Wednesday, April 30, 2014

more odds and ends, because it's an odds and ends kind of week

1. I've been a little discouraged about the number of headaches I'm still having even though I went through all the misery of getting off caffeine. But it's the end of the month tomorrow, and I still have six maxalt left. The drugs don't lie, I guess. My prescription is for twelve every month, and last fall I had to get extra a couple of times. So having six left at the end of the month means I'm not having as many as I used to, even if it doesn't seem like it. I always get migraines when I travel, and I've traveled quite a bit recently, so maybe that's why I've seemed headache-y recently. Whatever. I was happy and surprised when I went up to get one this morning and there were still six of them. (okay, now five.)

2. I haven't told you about one of my travels yet. A couple of weeks ago I met my mom, my sisters, and Cheery-o near Chicago so we could go to the memorial service of the beloved family friend (and Debbie's dad) I told you about in November. It was a great trip--I was able to catch up with my family, visit with Debbie, meet some new people, and celebrate a life well lived (although he is sadly missed). But it also brought back boatloads of memories, both from my childhood --we moved there when I was two and moved to Dallas the summer I turned seven--and also from my two years of college there. I had one of those classic throwback experiences: we drove the route that I used to walk every day from our house to the elementary school. It seemed like miles when I was a kindergartener, but it is only about three blocks. Ha.

3. Reading Report: I haven't done one of these in a long time. But besides the Jane Austens and the Jim Palmer book I already told you about, in the past two months I've read: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson, Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, A Letter of Mary and A Darker Place by Laurie R. King. All recommended but none of them exactly knock-your-socks off. Then, to my surprise, I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's book on marriage, Committed. I wasn't a fan of Eat Pray Love, and Committed didn't get very good reviews, so I didn't see any reason to bother. But a friend recommended it recently, and it was available on ebook from our library, so I decided to try it. I was fascinated. Good mix of personal anecdote and research into the history and sociology of marriage. It's not anything like EPL, and maybe that's why I liked it. Also I read Tenth of December by George Saunders, which is getting all kinds of kudos as the best short story collection ever. He is a jaw-droppingly, stunningly good writer, but the stories are not easy reads. One of them was so horrifying ("Semplica Girl Diaries") that I almost put the book down. But there are a couple that save it from being too sharp, too cutting, so I'm glad I persevered. Recommended with reservations. :-)

4. As will surprise no one, it is easy for me to overdose on church. Really, sadly easy. I hit that point--with a vengeance-- last week. Poor Dean got an earful (okay, maybe two or three) about my frustration with long meetings, always having to be there, and etc. etc. Church is useful to my spiritual life, but it isn't the center of it, and I don't want it to be. Plus I am not particularly mature about being bored. But I knew when I signed up to be a deacon that I was signing on for three years of being more involved than I generally care to be, so I have little excuse. Fortunately last night I attended a "leadership training" session that restored my patience. We have a great church. But even so, I am glad that summer is coming, which means that choir and session both end for a few months and we can skip church for weeks at a time.

5. Starting just this week, I can look out the window and see green. There's still snow on the mountains, but our grass is (mostly) green, the shrubs are budding out, and the people across from us who actually have a real lawn have real, emerald green I can look at (we just have a big field). There comes a point every year where I start to believe that spring will never come, so this is a relief.

And that's all I can think of. Tomorrow is May, happy May Day to one and all. You will note that I remembered to add labels before I posted this one. Go, me.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I've said before that I'm more into fiction than I am poetry, which is probably a bit unusual for someone who spent too many years studying English literature. But there are a few poets I treasure--Emily Dickinson and Yeats come to mind, and I've told you before about my affinity for Philip Larkin. Another one is Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who wrote gorgeous poetry back in the nineteenth century, but struggled throughout his adult life with the conflict between his nearly irrepressible desire/need to write poetry and the humility and self-abnegation he felt his religious calling required. I could go on and on, but if you're interested, there's lots of info about him out there on the web.

Anyway, I was reminded of him earlier this week and since then lines from his poems have been floating around in my head, so I thought I would share a couple with you. It was hard to pick just two. Google "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur" if you want to read more. I'm not always sure exactly what he means (who is "him" in "half curls earth for him"? the beholder? the behold-ee?) but it's just so stunningly lovely to read. I think of his poems as poetry of incarnation--the Divine made manifest around us.


Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
  Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
  Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
  Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
  And eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a 
Rapturous love's greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world wielding shoulder
  Majestic - as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! - 
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
  Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
  And hurls for him, O half curls earth for him off under his feet.

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous. O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Odds and ends: old and new

1. Last fall I noticed that my ten-year anniversary as a blogger was coming up (it was in December). I was going to try and think of some cool thing to do with that, but then I forgot about it in the holiday rush and didn't remember until about a month ago.

Ten years. I was surprised, it doesn't seem like it's been that long--although when I go back and read some of those early posts, it seems like it's been centuries. Was I ever that naive? (For the record, I had two blogs before this one, which is why *cough* it's Aunt BeaN's Third Blog, right?) I've learned a few things about blogging over the years, and one of them is that when I start writing posts that sound like lectures, it means that I've learned something on an intellectual level but I'm avoiding learning it on a deeper level by thinking I should pass the information on to you. I think it comes with being a natural teacher (gifts again). As I'm learning something, I automatically start breaking it down for you guys: how would I teach this? But I haven't really learned it myself yet.

I've been learning things by the avalanche recently. Some of them I've passed on to you (see the Lent posts), but some of them I'm still ruminating on. I can't possibly tell you about radical self-acceptance until I get a little further along the path myself. It's a topic I first read about years ago when I ran across Tara Brach's book Radical Acceptance and more recently in Jim Palmer's stuff, but I'm not even close to really being there yet. Maybe I will feel more competent to pass along some thoughts soon, but in the meantime, check out Tara's blog or Jim's blog if it's a topic that interests you. Maybe you will be able to teach me.

2. Word geek moment: in the previous paragraph, is it "further" along the path or "farther" along the path? So I googled, and reinforced what I already knew--farther is for literal distances (six miles or six feet), further is for figurative distance. But the reason I was doubting is because "further along the path" is clearly figurative distance, but it doesn't sound right. Ah, the joys of being a word geek.

3. I somehow managed to completely wear myself out over the past couple of months. It snuck up on me. I've been in bed by 10:30 for two out of the past three nights with the light out by 11. You know what a night-owl I am, that is practically unheard of for me. Then this morning, I got up with MadMax at 7 so we could take his car in to be worked on. When I got back, I loaded up the dishwasher and started it, got a few other minor tasks done, and went back to bed. I slept for another hour and a half. Whaaat? Maybe I'm getting sick. At the moment, I'm thinking about going back and taking another nap. Why am I so exhausted?

4. Do you remember when I read and reviewed Gone Girl last year? For some reason I started reading reviews of it on Goodreads the other day, and was struck by how gleefully cruel they were. The ending of the book is sort of a slap in the face to anyone who would expect not even a happy ending, but any kind of resolution at all. That in itself is fine, although I didn't like it. Flynn made an artistic choice as to how she wanted to end her novel and it's entirely up to her. But what struck me was all these readers who were happily claiming that they loved the ending and it was just like real life, they knew it would end like that, etc etc. There are dozens of them. I get that you could appreciate the ending, or think it was appropriate to the amoral pose of the book, but love it? It would take a complete and utter cynic, someone who has completely given up on human kindness, to love that ending.

It depressed me. Are we so despairing these days? Have we completely lost hope that good ever wins, or even just that karma works? that someone who is awful will eventually be consumed by their awfulness? Are nice people, people who treat others with respect and courtesy and expect others to do the same, just patsies? I don't believe it, and furthermore, I don't think I'm dumb and naive to retain some faith in human kindness. So there.

5. I've been thinking about one of my favorite things I learned in grad school. In environmental theory, we learned that in Western culture, most of us see the natural world as a backdrop to human actions. Almost like a painted scene in a stage play. There's the background, and then there's the "important" human stuff that takes place in front of it. It's a fun thing to play around with, sort of like dissolving an invisible curtain between yourself and the natural world. Go for a walk or sit outside and see if you can bring the environment to life around you, so it's not just a backdrop but your habitat. There are small noises, bugs and birds and the way the grass is slowly turning green, and you can feel yourself as part of it, not separate. (Actually, if you're just about anywhere else but here, the grass has probably been green for some time now.)(Remember #1 above where I lecture you about things that I haven't fully learned myself? This would be one of them.)

6. Lent report. I gave up sweets for Lent this year, and overall it was easy. The only time I had trouble with it was when I was in a social situation where everyone else was having dessert. (and the last two days. I craved sweets those last two days.) But the good thing is that--unlike other situations-- if you say you gave up desserts for Lent, no one pushes you to have any, which was nice. Overall it went so well that I've decided I should try to limit my sweet intake all the time. I've never been one to sit down and eat an entire cake at one time, but if there are certain sweet things in the house, I'll have a couple of bites after lunch, and then a couple more bites an hour later, and then snitch a bit more while I'm fixing dinner, and so on until it's all gone. It adds up. So I'm experimenting with this. So far it's going well.

7. Time for a new look around here. I'll probably do it this weekend, just thought I should warn you. And also I need to go back and label a bunch of posts, so apologies in advance. I know for those of you who use an RSS feed, it makes them pop back up in your feed. I'll try to do it over the weekend when pageviews are down.

And that's all for me. Maybe I will go take another nap.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lent: WWJD? part two

OK, so in the last post we established that I find Jesus to be a difficult role model. He wasn't a parent, he wasn't a spouse. He wasn't female. He was an itinerant rabbi. He voluntarily died for his beliefs. He's a pretty tough exemplar.

It's occurring to me that I'm perhaps I'm being a bit too literal here. Which is odd, because the people who are literalists about the Bible don't seem to have a problem with this. I'm definitely not a literalist when it comes to reading the Bible, but I find it difficult to use Jesus as my moral guide because I just fall so far short of his example--maybe I take him too literally?? I can't live the way he lived.

What am I missing here?

Of course there's grace and forgiveness and God loves me no matter how far I fall short, etc etc. I may not always be good at really truly believing that, but I get it intellectually. It's pretty much the cornerstone of Christianity. I don't think that's the problem.

The problem is something in the way I think about Jesus. When I compare myself to him, all I feel is guilt for how little I do, how selfish I am, how often I want to blow off what's right and just do what I want. I'm not inspired by Jesus. Thinking about him depresses me. (probably this also goes back to what I described in last year's Maundy Thursday post.) So I tend not to think about him.

If you're still reading, thank you. This is not my finest hour.

So. Enter Jim Palmer's third book, Being Jesus in Nashville. You may remember that I've briefly talked about reading his first two, Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces. Honestly, I don't always agree with him, and I find myself arguing with him or rolling my eyes at him almost as often as I am touched and inspired. But I'm starting to realize that's my favorite kind of book.

As a former Evangelical pastor, he's wrestling with many of the same questions I am as a preacher's kid and former Evangelical. Our perspectives are different because Palmer came to Christianity in his late teens after a non-religious childhood and left it in his thirties (I'm not sure I have those ages exactly right, but that's the gist of his story), whereas I was raised as an Evangelical and started leaving it about the time I turned 20. I haven't regularly attended an Evangelical church since I was in my early 20s. So sometimes Palmer will spend an entire chapter going on and on about something that is obvious to me, and I'm sure my musings about my childhood faith would seem equally irrelevant to him. But more often than not, he has insights that are mind bending, or perspectives to share that really, deeply help.

OK, so back to WWJD. The premise of Palmer's third book is that he spent a year trying to recreate In His Steps (the original WWJD book) --hence the title, Being Jesus in Nashville. The first few chapters were of the duh, obvious! type, but by the time he is standing next to a dying dear friend's hospital bed and trying to figure out how he can (like Jesus) heal him, I was hooked. I've done that--not with a dying friend, but I've tried to heal someone. Shouldn't we be able to? Didn't Jesus do it all the time? And like Palmer, I was unsuccessful. How do we deal with this?

Palmer has a pretty simple solution. He says that Jesus was completely and utterly dedicated to living his life according to his gifts and his destiny (except Palmer words it better than that). Jesus was fully himself. So rather than trying to emulate Jesus's actions, we emulate Jesus by following our own path, as Jesus followed his. We can discover our own gifts, and use them to the fullest extent (hence the previous post about understanding our gifts). "I wanted to 'be Jesus,'" Palmer says, "but I noticed that all Jesus ever did was simply be himself. Jesus was never trying to emulate someone else....[he] was simply present to the world."

Palmer also points out that although we tend to think that being "like Jesus" means always putting others' needs first and never having any needs of our own, that's not how Jesus acted. His death was the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, but in his daily life, he didn't efface himself. If he needed time alone, he went off by himself. If He was angry, he said he was (or strode into the temple and started turning over tables). He surrounded himself with people who loved him. He defended the women who performed lavish acts of devotion to him (washing his feet, anointing him with oil, listening at his feet)--he didn't blow them off and say he didn't need anything from them.

So there you go. After two and a half posts worth of setup, it took two paragraphs to type that out, but I can't tell you what a game-changer that is for me. It has fundamentally changed something in my head. I'm still working out the implications (and also I'm still reading the book). There may be more to come on this topic, but that's it for now. Thank you, Jim Palmer.

Happy Easter, or Oester, or Happy Passover-- or whatever version of Spring holiday you celebrate.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent: WWJD? part one

I cringe to use that overworked four-letter cliché in the title of this post, because which of us doesn't cringe when we see it? But that's the topic today, so there it is.

The idea of emulating Jesus has been around since Jesus, of course, but this particular formulation of it started with Charles Sheldon's 1896 book In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Even though it was published well over a century ago, it's still in print. It's one of the best-selling books of all time. (I confess I tried to read it years ago and I never got past the first couple of chapters.) It's a novel about a midwestern congregation that undertook to ask the question "What would Jesus do?" before they took any action.

But the question isn't easy to answer. First of all, because Jesus lived two thousand years ago. Would he carry a cell phone if he lived now? Would he have a Facebook page? Would he be a Luddite--spurning technology? Would he prefer CNN or MSNBC? or would he not want to know what was going on in the larger world so he could concentrate on the individuals around him?

The questions seem ridiculous. Probably most of us want to think that Jesus would be a simple man, eschewing the trappings of modern life, because Jesus exists firmly in our heads as a monk-like icon from a simpler time. But it's entirely possible that he was just as much a man of his times as anyone --although with a unique perspective on pretty much everything, as he expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. After all, we're talking about a man who befriended sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors (more or less the loan sharks of their time).

And then there's the fact that Jesus was an itinerant rabbi (teacher). He wasn't married, he wasn't raising children, and probably he would have been a little bit mystified by our current notion of what it means to hold a steady job with good benefits (as would any person from that era). He didn't have a savings account, he didn't own a home, and given the Torah's teachings against usury (charging interest), he probably would have been opposed to having a mortgage. He did few of the things that most of us would consider to be a mandatory part of a responsible adult life.

Interesting aside: when James Joyce was looking around for a role model for Leopold Bloom, the quintessential Everyman who is the central character of Ulysses, he rejected Jesus because Jesus never had to live with a woman. He went with Odysseus instead. (I know. Go figure. because Odysseus, mighty warrior and veteran of years-long absences from home, wasn't exactly your John Doe, either.)

So the question of "What would Jesus do?" is considerably more complex than the WWJD bracelet-wearers would have you believe. This came up in our small group a couple of months ago. Jesus's most direct life-choice instructions (Sell all you have and give it to the poor; "go, therefore and make disciples of all nations") imply leaving home for a Jesus-like itinerant life. They are ignored by all but a tiny minority of ultra-passionate Christians whom the rest of us secretly think are taking things just a little bit too far.

This whole issue is something that has vexed me for a long time. And honestly, my response for the most part has been to ignore it because I couldn't figure out how to resolve it. Like most people, I just try to figure out the best I can how to live a moral life. Although I'd like to be able to sugar-coat this a bit, to be entirely honest, my response to WWJD, I'm sad to say, has frequently been, what difference does it make? He was never confronted with most of the problems I face.

I can get behind "Love one another" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I can learn from Jesus's radical perspective on power and materialism as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, but Jesus as a role model? What did he know about enforcing curfews for teenagers? When did he ever have a fight with his spouse? When did he have to decide whether or not to pay the extra 30% for organic groceries? First world problems, I know, but they're some of the ones I think about.

Huh. to my surprise, this is turning into a two-part post. I'm not sure there's enough for a second post, but this one is already plenty long. More to come.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

AB at the movies: Noah

I will confess up front that I thought this was a really interesting, thought-provoking movie. I went with all four members of our family, and that opinion was not shared by everybody. PellMel, for example, thought it was too dark and disturbing. We saw it a couple of weeks ago, and at the time I thought I would write a blog post about it. But then a bunch of other stuff happened and I forgot about it until I listened to some fellow church members criticize it today. So I will tell you why I liked it, and try to do it in such a way that I don't spoil the movie for you.

The main complaint, of course, is that it doesn't follow the Bible story, which is found in Genesis chapters 6-8. Here is a link to it if you'd like to go read it. It's not very long, it takes about 10 minutes to read it, so you can go do it right now. We'll wait.

There are obviously major differences between the Bible version and the movie version, no surprise there. But do they ruin the story?

1. "The Watchers." In the movie, the Watchers are enormous creatures made out of rock that were formerly fallen angels. They decide to help Noah and his family build the ark. They're a bit ridiculous, no question. In terms of movie special effects, they're sort of a cross between the Transformers, the Iron Giant, and the Rock creature from Galaxy Quest. I hope we can be forgiven for not-so-quietly quoting various different lines from Galaxy Quest while we were watching Noah ("Rock! Rock! Rock!" and "It's the simple things in life you treasure" and... oh, wait, I'm getting off topic.)

But you know, there are the Nephilim in the Bible story, and they aren't described. We know next to nothing about them. So I'm giving them a pass on this one. Sure, they took the idea and ran with it, but there's a base there in the original story. Anyway--and the importance of this cannot be overstated-- Noah is a story from the Jewish scriptures. The Old Testament is an important part of my understanding of my Christian faith, but this was a Hebrew story long before Christianity existed. The Nephilim are well-established in Jewish tradition as "those that fell from heaven." Watch the credits roll at the end of the movie and you will see that the creative team behind Noah has a number of Jewish names. I think they're allowed to interpret the Nephilim however they want--although of course also we are allowed to roll our eyes that they picked a way that happens to lend itself to big-budget movie special effects.

2. Methuselah. Methuselah does not appear in the Genesis story of Noah, but he's in the movie. So yes, they added him unnecessarily. But in their defense, they got the details right. Methuselah is indeed Noah's grandfather. If you want to read Noah's family tree, it's in Genesis 5. The writer(s) of Genesis very helpfully include everybody's ages in those family trees, so according to Genesis, Methuselah would have been 369 when Noah was born. Ancient of days, yes, but since Methuselah lived to be 969, he still had six hundred years to go. And since Noah was six hundred years old when the flood came (Gen 7:11), it isn't much of a stretch at all to surmise that Methuselah died in the flood. As far as I'm concerned, this is an acceptable change to the story--in fact, I thought it was even pretty creative and required a fair amount of attention to the details of the Genesis story.

3. Tubal-Cain. According to Genesis 4, Tubal-Cain was Cain's great great great great grandson (Cain is the son of Adam who murdered his brother Abel), which means he was probably long gone by the time of Noah. But since there aren't any ages given in Cain's family tree, it's hard to say. In the movie, Tubal-Cain is the representation of all that is evil about mankind and a great example of why mankind must be destroyed. So far, reasonable enough. But later in the movie (avoiding spoilers here), Tubal-Cain takes on a role that is completely superfluous to the story, and really--in my opinion--unnecessary. So yeah, I agree. The way Tubal-Cain is used later in the movie is a bad addition to the story.

4. Noah's sons and their wives (or lack thereof). In the Genesis story, Noah, his sons, and his sons' wives all go into the ark. In the movie, one of the major conflicts of the story happens because two of Noah's sons don't have wives. So, yeah, this one is just wrong compared to the Genesis account. But. It allows the movie to address the problem of human evil in a way that wouldn't be possible if they had stuck to the story. It puts the decision about whether or not the human race should survive directly into Noah's hands. Is the human race worth saving? And since Noah has to decide, the viewer ends up thinking about it, too. It's the moral heart of the story. I found Noah's dilemma and the way it was eventually resolved fascinating. (Although, yes, it's a bit facile to have Emma Watson deliver the morality-tale ending. But big budget movies are rarely known for subtlety.)

This change to the story also partly solves the part of the Noah story that is so distressing to people who weren't raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Those of us who learned the story in Sunday School when we were four years old tend to gloss over the part where God--the supposedly loving, merciful Creator God--kills off what must have been at least several hundred thousand people, people that He created, just because they were bad.

Noah and his family survive because Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord, but what does that mean? Noah, being human, couldn't have been 100% perfect, and human beings being what they are, probably plenty of those people who died in the flood weren't 100% bad. It's a pretty disturbing story if you look at it from that perspective. The way the movie-makers approach this in the movie meets the dilemma head-on instead of sweeping it under the table and jumping to the Sunday School version, where a sheepish, apologetic God slaps a rainbow up in the sky and promises he'll never, ever do it again.

So all in all, I liked it. It made me think, and I even had a minor a-ha! moment while considering the conflict between exacting justice for wrongdoing, and extending mercy to imperfect human beings. Although there are plenty of big budget special effects, unlike the typical blockbuster special effects movie, there is no black-and-white distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. It made me think about good and evil, and justice and mercy. Go see it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'tis a gift to have gifts

I've been thinking about gifts, the way each of us is gifted. In the New Testament, Paul talks about "spiritual" gifts, which are a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, but clearly this idea doesn't apply just to Christians. Everyone has their gifts. There are several lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, including wisdom, knowledge, administration, preaching, teaching, healing, and so on. Some of them are even a little quirky--like the gift of mercy (is that why some people find it so hard to show mercy? they don't have that gift?), and my favorite, which the King James version translates as the gift of "helps."

Christian or not, those lists are hardly exhaustive. A few that are left out: music, visual arts, cooking, writing, crafts and needle work, design, encouragement, engineering, building, computer/technological expertise --there must be dozens more. The gift of humor. The gift of entertainment--you know how some people can mesmerize a crowd by telling stories of their college days? The gift of loyalty and support--the people who make you feel better just by being around them. Some people have the gift of adventure, both of going on wild, amazing adventures and also of making adventures out of everyday experiences. The gift of play, which I don't think I ever had.

One of the reasons I've put off writing this post is because there didn't seem to be any way to do it without saying what I think my own gifts are, and that's a little scary and embarrassing. But that's silly, so here goes. I think my gifts are writing, teaching adults, helps, and a side serving of knowledge. Also I can be a leader, but it's not a major strength of mine--it only comes to the fore when I'm in a group that doesn't have someone with stronger leadership skills.

The cool thing about this is that once you figure out what your gifts are, you can maximize your time and efforts. When you play to your strengths, not only do things go more smoothly, but you enjoy your work more, and you can avoid wasting time on things that are never going to work. It helps me understand why when I am in a group, people respond to the information I present (teaching) but not to my vision for what our group or their lives could be (preaching/exhortation). And why I am not the one who ends up organizing and delegating tasks (administration), or charting a course for the future (vision). And why years ago when I was in a women's spirituality group, it didn't work to change our leader every time we met--some people just don't have the gift of leadership.

It also helps me understand some situations I've been in. An example--a couple of years ago I was working on a project with a friend where we needed to present some information to a group. It wasn't until long after we finished the project that I figured out why we were having such a hard time agreeing on how the information should be presented. I think her gift is exhortation (inspiring people to bigger and better things in their lives), but my approach was from the standpoint of a teacher--how do we break this information down so that people can understand it? If we'd seen that earlier, it would have given us a blueprint for how we could mesh our different styles.

and for the record, having a gift and being proficient or good at it are not necessarily related. At least I don't think so. I'm a perpetual beginner in writing, learning more and more about it all the time. The more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know. but conversations with other people over the years have convinced me that most people don't have this need to write things down, to get thoughts and ideas out of my head and put them down in words. (I almost said "on paper" but when was the last time I wrote anything other than a grocery list on paper?)

When I started typing, this was a setup post for something else. But you know how often I never get around to the "next" post. we'll see.

So what about you? What are your gifts?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What we did on vacation

What did we do on vacation? Not a lot, but it was a good one. Sometimes the low-key ones are just what you need. We drove over to a hot springs near Bozeman and spent a couple of nights, and then spent a night at PellMel's apartment in Bozeman, and then drove back.

The hot springs where we stayed are near Yellowstone. So we drove down there twice. We went to Yellowstone in the fall, you may remember, but although we had a good time then, it was the end of the season and we didn't see much wildlife--just plenty of spectacular scenery.

This time we saw wildlife in droves. As in, we had to slow down and wait for bison to cross the road. We had to stay in the car so we were safe from the elk. We saw mule deer, whitetail, big horn sheep, antelope, a bald eagle, several sandhill cranes, and a whole bunch of waterfowl that Dean and MadMax could identify but I can't. But mainly there were hundreds (thousands?) of bison and elk.

So I took some pictures for you. The rest of the Lent posts are firmly lodged in Never Never Land at the moment, in spite of several attempts to write them out, so maybe they will eventually appear, maybe they won't. But at least you can see buffalo roaming in the meantime.

Big horn sheep (without big horns, the two facing the road are female with
short, less curved horns, the others are still young)

Where's the bison?

This is the Boiling River. We were all set to soak in it when--not kidding--
a BUSLOAD of teenagers from California showed up. We left and came back later. :-)

Friday, April 04, 2014

Food on Friday: Chopped Salad

I like vegetables. Some of them, anyway. Carrots, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, corn. Okra, if it's fried. Spinach in salads. But not all vegetables. In spite of all the different ways I've tried them, I still have never found a brussel sprout recipe I'd make again (and yes, that includes several that say "even haters love them cooked this way"). And I'm still learning to like greens. Kale is growing on me.

But I've known since I was teenager that for the most part, I'd rather eat veggies raw than cooked. In fact, other than okra and green beans, all of the veggies I said I liked in the previous paragraph I prefer raw. So when I happened to pick up a serving-sized container of "chopped salad" at a Whole Foods store a couple of years ago, it occurred to me that maybe that's the way I should eat vegetables.

Chopped salad has become a staple around here, any time I remember to stock up on the right stuff and have the time to do all the chopping. Honestly, it doesn't really take that long--I just made one and it took about twenty minutes. It isn't so much a recipe as a method, but here you go anyway.

Chopped Salad

Choose six or eight of the following:
Any firm, choppable veggie: zucchini, crookneck squash, broccoli, carrots, jicama, celery, cucumber, asparagus, bell peppers, etc.
(corn can be fresh, or drained canned, or frozen--which you don't have to thaw, just throw it in and 10 minutes later it is fine)
Greens: spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, collards, etc., and any type of lettuce or cabbage
Tomatoes, any type or color (grape, cherry, plum, regular)
Fresh fruit: apples, pears
Dried fruit: cranberries, apricots, cherries, blueberries, raisins
Beans: black, pinto, garbanzo, or black-eyed peas
Herbs: basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro
Nuts/seeds: pumpkin, sesame, pecans, walnuts, almonds, peanuts
(you can also start with a bagged chopped salad and add to it)
(also you could add cooked diced meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs, tuna--but I usually just do veggies)
(I think onions are too strong for this, but if you like raw onions, add them, too)

The key is to chop every thing somewhere between 1/4" and 1/2" in size. Broccoli and kale pretty much disappear if you chop them small enough. If you have a good sharp knife, it goes pretty fast. Dump all the chopped vegetables in a bowl, then add your favorite salad dressing (or olive oil and a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar). Salt and pepper to taste.

Here is the one I made this week. It has carrots, zucchini, kale, asparagus, a bag of "southwestern chopped salad" (which included a pouch of sunflower seeds and cranberries), a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans, and about a dozen halved grape tomatoes that I had leftover from earlier in the week. Kinda pretty, isn't it?

(Mom brag: note chopping board MadMax made in woodshop last week!)