Friday, December 23, 2005

A www pause for celebration

Internet cafes are wonderful things. I'm in the old quarter of Hanoi and for a few cents can actually connect with a world half away. Let's see . . . how to sum up the last few days . . . hmmmmm . . . How about a few word pictures? There was the young woman half my size that beat me to death, popped every vertebrae, and twisted my appendages in directions they aren't meant to go the first night I was here and we decided that after 11 hours of flight time we should try a massage. Maybe we will decide differently in the future since "massage" seems to have many connotations!

We had a wonderful guide the following day and, yes, we saw Uncle Ho's body lying in state as well as his homes including one on stilts. We toured an ethnic peoples museum and learned there are 53 here in Vietnam.

We've sampled the food from the streets and so far so good intestinally speaking. I loved the rice and cabbage we had today at small tables just inside a street cafe. The mouse scurrying across the floor opened the door to some brief language lessons and the owner and I bonded over a Vietnamese phrase book.

Today we went to the Hanoi Hilton. My God . . . how can mankind continue to believe that war is a good idea???

Tonite we enjoyed coffee with a young woman from Britain who is teaching English in Japan and on holiday here. Last nite we enjoyed jazz with an Irishman and his young Vietnamese guide. There's a conversation on every corner if you are willing to engage. And of course, with my partner (for those of you who know him) there's always a willingness to engage.

Love to all who read this . . . I think of you at every moment of contemplation and believe it or not with all the pagodas, temples and historical points of reflection here, I've thought of you often.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Farewell to Germany

Tonite is our last evening in Germany. We spent most of today in the Black Forest. Snowballs, walks, snowfalls like none I have ever seen before, sliding down a hillside, German food in a fire warmed restaurant, and silly to profound conversations throughout the day. Now we are blogging, responding to email, and just being . . . after a small plates meal that we picked up at the supermarket (breads, cheese fondue, peppers, pickles, bacon, salami, and more cheese).

I need to return to what is most important . . . this moment and these people. But since Vietnam is probably not going to be a blogging point I wanted to say blessings to you all. And I will return January 7.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Postmodern Indeed

Consider this . . . I'm just back from a German theater where I saw a French film about a monastic order who live in silence and the only occasional sounds we heard in the three hours were chants in Latin, a brief explanation in French, and nature.

I came away with a haunting feeling . . . the order allowed the filming after 16 years of considering it. Time for them was critical . . . their days were based on order and yet they were very far removed from what we might consider the demands of society. I could not embrace this life of separation. For me, creation is to be celebrated with folks like those who attended the film with me, walked the Christmas market with me, and over a coffeehouse brunch, challenged me to consider what I can do about an AIDS ministry in India. In other words, I'm too engaged to become so disengaged. Yet . . .

To be one's true self is a celebration. And, thus, tonight I celebrate the monk, the pastor, the missionary, and the passionate observer. God bless us one and all.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Two Roads Diverged . . .

The thought hit me about mid afternoon . . .

Two roads diverged in the woods and I made sausage in Germany and that has made all the difference.

We were given all kinds of options for the play time we get to experience now that much of the work is done but easily the best choice was to travel to a nearby village and spend the afternoon with my hosts' family making sausages. They hired a butcher who does this every year and he is a character. The English speakers among the family call him a German redneck because his stories are so colorful. After watching him handle the sausage packing and engage with my traveling buddy on all things male and hearing his stories of being the chief at the nearby prison's kitchen including a bakery where the baker has only killed three people . . . well, I might have to agree with their assessment.

The basement was filled with the large family and friends, the heat coming from the kettle that resembled an overgrown pressure cooker, two cutting tables, and the various paraphenalia that the butcher needed. His skill with the knives might have been enough to intimidate but he also barked orders with a smile and so I often scooted from one side of the room to the other when he merely looked in my direction but he also offered up some of the prize pieces for me to sample when it came to eating time. I spent at least a half hour cutting fat in small pieces for the later sausages he would form. At times, I had to leave the room because the smell and the heat was a bit overpowering but the experience was amazing.

The amazing part was not what could be done with a pig . . . I grew up in town but had country cousins so sausage making was something I had some knowledge of. It was this family so enjoying their day together. Six adult children with the brightest smiles and incredibly generous spirits, parents who embraced us even though the language barrier was there, a grandmother who fulfilled the image I had of an Oma and the sprinkling of friends who knew enough to be glad we were there.

Later, my host took us to a nearby monastery. We were freezing as the German skies finally decided to offer up the snow we'd been wondering if existed. And as we walked from room to room holding the audioplayer near our ears for the heat and the details of what we were seeing, we could easily imagine centuries ago and the stark life of the monks. I had to laugh at the fact that the monks at the monastery were not meat eaters and I ate more meat products today than I usually manage in a week!!!

We returned to sit around the huge table and enjoy some of the results of our labors (actually, we did very little but I'll pretend I had something to do with the labor). Pickled anything here . . . cucumbers, herring, sauerkraut . . . is so unique and delicious and so very unlike our U.S. version that I tended to be more engaged with those items than the meat but it was an incredible sampling.

The night concluded with conversation both silly and stimulating. Two roads indeed . . .

Friday, December 16, 2005

Wein & Noodles & Other Delicacies

A photo would never capture the atmosphere. A paragraph cannot contain the utter exuberance of the experience. But words are the tools I have to work with, so I will stumble my way through a description of how a night with friends, both old and new, in a small village pub has easily secured its place in my top 10 travel joys.

The day had offered brief sprinkling rain on and off. The wind demanded to be acknowledged. After three hours of Christmas markets and tourist shopping, I was ready for the evening's change of scenery. We traveled to a small village, the village of one of my host's birth, and pulled in front of a winery. Try to disengage from visions of rolling California hills surrounding some ranch style home at this moment because I'm in Germany and that just won't do. The building was surrounded by what looked like stucco covered townhomes and I got a sense of Santa Fe meets Greenfield (my hometown) as we proceeded to the door by passing the horses lodged where a two car garage might be positioned in the U.S. Climbing the stairs, we emerged in a room of hard woods . . . walls covered in animals and farm utensils, heavy tables, booths with small cushions that slid beneath you should you opt for that side of the table.

The table nearest the door was long and filled with heavy men with little hair and loud voices (probably made louder by the 7 hours advanced wine drinking they'd been involved in before we arrived).

We sat and then a younger version of Santa Claus . . . he of the salt and pepper beard, receding hairline and dimples that appeared with every word uttered along with an accompanying twinkle in the eye . . . arrived to welcome us. I nodded in acknowledgement though not a word was understood. ( Later after several of the aforementioned gentlemen decided to share some of their stories with me, my group commented on my ability to offer the appearance of complete understanding in what for me is simply a barrage of consonants!)

Our Mrs. Claus was no white haired version however. She was tiny, but dark brown hair touched her shoulders and she was the lead entertainer who, with her guitar, led us through a few German favorites, a parody of Downtown featuring the village's name, and then several John Denver tunes. Their son was the wine guru who in stark contrast to the older crowd softly explained the nuances of the crisp, clean German wine I could easily begin to call my favorite.

The meal consisted of sausages, pork, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and the most incredibly rich and delicious potatoe noodles carrying a name amusingly translated to 'little boys' willies' and an applesauce. I was in heaven and sang so.

We were offered the chance to blow a 20 feet horn and I took it. We were encouraged to sing and we did. Some among us took the guitars and the Devil's Violin (a percussion instrument that included a wood cutting of its name) and alternated between their own compositions and others.

The night had no agenda but enjoyment. What a divine appointment, what a delicacy.

A Cafe Moment

The curls and long limbs of the slender actress were wrapped around the keyboard and in the darkness of the cafe the computer screen became her spotlight.

The joy that usually exudes from the eyes, mouth and seemingly every pore of our organizer is muted as she too stares intently at her connection to the world . . . one in which there are more conflicts that she would this day care to confront.

The proper artist sits before his Apple preparing perhaps to update the blog he's neglected?

The Germans are improving on piano and drum, offering background ambience to this moment in time . . .

Which I am relishing . . . and life is exactly as it should be.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

MultiMedia Museum

The museum features things with buttons and lights and images that are sure to make grown men with their love of electronic toys ignite with glee and this girl was pretty impressed as well. I was most intrigued with television monitors featuring the bottom, middle and top of a young woman who was transposed into images of an old woman with the use of a black spider form. Hard to describe but it was amazing given that the women were nude.

The other wow for me was the projection that showed bubbles on the wall and we could interact with them. Again . . . hard to describe but cool.

Today is more meetings . . . was up to midnight last night with church folks discussing what's next for them . . . and then we play!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Definitely in Learning Mode

The couple who are hosting me in Germany have a 2 year old and he's my new language teacher. How's that for humbling? Plus I am typing on a German keyboard where the z and the y have traded places from where I'm used to finding them and there are other cool keys like these . . . ä, Ö, ß. This makes for much slower typing and is again a reminder to slow down and take it all in.

Today is a day for dialogue about this art project that is focused on encouraging folks to examine their associations with faith and religion and to own their journey even if it doesn't look like everyone else's. Should prove to be interesting.

So far my major impression of Germany is the wonderful smell of baking bread . . . ahhhhhhhh.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Not All Gifts Have Bows

A woman, a stranger in fact, approached me today while I was having a breakfast meeting with one of my favorite Hispanic pastors. We usually laugh a great deal as both of us attempt to improve our fluency in the others' language. (He's making great progress . . . I'm not.)

She said, "Pardon me. I just want to interrupt for a minute and say that your hair, those earrings . . . well, you're just beautiful."

My mouth dropped open. I smiled and was trying to think how to respond beyond "thank you" which were the first intelligible utterances that came forth.

She said, "I'm sure you know that, but I just wanted to tell you."

I looked at her and then at her waiting friend who was smiling broadly with the knowledge of how rare a gift this woman was giving me. I said again, "Thank you" but it was mostly to her back as she had done her good deed and was now walking away.

I want to be that kind of woman . . .

So I offer you, my kind blog readers, the following gifts without bows. These are my Christmas wishes for you:
  • laughter -- the kind that makes you wipe away tears, the table slapping, please stop because I can't take anymore laughter
  • quiet moments of true awareness -- so rarely do we get that this moment is a memory in the making, I pray you carry an added measure of awareness with you in these next few weeks
  • hugs that hold longer and mean more than just hello -- good wishes are . . . . well, good, but tangible evidence of how close to one's heart you are kept . . . that's a great thing
  • stories of who you were, are and could be told to you by those who love you most
  • folks to listen to the stories you tell
  • to know without a doubt that you are loved.

I'll be away for several weeks and will blog if possible. If not, 2006 is when we'll next encounter one another. I plan on having an incredible experience on the other side of the world. Hope your holidays are everything you want them to be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here's One for You . . .

You're driving along and you've just stopped at a red light when a truck gets the green and takes off. Immediately, a large plank falls from the truck and lands in the road. Next, a young man rushes into the road to grab the plank.

Do you think:

(a) What in idiot to risk his safety just to get save a few bucks on a piece of wood?
(b) What a nice guy to remove the risk of the plank and insure the safety of others?

Your choice on this one reveals alot about you don't you think?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the (large piece of furniture in which clothes are stored)

My buddy in London sent me a link to The Guardian's take on the new film on C.S. Lewis' Narnia. OUCH! She'd been telling me how "secular" her adopted hometown has become but I don't think I quite understood. This article makes it a tad bit clearer.

If you don't get a chance to read the article take a look at this excerpt:

Disney may come to regret this alliance with Christians, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For all the enthusiasm of the churches, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ bombed in Britain and warehouses are stuffed with unsold DVDs of that stomach-churner. There are too few practising Christians in the empty pews of this most secular nation to pack cinemas. So there has been a queasy ambivalence about how to sell the Narnia film here. Its director, Andrew Adamson (of Shrek fame), says the movie's Christian themes are "open to the audience to interpret". One soundtrack album of the film has been released with religious music, the other with secular pop.

Most British children will be utterly clueless about any message beyond the age-old mythic battle between good and evil. Most of the fairy story works as well as any Norse saga, pagan legend or modern fantasy, so only the minority who are familiar with Christian iconography will see Jesus in the lion. After all, 43% of people in Britain in a recent poll couldn't say what Easter celebrated. Among the young - apart from those in faith schools - that number must be considerably higher. Ask art galleries: they now have to write the story of every religious painting on the label as people no longer know what "agony in the garden", "deposition", "transfiguration" or "ascension" mean. This may be regrettable cultural ignorance, but it means Aslan will stay just a lion to most movie-goers.

When Worlds Collide

I don't want to live in "White Saturn World" . . . where the lone inhabitant is behind the wheel of her large collection of mechanics and matter and she suddenly determines:

"I don't want to be in this lane. NOOOOOOOO . . . I want to be in that lane and I'm going NOW."

And without benefit of space or blinker, she bolts.

Yes, I'm quite content in my world where I'm fairly sure that I'm not the center of any universe and feel the need to occasionally pay attention to those around me.

(This rant brought to you by the second near fender bender I've had this week!)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lessons from AA

I heard someone say recently that when she was at the bottom of her alcohol addiction and making her way back (now 17 years sober) she refused to believe in the “God of her understanding” because that God had ticked her off in her teens and she attributed some of her downward spiral to things she believed he’d done. But she was persuaded by her mother's faithfulness and determined that while she couldn’t put faith in that God she could put faith in her mother’s faith. And that was the “God of her understanding” for quite a while until she finally found her way back to an even more personal understanding.

That story jolted me because it’s reminiscent of where I’ve been. After the divorce, I let go of most of what I’d known and attributed to the "church" world. Then gradually I believed in the fact that others I loved and respected believed. Eventually, I found something to hold on to that was mine . . . though not always easily defined. Now there are days when belief comes easy and days when it doesn’t.

Guess, that "one day at a time" stuff has a message for me, too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Inspired by a Discovery Channel Documentary

"Bright white teeth and full lips" . . . "Long legs" . . . "Wide chest and shoulders" . . . "Breasts -- big ones" . . . "his ass in those jeans" . . .

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I am what I am.
I will be what I will be
Hold me.

French's or the Store Brand?

The yellow school bus was three cars ahead
The yellow taxi to the far left
And the yellow Mini Cooper inched beside me

This mustard explosion brought to you by traffic back ups on I610.

Tim McGraw's Next Big Hit . . . Really!

Well . . . it could be a country hit if someone would put it to music. Anyone out there up to the challenge of adding the appropriate amount of twang to this one?? (And, yes, it was inspired by my recent trip home to Tennessee.)

He's a big fish in a little pond
He's the one the town depends upon
He's the go-to guy
The get-it-done man
If he can't do it, no one can

But in the dark places when he's all alone
The big fish fears the sharks
at home
at work
at play
And wonders if he can keep them away

He married young and now she's old
The hot girl of his teenaged dreams is these days usually cold
The kids are a hoot until they're not
Then curfews and groundings are all he's got
When once he was their hero who could do no wrong
Now he's the joke who doesn't know their favorite song
The big boss in Detroit is coming down any day
And unless a miracle happens he doesn't know what to say
About the steady loss of sales and the shrinking bottom line
Once the golden boy, he's nearing gold watch time
Church -- once his handshake heaven
Has become his pleading place
If any God is listening
He loved to save some face

He's the big fish in a little pond
He's the one the town depends upon
After years of living as the get-it-done man
He's without a clue
In need of a plan

So this big fish goes back to school
And discovers his wife was never the fool
His kids have ideas worth giving a try
His work is important but not the ladder climb
And God . . .
Well, God -- wherever she is -- has shoulders much, much bigger
than his.

Monday, November 28, 2005


The illusion of immediacy . . . interesting isn't it?


Waaaay too much to detail but definitely worthy of yet another list . . . things that make me say "thanks!" --
  • Quick thinking that had me pulling into a Radio Shack for a portable CD player and a device to insert in the cassette player when the CD player in the car didn't work and I had hours of books to listen to on the trip to Tennessee
  • Books . . . bad and good . . . I found almost as much pleasure laughing at the incredibly bad metaphors (they were like really bad phrases) as I did keeping up with Dan Brown's numerous plot twists
  • My 75 year old mother asking me if I wanted her to be the one to climb out on the flower box ledge to hang the Christmas wreaths . . . because you know, I might fall and hurt myself (and please know that I said no)
  • The joy on my sister and brother-in-law's faces as they personalized the decorations that would shout to their neighbors, "We love Christmas!" In ten years, they will be one of those homes folks pay to drive by and ooooooh over . . . just wait.
  • Reconnecting with the family that owned both the Dairy Queen (soon to be a Mexican food cafe) and the funeral home (still in operation) during my teen years and thereby helped support my family given that almost all mom's children worked at the DQ . . . you should have been there to hear the details of the solid oak coffin with the four distinct ornaments on each corner that represented all the things the man inside had hunted for during his life (duck, deer and I don't remember what else)
  • My brother inviting me to celebrate our 50th birthday (we're twins) by climbing a mountain. Since it's 6 years away, I think we may be guilty of a bit of advanced planning but I was thrilled to be asked!
  • Having a friend willing to open up her home away from home for my family to meet in the middle of the state and enjoy Turkey Day together . . . the beautiful day we were blessed to enjoy . . . and seeing that GORGEOUS bird come out of the oven to the cheers of my clan
  • Completing my Christmas shopping
  • Hugging my uncle . . . who faced down a couple of medical scares this year . . . and my aunt . . . who has faced up to almost every challenge thrown her way with midwestern bravado that I will never be able to mimic
  • Chili suppers with people who know what it means to be grateful one day at a time
  • Having come to a place where my mother's anxiety is not my own, where we can now laugh as friends at jokes related to my lack of . . . shall we just say "male companionship," and where simply being together one more day makes us give thanks
  • A 14 hour drive becoming a 12 hour drive when I'm the one who chooses to only stop for necessities
  • Friends who are gracious enough to give you their car being understanding about the fact that after 12 hours on the road quick thanks was all I could muster after the trade off of vehicles
  • Hot baths after a long ride
  • Living long enough to know that gratitude is a great thing to keep in one's heart

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Road Trip!!!!

Most might think that the following admission verifies my susupected tenuous grasp on sanity, but I'm about to embark on a road trip to Tennessee solo and I'm absolutely giddy about it.

Never having even suggested that I would fall into the "introvert" category, I'm not going to do so now, but there are times in one's life when solitude is good and frankly, these days I kind of like my company.

So for somewhere between 12 and 14 hours I'm going to be on the road . . . Ahhhhhh . . . . I've got at least six books on CD, friends have blessed me with the use of their very, very nice vehicle insuring a much smoother ride than my Toyota would have afforded, (speaking of "afford" gas prices have actually gone down somewhat), and other friends are keeping an eye on my homefront.

In Tennessee I'll be welcomed by mom and have pockets of time with much of my family and then Sunday, my return trip will allow me a bit more solitude before the December rush.

What's not to like?

But this post is also a way of saying that posts over the next few days may be limited or non-existent. So happy Turkey Day to all and blessings to you.

Monday, November 21, 2005


On an early morning drive down I45S on Saturday I caught the following on a restaurant sign:

Half chicken with one side

I was amused.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Did You Get That?

I'm sure some of your have experienced attending a movie where the young people scream at the screen in order to prevent the currently-being-stalked-soon-to-be-knived-secondary-character from opening the door to the room where the knife-ready killer resides. And you may have enjoyed a showing with a predominantly African American audience who also chime in when they feel they have advice to offer up to the heroine. (My first exposure to this was The Color Purple and it truly added to the experience.)

But have you ever had the joy of sitting in with an overwhelmingly senior citizen audience? I did. Today. Their shout outs occurred every time the soft-spoken Capote lisped his way too speedily through the dialogue:

(whispered semi-loudly) "What did he say?"
(shouted for those of us three rows back to hear) "He said he didn't have a title yet."

Not once, not twice, but several times . . . in one showing.


Worth Repeating

Haven't you ever "felt" the quote I heard in a movie trailer today?

"I wish I knew how to quit you." -- from Brokeback Mountain, coming soon to a theater near you

Thursday, November 17, 2005

One Man's Junk Is Another Man's Treasure

I just learned that on Christmas day I'll be in the mountains of Vietnam and then after an overnite train ride, will board this junk for a tour and overnite stay on it as well.

Today, my life totally doesn't suck.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Shower Dreams

This morning I actually contemplated returning to my Tennessee roots. Permanently.

I know a kneejerk reaction when I have one but still the detail of my thinking alarmed me.

I could work at the weekly newspaper, I told myself. They don't seem to put their journalistic cookies on too high a shelf so it wouldn't be taxing work by any means.

I could easily rent one of the numerous town homes or maybe even buy a country estate given that prices are not that high there.

I could live out my days shocking the townsfolk with my offbeat ways.

And I could rationalize my disconnectedness with the opposite sex on the fact that there the supply is limited.

I wouldn't have to deal with feeling past my dating prime at 44. I wouldn't have to wonder about the crazies next door because I'd be the crazy one. I wouldn't feel overwhelmed with unresolved issues between friends, in politics, in the church.

I'd just be.

The whole dream sequence lasted only minutes but, like a too tangerine body wash, the sense of longing is still present.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Too many . . .

  • people are hurting because of miscommunication
  • moments are lost when we're distracted by "what's next?"
  • friends aren't happy
  • hurdles and hoops exist in systems that don't work
  • beautiful vistas will go unnoticed today
  • passionate people are being drained dry
  • calories keep me from indulging completely

Friday, November 11, 2005

Mindless Musings

In the category of "if everyone else jumped off the bridge, would you have to follow" I bring you one of the more recent web-based activities for either flitting away a day or self-discovery.

Google "your name + needs" and see the myriad of random thoughts (or maybe not so random, heh?). Keep the quotes so that you can see sentences come your way that could very well be showing you the way . . .

Here are some of my results and the learning I gleaned:

Karen needs to determine status of what we do and don't have.
[“We” don’t have a “we” to speak of so that list might be short.]

Karen Needs to Grow Up!
[Been there. Done that. Reverted.]

Karen Needs A Lobotomy Fund
[It’s good to have a dream, isn’t it?]

Karen needs the money for the mentoring pizza.
[Because small communities of pizza everywhere need good leadership.]

Karen needs to learn how to compliment her workers.
[When I can locate those lazy boys, I will.]

Karen needs to have full carbohydrate, stores, and be well hydrated
[Does pizza and beer count?]

Karen Needs a New Job
[hmmmmmm. . . ]

[I think the all caps is a bit much and the whole “need” thing really bothers me but otherwise, I’m open to suggestions.]

Karen needs care and supervision twenty-fours hours a day.
[If this is connected to the one above and said man is up to the task, well who am I to argue?]

Karen needs folks who can appear.
[Because those disappearing one are bugging me to death.]

Karen needs some bath water to wash her dishes in.
[Efficiency is what I’m all about.]

Karen needs money to buy the roller skates she desperatelywants, so she becomes a partner in Pete's window-washing business.
[Everybody: “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates, you’ve got a brand new key. I think we should get together . . . “ And if you have no clue what I’m singing, just know that the 1970s produced some noteworthy music and this isn't a sample.]

Karen needs to get herself a new blog.
[After this blog post, I’m sure most readers will agree.]

Karen needs to know that her life makes a difference, that people value her and would miss her.
[Thankfully, I do.]

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


The openly gay politician who had won re-election addressed the election night crowd. The group was made up of advocates who had waged a noteworthy campaign for equality and against a proposition that sought to reiterate a law essentially already on the Texas books.

She applauded the group’s success at opening up dialogue that hadn’t existed before.

She called for them to not give up, to continue to speak up for legal rights while understanding sacred acts have their own place.

She implored them to never go back to the closet.

I smiled. I cheered. I applauded the group’s efforts.

And I hid from the cameras.

Though I know that some of the dialogue that happened occurred because people like me (straight, faith-based, somewhat influential) employed across the table rather than in your face tactics, I also know that radical movements take radical gestures.

Still this morning I cringed when a newsletter I subscribe to carried the following quote from Martin Luther King: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Some day the greater good may be served when people like me do step into the spotlight and speak out loudly and clearly about what we believe to be unjust.

But today, I carry the weight of knowing that for now my place, though not in the closet, certainly remains in the shadows. I pray that that weight makes the impression it deserves because frankly there are days when I too long to be free at last.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cynically Searching for the Real Deal

My friend Gary Long* gave me permission to use a couple of paragraphs from his weekly column he calls Not a Sermon, Just a Thought. They reflect what I hope to be true and what I wish wasn't.

. . . good Christians can do and/or say destructive things while trying to please God. I have to believe that was the case when Jerry Falwell said that the terrorists attack on 9/11 was the will of God because America was disobedient. Or when Pat Robertson called for George Bush to have the Venezuelan President assassinated. Or when John Piper wrote that the tsunami of 2004 was God’s cleansing of Asia. Whether or not I want to claim them as my brothers in Christ, all three of these men are children of God and by their testimony have been saved by the grace of Jesus. So rather than point an angry finger at them for damaging the Christian witness to the culture, I am left to ponder, “What well-intended words have I chosen that cause destruction?”

. . . I’m truly skeptical of the religious experiences of others. Even after being a professional servant of the church for nearly a decade and a half, I raise an eyebrow of cynicism when I hear someone describe their burning bush to me, but I fail to see it. I internally begin to question, “Is this person for real? What is he/she trying to get from me or make me do? How much longer to lunch? What if this person is truly seized by God and speaking a message to me?” It occurs to me that as scientifically and technologically advanced as our culture is, we still have no clear means of discerning whether or not a person is a kooky fanatical or the real religious deal.

*Since Gary gave me permission, I also get to use his name!

In a Cynical World, Celebrating the SuperNatural

Last Tuesday at a reception for those who gave time or money for the Sing for Hope benefit for Bering Omega, a-getting-much-closer-to-friend-than-just-acquaintance asked how I’d come to work at Omega House. I gave the factoid answer and then explained that when I first worked there – in fact for more than 3 years of the commitment – I stuck primarily to indirect care of washing clothes and cleaning bathrooms. I had this embarrassing reaction to bodily fluids – I gagged. And it was very obvious. So I figured that didn’t make for too great of a bedside manner and declined the direct care that would have me changing diapers, giving baths, etc.

Then one day we were busy and a couple of my cohorts asked if I could help with a bed bath. I decided to do so. And as I wiped the white cloth over the ashy gray skin of the resident and the skin became like new, I was overwhelmed with the sense that this was a holy moment, a holy act.

When I shared the story at the party, my friend said, “Thank you so much for sharing that.” Then he relayed two stories of supernatural occurrences in his life that he had often refrained from telling because he thought folks would be as cynical as him. When he concluded, he told me, “Because you told what you did, I wonder if I couldn’t relook at some of my own experiences. Thank you again.”

In our cynical world, that was kind of a neat moment.

Big Man in a Small Body

I just heard a story today that DEMANDS to be made into a screenplay.

One of the churches that opened up as a shelter for the Katrina evacuees has had some amazing experiences -- surviving the Rita evacuation, sharing resources with East Texas survivors on the trip back "home" to the shelter, whites and blacks working together in an area that is not known for its racial unity, kids doing extremely well in their new schools, the church living as Christ modeled and more.

One of the more tragic experiences occurred as one of the evacuated young couples watched their tumultuous relationship escalate into violence . . . and that resulted in the man being stabbed to death by the woman. The pastor shared the tale with equal amounts of grief, horror, and amazement at a system that has allowed weeks to pass without charging the woman though she is being held. No lawyer’s been involved yet. The pastor is exploring all possible options.

The pastor was asked to do the funeral. He agreed but only if the family would help him insure that it not reflect his Anglo heritage. Soon he was researching jazz bands known in New Orleans for their work at funerals. He found them . . . in Houston. The local funeral home made it possible to keep the costs low. The evacuees and many of their friends attended. The pastor smiled as he admitted he wouldn't mind having the band accessible for more funerals!

But then his demeanor changed. He began to recount how, unlike his usual tendencies, he had raised his voice during the service. He said his wife wondered exactly where he was going as he lamented the violence that had brought them to this place. He implored the streetwise gathering to allow for new life, for clean starts and to stop the violent acts that had caused an 8-year-old to bemoan the fact that he had already seen "too many people die."

After the funeral and while the group gathered to be fed by the church, the murmuring started. Several young men were disturbed by his fervor. And they said so. But the recepients of the church's compassion would have none of it. They hushed the naysayers.

Then a young man who had lived at the shelter approached the pastor. With finger pointing directly into the pastor's chest, the young man proclaimed, "No one . . . absolutely no one talks to us like that."

Pulling back, he then smiled, "Except you!"

And with a high five, he added, "You're a big man in a small body, you know that?"

This pastor has since endured threatening calls and limited support from the neighboring church pastors. Yet what he stressed throughout the conversation was the fact that the church had found housing for many, received over 30 into the church as members, and one of these new members recently called him to ask how she could be of help to a neighbor.

Seems looking outside one's self to the needs of others must be contagious!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Things I Would Like to See

  • Everyone who needs money for a just cause to have enough to make the ratio of fundraising to actual work for the cause balanced in favor of the work
  • The names of movies to reflect something about the movies. For instance, instead of Where the Truth Lies ads would proclaim "The One with Kevin Bacon and the British Guy Acting like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Only There's a Murder". Or Nine Lives would become "The Movie with Most of the Greatest Actresses of Today Playing 10 Minute Parts and Making Art in the Process." Or Touch the Sound would be entitled "Yes, It's a Documentary but It's Good and About a Deaf Percussionist -- Pay Attention Because Yes, I Said Deaf".
  • Someone approach another someone in a crowded room and say something like, "I was watching you watch everyone else and I have to know what you're thinking."
  • People who say they want to be honest about relationships to want it more for the sake of the relationship than for just wanting to feel better about themselves
  • Something inspiring everyday
  • Me to be inspiring to someone everyday
  • An end to the war in Iraq
  • Politicians who serve the people and not the lobbyists
  • Service with a smile
  • Smiles for good service
  • All the people I love engaging in conversation with one another and discovery the beauty that I see in each of them.

Things I Like to See

  • Good to great films such as a few that are currently showing . . . Where the Truth Lies, Nine Lives, Touch the Sound
  • A plate of food where the taste surpasses the incredible presentation
  • A room filled with people laughing at each other's stories and truly engaging one another
  • A woman of confidence and compassion
  • A man willing to let down his guard and still suggest strength
  • The autumn sky when the pink of sunset begs you to be silent and drink it in
  • Folks who are willing to give of their money and folks who are willing to give of their time coming together to celebrate that together they can make a difference
  • Friends who have been down on their luck come into some good fortune
  • Quiet, in the moment moments truly appreciated
  • Reconciliation
  • Open arms and full frontal hugs
  • A day well spent
  • A new day

Things I'd Rather Not See

  • the blue screen of death on my home laptop that provided some slight insurance that I would blog faithfully
  • several days of empty space between blog entries that were supposed to be based on my commitment to write something regularly
  • the scale after much celebrating with friends from far and wide
  • great people having difficulties in finding jobs
  • break ups
  • replies to emails I wish I had written in the first place
  • a blank screen where I'd hoped there'd be a message waiting
  • a message from the WRONG person
  • arguments between people I know and those I don't
  • the faces of folks dealing with awkward silences hanging heavily in a room
  • the eyes of someone looking at you and yet not seeing you as they check the room for better prospects
  • a page full of numbers -- for whatver reason because at some point they blur into pure nonsense

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I Love This Thought

First, I love this piece for what it says. Then I love it because a friend sent it to me. And maybe most of all, I love it because she thought of me when she read it. If I'm not like this poem, I certainly want to be:

I might have been myself
minus amazement
that is,
someone completely different.
Wislawa Szymborska, a female Polish poet, writing in O Magazine

Busy, busy, busy

Haven't posted in a few days because life happens. But last Sunday, I wrote this incredible piece as I was powerwalking 6 miles. As soon as I can transcribe the message I phoned into myself via the cell, you'll get to read it.

(I do hope you captured that image in your mind . . . me . . . powerwalking . . . talking . . . on a cell . . . to myself.)

Friday, October 28, 2005

A blessing for your weekend . . .

At this end of a week . . .
May the payments you've made for your "free time" be rewarded
May the moments mean more because you recognize them
May the sun's dance with the clouds mimic your soul celebration
And may all words spoken be worthy of hearing.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

I'm Still Cheering

They won the pennant.

Someone Should Write a Dissertation on This

e got the link to them via comments on her blog last week. I watched. I laughed. I sent the link to a few friends.

Monday I saw the same clip on the Today show.

In today's blog readings, someone I've never met but love how he writes shared the link. And in those comments I find this link to a compilation of their work.

I don't usually continue email funny trails. Neither does the guy who blogged about them today. So what makes these guys special? And how far has their notoriety already spread? One comment suggested they already had a endorsement contract with Motorola in China. All laughter aside, this one clip illustrates better than most full-day seminars how our world is so much smaller than ever before.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Communion Blessings

May your life be like good wine, tasty, sharp and clear,
and like good wine may it improve with every passing year.
I spoke these and other words of blessing at a wedding this weekend. I liked the sentiment and since the couple were true lovers of good wine, verbage was highly appropriate.
Having grown up a small town Baptist, I must admit to some sense of liberation for having actually used the word "wine" in a spiritual ceremony and not because of any need for condemnation!
A conversation I'd had the night before as the wedding party sat around a table ladened with good food and carefully selected wine, fed into this line of thinking. A buddy and I were discussing the lack of knowledge we had regarding wine and our adult-found enjoyment of it.
I told him of a blog I'd read recently recounting a communion service held in the mountains in the early morning. The weather was cool and the wine was truly wine (not sweetened grape juice as was ALWAYS the case in the church of my childhood and in most Baptist churches today) and the writer spoke of the metaphorical power of the liquid flowing down his throat and warming him. He was moved beyond words, and yet, in his brief synopsis, I understood.
Sometimes we lose much in the translation.
I'm not writing this to debate the merits of using alcohol in a worship service or not. What I am doing is marveling at how sometimes the real thing is exactly what we need to connect with.
Thinking on these things got me to a memory of my favorite speech in the movie Sideways. This buddy road trip introduces novices to the world of California wines. At one point, one of the female protagonists explains why she loves wine. She does so with almost sacred awe in her voice. I was enraptured with her description of the care and nurturing that goes into the growth of the vines, of the attention to detail in the production. When she finishes her speech, I felt the need to say, "Amen."
Many times I've treated communion like a stop in a fast food joint -- place your order, pay at the window, consume quickly and get on the road. So I guess I was ready to hear from the man who found reverence in the wine.

How very postmodern of us . . .

He said, "I know you may have reasons to doubt this but . . . "

I said, "I don't know that I know much of anything these days, but I don't doubt much of anything either."

Friday, October 21, 2005

It Is A Good Day When . . .

  • the weather in Houston begs you to come outside and play and you do!
  • friends remind you with small gestures and shared giggles why you love them in the first place
  • faith questions seem like so many distant arguments, muffled and, for the moment, easy to ignore
  • the skirt you thought wouldn't fit does
  • couples who should be together are and one couple even invites you to be part of the celebration
  • that same couple know how to celebrate well
  • the "stuff" that surrounds you makes you smile and calms your spirit
  • you wonder what the night may hold.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It's Not a Good Day . . .

when you can't decide if the younger man came back three steps to open the door for you with a gentlemanly "let me get that for you" because he

(a) thought you attractive as you walked down the stairs or . . .
(b) considered you elderly enough to need the assistance even though your hands were free . . .

Living in THE Moment

We won the pennant!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fair Weather Fans Unite!

I have a hard time with "in theory." I like to see, to experience. I'm not sure if I'll ever know anything fully but concrete is a little easier for me to handle than abstract. (Unless we're talking paintings and then I'd rather have the freedom to play with interpretations . . . so, ok, just call me fickle.)

However, my need for results is why I don't follow sports until it matters. The fourth quarter, the final inning, the last minutes on the clock, the playoffs -- NOW we're getting somewhere!

Unless of course, you're an Astros fan and it's the top of the ninth and one strike stands between you and the World Series.

I've been sick at my stomach all day long.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Hmmmm thoughts along the way . . .

  • recently a got a call from a man who wanted help in distributing 50,000 bumper sticks that "don't actually stick"
  • a bumper sticker on a truck in my complex reads . . ."Yes, this is my truck. No, I won't help you move."
  • the man who owns this truck is an acquaintance of mine who told me upon our first meeting that he was not a homosexual (I hadn't asked). he's also the man who bears a tatoo that says "property of Victor" on his chest.
  • when people crave the spotlight, why do they complain when the brightness blinds them?
  • the list of things I will never do takes shape as I get older . . . I'm not sad about this but it's true . . . I will never bear a child
  • what does it look like to "honor" something?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sometimes the Weekend Begins Early

Ahhhhh . . . sweet conversation. Almost as sharp as the bleu cheese with my beefsteak tomatoe . . . certainly as spicy as my Morrocan shrimp . . . definitely possessing the richness of my polenta . . . offering me sustenance as did my veggies . . . topped off with the silliness of cotton candy in an oversized martini glass . . . such was the dinner conversation at Ibiza's last evening.

Is there a better combination than old friends and new discovering each other together?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sometimes Silence Is Over Rated

The quiet has bothered me today. I spent a couple of hours working my way through online photos, click, click, clicking to select ones that will show up well on our new website. That click and the occasional buzzing of the downstairs phone line was all I heard for a while.

The noise of the hurricane relief efforts has stilled. Several folks are out of the office. Many of my contacts are on the road and my calls are at a minimum.

I almost ached for something more.

While not quite an adrenaline junkie, I do have a need for adventure and having come off an adventure high over the last few weeks, I felt the melancholy of regret throughout the day.

No, I don't want another catastrophe. No, I'm not wishing hurt on someone else so I can feel excitement. But . . .

I'm ready for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


When someone who doesn't quite know what to make of talk of cultural creatives, contextualization, missional living, and experiences like what Doxology may become, I'm going to refer them to this article.


Thanks to our governors you can now see and hear a 45 minute presentation by Thomas Friedman on why our world is flat.

Some have already surmised that globalization has rendered the U.S. in what may soon be a "less than" position. Others may resonate with Friedman's assessment that they've been asleep. But all will find that he's got a handle on an interesting dilemma.

If it's true . . . that we've moved from globalization 1.0 where it was all about the country, to 2.0 where it was all about the company to 3.0 where it's all about the individual, the church has new avenues, possibilities, methodologies et al to explore.

With changing technologies, practices and players, we can embrace or compete. I know which option I favor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Fair Maiden?

Beauty is a book in a box in the attic. While sure it exists, I don't consider it mine to access.

Charm is a mist, dependent upon the environ. Elusive, temporary, it never settles near for very long.

Grace is mine, and yet, sometimes I can't remember when I last used it.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

(The jury's still out on that one.)

I Want to, I Do

I want to click the channel,
change the script,
and create the happy
you want/need/deserve.

I want to turn the page,
see the image in color
and find the obvious
that so eludes you.

I want to touch a key,
switch the code
and unlock the seemingly ceaseless
you've embraced too long.

I want to
I do.
But reality dictates
that it must be

Patron of the Arts

My weekend was filled with images -- including but not limited to:
  • color added/drenched photos capturing a poor Mississippi neighborhood, captured by a middle aged white woman
  • trucker chic on a young German
  • brilliant blue scenes marking an exit from a familiar artist's usual muted abstracts
  • a sky perfectly framing the downtown courthouse as to suggest painted backdrops from a 40s flick
  • black lines cutting through a peaceful white calm splashed with interpretive gold begging for stories to unfold

On Friday, the scene was bumper after bumper as a friend and I were reminded once again that in Houston traffic is a part of the equation that can't be ignored. Your shopping list might be short but if time and/or money are in short supply, your will will be tested. After numerous stops and starts, we found our edible rice paper, food coloring, not-quite-brass tacks, and candles and delivered them to the interactive art exhibit we were trying to assist.

Organized chaos reigned there. Everyone knew what they were doing but it all seemed to be happening at once. The contrast later in the evening when the whole scene had been transformed into this black/white/gold-candlelit canvas on which each participant would "paint" via experiences their own story was remarkable.

So peaceful . . . and yet I couldn't linger long because there were theater go-ers to be sat. My standing commitment as an usher overlapped with the art opening. So after youthful exuberance came the calm strength of veteran actors who were guests of our local company. They may have been well passed 60 but they carried the show on strong shoulders.

Later when we returned to the gallery and stepped into the roles of the elders in the group I encountered much less resistance within my own spirit. Thank you Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter for reminding me that age has its own reward.

German house guests were chauffeured to their proper locales the next day and I was off again to serve the local art scene as a gofer at the Bayou City Art Festival downtown. By the evening, when I met my next houseguest at the airport, my eyes were heavier but my heart lighter.

Sunday offered a picture of the church global. In my living room were some of the brightest and best at what they do. We dreamed. We challenged. We wondered. We may not have settled anything but I can't help but feel the day was a beginning.

An afternoon of more art, more people, more conversation and I closed the weekend before 10 p.m. even showed its face on my clock! I found myself resonating with the stories of how weary the Astros were after 18 innings.

Still, I'm sure they, like me, were smiling at all that had been and could be.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

If you can't make the opening . . .

The Doxology exhibit will be in lovely Houston until November 6. Even if you can't make tomorrow night's opening or the dialogue the day after, you may still want to plan to drop by Taft Street Coffee and see for Rob Pepper's work for yourself.

I Provide the Link of the Day

On October 5th, the Waiter said, "But human love, with all its heat and tumult, with all its disappointments and triumph, is still the closet thing we have to heaven on earth. "

I wish I wrote with such clarity.
I wish I knew this guy beyond the page.
I wish the Legion among us could find each other.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

It Happened in Houston

A Southern Baptist quoted Gandhi to a room filled with Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Catholics and evangelicals in all shapes and sizes. This is not the set up for a joke. There is no punchline forthcoming. It really happened when the interfaith community of Houston was asked to assist with Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

The quote:

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Mohandas Gandhi

The result:

30,000+ volunteers

Friday, September 30, 2005

I Liked This Story

Got two novels read in the pre/post Rita haze. One of them is by Daniel Silva. Called A Death in Vienna, the story revolves around the exposure of crimes against the Jews. One poignant story told by a nurturing substitute mother to her now adult charge (an art restorer and spy) moved me:

"Before God created the world, there was only God. When God decided to create the world, God pulled back in order to create a space for the world. It was in that space that the universe was formed. But now, in that space, there was no God. God created Divine Sparks, light, to be placed back into God's creation. When God created light, and place light inside of Creation, special containers were prepared to hold it. But there was an accident. A cosmic accident. The containers broke. The universe became filled with sparks of God's divine light and shards of broken containers."

"It's a lovely story," Gabirel said, helping Tziona tuck the ends of a sheet beneath the couch cushions. "But what does it have to do with my mother?"

"The midrash teaches us that until the sparks of God's light are gathered together, the task of creation will not be complete. As jews, this is our solemn duty. We call it Tikkun Olam: Repair of the World."

"I can restore many things, Tziona, but I'm afraid the world is too broad a canvas, with far too much damage."

"So start small."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Stability or Justice . . . You Choose

Heard today on the BBC that Algerians are getting a chance to vote on a referendum that their leader says is a choice between stability or justice and he's hoping they'll vote for stability. Seems that in a little more than a decade they've watched terrorist acts take something like 200,000 lives and he's arranged a little "forgive and forget" strategy. I obviously didn't get all the details but he really did ask his people to forgive those who had wronged them and he really did use the words "stability" and "justice."

What a choice!?!

My first thoughts were toward systems again (which is kind of scary because I may go there just a little too often for a normal person) and the fact that in nature when organisms move toward equilibrium (stability) rather than growth they tend to die.

Then I mentally challenged myself (and yes, I'm aware there's a sarcastic remark to that statement as written but I'm letting it stand) and remembered my response to just a few weeks of chaos and limited amounts of destruction. And I could totally understand why people might simply want peace.

And then I took yet another turn in this thought process and wondered, "But how long will peace last if there's ultimately no justice?"

And I ended this trek with being very glad that I'm not in charge of the world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

No Mas

Unless someone taped the voice of God telling him/her that our recent hurricanes were retribution for the casino-related sin of the Gulf Coast, I'd like all persons saying so to stop immediately!

Do people who think like that have a way to explain the 3-year-old who died in a small Texas town when a tree fell on his house? or the family of five who used the generator indoors and suffocated? or the busload of the elderly who burned?


Monday, September 26, 2005

Post Rita

Systems. We've heard a lot about highs and lows and weather systems in the last week or so. I still don't have a great sense of why the storm took a turn and how I went from being on the dirty side to the other side to the dirty side so quickly. But I do know some dynamics of organizational systems that certainly proved true over the last few days:

The past is always present.
-- We saw Katrina and we feared it would be us. Someone was even foolish enough to suggest that the jammed interstates were "our Superdome." I think that was a bit much, but still recent history probably pried more than one person off the couch.

Organizations have personality.
-- "Let's use our inside voices" must have been the behind the scenes mantra of anyone getting in front of the media's microphones. We were told calmly to remain calm. We were told patiently to have patience. We were told with Ma and Pa Kettle practicality to have good sense. Even the mayor deepened his Ross Perot like cadence to make his "better safe than sorry" sound reasonable.

Every change changes everything.
-- I left a flood zone to head toward a region that eventually flooded, left power to wake up to none.

Solving a problem can make things worse.
-- 23 hourse on an evacuation route that should have taken less than two.

Strategic points of leverage exist.
-- When you're in a Pathfinder and there's a median you can cross, you cross it as well as traversing fields to find bathrooms and country roads to find gas.

Organizations change in order to stay the same.
-- We may have been evacuating, we may have thought we were running for our lives, but we weren't going without Pop Tarts, Cheez Its, and our favorite pillows.

Feedback is everywhere.
-- The red pick up with the pug dog had my young co-rider enthralled. I'm glad she missed the driver shooting the bird to the news helicopter overhead. I'd hate for her to lost all her heroes!

Rita Reality

Friday we shopped in the little town of Trinity. While we were well prepared to endure no power, no grocery shopping, no water, et al in Houston, we had only done a so-so job of taking our provisions with us to the small town where we were now "hunkered down" (another over-used phrase by our chatty journalists). So we drove in to find still no gasoline but plenty of water, snack foods, and a we'll-make-it-work can opener. We even got a thingy to use in a car's lighter so that we could plug just about anything into it -- but specifically my cell phone which has a wall plug but not one for the car and which had lost its juice the day before.

Most of the day was spent getting to know the other folks in the bunk house. Several hundred people were on the campgrounds including evacuees who had already left Katrina behind and were now facing yet another storm. But our shelter included my friend and her daughter, another girlfriend from work and her mother, and an entire family that I really didn't know. Before it was over, we added a minister and her dog who had tried to get her Katrina evacuees to Fort Worth but after 18 hours gave up and brought them to Trinity Pines.

Games, conversation, listening to the radio . . . these are the things that helped pass the time. Finally, we were told the storm had probably missed Houston but that we might catch some of the hurricane force winds around 6 a.m. So we did what any self-respecting refugees would do -- we slept. At 1 a.m. when I woke up, the rain hadn't started. At 2 a.m. when I opened my eyes again, I heard the pitter patter. At 3 a.m. I noticed the power was off. I didn't wake again until 6:30 a.m. and started listening to the news (with my headset . . . I'm not that insensitive of a bunkmate). At 7:30 a.m. I went to watch the wind. We did that for a few hours. Then the other family started packing.

Seems Houston missed it, we were getting some of it, but for the most part, Rita didn't come calling the way we thought. After so many hours on the road, all of us agreed we wanted nothing more than to be home. And though our local officials were pleading with us to stay put, the temptation was too great.

I told my buddy that my vote was for vacating the premises. She wanted a bit more info so she waited and talked to the director of the camp. He offered no argument for staying. So we left.

2 1/2 hours later we were home. A few hours after that, they closed some of the roads out of Trinity because of some problems with flooding.

My wonderful friends had helped me place my belongings on stilts and some of those same folks spent the time I was traveling removing those stilts. By afternoon, I was back in my place with all my stuff back where it belongs. OK, I did redecorate a bit and a few of the dust bunnies were missing but for the most part, it was as if I hadn't left.

We dined well on a home cooked meal at the house that had power and cable (I was without TV until this morning).

I can't believe it was so . . . . NOT. I'm thankful that the losses were not as vast as they had imagined. I pray for those who are facing devestation. And I deplore those who were quoted in the paper today suggesting that the winds changed in order to wipe out more casinos in Louisiana.

I'm caught up on my sleep. I've read one book and I'm halfway through another. And if I'm ever told to evacuate again . . . we'll see.

Anticipating Rita

Getting ready for our very own hurricane was like having no date for the junior high prom -- you know the event is going to be awkward and uncomfortable but when you went to all the trouble to get a dress you kind of want some place to go.

Wednesday was dedicated to prepping my sure-to-be-flooded apartment. One of the reasons I have such a customized place is that the previous owner of the condo remodeled after Tropical Storm Allison ruined a couple of the rooms. By the time I shut out the lights that evening, I was emotionally prepared to say good-bye to my post-divorce furnishings. I'd done my best. The place looked like Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss had paid me a visit. Every object was off the floor with a boost from whatever concrete or brick items I could find. And ever object was piled high with every other object it could hold. Still, I figured I'd return home to ruin.

I left my place because we knew it would flood. I went to a friend's who had invited me to stay with her and her daughter. Something about that offer (and, thankfully, I had many to choose from) seemed right. I teared up when she made the offer and we both agreed that we liked the idea of making it through this together. At some point, she determined that rather than stay at her place which was near a bayou and could possibly also flood, we should make the 1 1/2 hour trek to an encampment our workplace has connections to. I told her that I was with her come hell or high water.

We didn't get much water but I'm fairly sure I've now seen the upper levels of hell.

We struck out at 12:45 a.m. We figured if the news guys were right, we might need to allow ten hours in the current traffic to make the trip. We figured wrong.

Ten hours in and we weren't out of Houston yet.

23 hours after we started we were safely at our destination.

Read that again just for effect . . . 23 hours.

Along the way, we discovered 740 AM and got word that by 9 a.m. they would be opening contraflow lanes on I45. We hung to that hope of some relief to the bumper to bumper inching we were doing. Then we got word that gas trucks would be stationed along the way. And water would be there as well.

Soon we gave up on any "words" coming from officials. They looked good on a paper plan somewhere I'm sure. But they didn't translate into reality. And after a while other words were really beginning to annoy me. Being told to be "patient" and to have "good sense" wasn't going over well with me. I kept imagining what the command center might feel like with its air conditioning and maybe a few hundred people. Then I'd look around at the thousands before and behind me and want to make my way through the radio waves and to the newsroom where I could share my own thoughts on advice giving from a distance.

While we kept the air low, we did at least have a cool breeze blowing. Others we saw must have had less gas and they opted to sweat it out. As the day progressed and temperatures rose, the sights became less and less comical. Earlier we'd been amused at the variety -- convoys with their country's flag waving from the antenna of every numbered vehicle, whole families with their beloved pets crammed into the cab of a pickup truck, open topped convertibles with young men who had already taken off as much as society would allow.

Soon however we began to notice the variety in our own vehicle. My friend's daughter has kidneys made of steel. She wasn't going to even think about waste elimination. No way. I was uncomfortable but holding out hope that any moment there'd be a break in the traffic flow and I'd soon be able to let it flow. But my friend assures me she pretty much has cheap-paper-towel-for-kidneys and about 12 hours in, she'd had it. So we pulled over (which was amusing in itself given that we weren't really moving) and she ran over to my side of the Passport where her daughter and I held a sheet around our doors and created a "stall" of her very own. The fun was in watching the cars on the feeder road slowly pass by and the realization of what they were seeing slowly materialize in their smiles.

My own restroom experience provided little rest. We'd determined that no gas or relief was really ever coming on the interstate so we took a highway. That resulted in bumper to bumper traffic in only one lane. At the time I was not counting that as my shining moment in making decisions. But we soon saw a high school and a possible restroom near a track field. So we took off over grass and field to get there. Sure enough, it was. It also hadn't been cleaned since it was last used and used it really had been. I tried to flush with my foot and was about to congratulate myself on the running water when I realized the water pressure was in really, really good shape and before I could jump I was a victim of back splash.

At this point, I began to question God's sense of humor.

Seemed every decision brought hope and every turn in the road offered a new view of despair. We'd take the highway and be greeted with a line of traffic at a dead stop. We found a gas station and some food and then met up with the longest and deadliest jam we experienced all day.

But we stayed amused. I found humor in the good people of the small towns who tried to make the drive more bearable. There were teenaged girls handing out water in New Waverly. A waitress carrying water carafes to their tables with her ample bosoms drenched from the walk but a smile on her face. Grandpa in cover alls ostensibly directing traffic at a dead end. Gomer assisting him. At least I think he was official, it was dark and he was holding orange cones. Another dude in flip flops and baggy shorts helping the gas lines avoid chaos. A sheriff complete with badge, cowboy hat, and gun who simply pointed out the fact that no, the two cars you think are ahead of you in line are actually the two we've let in from the other side of the road where at least a 45 minute wait will allow you to fill up.

I discovered my emotional and mental limit was somewhere around 21 days with two catastrophes under my belt and 21 hours on the road. At that point I didn't want to be nice anymore, to follow the rules anymore, to minister to anyone anymore. I banged my head against the seat back and took a walk. Not a problem at that hour given that we weren't really going anywhere at the time.

When we finally arrived at our destination, an elderly Hispanic woman drove up immediatley behind us. Her daughter and our friend was there as well. The elderly woman didn't speak much English but she was quick to tell us her 11 hours on the road was horrible. I thought, "you don't know the half of it, in fact, you didn't even put in half of what we did" but I didn't say anything so crass. Instead, my friend assured her we would show her the way to her daughter. We left the office where we had discovered our room assignments and made our way up the hill in the cars. Only "we" weren't "we" anymore. Seems the elderly woman was no longer following. So with our actual building in sight, we turned around once again to see what had happened.

She'd driven into a ditch.

At that hour and with little to no sleep for two days my Spanish and that much-ballyhooed patience was limited. But I left the car, put my arms around the crying woman, spoke to her in what I words I could muster in her heart language and walked her to our vehicle.

Ants bit me. I was fairly sure, God was well past laughing and had something else in mind but I couldn't figure out what it might be.

Of course, the door was locked on the bunkhouse. I banged. Without hesitation. The daughter arrived. I delivered the mom and asked for the bedroom.

23 hours into this trip, I showered, and laid my head on a pillow with the knowledge that the most recent turn of the storm now had it headed away from Houston and in our direction.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I cry, You cry, We all cry

Perhaps you won't be quite as moved as I was when I opened this email today. But for those who just need a daily dose of humility, here's a note from a layperson in a Cambodian church that just raised over $1000 to go toward the costs of housing 60 evacuees at the facility where they meet. He thanks the Cambodian church members for what they've done and then adds:

My 18 relatives were killed during the Khmer Rouge included my father and sisters. Jesus sent his believers to help us. Now, we are here in Texas.
When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it. Jesus helps everybody on earth. Trust the Lord in all your heart and do not depend on your own understanding. He will set you free.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Volunteering or Blogging? That is the question

For those of you who read September 12's post and became concerned that I might be the one in need of help, thanks but in fact, I was praising those who had come my way and offered help. I also have a pretty good grasp on the fact that I'm human and not a saint. Evidence of which you'd find if you'd been with me tonight. I was scheduled for the 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Operation Compassion shift at the George R. Brown. I arrived, signed in, walked the three flights of stairs to the dining area and waited for word on my assignment. When the number of yellow OC shirts began to creep dangerously close to the number of evacuees I knew were left in the building (having checked to see it was around 300 before leaving work), I began to wonder what they'd be asking the growing number of volunteers to do. Soon, I heard a young man divying up our group in much the same way the head usher does when he has waaaay too many of us show up at once. So, ever the shy one, I approached the assistant.

"Would it be a correct assessment to say you have plenty of volunteers tonight?"

"Well, yes."

"I definitely want to help if there's somewhere that I'm needed, but if not, I've had several weeks of volunteering already and I in no way NEED to feel needed here tonight."

"Go with my blessings!" as she placed her hands on my shoulders and released me.

I went.

Systems at Work

"The poor you will have with you always."

With that admonition, Jesus called upon his disciples to focus. Now our attention goes back to the poor. The scenes from New Orleans demand us to see what we've largely ignored, imagining that the government programs have somehow taken care of "them."

But "they" let their voices be heard in soundbite after soundbite. And a few hours in front of the television screen underscored that something is definitely wrong with this country.

Former President Clinton called a Global Iniative meeting in New York this weekend to address worldwide poverty. While not on the guest list (I'm sure the invitation is somewhere in postal hell), I would love to hear what those gathered had to say. Because something's got to give.

And I really mean something and not someone . . . Someone has been giving and we've created quite a self-sustaining system. We give via taxes to programs we declared would be weapons in the war on poverty and those very weapons have turned on the poor, insuring that their only insurance of survival is staying within those programs.

We need some kind of centrifugal force to spin those trapped inside out. And perhaps its name was Katrina.

One newsmagazine said we have 37 million Americans living in poverty and then the next quote contradicted the number because experts have trouble defining "poverty". I don't know if I can define but I certainly can illustrate it. Those faces in New Orleans who have now made their way to Houston. Some of whom started immediately to find work. Some of whom are still on shelter cots waiting for the next meal to be served.

When systems are thrust into chaos, we're told that organisms will self-organize. That these times are where our greatest creativity lies. I pray that we take advantage of the chaos we currently find ourselves in. I pray that new systems will be explored. That handouts are replaced with hands outstretched to pull and be pulled from the poverty that clings to both body and soul.

I have no idea what my part in the system changing will be, but enough is enough. The time has come to focus.

Backstage Pass

Friday and Saturday marked the annual fundraiser for the AIDS hospice where I volunteer. This year I was asked to be on the steering committee (which I know now means the "worker" committee given that there are numerous committees but the folks who get the flowers and champagne on the big night in front of the audience are the ones with the deep pockets, not the worker bees). I loved it and wouldn't want to have traded places with any of the folks who gave $250 to the cause in order to sit in the audience. I'll gladly give them the money, it's just the fun was behind the curtain!

When you anchored on stage left and right by two pros, you don't really have to sweat the small stuff. We were. I was smart enough to enlist two veterans and then stuffed the rest of the stage crew list with friends who can lift, tote, clear, and do whatever else they're told.

We had a small snafu during the performance, proving once again that "every change changes everything" -- a set change slowed the performers who slowed the crew in clearing but didn't slow the pianist who actually sped up the next song cue and one of our guys was caught onstage, while the singing started and he dropped a chair . . . yes, during the song.

I cringed. But after that there wasn't much else to do. The show did go on. No one seemed too miffed and in all, it was a great night.

I walked away with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for friends who would donate more than 15 hours of a precious weekend and get nothing more than lukewarm leftovers, cheap champagne, and a big thank you. But these are the caliber of folks I surround myself with. Lawyers, teachers, artists, soon-to-be doctors, chaplains -- all who recognize the precious commodity that is time and give it willingly when the cause is right.

So another year of fundraising has a great start -- the best ever in fact -- and a refuge from the storm that is AIDS has enough to keep it in operation a bit longer. While I pray for the day when it's not needed, I'm glad to be a part of it now.

Catholics and Muslims and Jews, Oh My!

For the second weekend this month I saw Muslims in a Baptist church. This time they weren't there to learn about volunteering Katrina-style (though I heard 2500 of the 30,000 trained for Operation Compassion were Muslims). They were teachers who were attending a relocated convention that was initially scheduled for the George R. Brown but got booted because of evacuees.

There were probably several other religious affilations in attendance at the teachers gathering. I know there were some out and out mean people because I encountered them as I walked to and from the conference rooms our little workshop was using totally separate from the teachers. But my different nametag didn't provide obstacle enough for these demanding women. They stopped me in route more than once and more than once with almost physical force to inform me that I had to tell them where some room was. Ignoring my protests that I wasn't with their meeting, they assured me that it was my responsibility to get them to the toddler room. Never one to argue with a toddler's teacher who is shoving her finger in my face, I complied.

After my fifth walk down the jammed corridor picking up trash these "ladies" had tossed aside with little care or concern, I began to wonder about our educational system! I know plenty of caring, compassionate teachers who value property as well as personal growth but this meeting really had an overabundance of apathy going for it.

Then I saw the Muslim women -- heads covered, caring for one another, insuring that all needs were met. Their silk scarves covering their hair and allowing for just enough of a "superwoman" effect as they quickly walked to their next meeting "capes" wafting in the wind they created.

The next day I saw a TV news piece on women in the Middle East voting. They were covered from head to toe, only a small slit for their eyes allowed them the ability to see where to put their folded page, registering their vote. I was struck by the juxtaposition of women with little privilege enjoying the privilege of a vote. And I was struck by the great spectrum of diversity even among a group similar in their beliefs. The teachers wore their covering as adornment. The berkas seemed more like prison.

Monday, September 12, 2005

HELP! I Need Somebody . . . Not Just Anybody

The lyrics are appropriate when you begin to think of the mammoth task currently facing anyone dealing with Katrina survivors.

The survivors yell "help" but the needs are specific -- first they specifically needed shelter, food, clothes. Now they specifically need to get through the system. The worst I heard about today was an 8 hour adventure of trying to get through to the Red Cross 800 number and after hours of standing in line, being told to return tomorrow to the one face-to-face option for funds.

The Red Cross yells "help" but they need folks who can work computers, manage frayed nerves, and defend a system that was never made to function at the capacity it is now.

The churches yell "help" and often get it but they get (in the can-you-believe-this-category) sheets taken straight from a bed because the mattress cover was removed as well as some dog hair and USED toothbrushes. Now, however, even the ones with help are crying out for more because people are just plain getting tired.

Those who have opened their doors to relatives, friends, friends of relatives et al and now are cramming way more folks into small apartments and houses than was ever intended are crying "help" but they could use more than just shelter for those they are sheltering. They are facing big time financial expenditures and to date, there's not a system in place to help out these Good Samaritans.

And volunteers yell "help" because they want to be a source of comfort, yet unless they know how to work a system, make the calls, research the web, they are often disappointed that there is no immediate answer for placing them.

Thankfully, I yelled "help" and somebody did. I'm grateful. I hope more grateful hearts are in the making.

Somebody, not just anybody . . . makes you wonder who's "somebody" you might be, huh?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Things I've Heard Along the Katrina Relief Way

  • One family called the church that had just set them up in a new apartment with furniture and appliances saying, "We didn't have this much stuff in our home in Louisiana. Please come back and take some of it back so that you can give it to others."
  • One shelter started out of the goodness in the hearts of an elderly congregation who knew they had the facility space but didn't know if they could make it work received one check for $10,000 and another for $5,000 from a nearby Jewish businessman and another Jewish woman impressed by what they were doing.
  • One person with a two-bedroom apartment had 23 people living there at one time.
  • One TV producer, again impressed with Houston's generosity, insured that the church where they were broadcasting from was mentioned more than once in a program that wasn't really supposed to be focusing on the location. "I'm proud of what you're doing here," she said when asked if she had purposely planted the information.
  • One once New Orleans resident grieved, opened up her home, then opened up a distribution center in a matter of hours. The very people she needed to make the distribution center work were the very people who had landed on her doorstep the night before.
  • One church staff knew that their pastor who wasn't reachable would say yes if asked about feeding hotel-based evacuees so they simply made it happen. In the first few hours of the survivors' arrival, that meant hot meals for hundreds.

One by one . . . it's the one-ness that is making this effort truly a relief.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Communications 101: Crisis Info Management

Rule #1: You can be absolutely certain that whatever you are absolutely certain about will soon change.

Rule #2: Most people in charge of providing information are absolutely certain you don’t realize Rule #1.

Rule #3: Everyone is absolutely certain they are right until you want to quote them.

Rule #4: “Tomorrow” is absolutely the certain deadline for getting you the absolute certain answer.

Rule #5: I’m not absolutely certain of anything I’ve said here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

To Blog or Not to Blog

Another day . . . another series of jaw dropping sights, "can you believe they said that" statements, subtle and surreal juxtapositions, computer keyboard moments, and any number of other things that once again I can't find the words for since my voice and my vocabulary seem to have left me at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

I can't put it all together yet . . . even wonder if just these fragments of thoughts and verbal visuals will offend the casual reader who doesn't know my heart and might wonder what kind of perverted so and so would blog about . . .
  • the fact I couldn't see one volunteer's nametag as I trained her to register evacuees on a new database system (which I, of course, had only learned 5 min prior!) but it didn't matter because her name was also tattooed on her lower (much lower) back and her low riding slacks insured I had a good view of it.
  • what people will tell you when you simply ask . . . I know I was "official" but I only had on a handwritten nametag and I was getting up close and personal with any number of folks today . . . and they didn't hesitate at all when you got to that all important Medical Condition question.
  • the confused look on my face when I was told to wash after every registrant intake . . . I soon learned it was because we were handling drivers licenses and there was a good bed that those licenses had been in the polluted waters
  • what an overwhelming feeling of gratitude I had when I saw Muslims, Jews, and Christians -- 10,000 today alone -- come together for training on how to effectively feed the evacuees at the convention center
  • how a low voice and saying whatever you're saying with authority automatically calms a weary soul
  • how a smile transcends cultures . . . I do believe I may now be engaged to a 70-year-old Vietnamese man I interviewed
  • how holding someone's hand for longer than a compulsory shake, a real hand holding, is one of the greatest gifts you can give a woman who is wearing borrowed, broken glasses and trying to insure that her aging mother who is an amputee gets the services she needs
  • and the fact that no matter how jaded you are, no matter how many ways you can see what would improve a system filled with glitches . . . you cry when you see a classy lady of the Quarter reflect on her loss, when you hear an 18 year old with an 8 day old baby indicate that she has no medical conditions that need attention . . .and then hear the intake volunteer move into Momma speak in seconds to insure that girl was cared for

This list could go on and on. Touching moving stories are being telecast and written in the major news distribution centers by the minute. But today, I was touched by the moments in time, not the tales of a lifetime.

And tomorrow we begin again.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Perspectives on Tragedy

This is my second looooooong day of trying to set up and maintain an information distribution system for churches who are serving as shelters to Hurricane Katrina victims. The stories they are telling me are incredible.

The major professional lesson I'm learning is simple:

Accuracy is fleeting.

I've found that whatever I may have believed to be true, from the source, and concrete will no doubt change in five minutes.

While that causes me a degree of frustration, everyone I know involved in this response keeps trudging along at the best pace we can because in the end these minor frustrations are nothing.

We have homes. We have our families within reach or a phone call away. We have food and water and closets of clothes. We have beds. We have jobs.

They have nothing.

So we carry on . . . inaccurate as we may be.

(For those of you who may be wondering more about the feelings, frustrations and stories involved in this, please be patient. I'm exhausted and don't even know what I think, feel, etc. at the moment. All my words have been used today as I worked on our website. More to come, I promise.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Small Triumphs in the Midst of Great Tragedy

Got a call at 7:30 a.m. from a pastor in town wanting to know what she/her church could do about the victims of Hurricane Katrina who are "flooding" into Houston and whose stays at local hotels would soon be depleting the limited resources they might still have.

She concluded our conversation with, "So do you have a busy day ahead?"

Little did I know.

Nine hours later with the help of an incredible staff we'd identified local church-based shelters, matched up several needs with the resources needed, created a web-based information center and needs-matching area, and brainstormed possible longterm responses that could kick in after these immediate grassroots efforts are well underway.

And, at the risk of an overload of water-oriented metaphors in one post . . . this effort was merely a drop in the bucket to what's needed.

I'm simultaneously thrilled and overwhelmed.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Jazz Refuge

Some friends and I had a "date" night on Monday. The whole point was fun and relaxation. We began with good food and great conversation and were just beginning the second half of the night, strolling around downtown, when I noticed that one of my favorite jazz places wasn't doing what I'd thought they were doing.

I'd called on Sunday and gotten a voice message saying they were having a concert "tonight and tomorrow night" and that the cost was $25. So I had nixed that as a potential source of fun. I like the place but that's kind of steep for my non-weekend funtime.

So . . . when I saw from the other side of the street that the small crowd just did not look like a "jazz festival" in the making (as it had been billed), I decided to check it out. Sure enough, the voice message was a day old and didn't apply to this Monday. I recognized one of the band members I was accustomed to seeing there and discovered they were scheduled to perform. And within moments, we were welcomed in with great enthusiasm and told that there'd be no cover charge. (My previous Mondays had proven enjoyable and well worth the small charge so I was ready but pleasantly surprised when none was required.)

The crowd was small, as I'd mentioned, but soon a camera crew entered. And then more folks followed. And more folks. And more folks.

Curiosity had me in its grip so I finally inquired as to what was happening. The hostess explained that the local news was covering what businesses were doing in response to the hurricane victims "flooding" the city and that this club had decided to open its doors to all the nearby hotel guests at no charge and entertain them.

Soon what looked like busloads were filing in. Children in t-shirts and shorts. Young men carrying baby strollers (though I missed the babies). Entire families. They all had the look of the recently surprised in their eyes. They weren't scowling. They weren't smiling. They simply looked like they were concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.

While not the same, I remembered that same look in the eyes of those most affected by Tropical Storm Allison here a few years ago.

However, when the young teenagers entered it was a different story. I'm not sure where they were from but I think they were more like stalled tourists rather than refugees. They shared that "casual-but-it-took-hours-to-accomplish-this" look. And they were all quite drunk already.

If you're reading carefully, I've used "teenagers" purposefully. There's no way they were all 21!!!

For the first few moments this clashing of cultures . . . families fleeing and teens partying was delightful. Everyone was trying to forget, to escape, to let the music do what music does . . . take you to places you need to be at the moment.

But after one young man adopted a woman twice his age (and I may be being extremely gracious to the very good looking but definitely not young woman) and the two preceded to do what comes naturally in a bedroom but seemed a bit awkward on the dance floor . . . and then the husband of said woman awakened from his stupor and decided to reclaim his bride . . . and then the young girls took to the floor in conga lines with beers held high . . . well, it felt like time to go.

On the drive home, I got a call from a friend from Washington state. We hadn't spoken in a few months and it was so good to catch up. This morning I checked on family in Tennessee. All these calls got me to thinking. "Stuff" gets lost all the time. In the next few days, the destruction of this natural disaster will be tallied and re-tallied and the financial toll will be beyond comprehension. But friends and family truly are the valuables. That sounds so trite but, God, it's true.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Back and Forth, Up and Down

I heard recently that "balance" is that thing the pendelum swings through while going from one extreme to the other.

Some days I'm overjoyed with what I do with my life, how I live it, and who I live it with. Some days, I'm tired, confused, and just this side of hopeless.

At the moment, I would embrace a pendelum pause.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Just to Prove I Have No Shame

See KC get sucked into the earth . . .
See nice children try to help . . .
See KC's mud-caked feet sans sandals . . .
See nice children search for sandals . . .
See KC wash her feet . . .
See KC get a parasite . . .
See KC love her job!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ouch! and Hmmmmm . . . .

Here's a challenging thought from from "Why I Went Back to Church" by Stephen Simpson in Relevant magazine's newsletter:

. . . . Once God revealed my hypocrisy, it made going to church easier. Church is a good place for people who are full of crap. Being a Christian means that you realize that you’re full of crap and that you need help. In fact, we should change the passing of the peace from “Peace be with you” to “You’re full of crap and so am I.”

Mike Yaconelli once said that church should be a place where we look at each other and say, “What are you doing here?” None of us is good enough to be there. Not one of us is righteous. Progressive types like me give more conservative Christians a hard time for being too “exclusive,” but we’re just as bad. We get just as easily annoyed and turn our backs on other children of God who don’t share our views. It’s so much easier to be snide than vulnerable. It’s much safer to be sarcastic than expose my heart to someone I don’t like. But once I stopped thinking of myself as too cool and took the time to get to know those I’d been judging, I made a shocking discovery. I like other Christians They might act nutty during worship, they’re beliefs might be too stinking rigid, and thy might even dress goofy, but I love those folks. They made me laugh, brought me joy and showed me love. That last one humbled me big time.

Yes, Christians are irritating. We can all be weird, ridiculous, stupid and mean. I’m a good example. That’s why we have to rely on God to clear our vision, change our hearts, and stop us from being ridiculous, stupid, and mean (I don’t think God cares so much about the weird part). If we let God fill us with His love rather than trusting our own assumptions, we will begin to love those who annoy us. We can go from being full of crap to full of grace and love. We get over ourselves and the little things that divide us, learning to see each other as God does. And God loves that person who irritates me just as much as He loves me. If I can remember that, maybe I won’t be so full of crap.

[Stephen W. Simpson lives with his wife and four kids in Pasadena, Calif. He attends church often.]