Glory and Crap

•June 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A perfect illustration of life:

I was on a walk.  Feeling a little sorrowful (can sorrow really be experienced in an itsy-bitsy dose?).  Feeling a little wonderful.  The normal twin emotions of living between “now” and “not yet.”

The weather was (my) perfect — 68 degrees and breezy, and I was walking in an area with glorious high trees.  They were swaying in the breeze, rustling as I walked by.  I was arrested by the combination of that sight and what hit my ears.  Here’s what it looked like:

I had my iPod on a random shuffle and had probably been bouncing between Teenage Lobotomy and Chain of Fools, or some such combo, when a glorious segment of Bach’s Mass in B Minor came on.  It resounded not just through my earbuds but through my spirit. Listen in: 2-13 Osanna (Da Capo) (pretend you can watch the video along with it).  You get the idea?

I was so overcome in all of my senses, that I just decided to lie down and watch the trees, listen to the music, smell the nearby flowers, feel the cool grass, and not rush on.  And as I settled into a spot on the curb, I realized I’d put my hands in dog crap.

I actually laughed out loud.  It cracked me up.  For that is what life is like, isn’t it?  Our glorious times marred by, well, crap.  And our crappy times potentially redeemed and made glorious.

I love how life imitates, well, life.


Working on “Spacious”

•June 6, 2011 • 2 Comments

Readers… I’m working on something really exciting, and I wanted you to be the first to know (though I admit my husband’s been in on it for a few years now).

After 12 years of working towards it and 5 years of targeted preparation, I’m getting really close to launching a website and enterprise called “Spacious.”

It’s a compendium for people who want MORE!

That’s all I’ll say about it today.

But I did want you to know what I’m off doing, since I’m not posting as frequently as usual.

Stay tuned… this is going to be good, and you are the people I have in mind each day when I sit down to continue creating “Spacious.”

Chocolate Bunnies, Homeless Men and Inequity

•June 2, 2011 • 12 Comments

People donate all sorts of things to homeless shelters.  So when it’s time to serve dinner, along with the main course and some sort of vegetable, there’s often a plethora of random sweets.  Perhaps there’ll be slices of cherry pie or chunks of cake. Sometimes the cake might have an Elmo theme, donated as it was from a bakery that had a no-show for an ordered cake for a five-year-old’s birthday (a story in itself). Anyway, you get the idea: there are lots of food items donated to the homeless, and they are sometimes a bit random.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when there were boxes and boxes of chocolate Easter bunnies out on the dessert table on Tuesday night when I showed up for my dinner-serving shift.

Yet the bunnies — their presence so out of season and jarring somehow — were a big hit. And watching the men grab, hold onto, and save their bunnies for later was poignant.

Often when I’m there at the shelter I pray for the men, wondering what went wrong in their lives that got them to the point of being an overnight guest at this place in which they’d never hoped to end up, in spite of it being kindly- and well-run.  I know there are some stories of “had it all, lost it all.”  I know there are issues of abuse, addictions, injustice, racism; many factors drive people into a shelter.

Yet seeing so many men (in their twenties or in their eighties or in between) with glaringly green boxes of Easter bunnies encased in the molded plastic interiors, I could see quite clearly a room of little boys.  Some tough.  Some shy.  Some teased for their lisps.  Some bullied for their girth.  Black.  White.  Asian.  Well-dressed.  Sloppy.  Well-muscled.  Shrinking. Grateful.  Angry. Playground-lovers.  Spelling Bee champions.  Boy-men.

And I thought, with an ache, of the mothers who did what they could, often against horrific odds.  Who are, in many cases, still out there somewhere praying, hoping, and wondering where there boys are.  Not knowing that they are — at least many nights — in this place with good food and Easter bunnies to spare.  It’s not home, but it ‘s not the streets either.  And there are opportunities to begin turning life around.  There are many stories of redemption.  Many mothers’ boys are climbing their way out, or at least staying out of the weather for a spell.  I hope the mothers sense it.

I’m a mother.  I have a son.  And Tuesday night I thought anew of my own jokes, when my children were little, that I would “consider my parenting a success if we can keep everyone out of jail.”

In my part of town, staying out of jail is generally possible and even quite likely (thus the fodder for joking).  In other parts of town, that’s no laughing matter (nor should it be in mine, actually, as an acquaintance’s grandson awaits trial for murder).  That could be any of our children.  Yet (as Shane Claiborne says) something that’s front-page news in one part of town is “business as usual” in another.

All our children struggle.  “Affluenza” is as damaging a plight — in a different way — as poverty is. We privileged or relatively privileged people generally can anesthetize our pain more subtly and can buy our way out of transgressions more easily than can the poor.  But many of our children are similarly languishing in invisible prisons of their own making, longing for (at least metaphorical) refuge from the storm, for the neighborly atmosphere of a shelter with food, love and Easter bunnies to spare.

So here’s to the mothers who gave their little boys chocolate Easter bunnies just like I did, but sometimes have to wonder if the promise of Easter, the redemption of Easter applies to everybody, in a society where not everyone has the same chances, the same breaks, the same opportunities.

Of course God’s gifts and grace apply to all.  But here on earth, we Jesus-followers don’t always do what it takes to see that the kingdom of heaven comes here to earth (as much as we can effect that) on our watch.  We look on silently and let some lives go better than others; we assume that some parts of town just produce people who can’t or won’t do as well as our children well.

We presume that our children will stay out of jail or homeless shelters, and we assume that “those people” will end up in them.

Yet everybody is somebody’s little boy or girl (and the orphans, widows and aliens are God’s particular favorites).

And everybody appreciates a good chocolate bunny, whether they devour it as they did when they were eight or tuck it under their arm and take it with them out into the stark reality of life.

I’m thankful for the visual that jarred my thinking.  God help me.

Ball Marks at the French Open, or What Do YOU Have Eyes to See?

•May 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment





Focus on the ball marks while watching the action.

At the French Open, on clay at Roland Garros, the final word is the mark that the ball leaves on the court.  There’s no high-tech instant reply screen.  An expert chair umpire jumps down and trots over to determine the ball’s trajectory and settles a dispute over whether it was in or out, and the point is decided.  I found the New York Times article about it interesting after a recent trip to the qualifying rounds.

Here’s an excerpt:

“It happens in almost every match, and sometimes several times. A ball hits the court. A line judge makes a call. A player disagrees.

“And so begins clay court tennis’s quirkiest bit of theater.

“The chair umpire climbs down from the midcourt perch. He or she hustles — not a run, not a walk, but a trot — to the point of contention.

“Dirt is examined. Sport meets archaeology.

“In an era of instant replays and computer-generated assurances, there is an old-world charm to ball marks, little imprints of evidence left behind in the fraction of a moment that a ball touches the brick dust of a French Open tennis court.”

This is what these chair umpires know — lines, ball marks, smudges.  And they’re not all created equal, as the NYT tells us: “Lobs create perfectly round spots. Hard serves leave comet-shaped streaks. 

Smashes, spins and drops leave variations.

Sometimes there is barely a smudge at all. Sometimes, usually late in a set and near the baseline, the mark cannot be picked from a crowded constellation of blots and footprints. And, hardest of all, sometimes there is only a partial mark near the white line, a phantom left to interpretation.

Chair umpires receive special training for handling disputes and decoding ball marks on clay, and the French Tennis Federation’s Web site includes instructional videos.”

So enough about tennis. My point is not about tennis.  My point is about the development of eyes to see — whatever it is you want to see.

We all know that old adage that “Eskimos have a million words for snow, whereas the rest of us just know ‘snow.'” And it turns out that that’s under debate, for it’s hard to define “Eskimo” or “word” or even “snow” accurately enough to count.  But you get the point.

Whatever it is that we really know, we can SEE differently than others can, those who don’t care as much or have as much exposure to whatever it is we KNOW.

Teenagers go into athletic shoe stores and are faced with a wall of 200 shoes that look, to an adult, nearly identical.  But when an adult suggests a particular one, they are often met with an indignant reaction, “Nobody would wear those.” Which is hard to figure, cause the fine points between that one and another are S-U-B-T-L-E.

So what is it that you have eyes to see?

  • Can you pick out unusual birds at a distance by their shape or attributes?
  • Can you win at “Name that Tune,” figuring out a song within a few notes heard?
  • Do you recognize slight changes to a particular car model when you see one on the road?
  • Maybe you can recognize counterfeit coins.
  • Perhaps you are skilled at discerning where people are from or hearing minor differences in regional accents.
  • Are you a barbed-wire expert?
  • Do you look at a quilt and know all about the fabric?

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m likely thinking about the Bible (surprise!) and about how often we are told, in the Old and New Testaments.  There are 508 references (in the New International Version) to “eyes” in various contexts.  How many times are we told that we have eyes but don’t see?  And Jesus himself said that his mission was (partly) to open the eyes of the blind.  He put mud in the eyes of a man born blind to help him see.  He encouraged his disciples that they saw things that others could not yet see.

The apostle Paul was encouraging people to fix their eyes on what is unseen versus only on what is seen and wrote, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you….” (Ephesians 1:18).

Eyes are the windows into the soul in scripture.  And “the pure in heart shall see God” and “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous” (Peter tells us).

It matters what our eyes are taking in.  It matters what we develop eyes to see.

And just as the umpires at the French Open need to study and receive special training in their chosen area of focus, so do I.

It’s amazing to realize that we can develop super-powers this way (whether bird watchers or snow-describers or marketing gurus for Nike) and that we really do cultivate the ability to see things that others can’t see if we put in our time and focus — and that God wants to give the power, as a gift, to any of us who want those eyes to see Him more clearly.


Was Gaudi destined to be, well, Gaudi?

•May 26, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve just had one of those “life will be different from now on” moments.  There aren’t many in a lifetime.  This one isn’t on a par with my conversion to being a Jesus-follower.  That’s the Alpha moment.  But it’s a biggie nonetheless.

Knowing that some things that we feel don’t translate well to others, and knowing that I don’t want to translate some things to others (they’re too personal), I still want to talk about the impact that seeing some of the architectural wonders of Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) has had on me.  For I won’t ever be the same.

Barcelona is “all about Gaudi,” and that’s why I went there last week.  I read an article in National Geographic that came with a fold-out section on the uses of nature’s forms in Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona, and I booked a flight.  It was a little more complicated than that… but not too much so.

Several things about Gaudi are arresting to me:

  • his contention that “to be original is to return to the origin” (i.e. to God’s creation of nature) and therefore his groundbreaking use of geometric shapes found in nature
  • his sure knowledge that he saw things that others did not see and had to put them to use in his modernist expressions in spite of the fact that it was perhaps intimidating to be so original
  • his faith speaks through the stones and materials of his works (the Sagrada Familia basilica but also Perdrera and Casa Batllo and others) — I didn’t find it possible to imagine this as commissioned work so much as acts of worship
Yet the legacy to me — from Gaudi — is that it feels that he was born to do this.  When I came home to research him more, I wondered if perhaps we had taken our (admittedly pejorative) English word “gaudy” from his work (which is, even in its beauty, a bit gaudy as well as controversial, with many detractors, including George Orwell).
So as I was doing a word study on “gaudy,”  I was dumbstruck when I remembered that the Latin “gaudium” means “joy” and that “gaudere” means to rejoice.  For this is a man who was rejoicing.  And creating with joy.
And thus it feels that he was born, or named, to do what he did.
I must reflect more on what I was born to do.  I have ideas.  In fact I have some deep-down certainty.  Maybe it’s related to my name, though the name I married into means “to chop wood or to deck someone, knock them out.” Perhaps there are metaphorical applications.
But we are all born into purposes, given roles in God’s kingdom on earth — things that we are uniquely qualified by story and circumstance to address for purposes of redemption.
And what Gaudi can teach all of us is that when we know that we know what we know and that it’s true, even if not the conventional wisdom, that we must act on it.  Here is a plaque quoting his thoughts on that:

Once he saw it, he had to do it.

He’s changed me.  His works arrested me, stopped time for me.  Enjoy a few:

Parisian Restrooms Not for Customers Only

•May 24, 2011 • 1 Comment

Okay, admit it.  How many $3 lattes have you bought just because you needed a bathroom and didn’t want to be accused of using Starbucks’ bathroom without buying anything?

I was in France last week, and one of the things I found most refreshing about Paris was the admission that, well, people need to go to the bathroom from time to time.  The French have made provision for this most basic of human needs.

In America, we 1) go buy something to qualify as a “customer” because the sign says, “Restrooms for Customers Only,” 2) Wend our way through a department store to find the customer restroom (when we weren’t actually a customer until we needed the customer restroom) and then realize we must find a manager with a key, or 3) Find a nasty gas station that was last cleaned in 1932 by a blind person, or 4) HOLD IT (and drive fast).

In Paris, there are ubiquitous kiosks that are not only free but are self-cleaning between customers.  In fact, the door won’t close and reopen until the required “lavage” cycle has completed.  So 1) free, 2) clean.  Hmmm… something’s right about this.

Or there are attended stations where tips are optional (and far less is expected than the cost of a latte) and at which sponges and mops are regularly employed.

Or, worst case scenario, one pays for the bathroom — in advance, which seems quite reasonable, considering that the motivation to pay goes from “total” to “nonexistent” when moving from “in advance” to “relieved.”

This is an expenditure that is well worth it for those of us with bladders that won’t hold a TSA-sized bottle’s worth of urine.

One of my themes in life (cause it’s straight from the good old B-I-B-L-E from which I like to take all my themes in life) is that “the truth shall set you free.” And on the streets of Paris the particular truth that humans do need bathrooms from time to time did indeed set me free — to pursue more culture, more croissants, more adventure.

And in five days’ time it only cost me a couple of Euros.  Money well spent.

Paying in advance seems perfectly reasonable.

Truth or TMI?

•May 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

At a conference last week, I walked out of the restroom with my hands dripping wet because I hate pulling out multiple hand towels, and I don’t like hand dryers any better. And I immediately met a stranger who proffered her hand in greeting.  I confessed “My hands are pretty wet,” and she went on to shake my hand anyway, saying, “I prefer that when someone comes out of the restroom.  It scares me if their hands are too dry.”  We laughed, and I knew I liked this person just because she had jumped in with a potentially awkward comment.

It got me thinking about how much truth we generally exchange in conversation.

Obviously the baseline is, “How ya doin’?” followed by “Fine” or — if we are really jumping outside the conversational box — perhaps a more expansive “Fine.  Busy.  Real busy.”  Exchange over.

I was thinking about the verse in Philippians that says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  And although I know it’s advocating a more noble sort of truth, again it made me wonder, “How much truth does anyone want?” Is Paul in any way advocating more truth be exchanged?

We know that “the truth sets us free,” so when is there value in telling more of what we are feeling or thinking than “fine” would communicate?

Obviously it depends on the audience and the context.  And obviously there are times when the truth is TMI (or “too much information”).

I once decided that the only way to stem the tide of conversation about a trip to Hooters that six men on an airplane were engaged in (very loudly) was to stand up, lean over towards their row of seats, give them a big smile and say, simply, “Too much information!”  They were kindly apologetic that I’d had to listen to SO MANY DETAILS about the women they’d encountered on their golfing trip, and we laughed.  But it had been, truly, “too much information” and information that I hoped wasn’t true, if only for the sake of their wives.

So I’m not offering an answer to this.  I’m just wondering what you think: should people err on the side of “Fine. Busy.  Real busy” or do you want to know that today was the day they finally had their vasectomy?

What do you think?