Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just in case you thought $700,000,000,000 was a lot of money

700 billion dollars is only 7 percent of the US national debt, which is now $9.8 trillion.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Narrowing it down (part 2)

Today's book list will come from the category: fiction. Someone asked me if I buy all the books I read and the answer is "no way!" I get almost all the fiction I read from the library. Even Half-price Books would be too pricey, I think. Our library system allows you to request the books you want, so even bestsellers make their way to you eventually.

I read or reread three series this past year or so and they are all favorites. In order of "favorite-ness," the Mitford series (Jan Karon), the Harmony series (Philip Gulley) and the Yada Yada Prayer Group series (Neta Jackson.) All three series are now completed, which means no more installments to look forward to.

As for stand-alone fiction, Mowgli gave me A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini) for my birthday last year and it took me awhile to work up the courage to read it. Like his previous book The Kite Runner, it was heartbreaking because its setting, Afghanistan, is heartbreaking. The characters in this one are even more poignant and unforgettable, probably because they are women. It took me weeks to completely recover from this book; at the same time, it is hopeful and inspiring, too.

I also really enjoyed Digging to America (Anne Tyler) and East of Eden (John Steinbeck). I also enjoyed reading all of Kaye Gibbons' books (they're shorter than average). The Preservationist (David Mains) was hilarious and interesting and I'm looking for more from him. The Shack (William Young) may have to have its own post.

Boo and I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a childhood favorite of mine) together and we read the final installment of the Harry Potter series (I thought it was a winner, but I love the whole series, so I'm biased.) Reading with Boo is a joy . . . her dyslexia makes it necessary, but her enthusiasm for reading makes it a blessing.

It makes me sad to read back through the titles of novels I know I enjoyed but now don't really remember. I guess that for me, reading fiction is an in-the-moment experience. I wish I remembered more about them, though. Does anyone else have that experience?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Church wars

I'm loving this: http://www.collegehumor.com/picture:1830811

I don't understand

I spend a lot of my time working to understand people--to understand how they see things, what motivates them, how they feel, how our lives overlap. I'm often called to try to understand things that defy understanding: child abuse and addiction and mental illness and the deep places of rage and despair. I try really hard and people tell me I come pretty close. "I feel understood" is one of the greatest compliments a client can pay me.

But this I don't understand: how smart and capable men can knowingly destroy their own country's economy while stuffing their own pockets, how they can continue to gorge on their own obscene excess even after their greed has been exposed, how they seem to have no remorse. I am sick and tired of hearing economists and pundits on the news. I want to see just one CEO or CFO come on TV and tell us his point of view. I just want to hear him describe what this is like for him, how he feels about it now, how he sleeps at night. Does he feel any remorse? What was he thinking? I just want to hear it from him.

Don't get me wrong. Wealth itself is not the evil here; greed is. When someone risks their money in the stock market and it goes their way, they should make money. When someone risks their own capital to start a business or create a product, they should walk away with the gains if their idea works. I have no problem with Bill Gates being the richest guy in the US. But corporate executives are employees hired to do a job. How is it that they walk away with obscene amounts of money--even if they fail? That can only be about a greedy form of cronyism and an insanely inflated sense of self.

What I don't understand most is the lack of concern for the common good. Before I voted for the first time, my father gave me a brief but memorable talk about how important it was to vote for people and policies that would benefit the country, not just those that would benefit me and people like me. So . . . I don't understand.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Asking a favor

Hi, everyone--I need a favor. I've put a few posts onto a new blog and I'd really appreciate it if you'd go over there, look around and then (1) leave me a few comments on that blog that make it look like people are actually reading it (NOT personal comments to me) and (2) actually read it and let me know (via email or comment on this blog) what you think. Can you tell what the purpose of the blog is? Do you have ideas for it? Do you know how to actually navigate the secret workings of wordpress and will you share your special knowledge with me? (Wordpress is a lot harder than blogspot, that's all I have to say.) Thanks for your help!

New blog is: http://www.austinmarriage.wordpress.com/

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Update on Ike

This is a photo of Ike, taken in Clear Lake by someone who didn't evacuate (obviously). C went to Houston this week to check on his parents and grandmother. They live in the northwest part of town and still don't have power. Neither does Mamaw, who lives on the east side near the ship channel.

They all went over to Mamaw's house to check out the damage (mostly a large tree that fell from a neighbor's yard and is blocking her front door) and clean out the refrigerator/freezers.

Then he went out to Clear Lake, delivered some milk and produce to friends and then drove by our old house and church. He said that most houses look mostly undamaged but that there is debris piled 6 feet high all along the streets. Traffic lights are still askew, blown sideways by the high winds. Many trees and fences are down or damaged. Quite a few businesses were open but didn't have everything in stock. He talked with our friends who did have catastrophic damage; they are still waiting to see what will happen next.

To really get a feel for what things are really like, read this blog, written by my friend Robert, who is the pastor at a "sister church" in the Clear Lake area. I think he captures the in-the-moment-ness of the aftermath.

Narrowing it down

Several of you have told me that the list of books on the sidebar is overwhelming and asked me to recommend a few. So . . . you're right, the list is overwhelming and I'm not even sure where to start.

I know that I have really enjoyed reading spiritual memoir this year and so I will start with that genre. I loved Take This Bread by Sara Miles and have reread it twice since the summer of last year (I remember when I first read it because we were living in the one-bedroom/study apartment before we moved into this house.) Sara was a non-religious liberal radical who found a relationship with Jesus when she participated in the eucharist at a progressive Episcopal church near her home in San Francisco. Out of gratitude for being "fed" spiritually, she began to feed people literally, giving away food and starting food pantries. This book reads like Traveling Mercies (a favorite), although it is a little less whiny and occasionally a little more preachy. Her understanding of how the church is supposed to work is breathtakingly inspiring and her description of how the church actually does work will make you nod knowingly.

OK, so what else . . . I also enjoyed Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. In this book, she weaves together the story of the tragic death of her husband and her ministry as a chaplain. Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor has also stayed with me this year. Beautifully written with Taylor's characteristic depth, it was also sad for me because it so poignantly describes the way that we leave our ministers empty and burned-out and the way they want to please us so much that they let us. eat pray love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a trip--literally! It's a fun and sometimes thought-provoking travelogue-meets-spirituality book by an extraordinarily self-absorbed author. But as you read, you get to visit Italy, an ashram in India and a guru in Indonesia and I enjoyed the ride.

And I know you might think it's cheesy but I really, really, really liked The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, especially after I saw the video he made for Oprah and then the piece that Diane Sawyer did after his death. It touched me in a deep place and I keep going back to it.

So that's all for now. I'll choose another genre tomorrow and try again. I hope it's helpful.

A tale of two candidates

Both presidential candidates made their first truly executive decisions this last month in choosing their running mates. One chose someone who makes him better, who has additional expertise, knows things he doesn't know, complements his weaknesses and can help him govern. And one didn't.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Yesterday I saw 5 clients in 6 hours, which beats the record for clients seen in one day since we moved. (The previous record, set in Houston, TX, was ten.) I have twelve clients scheduled for the week (9 down, 3 to go), which is also a record for me in Austin. This is good news because it means that things continue to move forward and may have reached a tipping point.

It took much longer for me to build this practice than I imagined it would when we moved. I've done a good job of meeting people and then meeting the people that they suggest I meet and then the people that they suggest I meet and so on but the referrals were slow coming in. I now have about 25 clients referred from more than 15 sources and my name-recognition is definitely improving. Also, I have two events coming up that should showcase my ministry and lead to more referrals. And, thankfully, I've kept all but one of the clients who have come to see me (and I really think I'll hear from the one soon.)

Yesterday, I was happy to see that my stamina was still intact since I hadn't seen clients back-to-back since moving here. I have to say, too, that having a lighter load was a blessing--I've been doing some of the best work of my career, partly because I've had the time and emotional energy for it.

Since moving here, I've often prayed, "Lord, I know there are people here in Austin who need the ministry I have to offer. But you have to help them find me!" It appears that prayer is being answered and I'm grateful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We definitely like this side of evacuating better

The good part was having so many friends from the Gulf coast to Austin show up in church on Sunday and the wonderful, surprising time we got to have together. The bad part was sitting on the sofa with our friends-like-family who rode out the storm at our house and watching TV as the bad news from home and our anxiety mounted in tandem.

The good part was that almost everyone reported less-than-catastrophic damage--beautiful trees down and no power for days on end but no one hurt and homes mostly intact. The bad part was learning that several dear friends and family had severe damage to their homes due to rising water and falling trees.

Now everyone from Austin has returned to Clear Lake and we're getting updates by the hour as people work to rebuild their own lives and, especially, the lives of others more devastated by the storm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The offer still stands

If you're running from Ike, we're happy to have you here in Austin. Just give us a call!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Today I declared two marriages dead or dying. This is most painful part of my job. It happens so rarely that to have it happen twice in one day--and in back-to-back sessions--felt brutal. Every time I do this, I flash back to my days as a chaplain, sitting with the family beside the bed of a dying loved one. Everyone knew it was about to end, although no one knew exactly when or how and everyone's reaction was different. A dying marriage feels very similar to me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

We might as well get this over with . . .

Well, everyone, what do we think about Sarah Palin? She's clearly charismatic and engaging and intelligent and interesting--exciting to see in any political candidate and especially in a female candidate. She's tough, too--tough enough to handle the snarkiness required by the VP nominee, so that the top of the ticket can keep his hands (mostly) clean. She's mostly an unknown and untested politician and so it will be exciting to watch as she tests herself and finds out what she's capable of. I wish her well.

What interests me even more, though, is the cultural reaction to her candidacy. We have progressive and liberal women expressing deep concern about her children, wondering how she will devote enough time to them, angry that she is exposing them to the public eye while conservative and traditional women cry, "Sexism!" It's enough to give you whiplash!

Speaking of the divide between liberal and conservative, I was sad to see the almost universally-held liberal opinion that Christian conservatives would turn on her and eat her alive once they found out her daughter was pregnant. Now, let's be honest--if she had been a liberal candidate, they would have--but in general, conservative women can be wonderfully compassionate and Christian women can be full of grace, especially toward individuals (as opposed to classes of people.)

And, of course, almost everyone feels compelled to comment on how pretty she is--I've even heard the word "hot"more than once--unless they are ridiculing her hair, her glasses, her outfits, whatever. It reminded me immediately of the conservative pundit who said derisively about Hillary that no one wanted to watch a woman get old in the White House (never mind that he was supporting a 72-year-old man).

It's funny and sad how this has resurrected the "mommy wars," although everyone seems to have switched sides. I heard one Democratic woman say that it was fine for her to want to be VP but that she should have waited until her children were older. How often do you think you get the chance to be VP in one lifetime? If you're a woman, I think, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The good news, of course (and it is really, really good news) is that Sarah Palin gets to have her chance, just like anyone else. We now have two candidates who can show what they have done and two candidates who will show what they can do. That's exciting to me.

From the beginning of this campaign (which began in the fall of 2004 at the Democratic National Convention as far as I'm concerned), I've been less interested in what the candidates think and more interested in how they think. So for this election, we are choosing between someone who is complex and nuanced (unless you see it as wishy-washy and elitist) and someone who is firm and courageous (unless you see it as stubborn and cavalier.) It has little to do with age or color or gender or even ideology but with something deeper and something rarely examined: how we see the world, how we filter our experiences, how we label what we feel but can't always articulate. That fascinates me at least as much as the campaigns do, which is to say, ALOT.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sometimes I wonder if my relationship with God is growing nostalgic, like visiting someone I used to love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


That is the sound of me keeping my mouth shut and not blogging about politics. For now.

A different perspective

Sacrifice is not giving up something to get something you want more. Sacrifice is the art of drawing energy from one level and reinvesting it at another level."
--Robert Johnson