Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 16

I know, I know, I know . . . I had such good intentions!

I had the great privilege to be with some of the best people in the world at the Ridder Leadership Initiative in Muskegon, Michigan these last few days.  I'll be posting pictures and more detailed descriptions of all the great things that happened there, but suffice it to say that blogging was not on the list of priorities, not to mention that wi-fi was spotty in my room and when I was in common space, I needed to be available to people and not pecking away on my keyboard.

I promise to go back and make up the days I missed, thinking of fascinating things to write about in a life-changing way.  Or maybe I'll just keep writing my mundane thoughts and thank you for coming over to visit from time to time.  It's important to do the things I say I will, even if I can't do it perfectly.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 12

I used to be pretty deep.  Not Ghandi-deep or even C. S. Lewis-deep but able to readily explore the inner depths of my mind and heart.  I could even, if I wanted to, think deep thoughts just for fun. 

Unfortunately, years of perfecting the ability to multitask has robbed me of that depth.   Of course, it all starts with being a mom and learning to talk on the phone and spoon in the baby food and fold the laundry all at once.  Then you add a professional life and a church life and the demands of any normal life and I got really, really good at juggling all of it all at once. 

It only cost me a few layers of depth. 

I think it went away so gradually that I barely noticed it.  I started doing more and more of my thinking on the run.  I spent less time pondering or reflecting.  Reading became a way to gain information or a way to escape but rarely got my full attention.  I got really good at being fully present to other people and got tired out by that and so then I learned to space out when I was with myself.  I started to cruise in the wake of other people’s learning because it was just so much easier. 

Now I’m in a different season of life and I want my old self  back.   Doing a lot of things at once because there are a lot of things to do has its place.  Learning to keep it light after a heavy day of sharing in other people’s deep work has its place.   Deep doesn’t have to mean constant intensity.  But there are some practices that build depth, that can help us plumb the deep places and I’m ready to re-engage them. 

Even in short doses, for example, solitude and silence help us learn to be with God and ourselves and listen to both.  Sitting quietly to solve problems without talking about them to everyone who will listen opens us up to our own creative thinking.  Asking ourselves what we think about something and then taking the time to really listen to the answer helps a lot.  Reading books that are hard to read builds depth if they’re the right books.  Asking good questions in conversation and then asking more questions builds relational depth.  It’s a fundamental shift from quantity of life to quality.  I’m ready to make the shift.

Day 11

Well, I'm in western Michigan with an amazing group of pastors.  We've been journeying together for several years now and the stories of transformation are pouring out.  This is one of the great privileges of my life.

And here's the downside:  internet is spotty and time is limited so this is actually yesterday's post . . . and it's going to be a rerun. This post is a blast from the past and also reflects some of my current thinking.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 10

I rarely curse.  Not never, but rarely.  I'm not offended by bad language though.  For one thing, a really well-placed curse word can make a point in a way that embeds it in your memory forever--Clark Gable and Tony Campolo both come to mind.  And as a therapist, I know that pain comes out of people in raw form and I think that's more than okay.

But like spanking and paprika, profanity is much more powerful when it is used sparingly.  Whether it's unnecessarily cluttering the dialogue in a movie or heightening the hostility in a conversation, it's often a lazy way to communicate.  For one thing, cursing used to be much more creative--there were a whole range of bad words that you could choose from, depending on the situation.  Today, there seems to be only one word and it can be used as a verb, an adjective, a noun or an exclamation.  I'm pondering . . . could it be used as an adverb or a gerund?  Hmmm . . .

When I was about 10, I was curious about bad words and unsure about how to use them since the family I grew up in was pretty much profanity-free.  (My freshman roommate used the f-word 17 times between our dorm and the mall on the first day I met her.  I got all kinds of education my freshman year.)

Anyway, I was visiting my grandmother, who was in the shower adjacent to the bedroom where I was making a phone call to my cousin.  I got frustrated with the phone, tossed the phone book angrily on the bed,  and said "Dammit!"  My grandmother poked her head out of the bathroom door and said, "Go to your room and I'll be there in a minute."

I flounced off to my bedroom, setting up my argument that other people used that word and that I was old enough and besides I couldn't find the number and . . . anyway, I was ready to fight for my rights even though I knew I was in trouble.  Nana sat down on the edge of my bed, held up her hand to keep me from launching into my defense, and calmly and slightly disdainfully said, "Do you know what that word means?  It means that you want someone or something to go to hell.  And you just told a phone book to go to hell.  How does that make any sense?"

Embarrassed, deflated, I had no answer.  I looked down and said, "I don't know.  I'm sorry."  She hugged me hard and said something about how it wasn't a problem.  She never mentioned it again, not even to my parents, as far as I know.  Just a few months later, at Thanksgiving at Nana's house, there would be a much more serious incident involving my brother and a curse word I truly did not understand, but that's another story.  Nana never told on me.

In his book Real Live Preacher, Gordon Atkinson reflects on the use of words.  He writes, "I am constantly found guilty of the sin of words.  Vulgarity is not my downfall, although I am vulgar.  My sin is having words that are far more beautiful than my life.  How graceful are those whose lives outshine their words.  Perhaps my life will catch up to my mouth someday."  I like that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 9

It's amazing how much power there is in giving your word to something.  We really do create reality with our words--not in a superstitious, "name-it-claim-it" way, but along the lines of the way God created with His word--"Let there be light . . . and there was light."  When we really give our word to something and add our intention to it, so that "Never mind" is not an option, it changes what we do, which changes how we live, which changes the future.

We can give our word to evil--"I will get revenge if it's the last thing I do."  But it seems we're almost compelled to give our word to the good God calls us to . . . until another voice tells us we can't do that, we can't be that.   But nothing significant ever happens without that combination of our word and our intention.

I'm thinking about this right now because 9 days ago, I gave my word to writing every day for 21 days.  That is the only reason I would still be up and on my computer at this hour, before a really demanding day tomorrow.  In June, I gave my word to running a 5K.  On Saturday, I picked the event I'm going to run in.  Slowly but surely, I'm making progress toward making both of those a reality, whether I feel like it or not.

I've learned a lot about this from my friend JTH and also from Dallas Willard, in conversations and lectures and writing on how people change.  I've experimented with it in my own life and it really is powerful, not as a technique but as a way of lining up my life with God's calling.  I help to teach it in Faithwalking and elsewhere and I've seen the power of it in the lives of others.  Giving our word, keeping our word, honoring our word . . . in line with God's word . . . really does change things.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 8

It's the middle of the fall and here's the latest for our family:

First of all, C and I are thoroughly enjoying the empty nest!  (Sorry, Boo and Mowgli!)  We're both doing really good work--energizing and lifegiving--and when we're not working, we're hanging out together and enjoying our quiet house and our freedom to come and go as we please.  I've been out of town for six weeks straight and still have four more trips to go, and then a long respite from travel until the new year.  C gets a little lonely but he has the cat to keep him company . . . okay, that's not exactly how it works.

Boo is settled in at college and loves it there.  Her favorite class is Old Testament, mainly because of the teacher.  She's active in the Baptist Student Ministry and is working with children and with a theater troupe and will be a DiscipleNow leader for youth groups in the spring.  She is working a lot, playing a lot, and serving a lot.  We're so proud of her courage and hard work.

Mowgli is still on schedule to graduate in December.  We were planning a big trip out to NC for graduation and to bring his stuff home but we just found out that his school doesn't have a December commencement, so it all feels pretty anticlimactic at this point.  What are his plans, you ask?  Well, he'll let us know when he knows.  Right now, he's waiting to hear back from grad schools and teacher certification programs and then he'll have some decisions to make.  I predict some combination of work and travel until then.

Our extended families are doing well and we see them as often as we can.  The pace is dizzying right now but it's all good . . . I think all four of us feel incredibly blessed to be where we are.  That's an incredible gift.

Day 7

So I'm sitting here in the lovely living room of my friend P, talking about cognitive dissonance and pinterest and empathy and Jesus and our jobs and parenting . . . and just realized that I completely forgot to blog yesterday!  Consistency is hard . . . I  could write about that but I'm not going to.  I'm just going to keep sitting here chatting with P.  I'll be back tonight . . .

Friday, October 21, 2011

Day 6

I'm upset about something that happened tonight.  This experience seems even more important after my recent writing about race and courage.  

I was stopped at a light in the far right hand lane on a busy Houston street and had the thought that it would be a good idea to lock my car doors.  When I reached for the door lock button, I accidentally rolled down the window so I was looking down at my left hand, fumbling with the buttons.  Finally, the doors locked, just as I looked up and just as a young African-American man was passing me on foot, going the other way.  

He looked at me pointedly just as I looked at him, our eyes locked, him shaking his head almost imperceptibly, me not yet comprehending what had just happened.  Then the moment was over.  He passed me, I realized what he had just experienced--a middle-aged white woman locking her car door just as he walked by--and then it was over.  

I'm not going to pretend that I know what that feeling is like.  A black friend of mine from high school and college told me once, "You have no idea what it feels like to know every time you walk into a room full of white people that someone hates you, someone is afraid of you, someone doesn't think you belong there and you don't know who."  He was right--I have no idea.  

I think that what happened tonight was an unfortunate coincidence, a painful misunderstanding.  Most of all, I regret not having any way to make it right.  I prayed for that young man and his heart because it was all I could do.  I hope he can turn his brief experience with me into irritation and not anger, frustration but not cynicism.  And I pray for the day that the hurts aren't so close to the surface, when it is not so easy to wound each other by accident.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 5

Bumper stickers are funny.  Sometimes they're stupid ("9/11 was an inside job") and sometimes they're silly ("Visualize whirled peas") but just the concept is pretty funny.  One day, 40 years or so, somebody thought, "Let's think of some pithy statement that defines our whole lives or, barring that, "I love Joe's Crab Shack!" and let's make it so sticky that it will NEVER come off, and let's stick it on the back of the car that represents the second most expensive thing we own.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of the little hatchback that started this line of thinking.  It cut in front of me on the way to work yesterday, maybe because the back windshield was artistically covered with bumper stickers, apparently representing a variety of goth bands.  The front windshield had 6 bumper stickers on it--also strategically arranged--which I am pretty sure is not legal.  (Is it still called a bumper sticker if it's on a window?)

I know that many people express their most deeply held values on these tiny sticky billboards.  Austin is definitely a bumper sticker city, mostly announcing blue-state sentiments in the middle of the reddest state in the country.  (Some of them would invite vandalism in Odessa or Beaumont or Dime Box.)  At Mowgli's school, it seems that every other car has the "Coexist" sticker on it.  When we lived in Clear Lake, the back window stickers displaying your child's name and all his/her extracurricular activities were requisite.  Here, it's the tie-dyed "Keep Austin Weird."

I understand what motivates the political ("HOPE") or value-driven ("Abortion stops a beating heart") or religious ("Honk if you love Jesus!") or school spirit ("Sic 'Em Bears").  But every now and then, I see a bumper sticker proclaiming something like "I *heart* TCBY" and I wonder, "Really?  You love frozen yogurt enough to make it the singular statement of your life and then display it on your car?  Really? That's the best you've got?"  I can be fairly judgmental.

In the last presidential election, I saw a bumper sticker that I really liked and considered getting it until I remembered that I am aesthetically opposed to sticking things on my car.  Antipathy toward bumper stickers trumped civic pride.  If I ever DO get a bumper sticker, though--which I never will--my favorite is one that came out about a decade ago.  It reads, "God bless the whole world.  No exceptions."  Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day 4

Just when I think it's all useless, that nothing ever changes, that I don't know why I bother, that people are just the way they are . . . I have a day like today, when I have a front row seat for the ordinary change happening in ordinary lives.  I get to watch as wives talk when they could withdraw, when scared mothers speak the truth when they could hide, when husbands say, "I was wrong," when they could say "Don't blame me," when people keep showing up for love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 3

Listening to Rev. Smith Sunday night reminded me of my own story of racial reconciliation in the SBC.  When I was in college, I served as the youth minister of a small Baptist church in a small Texas town.  It was a town of 400 people, half of whom considered themselves Baptist, with about 80 in the pews of our church every week.

The town itself was built around the intersection of two insignificant farm-to-market roads where dilapidated brick buildings stood mostly abandoned, built when cotton was king.  The bank was in one of those buildings--a two-story brick building with swinging screen doors adorned with fading signs advertising Rainbo bread.  Next door to the bank was a true general store with overpriced, dusty groceries and a lunch counter in the back that served hearty breakfasts and amazing hamburgers to townspeople and the Hispanic field hands that worked on nearby farms.   It felt like going back in time.

Anyway, one of my tasks as youth minister was to invite all the town's high school seniors to baccalaureate at our church on the Sunday before graduation.  I got the list from the high school registrar and set about sending out invitations.  Most of the townspeople I knew had their mail delivered to P. O. boxes (oh, yeah, the post office was caddy corner from the bank on the town "square.")  However, on this list there were several students listed only by name and street--no house number, no phone number--so I set out in my car delivering invitations to kids who lived in unpainted wooden shacks and shabby travel trailers down dusty dirt roads that I didn't even know existed.   Often, I had to ask around to find the senior in question and handed over the invitation personally to his or her bewildered relatives who promised to attend the service.

Imagine how shocked my congregation was when they discovered what I had done.  I had, for the very first time in memory, invited the African American seniors to baccalaureate at the white Baptist church.  Imagine how shocked I was to discover that the policy for decades had been to exclude those kids and their families from the annual service.  I sputtered in indignation, the church convened a meeting, had a robust discussion,  and then voted unanimously to let the invitations stand.

On the day of the baccalaureate, three black seniors and their parents and grandparents showed up for the service and, while I admired their courage, I was amazed by my church.  Members of all ages and social strata flocked to the visitors to welcome them and shake their hands.  They were so welcoming, in fact, that a few of the black seniors' parents returned to visit the worship services for the next two weeks and expressed appreciation for the church's hospitality.

All's well that ends well and that story ended pretty well.  There was never any question again about who was welcome in our church, much less at senior baccalaureate, and occasionally those students would join in our youth group activities or their families would attend events at our church.  I wish I could say that there was a large-scale integration, that deeply held prejudices were healed and that living conditions improved for those kids.  None of that happened.  But that day, at Central Baptist Church in a small town in Texas, different kinds of people were willing to let go of the way things had always been done and consider new possibilities and I was glad to see it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 2

Last night, we were in the presence of greatness.

C has been teaching a class on Baptist history (it's actually been really interesting and well-attended) and got to the part where Baptists in the south decided they would rather support slavery than stay connected with their northern brethren and split off and formed the SBC.  He asked Rev. Smith, a member of our church and a pastor since the 1950s, to talk about race relations in the SBC since then.

Rev. Smith is a slight, white-haired man with a quiet voice and a radiant smile.  He didn't smile much as he described the ordinary racism of the south of his childhood and the way that God balanced those brutal experiences by giving him actual relationships with black people that were caring and lifegiving.

He talked about getting to know African-American pastors back when things were "separate and (not) equal" and hearing about their experiences from their own lips instead of from town gossip or the national news. He showed us the paperback copies of the books that he bought to read what MLK thought in his own words instead of believing what he heard in the press.  He held up a tattered copy of the ballot used to guide his small country church to not only welcome their black brothers and sisters but even to join the local association of black churches in solidarity.  He described advocating for an African American pastor to take over the pastorate of his church's mission church even though all the remaining members were white.  He also told about a deacon who threatened him, saying, "When a n***** walks in the front door [of the church], God walks out the back."

There were a lot of stories that he didn't tell--the good, the bad and the ugly. For one thing, he only got up to 1968.  He was very reluctant to portray himself as a hero or a crusader but the truth is that he consistently made the right choices about racial reconciliation at a time when many pastors didn't.  He didn't march on Washington or attend a sit-in.  At the same time, he didn't just wait for "social issues" to resolve themselves.  Instead, he went across town and became friends with people who were different from him.  He listened to them, thought about what they thought about, ate with them, worshiped with them, and advocated for them.  He loved his neighbor in ordinary, courageous, extraordinary ways--a lot like Jesus.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Day One

There are a lot of reasons why I blog so much less frequently these days.  I'm busy, I wonder what anyone would want to read about, Facebook, I can't get motivated, etc.  Whether it's a term paper or a book chapter or a letter or a blog post, the empty page is daunting.

Here's what occurred to me recently, though:  Although I'm an author, I'm not really a writer.  Know why?  Because writers write.

So I've taken a challenge from my friend at to blog for 21 days straight no matter what, to put words to paper every day for 21 days, to write something--anything--long enough to push through the resistance.  If she can do it, I can do it, right?

It's actually very consistent with a tool that I've used many times in my life.  The idea is that if you have a dream and you do something every day toward your dream, you really might see your dream come true.  I can't even tell you how many times I've taken that on and how many times it has made the difference between good intentions and real results.

So . . . the next 21 days on wonderfullyflawed might be really inane.  Who knows?  That's not the point.  I still ask myself a lot, though, "What would someone who shows up on this site want to read about?"  So if you want to suggest a topic, I promise I'll take it on, one way or another.  Otherwise, you'll probably be at the mercy of whatever I'm thinking about on any given day.  Let's see what happens . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2011

If you're an evangelical and you don't sometimes feel a little conflicted about that label, you may not be paying attention.   In this article by Lynne Hybels, I found both my ambivalence about evangelical life and my commitment to it beautifully expressed.  Of course, what she describes isn't unique to evangelicals but I wish these ideals were more closely associated with them . . . us . . . me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Speaking up about speaking up

My heart is beating fast and I can feel the heat in my face.  My hands feel a little shaky, although I don't think you would notice if you saw me.  My internal conversation is going back and forth between self-righteousness and self-doubt.  Here's what just happened:  I was on Facebook and saw that a friend of mine--someone I used to know and like but rarely see anymore (although I did see him recently)--posted a comment that I found deeply offensive.  Deeply.  And personal.  So I commented.  I didn't want to--I hate conflict and I hate exposing myself like that--but I felt compelled to.  I couched my comment in tongue-in-cheek teasing (at least I hope that's how it came across) but I know that what I said was also provocative.

I'm practicing having the courage act authentically even when it means letting go of my habitual need to please.  It's a commitment I've taken on but don't always know how to pursue.  Obviously, I can't comment on every stupid comment on Facebook.  I almost never comment on the political posts that I disagree with, no matter how strongly I disagree.  But about a year ago, a political joke was circulating that I thought was so incredibly offensive that I couldn't believe that my friends--people I loved and admired--were perpetuating it.  I never said anything and ever since, I've wished I had.  I know that I wimped out.  I  didn't speak up because I knew people were "just kidding" and because I didn't want my own views to be exposed and because I didn't want to be perceived as self-righteous.  I was wrong.

Still, I'm not sure what is the right thing to do.  It's gotten to a point that, except for a public forum like Facebook, almost no one says really offensive things in front of me--whether it's my gender or my age or the role I play or some kind of personal authority or all of the above, I don't know.  But I can remember more occasions than I can count when I didn't say anything or said something weak and ineffective or talked to the person privately later, after I had a chance to collect my thoughts, leaving the public impression that I agreed with what was said.  I've learned now that if I can't think of what to say, I can say "I see that differently."  No one ever asks me how I see it differently so I'm off the hook, although sometimes I would welcome the conversation.  And obviously, just because I think something is inherently offensive doesn't mean that it is.

So what do you do?  Do you speak up and say what you think, even when you know it would inject controversy?  Do you see that as a good thing--"the marketplace of ideas"--or do you see yourself as an "enlightener of others?"  Do you wimp out and wish you hadn't?  Do you consider that your own views are just that--your own views--and keep them to yourself?  Come on, hit the comment button and speak up about speaking up!