Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Money, You, and a Simpler Life"

An excerpt from a book I borrowed from the Quaker library:

"Money -- at least as we deal with it as individuals -- is not brain surgery. True, the issues get more complicated if you want to make more and more and more money -- clearly not a great idea if you're really trying to simplify your life. And for making more and more money, the woods are full of experts fairly roaring with advice! They... tell us how to be 'secure' by being wealthier. They pursue -- by methods that are often more complicated than they are telling us -- an illusory, money0based happiness that both recent scientific research and many centuries of common experience reveal has no basis in reality.
"But with personal finances, let there be no mistake: The basics really are the basics. An older generation that lived through the Depression learned those basics: Know what your resources are; stick to your budget; be frugal; always look for bargains; save as much money as you can; borrow as little as you can; get out debt as fast as you can."

(From "Nothing's Too Small to Make a Difference" by Wanda Urbanska and Frank Levering)

Maybe tomorrow I'll post another excerpt, from the part about HOW to stick to those basics!

Monday, September 30, 2013

annapolis: our new home

our neighborhood consists of an illegal garbage dump, 5 deer - one with small antlers, and one fawn with no more spots, woods with a creek and a path that leads to a quaker meeting house, a prayer labryinth, and a praying mantis.

our household includes dozens of fruit flies, a part-time papillon puppy, and new ivy that is beginning to root. 

our window overlooks a parking lot, and the sill is decorated with a happy candle that reminds us of a sad break-up of friends. 

our bed is book-ended by the coolest little nightstands i've ever seen (they each have their own pull-out trays, perfect for a laptop or whatever else can't be crowded on the top), and in the bottom cubby of seth's nightstand the 4th harry potter book awaits the arrival of the 5th (which we are waiting to buy until seth completes and submits his paperwork for the ministerial fellowship committee!)

our fridge has plenty of adele-art, chicago magnets, and a silly chinese take-out menu that says things like "gift certificafe" and "food panty available". oh, and much more important than that, our fridge is stocked with enough, but not too many, groceries. although, the cheese drawer seems to empty so much quicker than it ought...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

my family...

is so darn photogenic:

*drew, getting ready for the mud run with team Y (these are much prettier than the "after" pics)*

*margot (3) and adele (7) holding logan and jackson (4 mos.)*

...and i miss them all (including those not pictured)!


seth is my "new" family, and as much as i love him, there's no way he can fill all those shoes. and the uuca is quickly becoming my new church family, which is a little weird since we are only going to be here for a year. but i'm thankful for them all the same.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I also went for a walk in the rain last night, and decided I want to do that more often. I spent some time at the prayer labyrinth here at the church. And I saw several toads hopping around in the rain, right after it got dark.


This poem was very timely for Seth and me last night, after a long day of struggling with the difficulty of being newly-married, and in a new place, and he being an introvert starting a new job and me being without a job as of yet....

Poem (the spirit likes to dress up)

The spirit
  likes to dress up like this:
   ten fingers, 
   ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
  at night
   in the black branches,
     in the morning

in the blue branches
  of the world.
   It could float, of course,
     but would rather

plumb rough matter.
  Airy and shapeless thing,
   it needs 
     the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
  the oceanic fluids;
   it needs the body's world,

and imagination
  and the dark hug of time,
     and tangibility,

to be understood,
  to be more than pure light
   that burns
     where no one is --

so it enters us --
  in the morning
   shines from brute comfort
     like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
  lights up the deep and wondrous
   drownings of the body
     like a star.

And this one, for first thing this morning:

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created. 
Under the orange 

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again 

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands 

of summer lilies. 
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails 

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere. 
And if your spirit
carries within it 

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging --- 

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted --- 

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning, 

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy, 
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray. 

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver 
© Mary Oliver

Thanks, Mary Oliver, for writing these. And whoever's behind this for sharing them.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Don't be fooled into thinking that the gift you bear is a burden. Though the blessing you have may at times feel like a curse, that doesn't mean it isn't meant to be given, to be shared.

Your gift doesn't look like what's popular? Like what's sensible, or proper morals, or a smart investment, or enticing to a world that judges by appearances and seeks to silence the dissenting voice, to suppress the truly creative act? 

The dreamers who dared to speak, dared to live, may have fought hard battles, may have faced unjust deaths. But is that worse than living in the realm of the unreal, enduring the torture of insincerity, submitting to fear, perfecting conformity, perpetuating numbness, forgetting who we are? 

And what is the way? What is the way to open the treasure chest of the true self, to nurture the soul of a blossoming child, to honor the wisdom of eternity, to uncover and see again -- or for the first time -- who it is behind the façade of the enemy? The way is love. The way is acting in mercy, withholding judgement, relinquishing control... the way is bending low to serve, choosing forgiveness, practicing hospitality... the way is extending a hand of help, a gaze of wonder, a word of praise... and it is called love. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Forgiveness as an act of worship

Forgiveness can be seen in different ways, as having different functions. One function of forgiveness is to pardon the offender. Another is to provide release/healing for the injured party. But recently I've been caught by the idea that forgiveness is essentially an act of worship toward God. Like any act of worship, it helps us gain the right perspective, and put/keep ourselves in our rightful place... a position of humility, love, and dependence on grace.

Worship, I learned in a class once upon a time, is ascribing worth. We can ascribe worth to - worship - God, others, self. Oh yeah, or stuff (a.k.a. 'idols'). False worship happens when we ascribe worth inaccurately, or inappropriately.... or in more christianese language, 'idolatry' happens when we love and place our trust in something/one that cannot/should not be the object of such love and trust. Well geez, when I put it that way, idolatry is such a huge problem in life! It happens all the time. I won't speak for anyone else at this point, but I know for me, the most common misplaced worship is probably of myself. Which is why thinking about forgiveness as worship (of God) has challenged and helped me in this area.

One more quick note on worship as ascribing worth to God/self/others/objects/ideas/whatever else... these are all about relationships. How we worship tells us a lot about our relationships with God/self/others/etc... (yes, even stuff).

And it's always in the context of relationships that forgiveness needs to and does take place. So, worship and forgiveness are both relational.

Going back to the idea that true worship is about accurately ascribing worth... this implies that worship requires humility. And guess what. Forgiveness definitely requires humility. (If you've ever tried forgiving, you know this already.) In forgiveness, as in true worship, we are choosing to have an accurate view of self, others, & God. Because in the act of forgiveness (and I think this is why it sometimes takes me so long to get there), I have to admit that the person who wronged me is no worse than I am, that I am no better than s/he. We both are human. We both are flawed. We both have the capacity to harm others, and we both do, albeit perhaps in different ways. And we both are dependent creatures, needing the love & grace of God. And (good news!) we both are able and free to access and further God's grace and love.

From my journal reflections on forgiveness and what I've learned:
~Forgiveness means letting go... of control, of excuses, of the need to be right, of rights, of self-justification, of anger, hatred, holding grudges, judging, and condemning.
~Forgiveness means trusting God... for justice, for mercy, for convicting, for healing, for holding everything together when I'm completely powerless and out of control.
~Forgiveness means acknowledging... God as God; myself as human; myself and other humans as limited and imperfect and sinful, but also as needy, conditioned to act certain ways, yet with potential to change and act differently.

A violation in relationship is also an opportunity - forgiveness allows one person to give grace and another to receive it. And Jesus's teachings (e.g. Mt. 18:21-35) make clear that in order to give grace you have to have received it, and in order to truly receive grace you have to give it.


I'm guessing someone who reads this might have a question about evil, unforgivable people/acts/situations. Or maybe other more challenging aspects of forgiveness. If you do have ideas about this or any other aspect of forgiveness, please share.

Friday, March 8, 2013

we justice-loving types can have a hard time letting things go. if there's a point to be proven, we're probably the first to sign up. if there's a wrong to be righted, we can't imagine not trying everything in our power to do so. personally, i have a hard time giving an apology without also giving a self-defense. (conversely, sometimes it's tempting to apologize when someone else has wronged me - just for the sake of reconciliation.)
fighting for justice is well and good. but what about when we can't? or, is it possible there are times when we simply shouldn't? where is the line between putting into action the justice we know to be of God... and stepping aside and letting God enact God's own justice?
the words recorded by the prophet are wise, pairing together the imperatives "do justice" and "love mercy." oh yeah, and the third one: "walk humbly with your God." i guess maybe that's the how-to part.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What if I wasn't white?

Did you ever get on a bus and realize you're the only person on it who would be called "caucasian"? That happened to me this morning, which was kind of a surprise because it was the bus stop right by my house. Then I realized that it was a bit after the morning rush, so it made a little more sense why all the "normal, white" city people were absent, and instead there were mothers with babies, some elderly, and various other people, all of other ethnicities, who maybe don't work 9 to 5.  That got me thinking about how I much prefer this kind of setting, as opposed to the business-suit-wearing, all-made-up with dyed hair, downtown-working type of people I sometimes sit among on public transportation. Times like that make me feel some kind of foreign (to me), Type A pressure, and induce in me disgust at the materialistic life I imagine them all to be pursuing. I'd sooo rather be here with people who don't operate on business hours and standards. Times like today's bus ride are highlights, to me, of living in the city. They make me jealous of my new sister, who spent last weekend with me and whom I followed around shopping in stores where she smiled and chattered in Arabic with the women who worked there (who in turn showered her with fashion advice and discounts). I'd barely have the guts to enter some of those stores alone. (I'm working on it, though, because I saw some really affordable clothes in one of them that I want to go back for!:)
Race is a tricky topic. Some may argue that race is not even real, because it's not biologically founded. But even though it's socially constructed, we must not and cannot truly deny that it's real. It affects all of our lives whether we like it or not. However, I still struggle sometimes to talk about issues pertaining to race. Don't want to offend anyone! (Or contribute to problems that already exist.) Even rereading the paragraph above, I feel uneasy about my choices of wording. Reflection on that actually reminds me of another difficulty with the concept of race: In all practicality, when we talk about race/racism - we're really talking about class/classism. Certain people with certain shades of skin color are more often located in certain classes. (For clarification: I'm talking about "socio-economic" class, a.k.a. the classes of our society marked by varying degrees of wealth and poverty.*) But there don't seem to be clear lines connecting race/ethnicity to "racism" (the discrimination, oppression, etc, that people experience). So work toward "undoing racism" is also tricky, because in addition to people's personal experiences of racism based on their physical appearance, other deeply rooted problems must be addressed. For example, the generational-cyclical nature of poverty. Or the ridiculous gap between rich and poor as exemplified by the wages of average company workers versus their CEOs (brought to my attention again recently by this short video).
*If you don't believe in or don't understand the class system in our society, a good starting place is a book called "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," by an educator named Ruby Payne.
And lastly (if you're still reading, bless you)... trying to figure this whole race thing out can be exhausting. I personally have not tried so hard that it's exhausted me, but I've witnessed some people who have. My fiancé is wrestling with the issue in educational settings (like CPE - training that hospital chaplains and other ministerial types go through), as well as within his religious denomination's well-intentioned but discombobulated attempts at racial equality. Sometimes at the end of the day I gotta feel sorry for the guy who has a heart of love for all kinds of people, but carries a huge burden of racism and oppression, in that un-envied position of "white, middle-class male." I've also witnessed students at my internship site face the issue of race from multiple angles - being black but not black enough, being white but too rich, growing up in poverty and being misunderstood, being born in the wrong region of the country and being stereotyped, being biracial or being someone that people just don't understand and therefore not belonging anywhere. The one thing I keep learning is that racism hurts all of us. And it is sad to me. Even as I sit here and wonder what good my own efforts and words can do, and worry about the probably hundred times in this post that I've said something so white or implied something so white or ignored or denied something important simply because I am white. Today, I don't like being white.

"White is the color of fresh milk and snow. It contains all the wavelengths of visible light without absorption, has maximum brightness, and does not have any hue. It is the opposite of black.
According to surveys in Europe and the United States, white is the color most often associated with innocence, perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, lightness, and exactitude."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Psalm 60

O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us;
You have been angry; O, restore us.
You have made the land quake, You have split it open;
Heal its breaches, for it totters.
You have made Your people experience hardship;
You have given us wine to drink that makes us stagger.
You have given a banner to those who fear You,
That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.
That Your beloved may be delivered,
Save with Your right hand, and answer us!

God doesn't make sense. Well, life doesn't make sense, and as so many of us believe God is the source of all things, then for us it follows that God doesn't make sense.
God doesn't make sense but God is the only place to turn when life doesn't make sense. (After reading the rest of the Psalm, that's my basic conclusion.)
God is completely outside of our control and God is our only hope.
God doesn't promise anything other than faithfulness, and we don't get to decide what faithfulness is. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

(with an "e", of course)

Anne, as in Anne of Green Gables, once said something to one of her pals – Diana, Ruby, I don’t know, someone – about a tree being a poem. What?!? Anne, usually you are pretty entertaining and endearing, but at this point (to my twelve-year-old literary self) you sound just plain crazy. (By the way, I have this theory about people named Anne: They are essential to my life. My mother, for one. My roommate/bridesmaid/gluten-free-baking/ever-sarcastically-teasing friend, for another. Then there was the nurse practitioner who got me Kleenex while I sobbed in the exam room at Loyola’s Wellness Center, and then very kindly and gently led me through the initial diagnosis and treatment of mono. Pretty much, they’re all Saints. Except Anne of Green Gables – she, L.M. Montgomery made clear, is pretty devilish.) But now, years later, recalling that snippet of the amazing, imaginary world that I spent lots of time in with the red-haired romantic Anne, I am kind of starting to “get” what she meant. Because now in my own mind I’m saying that things are other things. That living is a prayer. That forgiveness is an act of worship*. That hospitality is grace. That witnessing and sharing someone’s suffering is holy. So, ok Anne, I guess a tree can be a poem. You stick with sweet, dramatic, poetic things. I’ll dig into more theological things. And we can continue to be friends.
*more to come on this, in a future post