It is variously confrontational to my spirit and my living; it is upsetting; unsettling; and it is asking of me to do something.

Even in the midst of this ever-present irritant, I have found myself, well, hungering for hope. If I cannot do enough, if I cannot fathom these many unrelenting deaths, if governments and corporations are just so corrupt--then what? How do I have hope in the face of these realities? In the face of death?

I have glimpsed hope in two people over the past couple weeks, two witnesses to hope: Howard Zinn and Dorothee Solle.

In his article "The Optimism of Uncertainty" published in The Nation on September 2, 2004, Howard Zinn writes:

"If we remember those times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

I absolutely love this image of the future being an infinite succession of presents. And the notion that by acting even in the smallest ways, we contribute to the shaping of that future in significant ways.

The other witness to hope came to me this morning as I was re-reading Dorothee Solle's fantastic book Thinking About God. She writes:

"In a conversation about the situation of the peoples oppressed by Western countries, a young Swiss teacher recently asked me from where I could derive my hope. At first I wanted to reply to him, 'From my faith in God, who once rescued an oppressed people from slavery under a great military power.' But then it struck me that it is not 'my' faith which bears me up. It is really the faith and the hope of the poor who do not give up. As long as they do not despair and give up, as long as they go on, we do not have the least right, whining and resigned in an analysis which counts money and weapons but does not see the pride and the combativeness of the violated, to say, 'There is nothing one can do'" (20).

Despair, Solle seems to be suggesting, is an emotion of the privileged. Tossing up my hands, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this aching world, is a privileged choice. I will never be able to do enough...even so...I can do something today.

For about ten days now I have started my morning by visiting The Hunger Site. I click through each tab on the site, which manages to bend even our consumerism toward justice. It is, in the spirit of Zinn's reminder, a very small action. But I am hoping that by making this small action a part of my morning spiritual discipline, it will be a part of that infinite succession of presents that contribute to the future.

Even as I click on each tab, the irritant troubles me again and again. It is not enough! And I must not be fooled into thinking it is. But it is an action which, done prayerfully, roots me in the world's need, enacts a small contribution toward justice, and troubles my spirit to continue to look to do something more.