Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Beauty Salon

The sign reads "Le'Ora's Beauty Salon". This is a picture I had orinally posted on my temporary Typepad site; not sure many people saw it (as no one commented on it), so it feels safe to post here.

And include in the count-down to the anniversary.
Post #1435

Status Report

This is post number 1434. I only have sixty-six entries to go to hit 1500. Not counting today, there are 23 days until this blog's anniversary.

Can I post almost 3 entries per day?

As if that's not challenging enough, I've volunteered to pick up a couple of entries for the Ordinary Time book. Right - just when I should be focusing on writing for this venue, I'm writing for another one, which won't be seen until late this year.

But wait, there's more!

I'll be out of town this Friday and Saturday for an Education Conference. Incidentally, I'll be providing music for a service Friday evening.

AND ... I've been asked to write an article on this conference, which will likely be published locally (in state) and regionally.

And, oh yeah, I've got that whole nine to five thing going on, too.

I'm not complaining about any of this - just acknowledging my tendency to over-commit, at times.

Maybe it's time I start "padding" with more photographs. Transcribe one or two poems from my youth.

Surely, Ms. DJ is so special she deserves more than one photo per week (she's normally featured on "Cat Friday"). I've got a few photographs and digital art that I posted elsewhere that many of you may not have seen already.

Yep. Time to pull out the big guns.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Monday Prayer

Before I was formed
Before my eyes opened
Before my hands could grasp
Before I had a name
Before I was dust
You knew me

From the dust you formed me
From the void you named me
You knew me
You knit me

Open my eyes this day
Open my heart
To see you in all things,
all lives, all hearts;
Teach me to greet Your face
in every face I meet.
Teach me to open my hands
to serve You through others.
Teach me to open my hands
to reach for You alone.

This I ask in your Holy Name.

Post #1433 (for Lea)

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Mike led me to this.
'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com
Jonah [noun]
An alien
I also entered my birth name, which was defined as "Smelling like an onion at times."

Why should I have all the fun -
Dame Julian [noun]
A poltergeist sent back in time to change the course of history forever
Scary how accurate this thing is!

Post #1432

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Booksale

The annual "Friend of the Library Sale" is this weekend. For a book lover, this event is somewhere between nirvana and an opium den.

It's been a long time since I've gone. In fact, it was when I was living in Norman and Dr. Omed was living in a hovel in OKC. I think. We went together.

I remembered it as being a pleasant experience, and have been wanting to go again.

I forgot one itsy bitsy detail: it would be crowded.

Very crowded.

And I don't like crowds.

I'm not agoraphobic, necessarily (lit., fear of the market place). I just have an overly-well defined sense of personal space, and it seems exceptionally easy for it to feel invaded.

And since the primary reality I know is my perception of reality, I assume other folk have the same amount of personal space. And I try to respect it. Golden rule and all that, you know.

So, now and again, there'd be a group of people at each of the aisle, such that I would have to squeeze through them to get out. I'd often feel trapped.

Or I'd have to squeeze in to get a decent squinty look at the titles.

I lasted for about 45 minutes before the anxiety over-came my biblophilia (love of books).

So - what did I get? Six books in all - three hardbacks and three paperbacks.
  1. Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?
  2. Rilke, Duino Elegies, trans. by Leishman & Spender
  3. Thinking Passover by Rabbi Ben Kamin
  4. And Still the Rivers Run by Angie Debo
  5. Alan Watts' The Way of Zen; and
  6. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen.
I shared this list with Spideygirl earlier this evening, and she commented that I have very eclectic tastes.

Well, let's see - Jewish, Native American, Zen, a book of poetry, and a two light books.

Seems normal to me. Let's take the oddest ones in order:

1. Jewish
Our family joined the Episcopal Church when Padre remarried, around 1966 or 67. I was 12 or 13. We eventually joined St. John's, where Fr. Connolly (the beloved) was rector. It was the 2nd or 3rd year we were there that the church held a seder meal during Holy Week.

That's probably when I had the teen-age version of a Western satori: Jesus was Jewish.

Mind you, this was before Bishop Spong. Bishop Pike, of California, had been saying similar things, but most people had dismissed him as crazy by then.

So, I became very interested in Jewish thought. Padre was acquainted with the Rabbi, and got me a booklet about Jewish festivals.

I've been reading Jewish texts ever since. I love the Rabbi Small mysteries, I love Elie Wiesel's books (especially Souls on Fire).

2. Native American
The word "Oklahoma" means something like "land of the red man". We can't quite escape the fact that this state served as an early version of Guatanamo back in the 1800s. Nor can we escape the treaty which promised the territory to folk we forcibly relocated here "so long as the grass grows and the rivers flow".

By the late 1800s, folk decided us white folk needed that grass and those rivers more than the red folk, and we boomed in.

Angie Debo, one of the first female historians, wrote the seminal text on this betrayal. She was also born in Oklahoma.

Obviously, I know the general story. I think it's past time for me to learn the rest.

3. Zen Buddism
This also began when I was a teenager. The local PBS station aired a program with Alan Watts titled, "Conversation With Myself". All it was, was Watts talking about Zen. For thirty minutes.

I was enraptured.

Sometime after that, I bought his book of essays, This Is It. In it was an essay about the Beats (Watts did not care for their interpretation of Zen or Buddhism). Which got me to reading Kerouac.

See how my mind works?

I've read several of Watts' other books on Zen. I especially like his last book, Tao: The Watercourse Way.

His work has inspired a life-long interest in Zen and Buddhism.
Post #1431

Friday, February 24, 2006

Happy Bl-irthday, Rev. Stacey

Or Blog Day, as we Southerners call it.

I've never met Stacey. She lives (and preaches) in a small town in New York. I live in a "big" city.

OKC is big? Well, it's all relative.

Yet, we are part of a community. Actually, multiple communitites.

We're both members of the RevGalBlogPal ring (link is WAAAAY down on the left). We are also frequent visitor's in the RLP chatroom.

I know less about her denomination (Reformed Church USA) than she knows about mine (Episcopal). Yet, we've found many things in common.

Like, for example, I'm cool with women ministers.

We're both on the "liberal" end of the religious spectrum. Neither of us would bar homosexuals from the ministry, for example.

We might disagree about other things - whether the resurrection was a physical, literal event for example. But such things are beside the point, as far as I'm concerned.

The point is relationships. Face to face relationships are the ideal, of course. But it's nice to have "virtual" relationships as well. Her witness encourages me.

She's been recording her experience as a new minister. In fact, she recently started her second year at her church. Her experience is challenging, and trying, and - I believe - rewarding.

The new title of her web-log is "The Almond Branch". It's the first one in the roll to your left. I strongly encourage you to check it out!

Post #1430

Cat Friday

This is Simba. I visited Simba last weekend, when I braved icy roads to visit his human companion, Elsie.

I must admit that I looked forward to seeing Simba again, too.

I owe him a debt of gratitude, for he convinced Elsie that I was an OK guy. She and I sat on her couch - this is when she lived 90 minutes south of here. Simba was a few feet away, and I clicked for him.

Simba came to the couch, got in my lap, and started purring. According to Elsie, he rarely reacted so positively to men. This planted the idea that I was a decent fellow. If Simba had been Jewish, instead of Siamese, he might have said I was a true mensch.

Simba is unique among Siamese of my acquaintance, in that he doesn't talk much. DJ, our mutual feline friend, is chattier than Simba. Elsie told me he once got caught in a closet, and she didn't know about it because he didn't cry out.

Anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes in a room with a Siamese cat know this is highly unusual.

Anyway, here's to you Simba! Have some catnip on me!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Status Report

This is entry number 1428. Those of you with good memories will recall that I set myself the goal of having entry number 1500 appear on my blog anniversary - March 23rd. I began this web-log on that date in 2003.

It's hard to believe that I have posted 1427 entries in three years. Assuming each of those years had 365 days, that represents an average of a little less than 1.5 entries per day. March 23, 2006, is only 28 days away ("February is a son of a gun"). This means I need to post a little over 2.5 entries per day.

It's a bold goal, but one needs bold goals if one ever hopes to achieve anything worthy of note. Besides, I can always "pad" with Photoshop art, pictures of my cat, poetic fragments, and meta-self-reflective entries such as this one.

It's interesting how folk respond to this space. In Wednesday's RevGal round-up, Will Smama mentions that she is intimidated by my blog. In a friendly comment-interchange (which you will see toward the bottom of the "round-up"), she admits she is intimidated by the sheer volume of my verbiage.

Not necessarily the quality. I can understand how the sight of all those words marching down the screen would be a little intimidating.

Will Smama, may I introduce you to Meg? She is even more verbose than I am, and posts practically every day.

Talk about overwhelming....

On the other hand, Christine Hamm includes me on a long list of poets who can kick her fanny. At first, I thought the verb might be "kiss", but it is "kick".

Ms. Hamm has been posting since 2002, so she has me beat in longevity. And she has posted more poems per week than I have lately.

About her list of "poets who can kick my ass" - as a list of blogging poets, it's almost as inclusive and extensive as Ron Silliman's. Still, I'm mighty pleased to be included in such distinguished company.

Originally, I was using this space to vent my spleen toward USA, Inc. (D*ck Cheney, CEO). Then, when I rediscovered a poetic voice, I was posting reputed poems every day.

I've used this space for personal reflections, theological musings, and obsessive pictures of my feline companion.

I seem to lack the discipline to focus on one thing. Which I hope makes this an interesting place to visit. Rather than a somewhat disjointed one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Idée d'jour

A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.
— Nikos Kazantzakis, writer (1883-1957)
I remember a variation of this line from the film version of Zorba the Greek. Best Anthony Quinn movie ever.

How Can I Keep From Singing

My life flows in on endless song
above Earth's lamentation
I hear the real tho' far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that rock I'm clinging;
Since Love is Lord of Heaven and Earth,
How can I keep from singing?

What though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth it liveth;
What though the darkness round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.
Through all the tumult & the strife,
I hear the music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul -
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
their final death knells ringing;
When Friends rejoice, both far & near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell or dungeon vile,
our thoughts to them are winging.
When Friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?
© 1957, Sanga Music Inc.

I originally posted this Saturday, Feb. 18, and Blogger apparantly ate it. This is my response to Rev. Mommy's question, "How do you express the hope for the New Jerusalem?" [I paraphrase]. She expresses her hope through the William Blake poem of the same name, linked above.

This is my favorite song. I'm told it's Sparks', as well. There are a number of excellent recordings of it; I think my introduction was through Pete Seeger's.

According to the Rise Up Singing collection (© 1988), "This is an old Quaker hymn that dates back to pre-Civil War North Carolina, when Friends there suffered persecution for their opposition to slavery."

This is what gives me hope. Individuals may be cruel, venal, and so on - the "Children of Night". They are outnumbered by the "Children of Light". Humanity, as a whole, tends toward the positive. The movement is frustratingly slow, but it does occur.

Slavery is no more in the U.S. Racism persists, but great strides have been made there as well.

Just as these evils were eventually overcome, the present unpleasantness will come to an end in time. Already the witnesses against America's Iraq folly are increasing - the Christian Peacekeeper Teams being the most notable.

I put my "arrows of desire" in my quiver. I pledge myself to the "Lord of Love". I shall strive this day to be an agent of hope.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Day Like Today

A day like today
when the hours have
exhausted their options;

A day like today
tempts the covers
to stay over your head.

A day like today
is frozen; breath freezes
on your words,
your words freeze
in your mouth.

When you face a day like today,
you might as well pack your tent.

When you meet a day like today,
you best turn around
and walk the other way.

A day like today
has your number, bub.
It's going to hunt you down
like a squirrel digging
after forgotten nuts.

You never want to forget
a day like today.
It's a passionate heartache
that has bought the last ticket
out of the precincts
of a day like today.

But that's alright,
you want to say,
it's still alright
cause a day like today
is still better than
a day like yesterday.

Haried Meme

[For some reason, every time I try to post this entry it disappears two days later. This is my third attempt.]
A number of people on the RevGalBlogPal ring have been doing the latest craze - the Johai Window, and it's dark cousin, the Nohari Window.

I've resisted as long as possible, until visiting with Sparks (in the RLP chatroom) convinced me the exercise has some value.

Plus, indulging in this meme gets me that much closer to achieving my goal of having entry #1,500 appear on March 23. I've been posting to this blog since that date in 2003. In the left side-bar, you may view what I consider to be the "best" entries of the first two years. Or, if you have considerable time to kill, you may read all the entries since 2003, week by week.

May the BlogGod have mercy on your immortal soul should you choose that latter option.

Koan d'jour

How many octaves does thunder have?
— Gretel Ehrilich, "What Is the Worth of the Wind River Mountains?", Shambhala Sun, March 2006, 104

Ice Day

I did not go to church yesterday.

The metro was under a travel advisory, due to an ice storm Friday and
Saturday. It was still sleeting Sunday morning.

Staying alive, or unwounded, is likely more important than going to church. And it may be argued I spent the bulk of the day in "spiritual" pursuits - reading the latest issue of Shambhala Sun, and arranging music for a Compline service.

However, there is an irony in my choosing to stay home yesterday.

First, I had driven halfway across the state - on equally icy roads - to
visit Elsie. A trip that normally takes about two hours took three hours one way and two and a half on the return trip. When I was halfway there, I realized how goofy this trip was. I realized I should have called and rescheduled our meeting. But I had made a commitment. And, being almost halfway there, I was kind of committed. And, as the negative inner voice noted, I should be committed.

Driving halfway across the state - no problem. Driving halfway across town? Not so much.

There's excuses and rationalizations. The highway is actually safer than city streets. After having driven on it, I knew how bad it was. Plus, five and a half hours on the road can be pretty tiring.

The second irony is that I was not feeling nearly so charitable Saturday evening. That's when the local stations were displaying the church closings. Many churches were cancelling their services, due to the ice.

I sat there thinking these people were wimps. After all, I had driven halfway across the state.

Why, I could remember the time when it snowed in the early '80s. The snow was two or three feet deep, with drifts a yard or more high. The only people at church that Sunday were the priest, me, and Mary Ellen, my future (former) wife. It was bad then, but by God we had service.

And you know what? All that flew out the window Sunday morning when I saw that my residential street was a solid sheet of ice. It went out the window when I realized how cold it was. I thought of very good reasons I should stay home - not the least of which was the persistent cough which has yet to move out.

The negative inner voice, though, it not willing to let me off so lightly. "If those people are wimps," it growls, "you're a wimp too. And the worst kind of hypocrite."

Never has there been a better example of the folk wisdom: "When one finger points out, three fingers point back."

Friday, February 17, 2006


This is the first image I drew with my Wacom®. I was testing the feature which registers how much pressure you put on the stylus. I'll need to experiment with that feature some more.

Hopefully, this functions as art, as well as a hard ware test. Register your vote in the comments.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Report: Monday the 13th

I am a fan of what is now snootily called "sequential art": that is, comic books or comic strips. One of my favorite newspaper comic strips, before they became the size of postage stamps, was Walt Kelly's "Pogo". All the characters in the strip were animals, though this was far from a typical "funny animal" strip. For example, some American newspapers refused to run the strip because Kelly caricatured Nikita Khrushchev as a pig.

Later on, Kelly got in trouble for portraying J. Edger Hoover as a bull dog and John Mitchell as an oversized basset hound.

Anyway, there was a character - Churchy Le Femme, the turtle - who had the world's worst case of triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). One of the running gags of the strip was when he'd hide under the bed saying "Friday the 13th fell on a Wednesday this month!"

After my experience Monday evening, I agree. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you're really in trouble when Friday the 13th falls on a Monday.

The funny thing is, it had been a fairly typical Monday until I got home.

Now, we know how cats feel about closed doors. In general, a closed door is contrary to a cat's theology. My feline companion, DJ, is no exception. The moment I open a closet door and she is within the vicinity, she will run in. She's spent the day in the closet once or twice because I didn't realize she had slipped in while I was getting my coat.

And, although it had been a fairly typical Monday, I was tired. I didn't want to fuss with pulling DJ out of the closet. Besides, there was a lot of stuff in this closet that could potentially hurt her. Yet, for whatever bizarre reason, I wanted to search it right that minute.

So I got my flashlight (no light in the closet).

I went into the closet.

And closed the door.

You know where this is going, don't you?

Well, I looked for the desired item without success. I turned around, and turned the knob.

It kept turning. 360 degrees without catching.

I tried turning it the other direction. Same result.

I tried applying pressure. Nope. Tried pulling. Nope.

Did I mention the hinges were on the outside of the door?

This is a "window pane" type door - meaning there are sections of wood about the height, depth, and thickness of a window pane. I knew that only about an eighth of an inch separated me from freedom.

I am not claustrophobic. I didn't panic, although I was becoming a little anxious. My primary thought was how I was going to prepare chili for a luncheon I was hosting on Valentine's Day, and how I was going to get to work.

I looked for a trap door in the ceiling. No dice.

I found a candle in a can, and started bashing that against the door with all my might, in hopes that I would eventually get through that 1/8".

Wasn't happening fast enough to suit me.

There are some selves along the back of the closet, which meant I had about a square foot of space to work in. In spite of this restriction, I braced myself against the shelves and started kicking the door. I've got pretty strong legs, but there wasn't enough space to get any momentum.

I did manage to crack the top pane of the door, though.

Incidentally, my kicking foot has been hurting since (at least) Wednesday. Don't suppose there's a connection, do you?

I hit it with the can a few more times, thinking the crack gave me a good start. Somewhere in there, I gouged the index finger of my left hand. Scrapped a couple of layers of derma right off.

This was not happening nearly quickly enough to suit me.

I set the canned candle down. I slowed my breathing, and tried to think calmly. Was there anything else in the closet that might be more effective as a battering agent?

Well, there was something. In fact, it was one of the things which limited my range of movement in the closet.

A twenty year old Hoover canister style vacuum. It has rounded corners (it somewhat resembles a rounded trapezoid). I aimed one of those corners at the crack I had created earlier. Et viola! Two or three firm bashes later, I had created a hole in the door large enough to get my hand through so I could turn the outside knob.

[Click image on left for larger view]

The noise had frightened DJ, and she was hiding under the bed.

Now, I'm not awfully proud of this part of the story. But we're all friends here, and I trust you.

I have a temper. Most of the time I keep it in check. I've even learned to express it in appropriate ways before the kettle blows, as they say. But I knew I was plenty steamed when I got out of the closet.

And I knew I needed to start cooking, and that DJ would have her cute little pink nose in every aspect of the process. What patience I had when I got home had been spent by this point. I don't believe I would have ever seriously hurt her, but I didn't want to take that chance either.

So I set her out on the enclosed back porch while I was cooking.

I listened to music while I was cooking. The combination helped calm me down. By the time I was mostly done cooking, I was ready to let DJ back in the house.

When I went to bed, the house was about 68°. This seemed normal; it had been fairly warm over the weekend and during the day Monday. I keep my thermostat on 68.

The fan did seem to be blowing an awfully long time, though.

I woke up around 5 am the next morning, with DJ curled up on the inside of my knees. The fan was blowing, but it seemed awfully cool.

It was 59°.

I had this theory. The heating unit is on the other side of the closet I had trapped myself in. I thought it was possible I had tripped some safety mechanism when I was trying to kick the door down.

So I shut off the thermostat, and went to the garage. Pulled the car out. One can normally see the pilot light, but it wasn't visible.

When I was a teen, we had gas furnaces. I have respect for gas, and have lit a few pilot lights in my time. I figured I could deal with this.

There was a sign on the heating unit that read, in bold lettering, "Do not attempt to relight pilot light by hand. System will ignite the pilot light electronically."

Seemed worth a try. Went back into the house and turned the thermostat back on.

Returned to the garage. The pilot light was visible once more.

I had survived my sojourn in the closet. I had been in there for about thirty minutes. But the experience seemed to color the remainder of the week.

At least until this morning.

Alexandria is a member of a Toastmaster's group which meets at 6:30 on Thursday morning. She invited me to today's meeting because they were having a speech contest. "There's sure to be some inspirational speeches," she'd said.

I'm not going to detail even one of the speeches. They mostly had to do with taking responsibility for your own feelings, and your own life.

Which got me to reflect on how I had responded to my foolish choice of Monday evening. I had allowed the negative consequences of that choice to color how I experienced the rest of the week. I didn't have to allow that experience to color my week - without any conscious thought, that was a choice I made.

It wasn't too late to make a new choice.

Yesterday, Wednesday, was hectic and stressful, and I got caught up in trying to meet other people's needs and accommodate their feelings and so on and so forth. I was pretty much a basket case by the time I got home.

Again, that had been my choice. A choice made from habit. God knows how or when that habit began, but it wasn't too late to make a different choice.

So, after hearing those presentations, I made a choice to be easier on myself. To focus on the path in front of me. To take off the friggin' red cape, and be an average human being again.

There were a few stressors today. But, somehow, I dealt with them better. And as I ticked each item off my mental "to-do" list, my stress was reduced.

Now I feel fairly normal. All thanks to three speeches I heard this morning. Three speeches I would not have heard, if my friend had not invited me to the Toastmaster's meeting.

Merci beaucoups, mon ami!
Oh - the Valentine's Day chili? It was a hit.

Wu Wei

I don't remember the exact name of this process, but the idea is to draw as good a circle free-handed as possible.

I have done a number of these, using my mouse. An instructor recently referred to this as the equivalent of drawing with a potato.

I have already filed my taxes, and received both refunds. My state refund was applied toward the purchase of a Wacom® Tablet. This tablet uses a stylus as well as a mouse. So one has as close to the actual drawing experience as possible, without the use of pen, paper, and scanner.

You may also note the curious figure in the lower-right hand corner, which looks somewhat like a capital "N". This is the Hebrew letter, Aleph, the first letter of the Jewish alphabet. I have super-imposed my traditional signature (my initials interlocked in block form) over the Aleph.

I recently bought a Hebrew alphabet stamp set (only $5 at Borders). The set came with a little booklet which describes some of the esoteric meanings Jewish mysticism (Kabbala, Zohar) has associated with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Because the Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, the booklet suggests meditating on it when beginning a new project.

Drawing and painting with this stylus is a new project for me - so I honor it with the Aleph.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cubes 06B15

It's very nearly my blog anniversary (3/23). This entry is number 1417. Only the good Lord and Dr. Omed know how many words I've typed in the past three years.

Wouldn't it be way cool if entry number 1500 appeared on March 23rd? If my calculations are correct (thank God for spreadsheet programs), that's an average of two entries per day. This may require a little padding.

Like, for example, this posting of Photoshop-generated art.

Idée d'jour

War, at first, is the hope that one will be better off; next, the
expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the
satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off.
— Karl Kraus, writer (1874-1936)

Monday, February 13, 2006

I'm Grateful

This particular morning, after listening to the headlines en route to work, I am especially grateful that I am no friend or acquaintance of Vice President D*ck Ch*ney. Read story.

Now here's what we used to call a rhetorical question after a few friendly beers: reckon the President in charge of Oil Vice will lose his hunting license? Reckon he'll be charged with reckless disregard, or some misdemeanor?

Makes one wonder how former Chief Justice Reinquist survived all those duck hunts ....

Thank you, Jesus, that I do not know Mr. Ch*ney, and am never likely to be within range of him.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Labyrinth Kitty

A week ago today, I was part of a team hosting a "Nurturing Weekend" for Christian Education folk from across the state. We met at St Crispin's, in SE Okla.

The team did prep work Friday evening, then were joined by our fellow educators on Saturday. All went home early Sunday afternoon.

I'm really bad about taking time off, and this three day weekend was really good for me. One of the first things I took advantage of was the chair massage - which successfully worked out many of the kinks and crunches in my shoulders and lower back.

The chaplain for the weekend was Fr. Lee, of Bartlesville. His meditations were deeply personal and, not coincidentally, deeply spiritual. His first meditation had to do with the labyrinth.

There were two labyrinths on site: one was a canvas labyrinth patterned on the Chatres design. The other was a lawn labyrinth, patterned on the Cretan design (a modern version is sometimes called a chalice labyrinth).

Labyrinths date to prehistoric times, and there are records of the early Christian community using labyrinths by the 5th or 6th century. The Chatres labyrinth is intended as a means for people who could not travel all the way to Jerusalem to make a type of pilgrimage.

We were also offered an opportunity to make a finger labyrinth. On your left, the mystic feline is exploring the finger labyrinth I made during the weekend. A detail is just to her right.

Walking the labyrinth is a type of prayer, and Fr. Lee offered a method to consider using during the weekend. He suggested that we think of all the things we worried about as we entered the labyrinth - just go through the whole laundry list of things that troubled us, all the people we were concerned for, and so on. Then, at the center of the labyrinth, we were to let go of those worries, and let God have them. He suggested we spend a few moments at the center in silence. Then, we were to exit the labryinth in silence, actively listening for God's direction in relation to those worries or concerns.

Part of my spiritual discipline has been Breath Prayer, which is a Christianized form of meditation: one choses a phrase of scripture that is meaningful to use as a mantra, and repeats it over and over for several minutes. The Jesus Prayer - "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner" - is perhaps the best known. For 25 years, my breath prayer has been, "Lord Jesus, make me whole."

About this time last year, it was suggested to me that it might be time to choose a new mantra. So, I've kept my heart open to the possibility.

The weekend's theme was "Be still and know [that] I am God" (Ps 46:10). So, after I spent my quiet time at the center of the lawn labyrinth, I decided to focus on that phrase.

I divided it more or less in half: "Be Still" (right step) "and know that I am God" (left step). As you see, the phrase is somewhat out of balance.

After having walked several courses of the labyrinth, I arrived at a more concise and balanced mantra: "Be still / and know God". That felt right.

That felt like an appropriate corrective for a person who had been very concerned about whether other drivers were driving the speed limit. It felt right for a person who had to consciously "shift" into idle in the food line. It felt exactly right for a person whose thoughts seem to fly in fifty different directions at once.

Be Still.

And Know God.

Clergy Care

Both Reverend Mommy and Reverend Stacey have written this past week about congregants' expectations of their clergy. For example, Rev. Stacey has been accused of focusing more on denominational business and her personal life than on her church.

Which has gotten me to wondering what I expect of the clergy at my church, and what might be reasonable to expect from clergy.

I probably should begin by saying that I am probably not a typical pew-sitter. I dated Elsie, a UMC minister, for a little over a year. Through her, I was given the opportunity to see life from the other side of the pulpit - so to speak. I am also very active in my church - I serve on the church board, and on a state-wide Christian Education Board. None of this makes me better than any other pew-sitter; it simply gives me a perspective another church member might not have.

It seems to me that when we talk about the expectations we have for a clergy person, we are talking about their job description. And because the clergy work for the church, understanding their job description involves understanding what the church's job is.

Several years ago, Deacon Gayle shared what she perceived to be the dominant models of a church today: either a lighthouse or an trauma ward.

Members of a lighthouse church have limited interaction with the outside world. The church serves as a beacon in a dark world. The best way to preserve that beacon is for the church to be as separate and distinct from the world as possible. The minister's primary function, as lighthouse keeper, is to preserve the tradition, and to shield the congregation from mundane concerns (e.g., heating bills, national or church politics, etc).

People who attend a trauma ward church are people who have been wounded in a variety of ways. Their wounds may be from life, or from experience in a different church. In this type of church, the minister is a sort of primary care physician who guides her parishioners to health. Ideally, these parishioners will then minister to in-coming wounded people, but this is often not the case. The woundedness of others can be over-whelming, and it's easy to perceive this sort of ministry as belonging solely to the ordained clergy.

Which leads me to a third model, a sort of ideal: the church as a sort of vo-tech for lay ministers. In this model, the minister's job would be to help lay people to discern their individual gifts (what the Apostle Paul calls chrisms), then to empower those lay people to exercise those gifts within the institutional church. As Paul says, some have the gift of preaching, some the gift of healing, and so on.

The tendency is for church members to expect their pastor to do it all. The minister is expected to be an excellent administrator, a superb worship leader, a compassionate listener, and so on. But the clergy person is a human being, limited in much the same ways as the members of her congregation. I believe it is healthiest for the ministry to be shared - as much as feasible and practical - among the whole congregation.

This notion of "shared ministry" is not new (e.g., Stephen Ministry); but it is not universally (or consistently) practiced.

If the minister's chief function is discernment and empowerment, as I suggest, what else might we reasonably expect from her?

It seems reasonable to seek the minister during significant life transitions - birth, marriage, loss of a loved one, and so on. It seems reasonable to seek one's minister when one is in crisis.

This second point is tricky - for how does one legitimately define "crisis"? After all, if it is happening to me, and I am in pain, it seems like the most important thing in the world at that moment. I would suggest a rule of thumb which, admittedly, requires a decree of honest detachment: if a friend called me at 2 a.m. with this problem, would I think it really was a crisis?

If my honest answer to that question is "no", then odds are that it is not a crisis, and it does not require the minister's immediate attention. This does not diminish the reality of my need or pain. It's still appropriate for me to call the minister during regular office hours to make an appointment to speak with her.

A common concern has to do with what might call superficial matters; that is, questions of worship style, candle placement, hymn choice (or tempo), and so on. You might miss the worship style of your former church. You might prefer the music to be slower, or faster, depending on your history or singing ability.

I don't recall that I have expressed this sort of concern to my minister. But I think it's appropriate to express your preferences. It seems to me a means of building a relationship with your minister. However, there is a difference between expressing a preference and complaining.

The bottom line is that your minister is a human being, and the Golden Rule applies as much to your minister as it does to the person sitting next to you. Respect your minister's time. Expect your minister to take care of herself. If a clergy person does not minister to herself, she will eventually lose the ability to minister to her church members.

In the shared ministry model, you are called to minister to your pastor in a way similar to how she ministers to you. You minister to her by respecting her time, and empowering her to take care of herself (e.g., required vacations and/or paid sabbaticals).

Friday Poem

dark morning
Friday's Cat will be posted later today. I have a bit of writing to do, first. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Idée d'jour

Words are a form of complacency.
Samuel Beckett [1906 – 1989]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Definition d'jour

dharma (DHAR-muh) noun
[From Sanskrit dharma (law, custom, duty). Ultimately from Indo-European root dher- (to hold firmly or support) that is also the source of firm, affirm, confirm, farm, fermata, and firmament.]
1. Duty; right behavior.
2. Law, especially the eternal law of the cosmos.
3. Religion.
I'm repeating the word and definition of the word featured in Monday's Word a Day e-list. I'm sure most of you noticed the word in the box on the right. I include the definition here for those who did not "click through", and who may not be certain of its meaning.

I was mildly surprised. I had supposed, based on usage, that "dharma" meant something like "teaching." I suppose that might be a logical application, expanding on the concepts of "duty" or "law".

That is, if one understands those concepts in a relatively broad fashion.

What Christians call the Old Testament is divided into two major sections: the Law and the Prophets [Note: there is a third section, the Writings]. We remember this because Jesus says the Law and the Prophets are summed up by the Great Commandment. The Hebrew word for "Law" is "Torah". Another way to translate "Torah" is as "Way" or "Path".

In what our Jewish friends call the Young Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the Way. In a similar fashion, the Chinese word "Tao" may be translated as "Way"; in fact, one book translates the title Tao de Ching as The Way of Changes.

All of which points to an understanding of this "eternal law of the cosmos" as a way of life, rather than a list of rules and regulations. This understanding is important.

In contemporary understanding, the word "Law" implies punishment, and many choose to obey the Law simply to avoid punishment. But, to adopt a Way of life is entirely different. Obedience to law only changes the outward person; following a Path (or Way) changes a person from the inside out.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Idée d'jour

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at
the end of the day that says, "I'll try again tomorrow."
— Mary Anne Radmacher

Monday, February 06, 2006

Idée d’jour

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for people who've been there.
— Martha Beck [quoted in Shambhala Sun, Jan 2006, 97]

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday Poem (Fragment)

This is a new tradition, begun through the RevGalPal Blog Ring (see link far down in the left-hand column).

This is far from fully formed. It's really an attempt to find a home for several images and phrases that have been banging around in my noggin for a couple of weeks. So, once again, you're seeing a work in progress.
I craft a dreamcatcher
by stringing stars on spider web.

The silver moon slips
behind the ivory horn gates.
I am exploring her caffeine hair.

She wonders how to greet me
When I wear my midnight mask.

The winter fires overwhelm us.
They burn the straw & stubble.
The smoke blacks out the sun.

To be continued . . .

Cat Friday

The past three nights have been marked by early morning sleeplessness, followed by insomnia, then by tiredness through the day. Predictably, my temper has been short, and my patience has not been as indulgent as I should like.

I think it all began Tuesday. The insomnia and sleeplessness have confused my days, so I cannot be certain. Maybe it was Wednesay.

A certain male cat - sometime visitor of her highness - was expressing his desire in tones only a male cat can achieve. As the lady had her reproductive opportunities curtailed the same year she was adopted, I don't suppose he sings his discordant song for her benefit.

As we see in this recent close-up, though, she is quite attractive. Who can be sure? Who can discern the way of cats?

If we were to translate the male's song in a traditionally romantic fashion, we might say his aria runs thus: "I'm so lonely!"

To be sure, that's a bit of pathetic projection that is likely inaccurate. More likely he sings a bawdy beer hall ballad - a feline country blues, titled "I'm so freaking horny I could die!"

I am sympathetic, whichever song he sings. If I thought it would achieve positive results, I would sing either song. Or both.

I am, on an intellectual level, sympathetic to his song. I am not nearly so understanding, however, at two o'clock in the morning.

That's when this round of insomnia began. Two o'clock Wednesday morning.

By three o'clock Wednesday afternoon, I could barely keep my eyes open or think straight. So I accepted the offer of instant coffee - Folger's Latte, to be exact.

Once upon a time, I drunk upwards of three or four cups of coffee a day. I suppose I developed a tolerance for caffeine. I gave up coffee for Lent one year, and have averaged two cups per day (at most) since then. I no longer have the tolerance I once did. If I drink any caffeinated drink after about three o'clock in the afternoon, it wakes me up at that point. Then it revisits somewhere between one and three the following morning.

I woke at one Thursday morning. This time, I drank the superpowered sugary instant coffee at 11:00. And I had a piece of chocolate Thursday afternoon. It was only a small piece. I hoped thus to avoid the delayed visit.

But I woke at one this morning as well. Once it was clear sleep would not come, I arose and watched a movie (Anatomy of a Murder). I did sleep through about 30 minutes of the movie; otherwise, I was fairly well awake.

The movie was over about 4:40. I thought perhaps a soak in the tub would sufficiently relax me so I could get back to sleep. However, the process of bathing and starting the day are so entwined that I was too alert to return to bed. So I carried on with my morning.

I spent some time on a computer project. I posted the quote which appears below (the quote is tangetically related to said project). I then took myself out to breakfast. Bought gas, got money from the ATM, and went to breakfast. Stopped by the library to return some movies, then returned home.

Didn't I mention I have the day off? Good thing, too. By the time I got back from these errands, my brain was well fried. As I have noted, a movie sometimes serves as white noise that helps me get to sleep. So I popped in Much Ado About Nothing, and promptly slept through most of it. I only saw the last 30 minutes or so of the movie.

I do feel better now. A bit of a fatigue headache, but I believe I can face the remainder of the day.

Idée d’jour

... with a certain kind of blues music, you can sit down and play it ... you may have to lean forward a little.
— Bob Dylan, 1966 (Greil Marcus' liner notes, The Basement Tapes, CBS Inc., 1975)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of the Lie

Good evening, my fellow stockholders. I am pleased to announce that the lies we have generated in order to maintain our power remain healthy and robust. A few lies were not as effective, but our advertising department is rapidly developing new lies, which I am confident will sustain us for years to come.

The primary lie, of course, is our "War on Terror". A high school freshman would understand that you cannot, in the traditional sense, have a war on a tactic. Yet, the majority of our customers have accepted this term without question. The coining of this phrase was genius: the word "war" generates feelings of patriotism such that few question motives or actions until it is too late. The word "terror" naturally generates fear, and people will accept any number of measures on the premise those actions will keep them safe.

Speaking of which, we have also been successful in selling the lie that we can keep people safe. There was a decline in consumer confidence following the response to Katrina, but that was restored through a personnel change.

We are successfully selling the lie that ours is a robust economy. This board of stockholders posseses 90% of our corporate wealth, although we represent 10% of the population. Eventually, the lowest classes will return to their proper status as serfs, and the middle class will cease to exist. And although even I can do the math, our customers still vote against their own self-interest.

We have sold the idea that "democracy" is an unqualified good, which can be easily exported to any country, regardless of its traditions, history, or customs. Thus, we can claim success when so-called democratic elections occur in Afganistan, Iraq, and in the Palestinian terrorities - even though the outcomes are contrary to long-term democratic interests.

Speaking of the Iraqi election, isn't great that our customers believe this was a fair and lawful election? Nevermind that the Geneva Convention does not recognize elections held under an occupying force. We only recognize the world community when it suits the goals of our shareholders.

We have not been as successful in communicating overall success in Iraq. I propose that we stop listing any dead, and refuse to ship bodies home until the conclusion of the Iraq conflict, or the end of our reign - whichever comes first.

Most of our customers believe I have the right to conduct wiretaps as I see fit, without even the semblance of oversight. This testifies to the success of our fear and patriotism advertising campaign.

We must maintain, and escalate, this fear and patriotism campaign if we hope to distract our customers. We must not allow any but the most negligible fringe from recognizing that this board of shareholders is seizing control of the corporation, and is in the process of selling its resources to the highest bidder.

In conclusion, our cloud of lies have been extremely successful. We must continue to build on them, and seize every opportunity to reinforce them. In this way, we shall realize a successful third quarter.

We move forward – optimistic about our corporation, faithful to this board of shareholders, and confident of the profits to come.

May God bless our corporation.

Dharma d'jour

When we are in the presence of someone who sees us accurately, without personal bias, and still accepts us nonjudgmentally, we relax. We like the person and we are warmed by his or her uncritical affection. In the face of unqualified acceptance, we can drop our protective armor and show our hidden fears, our inner shames, our uncertainties.

This is something we all yearn to do – drop our self-protective masks and armor, exposing the "real me" – because so long as we feel we are not truly seen, we cannot feel we are truly loved. Trungpa Rinpoche called such opening on the student's part "giving the teacher the gift of ego," because the student is giving up the self-protective mechanisms that constitute ego. It is a process that requires one to suspend self-doubt and to trust in the other person, and it results in intimacy, friendship, and love. The teacher, seeing the student open a bit, in return displays more openness in order to encourage the student, who – further warmed and delighted – can open a bit more, and so on, back and forth. But the teacher cannot open too much or too fast, because then he might become a demon for the student and frighten the student away, which would defeat the purpose. Rinpoche likened the process to negotiation between diplomats, to dancing, to making love. And he said that this is the main job, the most important part of being a guru and, for the student, a fundamental aspect of the Buddhist path.
Modern Analytic Group Therapy practice stresses "immediacy," which corresponds to the Buddhist idea of "nowness." Just as in sitting meditation we drift into dreaming from time to time and lose awareness of the present moment, so in group we can get lost in telling stories of the past or future, in discussing problems from times other than the present, and in trying to get other group members to do or be what we want. And just as in meditation the practitioner can awaken from dreaming and come back to the object of awareness in the present, so in group the members are enjoined to put into words their thoughts and feelings toward the other group members as they arise in the present moment.

Staying in the present with others in this way can be difficult: it exposes our inner thoughts and feelings and can be revealing and embarrassing. It does not confirm our versions of who we are, the way discussion of the past and future does. So group members tend to fall away from addressing each other intimately, from revealing their inner thoughts and feelings about each other. They slip into storytelling about events, problems, successes, regrets, worries, hopes and fears outside the present moment, or they try to change each other's behavior to make it more congenial to themselves. Mental health care practitioners call the ways we avoid the present "resistances." Buddhists refer to them as "habitual patterns." Hyman Spotnitz called them "mistakes in time," signifying that we apply a lesson – appropriate behavior learned in the past – inappropriately in the present. As we live them out again and again, they deaden us to the power and intimacy of the present moment.

Trungpa Rinpoche taught that we have not "met our emotions properly" because our habitual patterns insulate us from them. He said that, instead, we are continually either "repressing or acting out our emotions," and that both are ways of getting rid of them and resisting the often uncomfortable reality of the living moment. In a similar vein, Lou calls the work of group "emotional education." The idea is, first, to be aware of one's emotions (not an easy task), and then to put them into words instead of denying or acting on them. One of Lou's slogans is, "Observe it; don't fix it," an instruction appropriate to meditation practice as well as group psychotherapy.

— John Baker, "All Together in the Present", Shambhala Sun, January 2006, 68-75.

Idée d'jour

If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to
save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the
pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.
— Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)