Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lost and Found

I'm not sure why Evangelicals get so upset with Dan Brown. (Then again, I'm not sure why most ardent believers get upset with anything that upsets them. If they truly believe God is in control, then maybe chilling out a bit would be an act of faith.) If anything, they and the Masons should thank the author of The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. He's made belief seem kinda cool.

The Masons should especially write him a thank you note. They couldn't have produced a better recruitment flyer than Brown's most recent work of fiction. Sure the bad guy infiltrates the ranks of the highest order but all the other secret-holding, fear-defying followers are successful, stoic, and seemingly brilliant. Since I only know of one Mason in my sphere of friends and he has held up his end of the bargain by remaining mum on the subject, I'm here to tell you that I was intrigued by what few insights I was offered. I'd think about joining ... oh wait, I can't. That whole "fraternal" deal and all. (Hmmm....guess that's a blog for another day.)

So back to the pros of the book. Early on in its pages, we're introduced to the idea that one can scientifically prove the power of prayer exists. Karen's translation is as follows: Like sands on a beach, each one having mass and therefore gravitational pull, so can thoughts have mass and if the collective is large enough can affect a gravitational pull or cause an action to occur. At one point (and seemingly for no point other than to make this point), they even measure the weight of a soul! So making old Dan out to be the big bad seems silly to me. He's saying, "Hey folks, there might be something here! And wait, I can prove it!" Of course, that just plays havoc with faith and believing in that which you cannot see IF you measure the importance of it all in how much faith you have rather than in what you put your faith in.

Ok, so it is a work of fiction ... something all the naysayers seemed to have a hard time coming to terms with when the Code was released. But frankly, in the Symbol, when we get the lowdown on the number 33 and the fact that we have 33 vertebrae linked to the sacrum (or sacred bone) well, my first thought was that will preach! Hello? Your body as a temple? How come I've never heard that in a sermon before?

I think the answer to that and to the underlying issue here rests partially on our great desire to want to believe in something bigger than what we can imagine and our utter fear that we won't ever get our heads around it. I love symbols and rituals and the suggestion that there is more here than meets the eye. And I gave up trying to be the smartest person in the class a long time ago. I'm deeply satisfied with not having answers. I'm even happier when I hear someone ask a question I would never have thought to ask. All this "unknowing" makes me know that there exists something far beyond me and rather than feel lost, instead, I'm most definitely found.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Congested TV

I've been sick for three days. This post is not a complaint however. All I have to do is read the paper and see a photo from Haiti and I silence my cough and say a word of gratitude that there's a pharmacy nearby and soup in my fridge.

So what am I doing on a Friday night posting about not complaining about being sick?

I'm watching bad television. Actually, the shows haven't been that bad. Medium intrigues me and Numbers is pretty cool with geeky eye candy. But what's caught my eye today/tonight are the commercials.

--Michael Jackson in 3D at the Grammys. Really? I get having yet another tribute to him since he was a musical presence for so long, but his music isn't enough? We need 3D?
--Texas is promoting voter registration and they have a young woman in a school hallway saying, "My kids asked me if I was going to vote. Duh!? I'm a teacher ..." She lost me at Duh. She really lost me when she added that she didn't know if she was registered.
--Other than Eric Clapton looking really, really old, why should I look twice at the new Fender phone?
--The new McDonalds series featuring sexy people talking sexy to a sandwich, skinny models eyeing the male clothes horse because he's eating a wrap? That's the draw? He's cute and broke, girls! Or else he'd be eating at the Olive Garden!
--The attack of the Wheat Thins ... a male version and a female version ... both of them bite.

Many commercials are movie shorts -- creative and enticing. Others are like the phlegm in my chest I can't get rid of.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chop It Up, Spit It Out

Ostrich, black-eyed peas, small bananas.

Open up a basket and those are the ingredients waiting to become a main course. Excuse me?! And then three "chefs" get to judge what some non-celebrity (i.e. they've never been in front of a camera) cooks whip up in 20 minutes. If not all goes well, the cook is Chopped.

Please ... really?

I hurt every time host Tom utters the word as condemnation, "You have been chopped." Partially, I'm cringing at his over annunciation. And the other part of me, just cringes that a non-chef is suffering from such over inflation of ego.

And don't get me started on the judges. They are glib, rude, and arrogant.

Yet, most Tuesdays, the show is on and I'm half watching it, glad there's a mute button, and waiting for grace to come forth from someone's mouth. Since this is supposedly reality television, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Family Vacations

A dear friend is nearing the end of her Texas stay. She's going to graduate a daughter in May and then pack her kids and Texas memories and relocate north where snow comes more often than once a decade and a husband who has already picked up stakes awaits her.

This weekend we added to her photo album with a trip to Austin. Though she's been a resident for eight years and seen some great Texas sights, she had yet to experience the capital city. Another buddy had a birthday this week so we loaded up the car on Friday afternoon and the three of us made our way there to commemorate and celebrate . Home base was at the place of yet another member of this chosen family. He was host, tour guide and general champion of all things fun.

South Congress shops amused us with funky pins, posters, magnets and toys for grown ups. We experienced great food (including the best pork chop I've ever consumed at a place called The Woodland) at venues cheap and upscale. A tour of UT and a women's basketball game (that they somehow lost until the last minutes of overtime when Iowa State took the lead and kept it), music, walks around the lake, climbing the hills to take in the vistas and some of the most incredible sunsets -- these were all captured on film and in our hearts.

I took one very memorable photo of the three of them. The idea was that I was going to get this incredible wide shot with them in the foreground and the hills behind. Instead, I zoomed in. Each one smiled for their own reason. One because one more year was being recognized by those who loved him. Another because he knew he'd made another convert to the city that claimed his passion years ago. But hers was the widest, the most compelling. Her eyes were bright and the moment of perfect clarity was there for all to see. Her face conveyed what we all knew ... these moments are rare and few and while the future is bright, "now" is to be cherished.

I'm glad the viewfinder on these digital cameras work so well. My tears made it really hard to focus.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Riddle Me This, Batman

I stood in line today so that I could be told which line to go stand in. Arriving at the front of the line, I received a slip of paper ensuring me I had a place in line saved just for me as I sat to wait. When my number was called, I was pointed to the next and last line. Where I paid up, smiled, and it was over.

What government agency was I visiting?

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK Day -- A Day Off and A Day for Remembering

"In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I read again King's "I Have a Dream" and sought to be moved by the words in a fresh way rather than just focusing on the parts that have become a part of my oral history with its singsong cadence and rising vitality. I wanted to see, not just hear, what he had to say that day. Just as with any good writing, returning to the text regularly will offer you new insights based on where you are in your own journey. This MLK Day proved no exception.

How many times, I wondered, as the quote above stung me, have I been so driven by my own sense of righteousness that I gulped greedily from the cup of bitterness. Sarcasm and snide remarks, dismissal of another's thoughts merely because of the "side" they represented was not my own -- these have more frequently than I care to admit, been my weapons of choice. No matter the injustice that I want righted and how important or critical I think immediate attention should be paid, my cause is not helped when the fury of my emotion drowns out my point.

MLK knew that. To read his text is to be educated. To hear his words spoken that day is to be lifted up, but not to the place of an "eye for an eye". Instead, he shouts to us a lullaby, soothing our anxious spirits with the comfort of knowing that we are not alone, painting a picture that is impossible to see without standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us but with a bit of effort, is visible.

The day is coming when I once again will feel passionate about a cause to the point of indignation, when my blood runs hot with the desire to shut "them up", shout "them" down, stop "their" stupidity. When that day comes, I pray I will I have the soul force to satisfy my thirst with the cup of overflowing grace so frequently offered to me.

Quote that Made Me Stop and Think

"Our politicians seem to be at least as sinful as their electorate, with professions of religiosity just adding a layer of hypocrisy." -- Rick Casey in Houston Chronicle

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Choo Choo

For those of you who already think I have a permanent ticket on the crazy train, you're going to do little more than shake your head at this one. . .

I'm dreaming the dream of the HGTV Dream Home. Every day I enter to win.

The significance of this ritual is that I don't do it thinking I'm going to win a house. I do it and dream I will. Years ago when I worked with organizations encouraging them to develop vision statements, I did so with amusement because I really didn't have one for my life. The closest I could get to such a thing was, "I see myself in my 50s on a mountain in New Mexico, wearing colorful blouses and skirts that flow in the wind, walking out to greet the numerous guests who come to me for rest and restoration."

The new dream home is in New Mexico . . . on Campbell Ranch. (But I just learned that last part.)

Since the Rose Bowl Parade when I first saw the ad and went online to see what was happening, I've begun to tell myself a story:

I own the home. Situated between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, it makes for a great bed and breakfast. I live in the casasita that is attached to the main house via a walkway. Writers, pastors, priests and folks who just need to breathe visit regularly. I work with local artisans, chefs, and community leaders to provide a creative environment for retreats or events. Whatever is earned goes back into maintenance and then a foundation is established to handle the rest and begin to establish something that focuses on young women and either writing or cooking or leadership or all of the above. With the $500,000 that's part of the package, I have the funds to do the start up and possibly keep a place in Houston since home is where your people are and many of mine are here. At first I thought, I might convert the office to another bedroom for more income but now I'm thinking that the book I've wondered if I had in me could be birthed there.

The vision grows every day. Will I be disappointed if the call never comes? No. Because what this exercise has done for me is remind me that I can't stop dreaming, that the creative exile I've imposed on myself was my own doing, and that the gorgeous vistas of the world are open to all -- rich, poor, or dreamers with tickets on the crazy train.

Perspective . . .

This week I dropped my wallet at a restaurant. The wallet was retrieved as was my insurance cards. My license and credit cards were not. Still, as soon as I had the leather pouch back in my hand and I had steeled myself for what was ahead, a wave of absolute ok-ness washed over me. Hours have now been spent canceling, arranging for new, transferring direct monthly payments, etc. but people have been great to work with, I actually have a $50 check coming to me that I would have never redeemed from points collected on one card, and . . .

I don't live in Haiti.

The news of the devastation that just a few seconds of the earth's fury can cause leaves me in tears and speechless. Having stood in the midst of ruin when Tropical Storm Allison sent 5 feet of water through my offices, I can recall the utter sense of helplessness of being surrounded by what had once meant so much to me and now was literally a pile of crap (and I truly mean crap) at my feet. And having said that, I also know that my experience doesn't compare in the slightest. When I left the stuffy, stinking confines of that condemned building, I still had a bed to go home to. I had a means of knowing -- without a doubt -- that there was light at the end of my tunnel. The Haitians didn't have much light before the quake.

I don't usually compare my circumstances to others to make me feel superior but I do sometimes reflect on others so I can remember to be grateful. Maybe my job is sometimes frustrating, but the paycheck comes, I have insurance, and every day I get to work with interns and volunteers who inspire me with their dedication and passion. Maybe I'm overweight and facing more physical nuisances than I did ten years ago, but I can walk those pounds off and do so without the use of a cane and with the knowledge that nothing is eating away inside of me. Maybe I don't have a man in my life to say "I love you as you are" but I have friends and family who will answer my calls, eat my food, laugh at my stories, share their children and dogs, and challenge me to take that walk, see that film, write, laugh, play, LIVE!

Gratitude isn't a big enough word to capture how I feel when I get it all in perspective.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Day in the Life ...

The air was crisp and unusually cold for Houston. The sun demanded squinting or shades. I was on a mission and the environ seemed right for action.

Saturdays are not always that full for me. I play on Friday nights and some Saturday evenings but the weekend daytime hours are my protected zone. Saturday is not quite as sacred as Sunday but nevertheless, I don't always find that I'm quite as driven as I was this weekend.

The morning rituals complete -- newspaper, a breakfast that requires some creativity in the kitchen, checking in with some of my Food Network favorites -- I headed to lunch with a friend. We caught up and I heard how holistic medicine was possibly changing her life for the better. Since it's been pretty rough for several years, I was equal parts celebrating and keeping my fingers crossed that this wouldn't be another disappointment. Next there was shopping for clothes, dropping off winterwear for the homeless, shopping for groceries and then ...

I called my walking buddy to see if she was up for a last minute walk. We'd have to bundle up -- still only about 40 degrees when we determined we'd do it -- but the beauty of the day simply called to us as well as any siren.

We took in my neighborhood. Runny noses, gloved hands, jackets zipped up to our necks, but it was invigorating.

I came home and soaked my chapped skin in the moisturizing bubbles of my tub and bit down hard on the washcloth so as not to scream at the needles digging into my skin. But afterwards, I was pleased with myself and my day.

I rewarded my productivity with a dinner party at yet another friend's house. I went over early to get creative with appetizers. We wound up with an olive tampenade and a mushroom/tomato/onion concoction for bruschetta. Then I cleaned the shrimp for the lemon fetuccine. When our other buddy arrived before the guests of honor we enjoyed a toast and I reveled in the bounty that flowed from the countertop and my life.

Thoroughly enjoyed the conversation -- though the children kept shushing us because our laughter was drowning out their movie -- and even felt somehow complimented when the married guest of honor decided he would investigate my love life (or lack thereof) and declared it impossible for me not to be taken. His words, "You're awesome!"

And on this day, and this night, I agreed.